Diving Barbados

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Country: Barbados  Area: Barbados

Water Temp: 25 - 29°C (77 - 84°F)

Visibility: 12 - 30m (39 - 98 ft)

Depth Range: 5 - 43m (16 - 141 ft)

Hawksbill Nesting - Late May to Late Oct, Leatherback Nesting - Feb to Jul, Green Turtle Nesting - Late May to Late Oct

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Barbados is like the black sheep of the Caribbean’s Windward Islands. It lies over 100 km to the east of the arc made up by the Lesser Antilles island chain and is encircled by reefs provided numerous excellent diving spots.

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Unlike its nearest neighbours which were formed through volcanic action, Barbados was formed as the result of tectonic plate action. This means that the island is constantly on the move, gaining a heady 25mm in elevation every 1,000 years. This also means that, geologically, the island is made up of old coral reef.

While the island is mostly encircled by reefs, its east coast is normally too rough for diving because it is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean. There are pleanty of dive sites on the west and southwest coasts however, including a number of excellent shipwrecks to explore. With nearly 40 mooring buoys along the west and south coast’s there’s a good variety of barrier and patch reefs to explore. Though the island isn’t known for pelagic or other large animals, they have many kilometres of very healthy reefs frequented by a good variety of fish species including some infrequently seen species such as frogfish, flying gurnards, seahorses and batfish.

Barbados, Credit

Barbados is a moderately well developed island, economically speaking. They have one of the highest per capita GDPs in the Caribbean region. The island has its own currency and boasts a population of approximately 285,000 people. With its tropical climate and selection of luxury houses and hotels Barbados is a favourite vacation spot for celebrities.

Barbados is a nesting site for green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles. One snorkel site in the Folkestone Park is frequented by sea turtles on a daily basis.

Relaxing Seat! Credit

Climate & Sea Conditions

Barbados has a dry season and a rainy season. The rainy season runs from May to December but rainfall and humidity peak from September to December. Rainfall between the seasons varies from 40 mm in March to 201 mm in October and November. Thanks to constant trade winds relative humidity typically stays below 80%. Temperatures reach an average high of 30C from April to October and only dip to 28C in January. Average low temperatures range in the mid to low 20s throughout the year.

Because of its relative far south-eastern location in the Caribbean, hurricane strikes are rare. Hurricane Tomas caused minor damage in 2010. Prior to that only hurricane Janet in 1955 caused any significant damage, hitting the island between a category 2 and category 3 strength level.

A more recent climatological concern is, incredibly, high levels of mineral dust blown across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara desert. The dust is thought to have an impact on coral reef health as well as affecting asthmatics on the island.

Turtle diving alone, Credit

Marine Conservation

Barbados has taken a number of steps to conserve their marine areas. The Folkestone Park and Marine Reserve covers 11% of the west coast shoreline where fishing is excluded as well as a scientific zone where all motorized boat traffic is excluded. Carlisle Bay Marine Park is home to several artificial reefs in the form of purpose-sunk shipwrecks taking tourism pressure off natural sites.

Canada’s McGill University has established the Bellairs Research Institute on the island to host visiting researchers from around the world. Because of its unique location and geological history as an oceanic island it makes for an interesting study location for many disciplines including biology, geology, reef research and climatology.

The government run Coastal Zone Management Unit is a huge step in acknowledging the importance of not just the water but the impact that coastal land use has on it. They oversee reef monitoring, coastal planning and development, beach erosion and marine research.

Very blue Barbados water, Credit

The Barbados Sea Turtle Project is a group that monitors the island’s leeward beaches during the various nesting seasons. The group takes a mostly passive approach to monitoring, assessing nesting success and determining if the nest is in a safe location. Members tag or collect tag information and measure the females. Monitoring also extends to hatching and post-hatching next excavation to determine mortality rates. If the nest is in an unsafe location they are moved to a safer site within the vicinity.

