Diving and Snorkeling

Scuba diving was the sport that drew visitors initially to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the 1970s; diving here today is considered among the best in the world. The reef and wall drop-offs thrive with bright, unbroken coral formations and lavish numbers of fish and marine life. Mimicking the idyllic climate, waters are warm all year, averaging 76°F to 78°F in winter and 82°F to 84°F in summer. With minimal rainfall and soil runoff, visibility is usually good and frequently superb, ranging from 60 feet to more than 150 feet. An extensive system of marine national parks and boat moorings, combined with an eco-conscious mind-set among dive operators, contributes to an uncommonly pristine underwater environment. It is not unusual to spot reef sharks on every dive or to swim with whales during their migratory period between January and the end of March. Turks and Caicos has a wide variety of coral to note.

Off Providenciales, dive sites are primarily along the north shore's barrier reef. Most sites can be reached in anywhere from 10 minutes to 1½ hours. Dive sites feature spur-and-groove coral formations atop a coral-covered slope. Popular stops such as Aquarium, Pinnacles, and Grouper Hole have large schools of fish, turtles, nurse sharks, and gray reef sharks. From the south side, dive boats go to French Cay, West Caicos, Southwest Reef, and Northwest Point. Known for typically calm conditions and clear water, the West Caicos Marine National Park is a favorite stop. The area has dramatic walls and marine life, including sharks, eagle rays, and octopus, with large stands of pillar coral and huge barrel sponges.

Dive operators on Provo more regularly visit sites off Grace Bay and Pine Cay and make the longer journey to Northwest Point and West Caicos, depending on weather conditions. All major dive companies offer open-water dive and other certifications. You will even find technical diving, including re-breathers and Nitrox, available on island. Night diving is also available on the closer dive sites. A two-tank dive will range from $90 to $220. All companies offer gear rental at an additional fee. There are also two live-aboard dive boats available for charter working out of Provo.

Caicos Adventures. Run by the well-known and friendly Frenchman Fifi Kunz, Caicos Adventures offers daily excursions out of their private marina on the south side of Provo to sites off West Caicos, French Cay, and Southwest Reef. The company runs two dive boats, with groups up to 20 able to dive together. If you are not yet certified, you may enjoy one of their snorkel adventures as an alternative. They also have the Lady K, a luxury motorboat, available for private charters operating out of Blue Haven Marina on the eastern tip of the island. It’s best to book over the phone. Regent Village, Grace Bay Rd., Grace Bay, Providenciales, TKCA 1ZZ. 649/941–3346; www.caicosadventures.com.

Dive Provo. Dive Provo is a PADI five-star operation that runs daily one- and two-tank dives to popular Grace Bay sites, as well as to West Caicos. In addition, they offer the exciting night dive, as well as their unique three-tank Scuba Safari, where they head out to dive sites farther afield, such as Molasses Reef, Sandbore Channel, and Southwest Reef. This excursion includes one tank of nitrox to make it easier on the diver to spend as much time as possible under the water. Note that this is not offered to junior divers. Dive Provo has a full array of dive courses: Discover Scuba, Open Water Certification, Advanced Open Water, and Nitrox Certification. They also offer snorkeling excursions. Check out their packages including accommodation; it's a great way to save money on your next dive holiday. Ports of Call, Grace Bay Rd., Grace Bay, Providenciales, TKCA 1ZZ. 649/946–5040; 800/234–7768; www.diveprovo.com.

Provo Turtle Divers. Provo Turtle Divers, with offices at Ocean Club East and Turtle Cove Landing, has been operating dive trips on Provo since the 1970s. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and unpretentious. Their boats operate solely out of Southside Marina off Venetian Road. This location makes their boat trips quicker to the less traveled sites off French Cay, West Caicos, Northwest Point, and Sandbore Channel. Their years of experience make diving with them like spending the day with friends. Turtle Cove Landing, Lower Bight Rd., Turtle Cove, Providenciales, TKCA 1ZZ. 649/946–4232; 800/833–1341; www.provoturtledivers.com. The shop is closed on Sun. even though the boats still go out.

Snuba Turks & Caicos. Snuba offers the next-best thing to diving for a noncertified diver; it's a very different experience from snorkeling, but requires no experience. With the Surface Nexus Underwater Breathing Apparatus, you go underwater amongst the coral and schools of fish like a scuba diver, but your air tank stays on a raft at the surface. It’s a great way to experience the sport, giving you the opportunity to get a feel for it so that you might decide to take the full course and become certified at a later date. Children must be at least eight years old to participate. Using the catamaran Snuba Doo, trips include a two-site day; one location focuses on the snuba experience, and the other offers a chance to do some more adventurous snorkeling out on the less frequently visited reefs off the Grace Bay Barrier Reef. Year-round off-the-beach snuba takes place on the reef right in front of Coral Gardens. Private charters are available for groups of up to 28. And note that the owner, Jodi Taylor, will take a picture of you underwater as a keepsake. Turtle Cove Marina, The Bight, Providenciales. 649/333–7333; www.snubaturksandcaicos.com.

Turks & Caicos Aggressor II. The Turks & Caicos Aggressor II, a live-aboard dive boat, plies the waters throughout the islands, enjoying numerous pristine dive sites; weekly charters are out of Turtle Cove Marina. The Aggressor II has nine air-conditioned staterooms, all with TVs and DVD players, plus communal sundecks, wet bars, and hot tubs to keep you spoiled while on the water. You're met on arrival at the Providenciales International Airport and taken directly to the ship. Rates include up to five dives daily, plus all meals and beverages, including local beers and wine. 800/348–2628; www.aggressor.com.