The Virgin Islands are in the Lesser Antilles to the east of Puerto Rico. The islands are divided into the U.S. Virgin Islands (previously owned, rather bizarrely, by Denmark) to the west, and the British Virgin Islands to the east.
Naturally the British Virgin Islands are much nicer than their American counterparts, and are famous for their perfect sailing waters, remote beaches and great snorkelling and dive spots. There are also now some serious hotels, which we have had the great fortune to stay in. The main action is on the islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke (no relation to Dick), and numerous smaller outcrops such as Richard Branson's Necker.
It was Columbus who first put these islands on the map: he sailed through here on his second visit to the New World and named the untouched islands Las Virgenes in reference to Saint Ursula and her 11,000 attendant virgins.
The British Virgin Islands' diving ranks consistently at the top of many dive magazine polls, and once you're there it's easy to see why. The protected waters offer some truly excellent diving. The wreck of the Royal Mail Steamer Rhone (voted the best Caribbean wreck dive by Sport Diver & Rodales Magazines) lies just a fifteen minutes' distance. Sunk in a hurricane in 1867, Rhone is one of the best known and sought after wreck dives in the world and starred - complete with killer moray eel - in the film The Deep. Having been there for nearly 150 years she is now totally encapsulated with corals.
The ship's remains are home to abundant marine life, including yellow moray, lobster, barracuda, a school of Jack, Soldierfish, Spotted Drum, Queen Angelfish, Cowfish, and octopus. Weather permitting; you can also venture to the outside reefs where admist the blue waters there is a good chance of the bigger things. The coral reefs are in great shape (El Nino seems to have had little impact here) and there are forests of waving fans and soft corals. Be aware that there is also a lot of fire coral, especially at Santa Monica Rock, so keep your hands to yourself.
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