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Shore Diving

Barbados has two marine parks, the Folkestone Park and Marine Reserve located adjacent to Holetown on the west coast and Carlisle Bay Marine Park to the south near the capital of Bridgetown. The Carlisle Bay Marine Park is host to 6 artificially sunk wrecks in close proximity to one another with the deepest only reaching 17 m. At 3.5 m and 4.5 m, two of the wrecks are within snorkelling range. 

Both the marine parks can be accessed as shore diving sites, although this is not the ideal way to dive them. Carlisle Bay is about a 200 m surface swim and boat traffic is not excluded outside of the demarcated park area. Likewise, Folkestone is heavily used by recreational watercraft. Both areas offer clear sandy beach access with minimal surf.

Diving with turtle, Credit

Carlisle Bay is surrounded by nearby dive shops where you can rent gear and get air fills but facilities are sparse. Folkestone Park offers a full range of facilities for non-divers including a visitor interpretation centre with an aquarium, picnic tables, a snack bar, bathrooms and a children’s playground.

Boat Diving

The Stavronikita is easily the highlight of Barbados’ wrecks. A 111 m freighter, the Stavronikita was en route to Barbados in 1976 with a cargo of cement when the ship was heavily damaged by a fire. It sat in port for 2 years before being purchased by the Parks and Beach Commission; it was then cleaned up and sunk using 90 kg of explosives. The uppermost points of the masts start at just 6 m in depth with main superstructure starting at 15 m.

The maximum depth of the wreck is 43m to the sand. The wreck can be penetrated through a hole near the propeller, but it is easy to get lost inside the maze of corridors and this is best left to advanced divers led by an experienced guide. Sponges and fans are well encrusted around the outside decks while the darkened interior is well populated by squirrelfish and soldierfish. Visibility is usually quite good (+30 m) and currents are normally slow. The wreck lies less than half a kilometre offshore making this a quick site to reach by boat.

Divers with a large Engine Block, Credit

Most of the best reef sites are found between 10 and 40m. Dottins (max depth 30m) and Johnsons (max depth 24m) reefs are very popular sites with healthy corals and sponges. Dottins is frequented by barracuda and turtles. Maycocks Bay is made up of reefs separated by deep channels. Excellent visibility helps makes for a unique experience.

If drift diving is your style Old Fort, The Deep, Lobster Reef and Pieces of Eight all fit the bill. If you’re more interested in treasure hunting be sure to check out Bottle Ground where you can still find 18th and 19th century bottles strewn across the bottom and the rule here is finder’s keepers.

Diving can be done on the rougher east coast of the island if the weather conditions are right. The best time of the year would be during the summer months. There are about 10 sites on the east coast which are visited by larger species including sharks.

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How to Get there

Barbados has one airport, Grantley Adams International. It is located in the south of the island, 13 km from the capital city of Bridgetown. The airport on Barbados serves as a hub to the eastern Caribbean islands. Major carriers include Air Canada, American Airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Caribbean Airlines and LIAT have flights to nearby islands including St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Vincent.  

There are about a dozen local car rental companies at the airport and bookings can be reserved online. Rental cars have plates starting with an H, denoting them as ‘hired cars’. Cars drive on the left in Barbados, a former British colony. Outside of the towns roads signs are few and far between, so bring a map and be prepared to get lost.

Beautiful Barbados! Credit

License plates starting with Z are taxis. It’s very easy to find a taxi outside the airport upon arrival. There is a board showing how much fares are to various locations from the airport. All other fares should be agreed upon before the trip.

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Where to Eat and Drink

The St. Lawrence Gap, commonly referred to as ‘The Gap’ is a 1.3 km stretch of road in the south of the island, about midway between the airport and Bridgetown. This area is famous for its array of accommodations, restaurants and nightlife. Pisces is a high end waterfront restaurant with an international menu that has Caribbean flavours mixed in. Specializing in seafood, their mains cost between $25 and $67 USD range. The colourful Harlequin offers slightly cheaper options with a vegetarian and kids menu. High end options like surf and turf or rack of lamb are also on offer for around $30-45 USD.

