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Liveaboard Diving in St Maarten
Scuba divers in St Maarten and St Martin enjoy warm Caribbean waters, vibrant underwater landscapes and an abundance of colorful tropical fish.
Liveaboards to St.Maarten/Martin will usually incorporate numerous local dives sites in the area and operate dive itineraries between St. Maarten & St. Kitts. Located in the crystal waters of the Caribbean Sea this historic island offers not only the best shopping experiences in the Caribbean, but has become renowned for its amazing diving as well. The island is surrounded by national parks that aim to protect, preserve and enhance the stunning natural beauty of the marine environment, creating an absolute paradise for divers, especially underwater photographers. The majority of dive sites are found on the southern, Dutch half of the island, St. Maarten.
Most sites around the entire island are fairly shallow, around 60 feet (18 m) or less, and consist of artificial reefs made by wrecks (the island boasts 11 wreck sites, including the Proselyte Reef), old coral reefs, and rocks encrusted with vibrant sponges and fantastic gorgonian corals. As well as helping to improve lighting conditions for your photography, the shallow depth also helps to maintain the islands strong record of safe diving. To the north, you will find the French half of the island, St. Martin. Here you will discover interesting rock formations that create maze-like structures for divers to explore, with plenty of overhangs, tunnels and ledges. Nurse sharks are a common sighting, who use these as resting areas.
As a testament to the strong investment in Marine National Parks, such as The Nature Foundation of St. Maarten and The Reserve Naturelle de St. Martin, the diversity of fish is some of the best in the Caribbean with over 700 species. The pristine rock and coral formations create an intricate ecosystem that allows many beloved species to thrive, from starfish to lobsters, blue crabs, seahorses, surgeon fish, grouper, trumpetfish, tarpon, filefish, barracuda, moray eels, and trunkfish. Green sea turtles are a frequent visitor on dives and the loggerhead turtle also likes to make an occasional appearance. Humpback whales and large dolphins too can be seen further out to sea between February and June, during their mating season. Currently the only liveaboard available on the island, the Caribbean Explorer which was established in 1987, cherry-picks the best sites in the area by providing dive cruises to Saba and St. Kitts. Both are small islands to the south of St. Maarten/Martin and are also protected by Marine National Parks. The current liveaboard, the Caribbean Explorer II, will take you for an 8 day/7night dive tour, upon which you will complete approximately 25 dives. The 115 feet (35 m) boat can accommodate up to 18 passengers in 9 luxury staterooms, each equipped with air conditioning and a private en suite bathroom.
The liveaboard will pick you up from Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg, St. Maarten (the southern half) before departing for the island of Saba late in the evening. 3 days will be spent diving the picturesque sites of Saba, followed by a night crossing to St. Kitts for an additional 3 days of diving. On Day 7, you will return to Port Zante on St. Kitts for an island tour and onshore dinner. For those interested, further island tours can be arranged to explore Saba and St. Kitts, although be aware that itineraries can change due to weather and logistical conditions.
Dive Sites and Areas of St. Maarten/Martin
Charlie's Shoal is a seldom dived coral reef ridge just off St. Maarten to the south. Maximum depth is 65 feet (20 m) with great visibility most of the time. Being quieter, turtles are frequently seen here, as well as stingray, barracudas, big grouper, and stonefish.
Big Mama's reef is the resident shark reef, again located just off St. Maarten to the south. Most commonly, the sharks are Caribbean reef sharks and can measure up to 10 feet (3 m) in length. The maximum depth of this site is 164 feet (50 m) although the average depth is 40 feet (12 m). As with most sites in St. Maarten/Martin, this site is also suitable for Open Water divers. Dive guides will ensure all safety measures are adhered to.
Saba is a beautiful little island, only 5 square miles, which meets the sea with towering red and pink cliffs. The island remained almost inaccessible until the 70s when a small harbour, Fort Bay, was built. Diving here is a very special experience, with sites consisting of seamounts and pinnacles, fringing reefs, and true coral reefs (structures made up entirely by coral, rather than coral upon rock structures). Pelagic species, such as Dorado can also be seen as some of the dive sites are open-ocean. Specific sites include, Twilight Zone, Louís Ladder, Third Encounter, Hot Springs, and Man of War Shoals.
