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stoplight parrot fish, wrasse, and grey reef shark on the Providenciales barrier reef Sea life on the Providenciales barrier reef.

Scuba Diving

The Incredible Reefs of the Turks and Caicos!

scuba diving at the abrupt wall at French Cay
The Wall off French Cay.

The Turks and Caicos have two features that define local diving: the third largest barrier reef in the world, and excellent sheer walls.

The Turks and Caicos is situated on an expansive underwater plateau that rises 7000 feet (2100m) from the ocean floor, with most of the islands being located directly on the north edge of this plateau. The transitions from the 40-50 foot (12-15m) flat sandy ocean bottoms near land to the vertical walls of the plateau vary, and make for countless interesting dive sites. The north edges of the plateau tend to have distinctive spur and groove formations and the west and south edges offer impressive wall sites. Sand chutes, canyons and cracks are found at many sites and make for excellent swim-throughs

Marine Wildlife

The reefs around the country support large numbers of Caribbean reef fish and small sea creatures, and vibrant corals and sponges abound as well.

barracuda eating a small fish in the Turks and Caicos
Barracuda in the waters off Providenciales. Photo by Kaieri Photography.

Most of the sharks sighted around the islands are Caribbean reef sharks or lemon sharks, yet hammerheads, nurse sharks, and bull sharks are sometimes sighted. Southern brown stingrays and spotted eagle rays are common as well.

An entire spectrum of reef fish can be found in the Turks and Caicos. Stoplight parrotfish are one of the most common species, and largely account for our incredible beaches. There are French, grey and queen angelfish, snappers and groupers of many types, queen triggerfish, black durgons, filefish, damselfish, trumpetfish, blue tangs, wrasse, jacks, and butterflyfish, just to name a few types.

Humpback Whales migrate past the Turks and Caicos during the winter months of January, February, March and April. Salt Cay tends to be the best for whales, but they can also be seen in the deeper water off the other main islands.

Nearly all popular dive sites in the country are located in protected nature reserves and national parks.

How the Diving Varies Across the Turks and Caicos

The dive companies, facilities and underwater sights vary according to island. Before deciding on which of our islands to vacation on, there are several factors to consider.

All-inclusive dive and accommodation packages are available on every main island. Unlimited shore dives are often included with such deals on Grand Turk and Salt Cay.

The Reefs and Wildlife

First and foremost is what you’ll see underwater. Marine life is vibrant throughout the Turks and Caicos, yet topography differs a bit.

The eastern Turks and Caicos reefs near Grand Turk and Salt Cay support a high density and variety of fish and sea creatures, yet the underwater terrain and reef features of the Caicos Islands tend to be more impressive.

The majestic and sheer wall sites of the western Caicos Banks are only accessed from Providenciales and in our opinion are the finest sites in the country.

scuba diving at Smith's Reef off of Providenciales
Diving at a shallow reef on Providenciales.

The Boat Trip Out

Grand Turk and Salt Cay feature great sites that are often only minutes from shore. Consequently, smaller open vessels are often the choice.

Providenciales is within access of a tremendous range of dive sites, yet some of the better locations, such as French Cay, West Caicos and Northwest Point, may be as much as an hour boat ride out. Due to the longer amount of time spent on the water, large dive boats are the common boats and usually have some dry cabin space and restrooms.

The Social Atmosphere

The vast majority of tourism to Grand Turk is by cruise ship, which results in a drastic change in island activity depending on whether a ship is in port. During the day you’ll see visitors and tour activities across the island, yet at night the experience becomes much quieter.

The tiny island of Salt Cay only sees a dozen or two guests at any one time, so groups are close-knit and you’ll likely see the same guests and people every day at one of the few restaurants or stores.

Providenciales sees nearly all overnight stays in the Turks and Caicos, much of which is in luxury accommodations. The island exhibits much more a tourism atmosphere associated with other popular destinations.