Much more affordable beachfront bars and cafes can be found all around the island, including Surfer’s Bay (Christ Church), SideShore Beach Bar and Bistro (Rockley) and the Waterfront Cafe (Bridgetown). All three offer local and Caribbean cuisine in the $5-$25 USD range.

Turtles drinking water, Barbados, Credit

Popular nightclubs include the Reggae Lounge and the newer upscale Sugar Ultra Lounge, both located in The Gap. If you’re looking for something a bit slower paced, Scarlett’s is a wine bar in Paynes Bay and Fisherman’s Pub offers live music and ocean views in Speightstown, both on the west coast.

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Other Activities

Because of its landscape and climate, much of the land in Barbados was used agriculturally for sugar cane plantations. This makes Welchman Hall Gully particularly special. Although not entirely made up of native plants, the gully is a naturalized area and now acts as a preserve to bring back native species. Wild family groups of green monkeys roam the grounds and there are some spectacular geologic formations to be seen.

Harrison’s Cave is one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island. Visitors are driven around the cave on electrically operated trams that stop intermittently for photo and exploration opportunities to view the stalactites and stalagmites up close. The central cavern, known as the Great Hall soars to over 30 m in height.

Beautiful Sunset, Credit

The Barbados Wildlife Reserve allows guests to get up close and personal with the wildlife. Tortoises, maras and iguanas roam the site and green monkeys are frequent visitors due to a scheduled feeding time. The paths of the reserve are made of recycled bricks from sugar factories and the buildings are made from coral rock excavated from sugar cane fields. Beautiful iron work gates and arches adorn the aviary featuring numerous tropical birds.

Other attractions include Saint Nicholas Abbey, a sugar cane plantation with a rum distillery. The great house was built in 1658. The Agapey Chocolate Factory in Bridgetown offers educational tours that end with a product tasting.  Atlantis Submarines offers day or night dives that take visitors down to 130 feet.

Barbados was a regularly scheduled destination for the Concorde planes during the winter season and one of the retired aircraft is housed inside the Barbados Concorde Experience Museum where visitors can get onboard for the full experience.

There are many tour operators that offer combination packages of island highlights and take care of the driving for you and will be able to book any of the above for you.

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Barbados is divided into 11 parishes, each with its own central church. Places are often referred to by which parish they are found in. It’s a good idea to have a parish map handy.

While most of the action on the island is on the west and south coasts, the east coast features some of the most beautiful scenic shorelines on the island. The rugged coastline at Bathsheba makes for fantastic photo opportunities and scenic lookouts.

The currency is the Barbados dollar (BBD). You can use American currency in shops but you are likely to receive Barbados currency in change at a rate of $2.00/BBD. The rate is fixed to the American dollar and doesn’t change. VISA and MasterCard are widely accepted and 24 hour ATMs are found across the island.

A purposely sank boat, Credit

Crop Over is a major harvest festival on the island. Celebrations and events take place starting in May and continuing to its culmination on the first Monday in August, known as Kadooment Day with a major carnival parade that thousands of costumed revellers and bands take part of.

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diving east coast in march

Hi there, vising Barbados staying on east coast from 7-15th March this year. I have around 80 dives to my name and been very lucky to have dived all over world. I like the big stuff and it seems my only chance of seeing sharks is on east coast but is it possible/worth diving there in March? If not, which dive sites would you recommend elsehwere for rays and turtles at this time of year. I am not overly fussed about wreck diving but could be persuaded. In addiont, my partner - who is not a fan of diving would love to see turtles while snorkelling - is this possible? Thanks community!

Rating 8/10

St Lucia

Barbados15 Sep 2013 - 22 Sep 2013

We stayed at Anse Chastanet. Nice place. Very healthy reefs. Not so many fish but great sponges and coral. I will go back some day

cucumber Spotted Drum slug coral butterfly 1
diamond head discover scuba diving2

George Taylor

I can only guess that is some kind of huge sea cucumber! Does it have a name? Never seen such a big one!

bahamas 054

Rusty Huffman

I do not know the name but it was one of the biggest I saw

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