February 3, 2016
Keen to experience an unforgettable dive in the warm waters around Tobago? Welcome to the “drift diving capital of the Caribbean,” an island blessed with both Atlantic Ocean (Speyside) and Caribbean Sea (Charlotteville) dive sites. Both sides offer excellent diving in Tobago, with the Atlantic known for its wild waters and the Caribbean for its calm, tranquil dive sites. From the largest marine creatures (such as dolphin, whale, manta rays and shark), to the tiniest sea sponge or wriggling sea worm, Tobago has an abundance of aquatic life.
Plenty of year-round sheltered dive sites ensure that Tobago is an ideal place for the uninitiated to literally “˜take the plunge’; sites are graded for beginner, intermediate and expert. Seasoned divers can also book a night dive in amongst schools of iridescent fish, while drift diving is thrilling and exciting yet easy enough for everyone to try – the secret is to, literally, go with the flow.
In beautiful Parlatuvier Bay, the coral reefs draw in nutrients from the Guyana Current that gushes into Tobago’s waters from Venezuela’s mighty Orinoco River. Drift diving in these fertile waters is nothing short of spectacular, from the brightly coloured sponges and coral gardens on the northern side to the slower-paced currents in the shallow reefs of the southern part of the Bay. Other scenic dive spots include the marine park at Buccoo Reef, tucked amongst the arc-shaped beaches of Tobago’s west coast. There is also plenty to rave about at Nylon Pool (off the southwest coast), with its coral formations in bubble-gum hues, sparkling waters and soft sandy bottom.
The nutrients in Tobago’s fertile plankton-rich waters feed the reefs to keep coral, invertebrates and fish healthy. Vast expanses of coral reef are home to over 700 species of exotic, multi-coloured fish. Sting rays, barracuda, tarpons, turtles, parrotfish, sharks, angel fish and glassy sweepers are just some of the underwater attractions you’ll encounter when diving in Tobago. Mountainous rock formations characterise this otherworldly underwater terrain with long sloping reefs and plunging underwater canyons where millions of coral and sponge organisms encrust and flourish. More than 300 coral species have been recorded in Tobago’s waters, so far. These include fire coral, star coral, plate coral, sea fans, sea whips, staghorns and elkhorns, some of which have been sprouting from the ocean bed for centuries.
At the south end of the island, the large plate coral colonies of the Flying Reef are a haunt for nurse sharks and sting rays, where the reef meets sand. Around the aptly named Divers Dream, the crevices, ledges and overhangs offer spectacular gorgonian growth, while a little further north on the Caribbean side, you’ll find Tobago’s most famous wreck dive, the M/V Maverick. Sitting at 100ft, this former Trinidad-Tobago passenger ferry (originally named, The Scarlet Ibis) was purposely sunk as a dive-site in 1997. Regularly checked to ensure a high level of safety for divers, the 300ft-long Maverick is renowned for the lurking snappers and rainbow runners found in the shadows of the car deck. A shallower option is Arnos Vale at 40ft, which is famous for the torpedo rays, lobster and eels that peer out from the deep, dark nooks.
The Sisters, at the northwestern end of the island, are a dramatic series of rocky fingers rising up from the bottom of the sea. Hammerheads are often sighted here, with shy mantas also seen occasionally. For tarpon, turtles and octopus head to the curiously named London Bridge: a partially submerged rocky archway found in the waters around the St Giles Islands. Swim through the “˜bridge’ in calm seas amongst ocean surgeonfish, French angelfish, trunkfish and trumpetfish. Vertical walls are encrusted with sunburst yellow and red-orange sponges – an utterly gorgeous sight.
Nearby, in Boulder Valley at the mouth of Man O War Bay, a succession of massive coral-encrusted boulders attract wide-eyed divers, keen to zigzag among the oversized sponges and coloured orbs. The sloping reefs around the two offshore islands, Little Tobago (aka Bird of Paradise Island) and Goat Island, include Kelleston Drain, where the largest brain coral in the Caribbean is truly deserving of a closer look. Stunning Japanese Garden is distinctive for its many thousands of bicolour damselfish flitting around daintily like patterned butterflies. From here, a tight switchback wedged between two large rocks takes divers through Kamikazee Cut. The colours here are dazzling: both sponges and corals sprout up from powdery white sand in an eye-popping display. Arrive January to August for the best diving conditions (May-July are peak months).
Members of the Association of Tobago Dive Operators must adhere to certain safety standards, including:
Certified Scuba Diving Operators offer a wide array of courses from a two-hour Discovery session for complete beginners to Open Water, Advanced, Rescue Diver and several Specialty courses. Numerous PADI courses and programs run year-round. Here’s a selection of ATDO accredited members:
Virgin Atlantic operates flights to Tobago from London Gatwick. Book your flight today.