The British Virgin Islands (BVI's) have long been synonymous with one dive: the RMS Rhone. Sunk in 1867, the wreck came to fame with the movie, The Deep, and has grown in popularity since and, rightfully so. It's a multifaceted dive, with easy penetrations, lots of artifacts and thick coats of marine life. But, it's not the only dive in the BVI's. The wreck of the Chikuzen has been giving the Rhone a run for its money and would probably be more popular if it wasn't weather dependent. If you're not a wreck aficionado, the BVI's offer a variety of diving off most of it's approximately 36 island, and dive shops can be found on Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Peter Island, and Anegada. Above the water, the BVI's is the sailing capital of the Caribbean, with more rooms afloat than on land, and hundreds of quiet, sandy coves to anchor in. Dive shops will even pick you up and drop you off to your sailboat. Besides, diving, some of the world's most famous beach bars, Foxy's, Soggy Dollar, Willy T, among others, will keep you in the local drink, the Painkiller.
When to go:
Year-round, but the hurricane season runs from August to October. Some of the more remote sites can get blown out during winter.
When to Get the Best Deals:
August to October.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, sturdy shoes that can get wet for hiking, DAN card.
Seasonal averages: 26°C/78°F in winter and 28°C/83°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 26*C/79°F in winter and 29°C/83°F in summer.
US Dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.
Included in your airfare.
What to Eat:
Different spices, fruits and vegetables that arrived in the islands from British colonies can be credited for adding to the flavorful cuisine. You'll find wonderful variations of jerk barbeque, chicken roti, curried goat and whole grilled fish. Lobsters, shrimp and conch are also grilled, baked or mixed in stews. Local fruits like mangos, papayas, coconut and plantains usually come with meals.
What to Drink:
Like many places in the Caribbean, people drink rum and more rum, like Pusser's Navy and Callwood Cane Juice that are distilled on Tortola. A famous drink is the Painkiller - a frozen mix of dark rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, sweetened coconut cream and fresh ground nutmeg.
BVIs are a sailing nation and there are more rooms afloat than on land. Shop for Pusser's Rum.
Customs and Culture:
This is a place with a great party atmosphere throughout the islands.
Full moon party, Bomba Shack, Tortola, January-December; New Year's Eve, Jost Van Dyke; Flotilla Sailing Week, Virgin Gorda, November; BVI Emancipation Festival, July/August, Tortola.
Electricity and Internet:
110-120 Volts, 50Hz; Internet is available in most major hotels.
Drink the water?
Bottle water is recommended.
Amazing Marine Life
These prehistoric-looking silver pelagic fish grow up to 2.5 meters/8 feet long and often feed on the reefs.
Unlike their reef-building cousins, cup corals encrust existing structures, bejeweling them with brilliant colors, particularly noteworthy under dive lights at night.
Also known as rock lobsters, these crustaceans sport brown or orange shells, often colorfully dappled with yellow, blue, or green
Hawksbill, loggerhead, and green turtles can be found swimming in leisurely fashion or napping under ledges on most reefs.
These predatory pelagic fish are often seen on the reefs. They can swim at incredible speeds and can grow up to two meters/six feet in length.
Most often found in holes, caves, and wrecks, moray eels sometimes venture out so divers can see their entire snakelike length.
True to its name, the tube sponge spouts clusters of tubes in vivid colors.
These tear-drop-shaped fish are eye-catching with their yellow backs and black-stripes, but never more so when a whole school shimmies by at once.
If a handful of pink and purple and yellow crayons melted into a fish-shaped mold, it would look precisely like a Creole wrasse - a striking form against any background.
Caribbean Reef Shark:
This shark is often 1.5-2 meters/5-6 feet long and, true to its name, prowls the reefs around the islands.
Top Dive Spots
The Chimney, Great Dog Island:
The Chimney is remarkable not only for its topography, but also for its marine life. Swim through a coral-crusted archway to a vista of cup corals and brilliant sponges, then into a narrow corridor whose steep walls teem with invertebrates. Take a dive light to illuminate the full spectrum of colors and hidden critters - shrimp, spotted rock lobster, anemones, brittle stars, and a rainbow of sponges.
Bronco Billy, George Dog Island:
Surge in winter months can make the site challenging (and gave it its name), but the dive is rewarding. An arch opens into a shallow canyon that wends through the reef. Look for soft and pillar corals, reef fish, lobster, and eels.
Ledges/Dolphin Rocks, George Dog Island:
High swells make this site a dive for a calm day, but the swells leave a reward of sorts; the wash rocks have become undercut with ledges for divers to explore. Small fish that tend to gather at the wash rocks attract the attentions of barracuda, mackerel, bonito and large tarpon.
Wall To Wall, West Dog Island:
Named for its usual condition of being "wall to wall" with fish, this site is also referred to as "yellow fish" because of the wide variety of yellow species congregating here: French grunts, porkfish, yellow goatfish and schoolmaster snappers. Be cautions of strong currents, but know that those currents can also bring in eagle rays and reef sharks.
Shark Point, Scrub Island:
Although a sighting can't be guaranteed, "this site was named for the regular presence of sharks. Watch for snappers, angelfish, grunts, schooling tarpon, and lobsters, while keeping a weather eye on the blue water for sharks, rays, and Atlantic spadefish. Be aware of the current, which tends to run against a diver's return.
Brewers Bay East, Tortola:
Juvenile fish (fry) in the summer months bring in tarpon to feed among the huge boulders that offer swim-through for divers as well as fish. Look for baitfish, glassy sweepers, and large southern stingrays.
Dry Rocks East, Cooper Island:
Wash rocks at this site attract a wide range of fish, such as schools of horse eye jacks, African pompano, Atlantic spadefish, hawksbill turtles, cobia, nurse sharks, sergeant majors, chromis, creole wrasse and black durgeon. Be cautious of the currents.
Vanishing Rocks, Cooper Island:
The "vanishing" rock is a pinnacle that only just breaks the surface, and marks a gathering place for marine life. Highlights include a remarkable stand of pillar coral, swarms of sergeant majors and other reef fish, and (for the observant diver) eels and squid.
Widely considered one of the world's best wreck dives, the RMS (Royal Mail Steam) Rhone sank off Peter Island in an 1867 hurricane. The ship itself, resting in two pieces offshore, can be entered by divers (as well as the resident groupers, snappers, and jacks). Cup corals and sponges encrust the wreck, and make for brilliant colors under dive lights on a night dive.
The Invisibles, Virgin Gorda:
Strong currents at this sight bring in tremendous numbers of fish that swirl around the submerged (invisible) pinnacle and its attendant sponges and soft colors. Be cautious of the currents.
The Indians, Norman Island:
A group of rock pillars (Indians) extend below the surface with steep walls and rocky ledges, and a shallow poolcupped in the center of the formation, accessible by a swim-through. Look for nudibranchs in the center pool and hawksbill turtles around the sight. The topography, as well as marine life and striking lighting, make this a great site for underwater photography.
Alice in Wonderland:
This beautiful dive site has amazing mushroom-shaped coral formations that you wander through (kind of like Alice.) Look for lobster and spotted morays hiding under the mushrooms, and spotted eagle rays, spadefish and stingrays, along with Caribbean reef sharks, swimming along the reef edge.