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A Beginner’s Guide to Snorkeling in the British Virgin Islands

This is just a small sample of the amazing locations this beloved boating destination offers.

August 3, 2020
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Cooper Island
Cooper Island’s waters contain so many things for snorkelers and divers to witness. Just beware of the boat traffic. Shutterstock

For some regions, mustering up five great snorkel spots can be challenging. For the British Virgin Islands, whittling the list down to a mere five suggestions is near impossible. The warm, clear water and number of ‘road less traveled’ small islands create a wealth of great destinations to enjoy on a tour, or by snorkeling out from shore.

Cooper Island

A dramatic rocky outcrop and multiple mooring balls mark Cistern Point, west of Manchioneel Bay. Follow the shallow boulders to patchy coral sloping down into a plot of colorful soft corals, where eagle-eyed snorkelers can spot large tarpon, as well as turtles, eagle rays, damsels, angel fish, file fish, butterfly fish and schools of squid. Circumvent the rock but watch for building afternoon currents and boat traffic.

Another hotspot is Chromis Reef, where hundreds of the tiny fish flash their electric blue as they dart about the gorgonians and quillfin blennias. Free divers can dip to peer under overhangs and spot French grunts and large-eyed Squirrel Fish. (A twin seat airplane wreck lies in a nearby sand patch but is tough to spot.)

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Salt Island

Considered one of the notable dives in the Caribbean, the Wreck of the RMS Rhone also boasts a great experience for snorkelers. In an 1867 hurricane, the steel ship hit Black Rock, broke in two and sunk. Three well-preserved sections lie on a sandy bottom offering habitat to colorful sponges, flourishing corals, sea fans and tropical fish.

The Rhone is now a marine park that is part of the BVI National Parks Trust. Swim to the shore adjacent half of the site to spot decking, rigging, her former steam engine and propeller.

Norman Island

Norman Island
When the conditions are just right, Norman Island offers an even more exciting underwater adventure in its sea caves. Shutterstock

Spy Glass Hill, tucked into a calm and protected cove, is a lovely wall dive/snorkel that sheers down to 60-feet of sand. The wall’s 15-foot-deep top reef offers brain, mushroom and elk horn corals with a wealth of juvenile damsels, wrasse, butterfly and the occasional wispy spotted drum. Moray eels can be spotted in some of the crags, with the ledge looking over an environment popular with passing spotted eagle rays.

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When conditions are calm enough, this beautiful isle also offers the unique experience of sea cave snorkeling with a swim accompanied by yellow tails, blue tangs and sergeant majors in the Normal Island Caves.

Great Dog

Popular with cruisers passing from North Sound to Jost Van Dyke as part of the National Park Mooring System, a number of tours also explore The Dogs snorkel and dive site. The colorful hard and soft coral 100-yard-long reef runs parallel to the island with snorkel-friendly depths of 10-feet down to 60-feet.

Its unique rock ledges, overhangs and cathedral-shaped tunnels and grottoes are covered with sea fans and purple and orange sponges, home to crabs, lobsters and myriad blue tangs, yellow striped angelfish, French grunts, barred butterfly fish, squirrel fish and eels.

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Virgin Gorda

Virgin Gorda
Virgin Gorda is a great place for eager new snorkelers to begin their BVI journey. Shutterstock

Savannah Bay, located on the west shore, is the government-established self-guided “trail” to the finest snorkeling spots. Ideal for beginners or visitors new to the BVI, underwater signs describe the species of hard and soft corals, marine plants and colorful fish that are in abundance here.

Of course, no list would be complete without mention of the famous Baths. Surprisingly, despite being a wildly popular place to splash about, the site still offers something for snorkelers, so bring along a mask and fins to enjoy the colorful parrotfish or peacock flounders scuttling along the sand. However, with the ever-present crowd you’ll likely see a lot of two-legged creatures in most views.

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