Scuba Diving San Salvador, Bahamas
Known for its wall and wreck diving.
San Salvador Island is an island and district of the Bahamas. It is located 360 miles southeast of Miami. It is a fairly small island at 12 miles long and 5 miles wide.
It is widely believed that during Christopher Columbus’ first expedition to the New World, San Salvador Island was the first land he sighted and visited on 12 October 1492; he named it San Salvador after Christ the Saviour.
San Salvador is home to many monuments, ruins and shipwrecks that directly reflect its rich history, including five memorials that commemorate Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1492. One of them, an underwater monument, is said to mark the spot where the Pinta dropped anchor. In addition to its profound past, the island showcases miles of secluded beaches, crystal-clear seas and sparkling inland lakes. Visitors looking to embark on an adventure full of history and culture will find that San Salvador Island is the perfect place to begin their journey. It’s no wonder that Columbus dubbed it “The New World.”
It’s actually the exposed peak of a submerged mountain that rises 15,000 feet from the ocean’s floor. The land is full of undulating hills, beautiful beaches, numerous salt water lagoons and amazing reefs that surround the greater part of the island. It has one of the most unique-looking landscapes in The Bahamas.
Much of the interior of San Salvador is made up of lakes which were utilized in days past for transportation. This unique inner island passage promoted the development of several communities on the perimeter of these interconnected lakes. After trampling in the dense bush, which covers the island, one can appreciate why this method of transport was used.
SCUBA DIVING SAN SALVADOR
San Salvador is renowned for great diving, with more than 50 dive sites on the island’s lee side, including ruins and shipwrecks. Unusual ones are Devil’s Claw and Vicky’s Reef, with stingrays and sharks; and French Bay, with Elkhorn and staghorn coral.
The island is known for its wall diving. Since San Salvador is the exposed top of an underwater mountain, you can imagine the walls. There are lots of dramatic dropoffs to keep the blood pumping.
It is claimed that San Salvador has published more underwater photos than any other location in the world. Its vertical walls really are world class are home to many friendly groupers and visited by sharks. There is also a wreck and many shallow reefs plentiful with fish species.
Well known wrecks include Brig Enterprise Wreck, near Green Cay, sank 1832 , Columbian Wreck, near North Point, sank December 25, 1980 , Frasgate Wreck, off Bonefish Bay, sank January 1, 1902 , Hinchinbrook Wreck, near High Cay, sank July 19, 1913 , Schooner Wreck, near East Beach , Unknown Wreck, near Low Cay , Yacht Wreck, near Nancy Cay, sank 1977.
HIGHLIGHTED DIVE AREAS
Runway 10 – The depth under the boat is forty feet with the boat hanging near the edge of the wall. The edge of the drop off has numerous large coral heads and varies from forty to sixty feet before dropping sharply to 100. A sloping ledge rolls down to 200 before becoming a vertical wall again. Several schools of grunts hover around the top of the reef. There are several large sand patches towards shore and these may have queen conch, yellowhead jawfish, sand tilefish and yellow stingrays. There are a few friendly groupers and mutton snappers. Hammerheads are occasionally spotted swimming parallel to the wall above the deep ledge. At night there are frequent sightings of basket starfish, octopus, crabs and pufferfish. Sometimes lobsters and rare nudibranchs.
RRI Wall – The depth under the boat is forty feet with the back of the boat trailing over the wall. The drop off here is very dramatic and forms a straight cliff down to 100 feet. The edge of the wall varies from 40 to 50 feet. There is a sloping plateau that drifts from 100 to 160 feet before becoming vertical to la la land. The top of the wall is fairly flat with some excellent macro subjects along the edge. One of the few sites that we see fingerprint cyphomas. We frequently dive here at night and find lots of small creatures like orange ball corallimorphs, neck crabs and nudibranchs. There are some large sand patches to search towards shore. Hammerheads are occasionally seen swimming above the plateau.
Sand Castles – The depth under the boat is 35 to 40 feet of open sand. The wall lies behind the boat and drops sharply from 40 feet to 100 feet. There is a thin ridge of reef about 30 feet wide at the edge of the drop off. Going south along the wall the reef becomes a sandy slope from 40 to 100 feet. There are a few large coral heads away from the wall that come up to about 60 feet from the outer wall edge at 140 feet. Going north the wall juts out in a point about 100 feet north of the anchorage. After this coral ridge it becomes a sandy slope again. Large southern stingrays are frequently seen in the sandy flat and where the reef meets the sand. Friendly groupers and mutton snappers are common. Sharks and barracuda are often observed between the wall and the deep coral heads. There are plenty of small creatures at the lip of the wall including cowries, brittle starfish and bristleworms.
