Though St. Barths feels very European in its culture and cuisine, there’s no doubting its Caribbean character when diving through a vast array of caves, corals, canyons, reefs, and countless underwater marvels. So while restaurants and boutiques are a must, don’t leave the island without exploring its majestic coastal ecosystems—whether snorkeling along the beach or scuba diving through one of more than twenty-two sprawling dive sites. (For the latter, we recommend guided excursions with La Bulle, Serial Divers, or Grand Cul de Sac’s Ouanalao Dive). Here are some of our favorite underwater dives around the island, proving tropical paradise extends far beyond the St. Barths shoreline.
Pain de Sucre
Arguably the island’s most popular dive location, the prominent rock known as Pain de Sucre lies shortly outside Gustavia Harbor and offers five vibrant dive sites ideal for novice and experts divers alike. The rock itself is covered with a varying diversity of sponges and colorful corals, home to everything from sea urchins to stingrays to sea turtles to thousands of glistening fish—all thriving thanks to the island’s protective Marine Reserve. Dive along the deeper south face for a chance to spot barracudas and a twenty-foot tunnel, or move a bit further off for the island’s most beautiful wreck: the decades-old remains of “Nonstop,” a 200-foot luxury motor that sank during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
A cluster of small islands directly outside Gustavia harbor, Gros Ilet is easily accessible and endlessly beautiful. A protected setting on the island’s leeward Caribbean side makes it perfect for snorkeling, though divers get the added spectacle of “Whale”—an underwater rock with a twenty-meter cliff and full spectrum of colorful flora and fauna. Keep a watchful eye out for sea turtles and multi-colored coral species like Parrot fish.
St. Barths’ brilliant underwater ecosystems are on full display off Colombier Beach, widely known as the snorkeling capital of the island but also a must-see for divers. Tropical sponge, exotic reefs, and schools of barracuda abound across three distinct sites, none better than the picturesque cape L’Âne Rouge, west of the lagoon’s outer tip.
Nestled between St. Barths and St. Marteen on a deep-water coral plate, Groupers is your best bet for spotting a shark on the island’s calmer Caribbean side. Swimming amidst the area’s narrow rock passages and spectacular tunnels is an impressive selection of nurse and reef sharks, plus numerous other large species like tarpon and grouper. Previous diving experience is recommended, as there may be a bit of a current.
For divers venturing off into the island’s Atlantic waters—which are a bit choppier and more adventurous—we recommend the magnificent sights of Toc Vert. Due north of St. Barths closer to Grand Cul de Sac, this vibrant ecosystem boasts a treasure trove of exploration through underwater tunnels, arches, deep canyons, cracks, and caves (one even has an air bubble). Groupers, tarpon, nurse sharks, dolphins, and lobsters are frequent sights throughout the year, though the grand prize arrives in winter—when lucky divers may get the chance to watch (and hear) the majestic behavior of migratory humpback whales.