Non-diving Attractions

If you’re considering the other activities and attractions available, the situation’s quite simple. Providenciales offers much of the water sports, dining, golf, and spa options, and Grand Turk and Salt Cay have little more than exquisite coastlines and some lightweight historical sights (which may be a good thing!).

Shore and Beach Diving

The Turks and Caicos generally doesn’t excel at shore diving. Grand Turk offers the best conditions, with some acceptable sites fronting a few of the dive shops at Cockburn Town Beach and Pillory Beach. The hotels and resorts of Providenciales are too far from the viable dive sites for shore diving.

Wreck Diving

See also Wreck Diving

Although there’s no established dive operators on South Caicos, it’s worth mentioning this island. Several interesting sites are found near South Caicos, including a Convair CV-440 airplane wreck and quite a few sites with fascinating reef architecture, including deep crevasses in the barrier reef and small coral caves and grottos.

The School for Field Studies' Center for Marine Resource Studies is located on South Caicos and students regularly dive during their study and research.

Seasons

sea fan and blue and yellow wrasse fish at the Grace Bay barrier reef
Sea fan and wrasse fish off Providenciales.

Other than whales and to a lesser degree the larger sharks, all of the common sea animals can be seen year round. Generally, late summer tends to have the calmest weather and greatest visibility, but this period is also the hurricane season and a big storm can obviously cause major disruptions! Water temperature is generally consistent, reaching a low of about 75°f (24°c) in late January and a high of about 86°f (30°c) in July and August.

Night Diving

Night diving is an amazing change from daytime diving. Because the longer wavelengths (reds and oranges) of light are filtered out before the shorter wavelengths (blues) in the water, everything appears increasingly blue as you descend during unilluminated daytime diving. During a night dive, what you see is lit up by your dive light and because the light travels only the distance from the light to the subject and back to your eyes, the longer wave colors are still vivid. You’ll see everything as it more naturally appears, with brighter warmer colors.

The enhanced colors are only part of the benefits. Many fascinating sea creatures only commonly come out at night, including prawns, marine worms, and lobsters. Sometimes it seems that the reef is busier at night than during the day!

Several of local dive companies offer night dives, but these dive are not regularly scheduled and have to be reserved in advance.

Dive Resorts and Accommodations

Hobie Cat Sailboat on the beautiful Pillory Beach on Grand Turk
The Bohio Dive Resort and Pillory Beach on Grand Turk.

The Turks and Caicos offers several dive-oriented accommodations and all-inclusive resorts with dive-centric packages. On Providenciales, the country’s largest all-inclusive resorts, Beaches Resort and Club Med Turkoise, have vacation stays that include unlimited diving trips. These resorts also include a great range of other activities and amenities as well.

The less extensive Bohio Dive Resort on Grand Turk and Salt Cay Divers on the tiny island of Salt Cay primarily support the dive community, and are within short boat trips of excellent reef sites.

Live Aboard Diving

The Turks and Caicos has one live aboard dive operator, the TCI Aggressor II, a 120 foot ship with accommodations for 18 passengers. The TCI Aggressor II departs from Providenciales and visits many sites along the northwest coasts of Providenciales and West Caicos, and the remote south banks near French Cay.

A live aboard is a great choice for enthusiasts and dive photographers. You’ll be able to get to many of the remote and exquisite Caicos Banks dive sites, and you’ll be among peers which will likely develop your skills.

vibrant reef and sea life with scuba diver in the Turks and Caicos
Diving on the Grace Bay barrier reef.

Learning to Dive

Learning to Scuba Dive in the Turks and Caicos.

PADI is almost exclusively the main accrediting organization used by local dive companies for training, and most of the main dive businesses offer certification by professional instructors up to Advanced Open Water Diver. Dive Provo and Caicos Adventures also offer some higher level courses such as Rescuer Diver.

We highly recommend that prospective divers obtain Open Water Diver certification (or equivalent) instead of a DSD (Discover Scuba Diving) or basic Scuba Diver certification. Open Water Diver allows greater flexibility and a much better understanding of the physics and risks of diving.