St. Kitts is a 15 mile long, 5 mile wide, island that has yet to see any tourism on a mass scale. Rainforests provide a different terrain for hikers, with a steep, central mountain range that rises to 3750 feet. Dive sites to the east of St. Kitts are usually very calm, as they are protected by the island. The underwater structures here give a clue to the island's volcanic history, with lava flows that are now encrusted with coral reef and sponges. Specific sites include Sandy point, St. Peters, Coconut Tree Reef, Black Coral Reef, and Brimstone Hill Shallow.
When To Go
Diving is available all year round since both air and water temperatures remain fairly constant. During winter, air temperatures may dip to 82F (28C) and water temperatures 79F (26C), with summer air and water temperatures a toasty 89F (32C) and 85F (29C) respectively.
Being tropical there is a rainy season, which is sometimes known as hurricane season. Normally this lasts from June to November, but rarely is weather strong enough to halt or disrupt outings.
Tips For Travellers
Although you don't need to show proof of your dive experience, it's always a good idea to bring your dive certifications even if they are available online (and you may want to bring your log book with you anyway to note your awesome experiences during the dive cruise!). An Open Water certification, or equivalent, fulfils the minimum requirements for most sites.
St. Maarten/Martin and Saba all accept the US Dollar, while St. Kitts accepts the Eastern Caribbean Dollar. English, French and Dutch are the main spoken languages.
Electricity runs at 220 to 240 Volts at 60 Hz on St. Maarten/Martin and St. Kitts and typically a Type C Europlug socket; but 110 Volts at 60 Hz on Saba utilising Type A or B sockets. Double check the labels on your electrical gadgets, as you may need an adapter and a step-down transformer or voltage converter.
How To Get There & Ports Of Departure
The international airport is located in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten. From here, it is a short drive to anywhere on the island.
St. Maarten/Martin liveaboard dive cruise leave from Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg, St. Maarten.
Please check the Marine Park Fees as these will be payable in addition to the trip. Take note of the Marine Park Rules.
Please also ensure you check any other fees or costs that may be applicable to you.
Most countries will require that you hold a passport with at least 6 months validity from the date of entry, a return ticket home, and sufficient funds for your trip. Australian, Canadian, USA, and EU citizens are not required to apply for a short-stay visa, but this may be subject to change. Ensure you obtain the latest visa requirements well in advance of your intended date of travel to avoid disappointment.
It is advised to contact your doctor 8 weeks before your dive trip to ascertain whether you will need any vaccinations or medications. It is strongly advised that you arrange comprehensive travel and diver insurance.
St Maarten Diving Reviews
- 8.7 Fabulous
- 12 Verified Reviews
Trip was from St Maarten to St Kitts; we didn't dive at St Maarten. Best diving was at Saba: Diamond Rock, Man O War, and Tent Wall were EXCEPTIONAL - Spectacular. Ladders Labyrinth was very good. Customs House, Hot Springs, Tent Reef and Torens Point were average. Visibility around the St Kitts dive sites was poor to okay. We dove Paradise Reef, Anchors Aweigh, Old Road Bay, Ye Old Anchor, Corinthian and River Taw Wreck. River Taw Wreck was very good and I greatly enjoyed seeing 50 to 100 garden eels at Corinthian; but all the others were average. Seeing all these dive site names that are unfamiliar to me is a little disturbing.
Diving St Maarten in May on the Caribbean Explorer II
We didn't do many of those sites. It was a very macro based dive which was okay for some dives but not all.
Diving St Maarten in February on the Caribbean Explorer II
Overall the diving was a disappointment. Poor visibility and each day we dived two sites only. Lots of repetition. It lacked variety.
Diving St Maarten in February on the Caribbean Explorer II
It was beautiful although I must admit sometimes the conditions made it challenging. No fault to be had by crew or operation, just challenging for me.
Diving St Maarten in April on the Caribbean Explorer II
Saba dive sites were not ideal compared to other Caribbean locations- visibility and current made it less than perfect. Not a ton of creatures, but enough
Diving St Maarten in July on the Caribbean Explorer II
Sites around Saba had a lot of silt that makes it very challenging for photographer.It is quite enjoyable to dive without large crowds and boat traffic. Generally plenty of life underwater and corals were nice.
Diving St Maarten in November on the Caribbean Explorer II