Descend into a whimsical world where what looks like rocks are really living creatures, where schools of fish come dressed in rainbow-colored uniforms and where beautiful flowers play hide and seek with other sea life.
If you think the U.S. Virgin Islands offers only sun, sand and sea, you're missing half the fun - the undersea world is as easy to access as the islands themselves and equally as exciting.
The many reefs which rim the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John offer countless hours of underwater exploration for both beginning and experienced divers. Rock-like coral heads ar e actually mini-ecosystems housing a rich mix of fish. Several shops sell water-proof booklets that aid in identifying undersea flora and fauna. Divers have an advantage over snorkelers in being able to descend deeper and see spectacular sunken gardens at the bottoms of dramatic drop-offs. Visibility is excellent, up to 120' in many locales. Even night dives are spectacular when nocturnal sea creatures voraciously lap up microscopic morsels with their tendril-like tongues.
Diving in the U.S. Virgin Islands is easy, enjoyable and offers something for everyone. There's no need to be an excellent swimmer, just comfortable around the water and in general good health. Beginner s will find conditions excellent - warm and calm seas, great visibility and much to see starting at just 20' to 30' - for short resort or full certification courses. For experienced divers, there are some 58 dive sites accessible by beach or boat, to reefs or wrecks, during daytime or at night
Although lumped together as the U.S. Virgin Islands, the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix offer distinctly different personalities and experiences. St. Thomas is the most developed of all the Virgin Islands, British and American. You can expect luxury hotels and villas, restaurants running the gamut from burger joints to French bistros, and a plethora of things to do.
St. John is for nature lovers, as two-thirds of the island is a U.S. national park. The smallest of the three islands, 19-square-mile St. John is also the rawest. There are twice as many hiking trails as there are paved roads. More than 40 coves and milky-white beaches are St. John's hallmarks.
The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix, is about 90 miles removed from its close-knit sister islands.
The distance gives St. Croix a different type of underwater terrain. So while St. Thomas is the most known of the three islands among tourists and cruise ship guests, St. Croix is the best known to divers.
No doubt the most popular activity in St. Croix is shore diving the well-protected Cane Bay reef on the island's north side. On the short swim out, garden eels can be seen peeking from holes in the sand. After cruising the shallow reef, you can make your way farther to a descent down the wall into a land of oddly shaped sponges and clouds of blue tangs.
Out from Cane Bay is Jimmy's Surprise, a pinnacle dive from 45 to 90 feet featuring bright orange and red sponges and corals, and elegant gorgonians.
If the current is running at Jimmy's, nearby Runstop Twist is a high-profile formation from 50 to 100 feet that attracts spotted eagle rays. To the west, Northstar Wall features a drop-off from 40 to 60 feet and an ancient Danish anchor embedded in the coral.
There are many other great places to dive on the north side at Davis Bay, and Salt River and around the island's 30 moored sites. Also, the Frederiksted Pier plays host to wonderful macro life and makes for an enchanting night dive.
In contrast, St. Thomas and St. John are on a sub-sea plateau. The reefs are relatively shallow, and you could argue that much of this area is best done on snorkel and not scuba.
Lesser keys, small islands and rocky outcroppings that provide lees from the trade winds and easy anchorage surround both islands.
The rocks and reefs offer steep-walled crevices, overhangs, ledges, tunnels and caves all in water less than 60 feet deep. The reefs are alive with red and black gorgonians, blue and green Venus sea fans and tan soft corals. And no where else in the Caribbean can boast as many flamingo tongue shells.
St. John's Carval Rock, just 10 minutes out from Caneel Bay, is noted for schools of tarpon and clouds of silversides. There also is a pleasant beach dive at Coki, the beach next to the Coral World marine aquarium park in St. Thomas.