Scuba Diving in the U.S. Virgin Islands

U.S. Virgin Islands

Boasting year-round tropical temperatures, sparkling turquoise waters, and white sand beaches, the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) is one of the most popular and diverse Carribean destinations for vacationers, nature lovers, watersports enthusiasts, and divers from around the world.

Geography of the U.S. Virgin Islands

Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and west of the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands is an archipelago and an unincorporated territory of the United States. This Carribean destination consists of three major islands—St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas—and many other surrounding minor islands. Its capital is Charlotte Amalie on the island of Saint Thomas.

St. Croix

Known as the “Big Island,” St. Croix has a quaint, small-town vibe and boasts over 200 historical sites. Attractions include walls, wrecks, and reefs. Tourists are drawn to the island’s soft, white sand beaches and warm turquoise waters.

The Pier

This dive site on the west end of St. Croix island is known for its dramatic display of coral-covered pillars that extend upwards from 8 to 12 meters underwater. Immerse yourself in an underwater world that’s home to turtles, frogfish, eels, seahorses, lobsters, and glistening schools of colorful reef fish. Make sure you bring your underwater camera!

The Wall

If you like conquering steep drop-offs, this St. Croix dive site on the north shore features a plunging cliff that’s decorated with sponges and sea fans. Canyons, reef cuts, swim-throughs, and reef creatures, like groupers and soldierfish, also contribute to an adventurous dive. But if you’re not yet certified for intermediate dives, you’ll surely enjoy the display of large pelagic creatures, like horse-eye jacks, just offshore.

St. John

The smallest of the three main islands, St. John boasts the Virgin Islands National Park, lush forests filled with migratory and resident birds, and world-class dive sites teeming with colorful marine life.

Carvel Rock

Intermediate divers travel to this St. John dive site to experience everything from fascinating rock formations and shallow coral gardens to an abundance of Atlantic marine creatures like nurse sharks, squid, octopus, stingrays, and tarpon. Often navigated as a drift dive, it features a deep drop to 80 feet, as well as a stiff current that takes you around the rock, through a narrow canyon, and through a shallow, submerged passage called “The Cut.”

Eagle Shoals

Those staying in St. John don’t have to travel far to enjoy a dive that’s full of wonderful discoveries. After all, this island is all about nature and eco-tourism. Explore Eagle Shoals’ many interesting caves, tunnels, arches, and overhangs that house a wide variety of fish, as well as colorful sponges and corals. One particular cave, called “The Cathedral,” features several entrances to a massive and vibrant coral-lined underwater chamber that’s very popular among Carribean divers.

St. Thomas

An excellent hotspot for those who love snorkeling, scuba diving, and pristine white-sand beaches, St. Thomas is also home to the territory’s capital, Charlotte Amalie.

Coral Bowl

Don’t miss this St. Thomas dive site, which features a coral bowl that starts at about 30 feet deep and slopes down to 80 feet. You’ll find lobsters and eels hiding in holes and crevices, if not near the generous display of mysterious overhangs. The reef’s edge is also a common spot for swimming with friendly turtles and stingrays. Once you’re done, you can retreat to the lively island’s resorts for some shopping, late night partying, and other US Virgin Islands attractions.

Cartanser Senior

A boat ride from St. Thomas to the west side of Buck Island will take you to this popular dive site featuring the submerged Cartanza Senora, also known as the Cartanser Senior. The huge freighter ship from World War II leans on her port side about 50 feet underwater and has since broken up into several coral-grown pieces since it sank in the early 1970s. Aside from the mysterious wreck, lots of colorful reef fish are waiting to be discovered.

Marine Life

The U.S. Virgin Islands is home to a wide variety of Atlantic marine organisms, including large pelagic creatures, as well as very small marine organisms that decorate the ocean floor.

  • Sting Rays - You’ll often find Southern stingrays swimming in the sand channels between the reefs of several dive sites.
  • Tarpon - Huge tarpon can be seen feeding on schools of baitfish, especially during the summer.
  • Sharks - Be amazed by year-round encounters with both whitetip and blacktip reef sharks. If you’re lucky, you might also be able to spot hammerhead sharks and tiger sharks.
  • Seahorse - Fortunately for underwater photographers, seahorses are very likely to show up all year round.
  • Whales - Humpback whales are usually spotted in the area, most especially from January through March.
  • Turtles - Hawksbill turtles make regular appearances while loggerhead turtles are most likely sighted between February to August.
Wherever you decide to go snorkeling or diving, you may also spot friendly eagle rays and dolphins, as well as beautiful queen angelfish, frogfish, blackbar soldierfish, reef squid, feather duster worms, and scorpion fish swimming near the reef, cup corals, and sea fans.

Other Attractions

  • St. Croix Heritage Trial - Go on a self-guided driving tour that will lead you through the island’s historic and natural attractions. Road signs will lead you through 72 miles of scenic coastline views, tropical forests, historic seaport towns, as well as to local attractions like the Estate Whim Plantation Museum, St. George Village Botanical Garden, and Fort Frederik.
  • Virgin Islands National Park - Attracting more than one million tourists each year, this Carribean jewel covers two-thirds of St. John and features hiking trails, stunning beaches, protected bays, as well as historic sugar mill ruins and petroglyphs.
  • Elaine Ione Sprauve Library & Museum - Check out the history of St. John through displays of old photographs, newspaper articles, native artifacts, and local art in this restored plantation house.
  • Blackbeard Castle - At the top of a famous staircase called the “99 Steps,” you’ll find a unique five-story tower that was once known as the Danish watchtower, Skytsborg. There’s also a popular hotel and restaurant where you can enjoy beautiful views of the city.

How to Get There

As it is part of the United States, U.S. citizens can travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands without a passport or visa, although it is highly recommended to bring your passport for identification. Non-U.S. citizens will need a passport and visa to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands.

By Air
International flights arrive at the Cyril E. King (STT) airport on St. Thomas and at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (STX) on St. Croix.

By Sea
The island of St. John is accessible by ferry from the nearby island of St. Thomas.

Getting Around
The best way to get around the islands is by car. You can rent one from any of the airports or simply ride a taxi for your land travels. The three main islands also offer a public bus service, although schedules are unreliable.

Best Time to Visit

The U.S. Virgin Islands offers fairly consistent warm sunny weather, making dives safe and enjoyable all year round. Air temperature averages between 26-29°C/79-83°F and it can get a little rainy during the Carribean’s hurricane season between June and October.

Required Trainings & Certifications

As one of the most visited scuba diving destinations in the Carribean, the U.S. Virgin Islands welcomes both certified and inexperienced divers. It’s easy to enroll in scuba diving courses on the island, although you’ll need certain certifications before going on wreck dives and drift dives. If you’ve already been certified by an international scuba agency, make sure you bring your logbook and c-card.

Miscellaneous Information

As a U.S. territory, the islands use the U.S. dollar (USD) as their official currency. Most establishments accept credit cards and traveler's checks, and ATMs can be found throughout all three islands.

The official language of the U.S. Virgin Islands is English, although Spanish is also commonly spoken and locals can speak a Virgin Islands creole.

Time Zone
The U.S. Virgin Islands observes Atlantic Standard Time (AST) all year and will not be observing Daylight Saving Time for 2019.

Driving Side
The U.S. Virgin Islands drives on the left-hand side of the road.

Calling Code
Dialing +1340 will allow you to call the U.S. Virgin Islands from another country.

ISO 3166 code
ISO 3166-2:VI is the entry for the U.S. Virgin Islands in ISO 3166-2.

Internet TLD
.vi is the Internet country code top-level domain for the U.S. Virgin Islands.