In the fifth of our six-part series on the world’s most dive-able wrecks, we’re highlighting the best wreck diving in the Caribbean. (Check out our stories here on wreck diving in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the United States). Each Caribbean wreck has a unique story — from the vessel confiscated for drug smuggling to the ship that became an underwater art exhibit — read on to find out about the best wreck diving in the Caribbean.
Customs officials found nearly 12 tons of marijuana hidden on the Hilma Hooker in 1984. The vessel had lost power and was towed to shore where the inspection revealed the illegal cargo. Officials arrested the captain and crew members and the vessel remained moored at the pier. The ship was in poor condition and began to take on water. Officials decided to move it to a permanent anchor point between two reefs where it subsequently sank.
The vessel lays on its starboard side. At the stern you can see the rudder and propeller. There’s also a large deck, two deck houses, a galley, crew quarters, wheelhouse, chart room and an empty cargo hold. The ship was evidence in a criminal case, which means that nothing was removed from the vessel prior to sinking. Some objects like furniture, debris and heavy steel doors make penetration hazardous. Wreck-certified divers should take particular care due to number of entanglement hazards, low visibility and a lack of natural light.
The wreck lies between 49 and 100 feet (15 to 30 m) and visibility is often more than 100 feet. Water temperatures vary from 79 to 89 F (26 to 32 C). Open-water divers can dive the Hilma Hooker but you’ll need wreck certification to penetrate the wreck. The best way to visit the wreck is via boat charter from one of the island’s dive resorts. Bonaire has good diving all year round.
Where: Roatan, Honduras
The Odyssey is a 295-foot-long (90 m) freighter, sunk in 2002. It is the largest wreck in the Caribbean. Divers can see a huge wheelhouse, many stairs and ladders, and the captains’ head with original tiling still intact. The wreck lies between two reefs, home to many tropical fish. You can see some barracuda, groupers and tuna above the wreck. Although the wreck is still fairly new there is some coral growth visible.
The Odyssey lies between 40 and 112 feet (12 to 34 m) and visibility ranges from 82 to 88 feet (25 to 27 m). Water temperatures vary from 75 to 84 F (24 to 29 C). The wreck is best for advanced divers and the best way to reach it is via a short boat ride from shore.
The best months to visit are April and May when the weather is warm and dry. The rainy season is between July and January with the peak rainy season being between October and January.
Where: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
The Kittiwake was a submarine-rescue vessel, launched in 1945 and decommissioned in 1994. and many of its exploits are still classified. It played a part in a number of record-breaking achievements, including conducting the deepest submarine rescue exercise in 1959. The Kittiwake crew recovered the Challenger’s black box from the Atlantic Ocean in 1986 after it exploded.
The vessel was donated to the Cayman Islands Tourism and it was scuttled in Grand Cayman in 2011.
The Kittiwake has an abundance of marine life, including a huge resident grouper that hangs around the propeller. Divers can explore the mess-hall and the large propeller shafts, with lots of natural light for easy penetration. Don’t miss the smoke stack, two recompression chambers and a head with the mirror still intact.
The Kittiwake lies between 16 and 60 feet (5 to 18 m) and visibility is usually over 100 feet (30 m). Water temperatures range from 77 to 84 F (25 to 29 C).
Open water divers can dive the Kittiwake but advanced certification with wreck qualifications are required for penetration. There is good diving year-round but note that hurricane season falls from June and November. The Kittiwake is a private park so you must pay an admission fee and visit the site with a licensed operator.
Felipe Xicotencatl C-53
Where: Cozumel, Mexico
Also called “the Cozumel wreck,” the Felipe Xicotencatl served in the U.S. Navy in WWII as the USS Scuffle. Mexico bought the vessel in 1962 and used it to patrol the Caribbean for 55 years. The government purpose-sank the Felipe Xicotencatl in 1999 as part of the Cozumel underwater park. There’s a large diversity of marine life and divers can explore the engine rooms, galley, officers’ quarters and radio room, all of which are still intact.
The wreck lies between 20 to 82 feet (6 to 25 m) and there can be strong currents at times. Visibility is usually over 100 feet (30 m) and water temperatures range from 77 to 84 F (25 to 29 C).
Open-water divers can dive the wreck though you need advanced and wreck qualifications for penetration. There is good diving year-round in Cozumel with May to October being the rainy season. The wreck is accessible via boat.
Where: British Virgin Islands
The RMS Rhone was a British mail ship. It sank during the San Narciso hurricane of 1897 when winds pushed into Black Rock Point on Salt Island. The wreck cost 123 passengers and crew their lives.
Today, the Rhone is one of the BVI’s most well-known dive sites. The bow is mostly intact and in the stern you can see the propeller, drive shaft and engine box. Most of the wreck is exposed, which means it is fairly easily penetrable.
