While life on land in Anguilla is full on wonder and magic, it’s even more so once you enter the underwater realm. From any of the 33 tranquil white sand beaches (so thankfully free of crowds) you look out upon the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, sparkling like a blanket of diamonds in the sun. Above your head the palm trees wave gently, as if urging you to explore the sea. And at the end of the day, it’d be rude of you not to; I mean, since you’re already here and all. Scuba diving Anguilla is world-class, with a veritable treasure trove of reefs and wrecks just waiting for your exploration.
Scuba diving is a lot like interdimensional travel, if you think about it. Imagine the sea tilting up vertical before you like a mirror: you can see your reflection looking back and the shimmering depths beyond, flashes of yellow and orange fish darting past; further within, the darker greens hold mystery and temptation. This ‘mirror’ is malleable and you sense the invitation into the undersea realm. Luckily for you, the technology exists to extend your lungs into something fish-like that allows you to journey into this other dimension. Tanked up and inhaling the canister’s high pressure breathing gas, you’re able to drift along, just observing and appreciating.
Sure, you could just go snorkeling; and don’t get us wrong, snorkeling is excellent, floating on the surface like some sort of human surveillance drone and making occasional reconnaissance dips with your powerful flippers. Yet it’s dependent on your own limited lung capacity. When you scuba dive, on the other hand, a remarkable sensation occurs underwater as you pass the threshold: your brain thinks, ‘okay, we’re red-lining, time to swim back to the surface for air’ yet you’re breathing fine and controlled – and a shift happens as you officially become acclimatized to this other dimension. Congratulations, you’re now disguised as some sort of weird looking fish.
The Caribbean Sea around Anguilla is abundant with excellent dive sites and outfits that offer premium guided tours to the very best spots, as well as instruction and training for the new recruits. While several resorts offer diving lessons and trips, there are also the PADI-certified private operations that will teach you the ropes and have you swimming with the fishes in no time. (Thankfully, not in the Mafia way.) Pick from pre-packaged dives to custom building your own dive package perfectly to your specifications. Whatever your level, Anguilla provides plenty of enjoyment.
There are seven marine parks in Anguilla’s waters: Dog Island, Prickley Pear, Seal Island Reef System, Little Bay, Sandy Island, Shoal Bay Harbour Reef System and Stoney Bay Marine Park. The latter, Stoney Bay, is Anguilla’s first underwater heritage site – established to protect the shipwreck of the El Buen Consejo. This Spanish convoy of Franciscan priests, en route to Mexico as missionaries, sunk in 1772 and (perhaps due to a proper miracle) all the passengers made it to shore unharmed. Today divers can explore the well-preserved 960-ton galleon with its cannons, anchors and devotional medals all entombed in its coral grave. Other wrecks include several cargo ships from world wars and throughout the century that were swallowed during hurricanes, some protected in their final resting place by octopus and rays and giant 20-lb lobster, and some with decks covered in assorted cargo like a car teeming with moray eels. It’s an eery history lesson scuba diving Anguilla here amid the ghosts of yesteryear.
Of course the marine parks offer so much more than just big wreck dives (of which there are nine). For the advanced divers (25 logged dives), wall and ledge diving is also monumental off Dog and Scrub Islands. Here you’ll find big sheer drops that fall off into the deep down to 100 feet, offering an abundance of tiger sharks, black tip reef sharks, nurse sharks, and turtles. The living limestone walls are vibrant with life, and on one expert dive there’s even a cave to explore.
The healthy and robust reef system is thriving with giant schools of fish making their rounds along the coral structures that act as the submarine cities. The boat will take you out to the perfect spot; from Angel Reef (full of Angel fish), Lobster Reef (giant lobsters and nurse sharks), Shoal Bay Reef (stingrays and eels), Beacon Reef (full of critters hiding in trenches and caves), to many more. Practically the entire west coast of Anguilla is packed with excellent diving all of types for all people.
But of course, if you’d just rather stay close to the surface on a snorkel, there are plenty of opportunties for that. Grab some equipment from your hotel and venture off on your own. Basically any beach is going to offer some stunning underwater sight to behold. The finest beaches for snorkeling, however, are probably (you got a pen?) Crocus Bay, Shoal Bay East, Junk’s Hole and Sandy Island. Seek these spots out. Venture into the deep. The other dimension awaits.