Who wouldn’t want to go scuba diving Nassau Bahamas? The country sparkles like an aquamarine gemstone from space. More than 700 islands dot the Lucayan Archipelago, surrounded by a mosaic of shallow seas and deep troths. At the center of it all sits the town of Nassau on New Providence Island.
Nassau, once home to pirate kings, is now a diver’s dream. It has the most and cheapest flights from the US of any Bahama airport. Once you land, dive centers can take you just offshore to experience coral reefs, deep walls, a fleet of wrecks, and year-round sharks. Diving fanatics will want to take a Bahamas liveaboard trip from Nassau into the Exuma Sound to discover virtually untouched dive sites with up to five dives a day. Come with us as we explore Nassau Bahamas diving and find out why it’s America’s destination dive capital.
Map to Nassau Bahamas Diving Including the Exuma Sound
Below is our dive map for Nassau and the Exuma Sound. These points aren’t precise and certainly not intended for navigation, but they give you an idea of the plethora of dive sites to choose from and the wide variety you’ll get diving in Nassau and beyond. We tried to add videos and links to the sites when we could, so click around and enjoy learning about Nassau Bahamas diving. If you don’t see the map below, be sure to refresh your browser. We promise it will be worth it 😉
Scuba Diving Nassau Bahamas
The waters around Nassau are so clear that you are practically diving already as you fly in. You can feel a palatable excitement looking down into that Bahama blue water and knowing you’re going to be blowing bubbles soon. The west end of the island is next to a dropoff into a troth called ‘The Tongue of the Ocean’, where you’ll experience wall diving at its finest. The east side is adjacent to a 30-mile-wide shallow sea, which is the crossing to the Exuma Sound. All around the island are shallow coral reefs covered with tropical fish.
Not only are there more natural dive sites in Nassau than you could possibly experience in a dozen vacations, but there’s a fleet of ships sank as artificial reefs waiting to be explored. From 100′ sea cutters to tug boats to shipwrecks from Bond films, you’ll see the juxtaposition of man and sea and watch as the ocean reclaims its own. Also not to be missed are the famed shark diving in Nassau, Bahamas. These aren’t the vicious great whites that force you to be in a cage. They’re the gentle cousins, reef sharks, that swim freely around you during their meal.
Between the clear warm water, colorful coral reefs, abundant life, and exciting dive sites, you’ll see why thousands of divers come here every year and why you have to consider going to the Bahamas for your next dive trip. We learned to dive in the Bahamas, and it’s our most visited dive location outside of the US.
Nassau Dive Sites
We listed 30 Nassau dive sites, but there are many more. Open water divers will love exploring the reefs, where they’ll see colorful tropical fish and maybe a nurse shark or sea turtle. Advanced divers will want to explore the walls with swim-throughs and eels hiding in the holes. And divers of all levels will enjoy the sunken fleet around Nassau. Here are a few of the dive sites that we think are extraordinary.
- The James Bond Wrecks – Nassau is known for wrecks, and none are more famous than the James Bond Wrecks. The first wreck you’ll reach is Tears of Allah, a 92-foot tug boat sunk for Never Say Never Again. Look for the classic shot of the “torpedo hole” from the movie. The second wreck is a mockup of a Vulcan bomber from Thunderball that the ocean is actively reclaiming.
- Shark Wall / Shark Arena – This is the classic shark diving in Nassau, Bahamas. It’s a two-tank dive. On the first tank, you explore Shark Wall as your pelagic friends swim with you, waiting for their dinner. The second tank is meal time, where you kneel in the sand and watch the shark show. There’s something remarkably peaceful and beautiful about watching sharks feed and swim around.
- Pumpkin Patch – This is a beautiful and vast coral reef, but we particularly love it because you might find sea turtles here. Nothing can describe the experience of swimming with these beauties. They’re so graceful and elegant underwater as they go about their turtle lives.
- Tunnel Wall – This one wall has it all. At the 30′ level grows a garden of soft corals and sea fans. Just a couple of kicks north, and you’ll reach a dramatic dropoff with hard corals and swim-throughs. Of course, you never know what you’ll see swimming up from the deep here.
Bahamas Liveaboard Diving
If you’re serious about diving, you seriously have to consider Bahamas liveaboard diving. You get up to five dives a day, including night dives on pristine dive sites. Plus, there are shore excursions included if you want to see something different or have non-divers on your trip. Nassau Harbor is the perfect port-of-call for liveaboards in the Bahamas because of the easy access to the Exuma Sound.
