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Scuba Diving & Snorkeling

Some of the finest scuba diving in the archipelago is around Grand Turk -- in fact, a breathtakingly short .8 to 1.6km ( 1/2-1 mile) offshore (a 5- to 10-min. boat ride away). The action is at the "Wall," where the western edges of the island (and its necklace of coral reef) plunge dramatically 2,134m (7,000 ft.) into deep water, actually the leeward side of the Turks Island Passage (also known as the Columbus Passage), which lies between the Turks islands and the Caicos islands. Scuba divers flock here to enjoy panoramic wall dives on the vertical sides of the reefs. The diving sites of the Wall have colorful names like Coral Garden, the Aquarium, the Library, and even McDonald's (for its -- what else? -- coral arch). Near Governor's Beach (and just onshore from the governor's mansion at Waterloo) is a site called Chief Ministers. You'll see all manner of marine life, from giant manta rays and Nassau groupers to big, voluptuous formations of coral and sponges. You'll even see humpback whales as they migrate south through the Turks Island Passage in the winter.

"See" is the operative word in Grand Turk diving: The visibility can exceed 30m (100 ft.). And you don't have to go deep to encounter impressive marine life -- active reef zones begin here at depths of just 9m (30 ft.) -- meaning you'll enjoy productive dives in better light and using better air production. The proximity of great diving to the docks also means you don't have to spend hours getting to and from your dives -- after an afternoon dive you can be back on land in plenty of time for happy hour.

You can also enjoy one of the underwater world's great experiences: a night dive on the Wall, where, due to bioluminescence, the colors of the day become the phosphorescent illumination of the night.

Snorkeling is good right off many Grand Turk beaches, including Governor's Beach, White Sands Beach, and Pillory Beach (in front of the Bohio Dive Resort). Many dive operators also offer snorkeling trips out to the reef, or, when space allows, take snorkelers out on dive boats, where you will snorkel in water depths of approximately 8m (25 ft.). The dive shops discussed below all rent snorkel gear.

One extremely popular snorkeling trip is to uninhabited Gibbs Cay, where you can not only snorkel in clear turquoise shallows but hand-feed and touch docile stingrays.

Dive Operators

The owners and operators of the following dive companies are experienced divers on the island, and they know where to find marine life in a kaleidoscope of colors. They work with novices -- offering good beginning courses and training -- as well as experienced divers of all skill levels. Rates below are per person.

Blue Water Divers, on Front Street (tel./fax 649/946-2432; www.grandturkscuba.com), offers single dives, PADI registration, and dive packages, and even runs trips to Salt Cay. These people are top-rate and will tell you many facts and legends about diving in their country (like the fact that the highest mountain in the Turks and Caicos is 2,400m/7,872 ft. tall, but only the top 42m/138 ft. are above sea level!). A single-tank dive costs $45, with a two-tank morning dive going for $105; a night dive costs $55. Trips to Salt Cay and Gibbs Cay cost $60. Full PADI certification is $400. (Mitch Rolling, the Blue Water Divers dive master, is also the guitarist who plays in venues around the island with the ripsaw band High Tide.)

Cecil Ingham's Sea Eye Diving, on Duke Street (tel. 649/946-1407; www.seaeyediving.com), is convenient to most hotels in town. It offers two-tank morning dives at $75 to $80. An afternoon single-tank dive costs $45, and a single-tank night dive goes for $55. Rental equipment is also available. NAUI and PADI courses at all levels are offered. A full-certification course goes for $400, including training equipment and boat checkout dives. Dive packages that include accommodations can be arranged at a hotel of your choice. Snorkeling and cay trips are available for nondivers.

Oasis Divers, on Duke Street (tel. 649/946-1128; www.oasisdivers.com), offers complete dive-master services, with dive adventures along the Wall, night dives, trips to Gibbs Cay, snorkeling trips, trips to Salt Cay, and dive/accommodations packages. A morning two-tank dive costs $86; a night dive is $55. An instruction course and dive from your resort is $110; a trip to Salt Cay is $50 and a trip to Gibbs Cay is $55.

Grand Turk native Smitty Smith is the expert instructor and guide with Grand Turk Diving (tel. 649/946-1559; www.gtdiving.com), which offers dive/lodging packages, a resort course ($150; equipment included), and full scuba certification ($450; equipment included). Two single-tank morning dives cost $75.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.