Telephone Pole – The depth under the boat is 35 to 40 feet of open sand flats. The wall is behind the boat running parallel to shore. The coral strip on the edge of the wall varies from 40 to 100 feet in width. A large crevice runs through the face of the wall starting in 35 feet in the sand flat and dropping to 100 feet at the bottom of the cut out on the edge of the wall. At one time there was a telephone pole wedged over the crevice in the sandy entrance to the cut. It has been broken in half by storm surge and flushed down into the chute. The reef remains a sheer wall for about 200 feet north where it breaks up into a series of coral heads and a sand slope. Going south it remains a straight wall up to the next dive site grouper gully. Big southern stingrays, friendly grouper, mutton snappers, turtles and ocean triggerfish are common here. Several schools of goatfish hover over the edge of the reef. A huge purple gorgonian marks the northern edge of the telephone pole cut and has been often photographed for magazine articles since 1974. This dive has been a divers favorite for some 24 years.
La Crevasse – The bottom under the boat is 35 feet of heavy growth coral reef. The wall is 35 feet and runs parallel to shore. There is a series of big crevices and tunnels that runes through the wall from a sandy area to the edge of the wall at 100 feet. The main crevice is over 200 feet long and branches off into several caves and tunnels. There is a smaller series of crevices to the east. The entire dive can be spent swimming through and exploring la crevasse. There is an abundance of coral and fish along the edge and on top of the wall. The visibility is usually not good if the site is rough. The wall is very sheer and drops from 40 feet to 150 quite dramatically.
Double Caves – The bottom under the boat is 35 feet deep on a heavy coral reef. There is a big cave formation with two parallel caves leading out to the wall at 115 feet. The caves begin as sand crevices that start in the shallow sand flats and they are joined in the middle section of the wall by a long crevice at 80 feet. The wall itself is very dramatic and fall abruptly from 40 feet to over 150. The coral and sponge growth is very heavy along the side and top of the wall. There is an additional cave system about 120 feet west from the double caves. Sharks and schools of jacks are often seen here. There will be lots of fish activity along the top of the wall.
Doolittle’s Grotto – The depth under the boat is about 40 feet on a gradual sand slope to the wall. The wall here is basically a sand slope from 30 to 140 feet. It is broken up by two parallel ridges of coral each over 50 feet thick. The ridges are riddled with tunnels that allow you to make your way down the wall through them. The big ridge near the boat has four tunnels that lead to a sand bottom valley between the shallow and deep ridges. The second coral ridge has two bigger crevices splitting it into three sections. The top of the outer coral is 60 feet and the deeper crevices will bring you out to a big sand valley at 120 feet. There is usually a big school of horse eye jacks meandering over the reef the entire dive. Big corals and barrel sponges are common about the reef.
North Pole Cave – The depth under the boat is 35 feet on coral and hardpan bottom. The wall is just behind the boat and drops sharply from 40 feet to over 150 feet. To the north slightly the reef slopes gently to 65 feet and in the middle of the slope is a vertical cave leading down to a crevice that runs out over the wall at 110 to 150 feet. The cave looks like the kind of chimney that Santa Claus might drop through, hence the name. The vertical cave is half moon shaped and big enough for a diver to go down horizontally in free fall position. The crevice that it becomes is 4 to 10 feet wide and goes to the south. You need to watch your depth gauge as it is easy to drop well below 130 feet as you swim through the crevice. No light is needed. There is a long cut to the north of the cave that leads back up to the shallow top of the wall. This is the fishiest reef on the lee side. There are big schools of grunts, schoolmasters and Bermuda chubs. There is heavy coral growth along the wall edge and big sponges on the side of the deep wall around 100 feet. The mooring line is anchored near some beautiful pillar coral. Hammerheads are frequently seen passing on this dive.
Shark Alley – The depth under the boat is 45 feet on a hard pan and sand groove type bottom with scattered coral heads. The wall is behind the boat with the drop off running away from shore at an angle. The wall is staggered with a drop from 45 feet to 80 feet and then again to 120 feet. Several large coral heads come up to 60 feet of depth and 50 feet away from the wall and form a ridge that runs about 200 feet to the right or northeast. There are several coral tunnels that penetrate this ridge and lead out over the wall. At the end of the ridge are a few more coral caves. A large pillar coral head is on top of the wall just north of the first coral head. Sharks are frequently seen off in the deep or over the 80 foot plateau. Plenty of reef fish on top of the wall and some rare hamlets in the deeper area.
HOW TO GET HERE
The island is served by San Salvador International Airport (ZSA). It offers daily scheduled service from Nassau by Bahamasair and a weekly scheduled charter flight from Fort Lauderdale by Spirit Airlines.
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