We dove with All Star Liveaboards and loved it. We went on the Aqua Cat luxury catamaran, which continually receives reader choice awards in all the diving magazines and has an absurdly high repeat customer rate. We wrote a full Aqua Cat review if you want to learn more. Other All Star boats include the Blackbeard liveaboard, a budget-friendly sailboat that brings a younger crowd for a camping-on-water experience, and the Cat Ppalu, a 6-cabin sailboat for a more personalized experience. If you’re planning a trip for Nassau scuba diving, look into a Bahamas diving liveaboard. Because they are all-inclusive, you might be able to get twice the diving in for about the same cost as a land-based trip with less hassle and logistics while diving pristine sites.
Sailing the Exuma Sound
Bahamas liveaboards head out of the harbor and into the Exuma Sound. It’s 150 miles of boating bliss, protected on all sides by islands like the Exuma Cays, Eleuthera, Little San Salvador, and Cat Island. Hundreds of years ago, this sheltered sea swarmed with pirates. Now it’s a destination for luxury yachts and divers.
Picture water so blue it doesn’t seem real, and deserted white sand beaches. Enough islands and natural harbors that a skilled captain can always find shelter for the night, no matter which direction the winds blow. Of course, it’s only 30-50 miles wide, so if the winds are consistently blowing from the east, your captain might choose to take shelter in the lee of Eleuthera Island, but no matter, there is good diving everywhere in the Exuma Sound.
Diving Bahamas Coral Reefs
The Exuma Cays rise out of the water on top of a 330-mile long geologic feature called the Great Bahama Bank. During the last ice age, this was dry land rising out of the sunken sea, which created features divers might expect on dry land like caves and sinkholes. Shallow reefs form on both sides of the bank. The western side (aka Inside) is usually sheltered from the prevailing winds and slopes gently down. The eastern side (aka Outside) is more exposed and close to the dropoff.
Diving the shallow reefs gives you more bottom time, better light, and usually more sea life. It’s a great way to practice diving skills and a superb location for night dives. The deeper reefs are fun to poke around on as you’re coming up from wall dives because you never know what you’re going to find.
Bahamas Coral Reef Dive Sites
We listed 16 reef sites on our Bahamas dive map, but here are a few of our favorites:
- Lobster / No Lobster – Rumored to be named by Jacques Cousteau for a bashful crustacean, this is one of the first dive sites you’ll reach after the crossing from Nassau. It’s shallow, sheltered, and the perfect place to get your buoyancy spot on.
- Madison Avenue – Like its New York namesake, this dive site has wide roads cutting through limestone canyons. Only, your not diving skyscrapers. You’re floating through coral-crusted karst from when this was an island.
- Basket Star Reef – The beautiful reef sits downstream from the Washing Machine. We’ll get to that site later, but don’t forget there’s a beautiful reef waiting for you that’s often filled with sharks and turtles enjoying the passing current.
- Danger Reef – Looking at the map, you know this place will be special. It’s on the largest bend of the Exuma Bank, where the most current cuts the cays for miles around. However, that’s not how it gets its name. Years ago, this is where All Star Liveaboards did their shark dives, and it’s still sharkarific. These are the friendly reef sharks, but there’s still a thrill when you see these beauties. Plus, since the site is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park, all the critters are that much bigger.
- Periwinkle Reef – If there is any crayon in your box incapable of doing harm, it would be periwinkle. It’s beautiful, light, and always easygoing. The same goes for Periwinkle Reef. It shallow enough to be a snorkeling site with more fishes than most aquariums. What’s not to love?
Bahamas Wall Dive Sites
The bottom drops off quickly on the outside of the bank. With just a few kicks, you sail off the wall and over the blue abyss. The bottom is 100 fathoms down or deeper, which is beyond all dive limits and visibility. There’s nothing but blue and chance encounters with unknown creatures of the deep. Alex, our head DM, always suggested waiting a moment at the edge to see if anything should happen to be passing by.
Back on the wall lives eels, black coral, and a plethora of life thriving in this transition zone. Of course, the most dramatic way to see both the life and the abyss is to explore the deep swim-throughs at the edge of the dropoff. I don’t know if the crashing waves cut these tunnels during the last ice age or if the dive crew knows the most exciting spots along the wall. There’s something remarkable about swimming through a canyon that empties out over the void. It always sent shivers down my spine.
