Diving and Snorkeling in Barbados

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Diving and Snorkeling

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More than two dozen dive sites lie along the west coast between Maycocks Bay and Bridgetown and off the south coast as far as the St. Lawrence Gap. Certified divers can explore flat coral reefs and see dramatic sea fans, huge barrel sponges, and more than 50 varieties of fish. Nine sunken wrecks are dived regularly, and at least 10 more are accessible to experts. Underwater visibility is generally 80 to 90 feet. The calm waters along the west coast are also ideal for snorkeling. The marine reserve, a stretch of protected reef between Sandy Lane and the Colony Club, contains beautiful coral formations accessible from the beach.

On the west coast, Bell Buoy is a large, dome-shape reef where huge brown coral tree forests and schools of fish delight all categories of divers at depths ranging from 20 to 60 feet. At Dottins Reef, off Holetown, you can see schooling fish, barracudas, and turtles at depths of 40 to 60 feet. Maycocks Bay, on the northwest coast, is a particularly enticing site; large coral reefs are separated by corridors of white sand, and visibility is often 100 feet or more. The 165-foot freighter Pamir lies in 60 feet of water off Six Men's Bay; it's still intact, and you can peer through its portholes and view dozens of varieties of tropical fish. Silver Bank is a healthy coral reef with beautiful fish and sea fans; you may get a glimpse of the Atlantis submarine at 60 to 80 feet. Not to be missed is the Stavronikita, a scuttled Greek freighter at about 135 feet; hundreds of butterfly fish hang out around its mast, and the thin rays of sunlight filtering down through the water make fully exploring the huge ship a wonderfully eerie experience.

Farther south, Carlisle Bay is a natural harbor and marine park just below Bridgetown. Here you can retrieve empty bottles thrown overboard by generations of sailors and see cannons and cannonballs, anchors, and six unique shipwrecks (Berwyn, Fox, CTrek, Eilon, the barge Cornwallis, and Bajan Queen) lying in 25 to 60 feet of water, all close enough to visit on the same dive. The Bajan Queen, a cruise vessel that sank in 2002, is the island's newest wreck.

Dive shops provide a two-hour beginner's "resort" course ($85 to $100) followed by a shallow dive, or a weeklong certification course (about $425). Once you're certified, a one-tank dive runs about $60 to $75; a two-tank dive is $90 to $100. All equipment is supplied, and you can purchase multidive packages. Gear for snorkeling is available (free or for a small rental fee) from most hotels. Snorkelers can usually accompany dive trips for $25 for a one- or two-hour trip. Most dive shops have relationships with several hotels and offer special dive packages, with transportation, to hotel guests.

Dive Shop, Ltd. Near the Carlisle Bay marine park just south of Bridgetown, the island's oldest dive shop offers daily reef and wreck dives, plus beginner classes, certification courses, and underwater photography instruction. Underwater cameras are available for rent. Free transfers are provided between your hotel and the dive shop. Amey's Alley, Upper Bay St., next to Nautilus Beach Apts., Bridgetown, St. Michael. 246/426–9947; 866/978–6983 in the U.S. www.divebds.com.

Hightide Watersports. On the west coast, Hightide Watersports offers three dive trips daily—one- and two-tank dives and night reef–wreck–drift dives—for up to eight divers, along with PADI instruction, equipment rental, and free transportation. Coral Reef Club, Hwy. 1, Holetown, St. James. 246/432–0931, 800/970–0016, or 800/513–5763. www.divehightide.com.

Reefers & Wreckers Dive Shop. In Speightstown, the most northerly dive shop allows easy access to the unspoiled reefs in the north but also offers regular trips to the dive sites and wrecks along the west coast and in Carlisle Bay. Queen St., Speightstown, St. Peter. 246/422–5450. www.scubadiving.bb.

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