The American Virgin Islands – A Diver's Paradise

The American Virgin Islands, comprised of St. Thomas, St John, and St. Croix, are well-known for their beauty and laid-back Caribbean way of life. St. Thomas is the most cosmopolitan of the islands, with miles of world-class shops and restaurants in the main town of Charlotte Amalie. It is also a fun place for families to enjoy the many water activities scattered around the island. St. John is the least developed of the three islands, with two-thirds of the island designated as part of the Virgin Islands National Park system, offering breathtaking mountaintop views with great hiking, as well as top-notch resorts like the Westin with its picture-perfect bay.?? St. Croix, the least discovered island of the three, offers a blend of hip sophistication and European history in the two main towns, Frederiksted and Christiansted, and beaches just begging to be explored.

But one activity that definitely ties the three islands together is the world-class diving that more and more divers are discovering. Every type of dive experience is available in the Virgin Islands, including beach dives, cave dives, wreck dives, wall dives, drift dives and night dives. And there are numerous dive centers scattered around the islands to take care of any diver’s needs.?? Some of the top dive shops are the Chris Sawyer Diving Center that has three locations on St. Thomas. They offer dive/hotel packages, a wide variety of dive locations, and certification options including resort. Low Key Water Sports on St. John’s is a very friendly husband-and-wife shop that also offers dive packages and dive trips around the waters of St. John and the British Virgin Islands, its neighbor.?? And Anchor Dive Center located on St. Croix is a PADI Gold Palm Resort that offers dive trips to some of the best dive sites of the three islands, including The Wall.

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I managed a number of fun and interesting dives while visiting the US Virgin Islands. On St. John, in the very competent hands of the staff of Low Key Water Sport, I experienced a dive off a very comfortable dive boat run by Dive Master Bob Shinner. Carvel Rock, a large rock formation that juts out of the clear blue/green water at about 40 feet, is home to a rich coral reef at the base of the towering rock that offers up an incredible variety of underwater life including sea turtles, eels, tarpon, parrotfish, huge sponges, caves and thousands of silverside fish. There are some fairly strong currents in parts of this dive making it advanced-level; though I did not find the current too demanding the day I was there. Visibility was about 70 feet ahead as we hovered around 40 to 50 feet, circling the large rock counter-clockwise with the current, taking in the sights. I enjoyed this dive and found it quite magical as the sunlight streamed down from above.

On St. Croix, Anchor Dive Center is a dive shop located in Salt River National Park and Ecological Preserve, ten minutes from some of the best diving anywhere. The North Shore of St. Croix is home to one of the most requested dives in the Virgin Islands, The Wall, a huge, very old reef system that drops thousands of feet in some places, is well worth a trip to the islands just to experience it.?? However, the morning I went out with five other divers, the trip to the West Wall was not the smoothest boat ride I’ve ever taken. The water was quite choppy, until I???? submerged ten feet and found myself drifting down the side of a steep reef wall with its maze of swim-throughs, overhangs, and recesses that might have been an above ground waterfall millions of years ago. The West Wall is home to schools of Creole wrasse, black durgons and yellowtail snappers. Going deeper, 60 or more feet, one runs into barracudas, green morays, sea turtles, and rays gliding by.?? Visibility was about 50 feet that day, but the beauty of this very grand reef system is awe-inspiring and I highly recommend it. My second dive was the East Wall, which is separated from the West Wall by a chasm several thousand feet deep. This dive had an abundance of fish life and recesses and caves to explore, also. The East Wall is home to horse-eye jacks, hogfish, snappers, large angel fish, parrotfish, eagle rays, and black tip reef sharks that lurk in the deep. The Wall is a place a diver could spend weeks exploring and still not begin to see everything that’s down there. Anchor Dive is a very professional group of divers who love taking both beginners and advance divers to this wall of wonder.

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There are numerous hotels in the American Virgin Islands that cater to divers.?? The Westin in St. John’s is a hi-end resort that offers dive packages. The Waves at Cane Bay on St. Croix is a small funky/chic hotel that loves divers and has some of the best shore diving in the region. The Bolongo Bay Beach Club and Villas on St. Thomas is a mid-size resort that tends to diver’s needs quite well. The American Virgin Islands are easy to reach with all major airlines, as well as private charters.

For more information you can contact the United States Virgin Island Tourist Board at www.usvi.net/???? Anchor?? Dive Center in St. Croix can be reached at?? [email protected]???? Low Key Watersports in St. John can be reached at:?? www.divelowkey.com and the Chris Sawyer Dive Center in St. Thomas can be reached at www.sawyerdive.com

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