Best Wall Dives in the Bahamas
We only have eight wall dives shown on the upper half of the Exuma Cays. There are other wall sites in this guide in the Eleuthera section as well. However, this list is strictly for the wall sites in the Exuma Cays.
- Dog Rocks Wall – Dogs Rocks got their names from an islander’s pets many years ago. They have long been silent, but the name lives on. This is the northernmost dive site on the Exuma Cays, where the land ends, and the water takes over, which would make it special enough. However, it’s also home to The Church. This massive swim through takes you through an inspiring tunnel opening that drops you out above the abyss at 85′. It definitely makes you believe in a higher power.
- Whaleshark Wall – Despite all the pomp and circumstance of The Church, I enjoyed the swim-through at Whaleshark Wall just a little more. They were both incredible beyond words, and I can’t put my finger on the differences between the two but I still remember the feeling deep in my bones as I exited above the abyss and felt how small I was in the enormous ocean.
- Crab Wall – What I loved about Crab Wall is how close it was to Crab Mountain, but it felt completely different. Crab Mountain was a reef dive through and through. You would have never realized how close you were to the abyss until you made the 5-minute boat ride over to Crab Wall on the edge of the void.
Bahama Drift Dive Sites
Drift dives in the Bahamas are different than what you’d find in Cozumel. Instead of a continual current feeding towering coral pillars, it’s tidal controlled. You have sandy canyons cutting between the Cays that flow every time the tides change.
To us, it felt like we were flying over the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Unlike the mountains, you’ll have sea turtles flying along beside you, which would take quite a Rocky Mountain High to replicate in Colorado. You also inevitably empty out into a beautiful reef to finish your flight.
Best Drift Dives in the Bahamas
We have six drift dives on our Bahama dive map. We could go ahead list them all, but where’s the fun in that? Here are the drift dive sites that stood out to us.
- The Washing Machine – This is perhaps the most famous dive in the Exuma Cays. The dive starts much like the others. Everybody gets ready and enters the water in mass. However, about halfway through the canyon, you encounter a 50′ hydraulic hole called The Washing Machine. It pulls you in and spins you around before spitting you out the other side. The ride is optional, as you can float above the hydraulic, but for many divers, it’s the highlight of their entire week.
- Jeep Drift – Nobody really knows how the jeep got here, yet there it is. It’s all crusted in coral and looks more like it was made in Atlantis than Detroit. It’s more than enough to earn a spot on our best drift dive list.
- Hammerhead Gulch – You’d be hard-pressed to find a hammerhead here. Our Aqua Cat crew spent their quarantine anchored in Hammerhead Gulch and didn’t see a single one. But they did perfect the perfect slack tide drift. If you head out at the end of a falling tide, you can let the rising tide bring you back. It’s a drift dive in both directions where look for sea horses in the grass during the slack tide until your magic carpet takes you home.
Exuma Cay Specialty Dive Sites
Each of these dive sites is so unique that I don’t know how to write this introduction. I guess I’ll leave it at “only in the Bahamas” and get straight to the descriptions.
- The Lost Blue Hole – A karst relic from when the Bahamas was a continuous landmass. This is a 120′ deep pit sunk under 40′ of water. That is to say, the bottom of the pit at 160′, so you can’t go there on air. It’s so massive that the entrance is 200′ across. What you can do is explore around the edges of the pit and find turtles hiding in ledges. You can also look up to the surface and maybe see a sharknado of blacktip sharks circling the hole.
- The Austin Smith – This is Exuma Cays’ largest shipwreck. It’s a 90′ navy cutter sunk as an artificial reef in 1995. The wreck is named in honor of a Bahamian marine who died in an attack by the Cubans. The bow remains intact today, with debris scattered throughout the dive site.
- Shark Feed – The Aqua Cat does a simulated carcass feed, which attracts the sharks without training them to come to humans. It’s a beautiful sight watching reef sharks circling and feeding. The shark dive is often done at the Austin Smith, where the bow deck creates a natural separation between frenzied sharks and curious divers.
- Staniel Cay Plane Wreck – This is perhaps the most accessible plane wreck in the world. It’s located in shallow water half of a mile away from the busy Staniel Cay Yacht Club.
- Smuggler’s Plane Wreck – There are so many stories told about how this plane got here that one of them must be true. I like to think this was one of Pablo Escobar’s smuggling planes that was flying under the radar and got a little too low.
