- U.S. Virgin Islands
The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix offers plenty of land-based activities for adventurous visitors, but it’s underwater where this Caribbean island really shines.
Diving isn’t one-size-fits-all, especially in a place as wonderfully varied as St. Croix. You can take your pick from reef dives (the island is home to the second-largest barrier reef in the Caribbean), wall dives, wreck dives and night dives. Enter the water off a moored boat, or walk right in off the beach to see 500-plus species of fish, more than 40 types of coral, sea turtles and other fascinating creatures. And you certainly won’t want to miss Buck Island Reef National Monument – two-thirds of this uninhabited island is surrounded by an elkhorn coral barrier reef. New to diving? No worries – just sign up for certification classes at a local dive center.
Walls, in diving terms, are underwater cliff faces that usually run from shallow to very deep water, revealing different marine life as you dive deeper. With the range of depths, they can be great for both beginning and advanced divers. Among the most popular walls to dive on St. Croix are the east and west walls in Salt River National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, site of an ancient waterfall that cut away at the rock, creating coral-lined canyons. Just 15 minutes to the west, Cane Bay is a popular shore dive, with the wall found a 180-meter swim from shore, and Aquaman Virgin Islands dive shop and beach bars just across the street. East of Cane Bay, The Pavilions is a beautiful wall dive. Look for hard and soft corals including black coral, sponges and occasional sharks. The shallow, sandy plateau is perfect for beginning divers.
Diving among coral and sea creatures in St. Croix
Reef and Wreck Diving
Reef diving abounds around St. Croix, especially at Buck Island and the elkhorn coral barrier reef system that surrounds most of this unpopulated island just three kilometers off the coast. Sign up for a day sail to explore the shallow lagoon and wander through the maze of coral grottos amid colorful parrotfish, French angelfish and blue tangs. The island, which is also great for snorkeling, has a marked underwater trail, and you can also stroll its white-sand beaches.
Beyond the naturally forming reefs, shipwrecks attract coral formations, which bring abundant marine life along with the thrill of spotting manmade relics from long ago. At Twin Anchors, look for the huge anchors (2.5 meters long) in about 14 meters of water – they date back 200-plus years – which are frequented by schools of tropical fish. At White Horse Reef, west of Christiansted, two small reefs nearly break the surface, causing many ships to meet their grief. Spot artifacts such as cannons, chains and ship sections on this shallow dive. North of Frederiksted, in Butler Bay, dive on three wrecks sitting in shallow water with generally good visibility.
Scuba diver exploring a wreck off the coast of St. Croix
Night Dives and Lionfish Hunts for Advanced Divers
Diving at night provides an extra thrill, and the illumination from lights can make for stunning photography. The Frederiksted Pier is a very popular spot for night dives, with seahorses, octopuses, bat fish and other less-common fish finding refuge among the pier’s coral-encrusted pillars. Chez Barge, a sunken sand barge, is another great site for night dives, where you’re likely to spot the resident spotted moray eels, barracuda and grouper as well as plenty of lobsters and crabs. Experienced divers are encouraged to join local lionfish dive hunts. Lionfish are a venomous, invasive species of fish that are harming native coral reef ecosystems. Local dive shops organize spearfishing hunts for these showy fish, and offer suggestions for safely trimming and cooking them.
Surrounded by a school of fish on a dive off the Frederiksted Pier
Now that you’ve learned about some of the thrilling experiences that await, you’ll want to start working on getting your dive certification. You can get certified in two to three days, once you’ve done the classwork online (easy to do before you arrive on island). The balance of the course involves pool training to learn basic skills, and four open-water dives to review those skills and start exploring.
Happily, there are multiple PADI dive shops (PADI – the Professional Association of Diving Instructors – is the gold standard) on St. Croix. St. Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures (SCUBA) has two dive shops and two custom dive boats, so you can explore moored dive sites around the island once you’re certified. Dive Experience Inc. has 39 years’ experience training new divers, as well as taking veteran divers out on reef dives and wall dives. They also work with divers with disabilities. Other vendors include Sweet Bottom Dive Center, Nep2une Scuba Diving and Cane Bay Dive Shop, all in Frederiksted.
Diving alongside a sea turtle in St. Croix
Arrive at St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on a connecting flight from the east coast of the USA or Puerto Rico. Another option is to fly into St. Thomas and take a 25-minute seaplane flight to St. Croix.
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