Many a trip to Barbados revolves around rum shops, posh beaches, and the Friday night fish fry, but there’s plenty happening offshore too. A perfect way to add some adventure and exploration to your visit to the Caribbean’s easternmost island is to submerge yourself in spectacular water activities. Some of the Caribbean’s finest scuba diving is right here in Barbados, not to mention some of the most adorable sea turtles! Let’s dive in.
Barbados has been a hot spot for diving for many years. Weather (constant water temperatures between 70-80°F) and water conditions (visibility of up to 25 meters) make it a great dive destination just about every day of the year, though summer is the best time to see the coral reefs in their prime. The island is known to have the healthiest reefs in all the Caribbean, meaning you’ll be able to witness a lot of sea life. In July 2017, Barbados hosted its first ever Dive Fest, a five-day festival highlighting diving and ocean conservancy across the island, and a second edition is planned for next year, so there’s never been a better time to get your feet wet.
The Bioluminescent water around Barbados (caused by the presence of tiny organisms called dinoflagellates it’s bluish green and glowing) makes it perfect for night diving.
Where to go night diving in Barbados
Arawak Cement Factory Pier
It sounds creepier than it is! The Arawak plant is in the northernmost parish of Barbados: Saint Lucy, in Checker Hall. Close to the coastline, Arawak’s dive is 35 feet—not shallow, but not deep. Starting at 6:30 pm, you can take in a majestic bioluminescent dive under the pier. Experts recommend bringing a diving flashlight down, but to turn it off in order to let your eyes adjust. Once they do, you’ll notice you’re surrounded by plankton, spiny lobsters, schools of fish, and sea urchins. If you’re not an especially confident diver, Luxury Retreats can organize a guided night dive for you.
Barbados has some of the best shipwreck dives in the world; about 200 known shipwrecks since the first recorded victim in 1666–a large English warship. Some were casualties of hurricanes or storms, while others were actually sunk on purpose for reasons ranging from rebellion to tourism.
Where to see shipwrecks in Barbados
Barbados’ most famous wreck, S.S. Stavronikita is a purposely sunk Greek freighter in Folkestone Marine Park, at Heron Bay in Saint James on Barbados’ west coast. In 1976, the 365-foot cargo ship was carrying bags of cement from Ireland to the Caribbean when it caught fire. Six crew members died, three were injured, and twenty-four were stranded without radio equipment until being rescued four days later. “The Stav” was later purchased by the Barbados government and deliberately sunk to create an artificial reef, now considered one of the island’s best wreck dives.
Carlisle Bay sits alongside Barbados’ capital and largest city, Bridgetown. Over 200 ships have been lost to its waves since the 17th century, and the bay has 10 recorded wrecks. Berwyn is a 60-foot French vessel thought to have sunk in 1919 by an angry crew rebelling against their captain’s decision to leave Barbados. This wreck has a classic look worthy of bringing your underwater camera. Close by, Bajan Queen is a converted party boat from the 1960s that was sunk in 2002. You can still see the bathroom with its porcelain in place. Another interesting wreck is Cornawallis, a Canadian boat that was sunk during WWII by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat.
This Dutch 100-footer sank in 1984 a quarter of a mile offshore in 55 feet of water. You can swim inside the cabin and explore the engine room. Filled with tropical fish, you can expect to see blue tang, squirrelfish, peacock flounders, crab, lobster, stingray, and Hawksbill turtles.
Any diving trip to Barbados has to include a visit with the Hawksbill Sea Turtles. Whether you’re passionate about diving and sea life, or it’s your first time underwater, these creatures are a true marvel. Barbados is a hub for learning about them, with conservation led by the Barbados Sea Turtle Project (BSTP). The organization, run out of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, studies the creatures with one goal in mind: to increase the local sea turtle population. You can get up close and personal with the sea turtles by taking a Best of Barbados tour. The BSTP has ensured that all tours are ethical, so no turtles are harmed, and educational, so you don’t just swim with the turtles, but you also get to learn about their lives, biology, and habits.
Where and how to see sea turtles in Barbados
There are many good places to interact with sea turtles during a day of snorkeling or diving. The most popular turtle to see in Barbados is the Hawksbill. They have long tapered heads that end in a beak shape, and a claw on each flipper. They nest between May-October, and that’s when you’ll see them visiting the shores, mainly on the island’s west coast. Head to Folkestone Marine Park off Highway 1 in Holetown to catch a glimpse.