The stern lies between 39 and 60 feet (12 to 18 m) while the bow sits between 72 and 85 feet (22 to 26 m). Visibility is usually over 100 feet (30 m) and water temperatures range from 79 to 84 F (26 to 29 C).
Divers can visit with only an open water certification but must be wreck certified to penetrate the wreck. Because part of the Rhone is so shallow, it is a perfect spot for snorkelers.
Diving is good year-round but note that hurricane season falls from June 1 to November 30. Both liveaboard and day trip options are available for this wreck.
Where: Butler Bay, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
One of the three ‘Shallow Wrecks’ in Butler Bay, the Suffolk Maid was a 144-foot-long (44 m), steel-hulled North Sea trawler. A hurricane drove the ship onto the Frederiksted Pier during a hurricane in 1984. The next year the vessel was towed and scuttled at its present location in Butler Bay. It sits upright. Divers will see the vessel’s name, clearly visible on the bow. There are many Creole wrasse, reef fish and the occasional green moray.
The ship lies at 60 feet (18 m) and visibility is usually over 100 feet (30 m). Water temperatures range from 79 to 84 F (26 to 29 C). There’s a slight current on the wreck most of the time.
Divers can visit with only an open-water certification but must be wreck certified to penetrate the wreck. Diving is good year-round but note that hurricane season falls from June 1 to November 30. It’s best to dive the site via boat.
The Bianca C is also called the ‘Titanic of the Caribbean’ due to its vast size. The wreck is 590 feet (180 m) long and sits upright on its keel. The former cruise liner was owned by the Italian Costa Line but an explosion in the boiler room in 1961 led to the ship’s ultimate demise and the death of one crew member, as well as injuring eight more. After the explosion, fishermen from nearby St. George’s rushed out to help the roughly 700 passengers and crew as the ship burned at anchorage. Fire quickly spread throughout the vessel, which was towed around three miles away, a mile from the popular Grand Anse beach.
Divers can see the collapsed funnel with the ‘C’ for Costa Line still visible, lifeboat davits, and the swimming pool. The bridge has collapsed but from there you can see the fore deck with broken stairs, winding winches and fallen spars all covered in soft coral. You can also see the remains of the forward mast.
A variety of tropical fish and barracuda often hang around, as well as blacktip and the occasional bull shark. You may also see eagle rays and nurse sharks.
The wreck lies in 100 to 164 feet (30 to 50 m) and the current usually runs from medium to strong across the ship.
Divers will need an advanced qualification and wreck certification for penetration. Diving is good year-round but note that hurricane season falls from June 1 to November 30. It’s best to dive the site via day boat.
Where: Necker Island, British Virgin Islands
The Kodiak Queen is one of only five vessels that survived the Pearl Harbor attack. After WWII it went on to become a king crab fishing vessel running out of Kodiak, Alaska. In 2012, the efforts of historian Mike Cochran, photographer Owen Buggy and entrepreneur Richard Branson saved the ship from the junkyard. Today it rests just off of Richard Branson’s private Necker Island. The shipwreck has become an underwater art exhibit with the main feature being a huge Kraken sculpture wrapped around the vessel.
The ship lies in 56 feet (17 m) of water and the visibility is usually over 100 feet (30 m). Water temperatures range from 79 to 84 F (26 to 29 C).
Divers will need an advanced qualification and wreck certification for penetration. Diving is good year-round but note that hurricane season falls from June 1 to November 30. Divers can reach the wreck via shore-based excursions.
The Superior Producer was overloaded with Christmas cargo and sank soon after it left port at Willemstad on the way to Venezuela. The vessel sits upright and is covered with a variety of colorful sponges and coral. Barracuda and blackbar soldierfish are often hiding among the wreck.
The ship lies at 100 feet (30 m) and often has over 100 feet (30 m) of visibility. There are strong currents at times as well. Water temperatures range from 79 to 84 F (26 to 29 C).
The wreck is best for experienced, advanced divers with wreck certification for penetration. Diving in Curaçao is good year-round, with the rainy season falling between October and February.
Divers usually reach the shipwreck via a shore entry and a 5- to 10-minute surface swim.
The SS Antilla was a 400-foot-long (122 m) German freighter. On the day that Germany invaded Poland during WWII, the ship sailed from a safe bunker in Cartagena toward neutral Curaçao but changed course for Aruba en route after learning that the harbor at Willemstad was already full of German ships. After interception by Royal Navy ships, the crew scuttled the Antilla to avoid its capture.The wreck is covered in sponges, fire coral, anemones, yellow frogfish and other tropical marine species.
The ship lies in 60 feet of water (18 m) and visibility often exceeds 100 feet (30 m) There are strong currents at times and water temperatures range from 79 to 84 F (26 to 29 C).
The wreck is best for experienced to advanced divers with wreck qualifications for penetration. Diving in Aruba is good year-round, with the rainy season falling between October and January. The best way to access the wreck is via day boat from a dive shop.