Surface Intervals In the Exuma Cays / Shore Excursions
It must take something special for divers to skip a couple of dives to go exploring on land. The Exuma Cays deliver with secluded beaches and amazing animals. Of course, to be fair, you’ll do over 20 dives on a typical liveaboard dive week, so it doesn’t hurt to skip a couple and go exploring. Here are some of our favorite shore excursions from our liveaboard in the Bahamas at the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park and beyond.
- Swimming With The Pigs – The airport displays pictures of the pig swim, even though Staniel Cay is a 150-mile round trip from Nassau. Fast boats make this every day, skipping and speeding across the open ocean. So, if your liveaboard is next door, take the short ride on the skiff to come and visit. There’s a reason for the popularity of this iconic animal encounter.
- Thunderball Grotto – This is a snorkeling experience in a flooded cave. You swim through the crystal blue water into the dome pit, where shafts of light stream in from the ceiling. If you had the place to yourself, it would be transformative. Since it’s typically done together with the swimming pigs, you’ll be sharing this beauty with day tourists from Nassau.
- Boo Boo Hill – This is the high point, such as it is, in the Exuma Cay Land and Sea Park. It’s not much of a hill, but every boat that passes leaves a driftwood plank from their vessel to appease the gods of the sea. Along the way, you’ll pass a whale skeleton at the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park Visitor Center.
- Driftwood Beach– Under Bahama law, every beach is public property up to the high tide line, so there are plenty of beaches to choose from for shore excursions. However, there’s only one Driftwood Beach. What makes it special is the combination of a large blue lagoon that cuts through the entire island and a hilltop viewpoint. If you’re going to take one beach excursion, do this one.
- Iguana Feeding – Several islands host a population of rare, native iguanas. Over the years, they learned that passing boaters bring treats of lettuce and grapes, and these little fellows eagerly await the nautical visitors.
Scuba Diving Eleuthera
Eleuthera is more than an escape from the easterly winds. It’s a destination diving site in and of itself, complete with a complement of caves, coral reefs, and dropoffs over the abyss. Here are a couple of Eleuthera dive sites that justify the crossing.
- Cobia Cage – This is Eleuthera’s answer to Dog Rocks, in that it’s the northernmost dive site where the water flows away from the island. Only here, the currents form a 30-mile long sand canyon that’s visible from space. It’s a natural feeding ground for large pelagics, like hammerheads and bull sharks. A few years back, fish farmers put in a massive cage to monetize the current called Cobia Cage.. The cage has since collapsed into a UFO-shaped ruin that’s crawling with crabs.
- Jakes Hole– The hole is a 20′ wide freshwater spring that opens into the ocean. During low tides, the water pressure creates a dome-shaped halocline over the outlet that’s truly marvelous to behold. A host of animals call these waters home, like channel clinging crabs.
- Empress Pinnacle – San Salvador Island can be exposed to the ravages of the open ocean. It can also be protected by Cat Island, depending on the winds and the waves. Empress Pinnacle is the last bit of land before the dropoff into the Atlantic, and you never know what you’ll find swimming there that has come up from the deep.
Dive Seasons in the Bahamas
The Bahamas offer year-round diving. The oceans are warm enough to dive in skins during the summer and fall and cool enough for a wetsuit in the winter and spring. We went with a 5-mil during January, but many people on the boat were comfortable with a 3-mil.
There are a few other seasons to be aware of for diving in the Bahamas. Hurricane season lasts from June through November, with a peak in August and September. However, if this is low season for the Bahamas, so you’ll find travel deals and less crowded dive sites. November to March has the migratory sharks’ arrival, including hammerhead, bull sharks, and the occasional whale shark. The aquatic winter visitors and great topside weather make November through May one of the best times for diving.
Wrapping Up Our Guide on Scuba Diving Nassau Bahamas
Scuba diving Nassau Bahamas might be considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Only, it’s so close and accessible to the United States that many scuba divers keep going again and again. With so much good Nassau Bahamas diving and the Bahamas liveaboards sailing the Exuma Sound, you’ll never run out of options.
Even if you do end up making repeat trips, every dive is different. You never know what you’ll see at any given site on any given day. The ocean is a wild and pernicious mistress who’s always enticing you with something new on every visit.
Disclosure: A big thank you to Allstar Liveaboards for hosting us and setting up a fantastic itinerary! For more travel inspiration check out their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Youtube accounts.
As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.
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