The island’s underwater attractions are drawing a new crop of tourists to this beautiful corner of the Caribbean.
Ask most visitors what they love about Barbados and you will likely hear about the white-sand beaches, the world-class golf courses or perhaps the exceptional restaurants and nightlife. But a growing number of visitors are coming to Barbados for what lies beneath the surface of the calm Caribbean waters.
Barbados’ underwater realm has attracted a growing amount of attention of late, as demonstrated by the popularity of the island’s dive festival. The attention is well deserved given the incredible variety of sites and species the island has to offer divers and snorkelers. Do you like to explore shipwrecks? Barbados has plenty, including several of historical significance. Do you enjoy discovering rare and cryptic species? Whether you are looking for sea turtles or seahorses, batfish or balloonfish, Barbados has you covered. Do you want easy access to a range of underwater habitats? Barbados has dozens of dive and snorkel sites, located just steps from the beach.
In short, Barbados has something for everyone. There are over 90 square kilometers of coral reef that surround Barbados — an area larger than the entire island of Saint Martin. Many of the best quality corals are on the bank reef located about one kilometer (0.6 miles) off the West and South Coasts — something few other Caribbean islands can boast. Some of the most popular sites, such as the neighboring sites of Fisherman’s and Dottins, which are just five minutes from Holetown by boat, host schools of grunts and snapper, as well as some truly fascinating cryptic species, such as trumpetfish, frogfish and seahorses.
Barbados has become increasingly well-known for its sea turtles. They are so common in the island’s coastal waters that rarely does a dive or snorkel go by without seeing at least one. In fact, the island hosts four species of nesting sea turtles and has the second-largest hawksbill sea turtle breeding population in the Caribbean.
Perhaps what makes Barbados so special is its combination of accessibility and variety. To complement the stunning bank reef, the island offers ready access to dozens of flame-shaped fringing reefs that hug the shoreline. These gems can be explored simply by walking off the beach and into the water, particularly along the West Coast.
One such reef is located less than a mile south of the Fairmont Royal Pavilion. The sheltered Folkestone Marine Park is one of the most popular snorkeling destinations on Barbados’ tranquil West Coast. The park has calm, clear water and plenty of fish life thanks to more than 30 years of protection from fishing under the rules established by the marine park. Farther south, and still within the boundaries of the park, snorkelers can explore a couple of shipwrecks as well, collectively known as the Holetown Wrecks, which lie on a shallow seabed at a depth of only 15 feet (4.5 meters). These wrecks host hundreds of colorful sergeant majors and bold Bermuda chub.
For those looking for slightly more impressive wrecks, the island’s “must see” underwater attraction is the Stavronikita – the island’s largest wreck at a length of 365 feet (111 meters). The wreck is located on the seabed at 145 feet (44 meters), but the structure is so large that she extends to just 20 feet (6 meters) below the surface of the water. Known locally as “The Stav,” she was originally a freighter and was purposefully sunk as an artificial reef and dive site in 1978. To this day, she remains one of Barbados’ most popular dive sites.
With so much of the underwater environment to explore during your stay on the island, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. To better plan your exploration and to enhance your underwater experience, check out the waterproof maps created by Reef Smart Guides. These dive and snorkel cards offer useful information about the most popular sites on the island. They are designed with divers and snorkelers in mind and can help you get the most out of your time spent underwater. Reef Smart also has a guidebook containing information about the island’s best underwater sites, what you need to know before arriving on the island and some of the things you can do while taking a break from your underwater explorations. For more information, visit ReefSmartGuides.com.