The Magic of Little Dix Bay and Virgin Gorda, BVI

Three years ago was the first visit to Little Dix Bay and since then I have renewed my SCUBA certification and gone diving around a half a dozen times. I was first certified almost exactly thirty years ago and after a long time out of the water it was good to finally be back. Yet, for some reason BVI has stood out as having a magic that I have yet to find elsewhere and I did not even have to have a tank on my back to experience most of it. I remember vividly from our first trip that it would seem every time I entered the water I would see something completely new to me and on this second visit there was no exception.

With just a snorkel in the bay I saw my first spotted eagle ray. Stingrays are common, you can see a lot of them in the bay and after being at Stingray City in Grand Cayman (where they are simply enormous and you have an opportunity to feed them by hand) they do not seem so scary anymore. Yet, the eagle ray caught me by complete surprise as it literally circled me before heading out further than I could see. The tail on it was enormous – maybe making it around 15 feet long in total – and though the tail might be pencil thin having something that big in the water not very far away was something that never happened to me before.

Spotted Eagle Ray

Although common in the bay it is the first time I really paid attention to the Flamingo Tongue Snails. The interesting fact about these little creatures is “when it is alive, the snail appears bright orange-yellow in color with black markings. However, these colors are not in the shell, but are only due to the thin flaps of live mantle tissue which usually cover the shell. The mantle flaps can be retracted, exposing the shell, but this usually happens only when the animal is attacked.”

Flamingo Tongue Snails

You need to have quick eyes to catch sight of the Caribbean Reef Squid. They move pretty quickly but more problematic is they blend in quite well to their surroundings as they float and hover rather than swim like a fish.

Caribbean Reef Squid

There was certainly a lot more to see in the bay but the most amazing encounter I had was with a strange creature I have never seen the likes before anywhere else. It was only in around maybe eight feet of water and looking down at the sandy bottom I saw what looked like some kind of hook yet it had an organic ‘feel’ to it. Not knowing if it was alive I swam vertical and ever so gently brushed my fin near the top of it. When I did this its fins popped out and it moved a little. Well, obviously it is alive but I still had no idea what it is. I took a couple of photos and later headed over to the Dive BVI shop where Paul, the dive master I had on my dive the previous day, happened to be behind the desk. At first he looked puzzled but at least he had a reference for what it might be. He looked in his book to check his idea and indeed it seems to be some kind of batfish. We have yet to identify exactly what kind it was but checking into the species a little bit this one seemed to have traveled very far from its normal hiding place in the darkness of very deep water. I attempted to go out and find it again to get a few more photos but I did not have any luck. For all I know I might have passed over it several times and simply did not see it again!


In deeper waters, at least for me, I managed to see something else new – my first shark experience ever while diving at the “Wall to Wall” site off of West Dog. A nurse shark was hiding quite well under a ledge and I managed to only see the back part of it though others (of course I learn this after I am back on the boat) were able to see its head from a different angle. I thought all sharks need to keep moving in order to breath but I see that for at least this kind of shark it is “able to respire while stationary by pumping water through their mouths and out gills.”

Nurse Shark

Going in August the island is indeed pretty quiet which is actually quite nice. The Little Dix resort at the time of our visit was only at around 40% occupancy and this makes nearly everything you do feel like you have the place to yourself. This is good for enjoying the environment but it can be just over the too quiet line for what little night life there is on the island and some restaurants are closed and others are open at idle speed. The weather can be unpredictable as Hurricane Earl came in for a visit not long after we left but in general, at least for our experience, things still seem to work out well. At this time of year it is not unusual for a quick thunder storm to pass through and now I know why the airport at Tortola is a dry only runway. When the rain does come it can arrive in amazing quantities that quickly turn any surface into a raging river – but only for a moment. For as quickly as the rain comes it usually goes away and one amazing torrential downpour we were in lasted at the most a mere ten minutes.

Little Dix at Night

There are two trails for the adventuresome on the property and though there is not much of a swing in temperature throughout the year the August weather does make them more of a challenge. In other words bring a lot of water with you! At the top of the Cow Hill trail there is a tremendous view of both Little Dix and the harbor as your reward. Three years ago on the Savannah trail we saw loads of hermit crabs whereas this time there were none. I wonder if some kind of migration was under foot the last time we were there?

Little Dix viewed from the top of Cow Hill

The Baths was a revisit on this trip and this time we visited it via the free drop off from Little Dix to Devil’s Bay. From there it was a 20 minute challenging and rewarding journey through the ‘caves’ to get to the Baths. If you go this way instead of by land you might still want to walk up to The Top of The Baths as there is a restaurant up there along with a couple of gifts shops with local goods.

Between The Baths and Devil's Bay

Speaking of restaurants, two of our favorites are The Mine Shaft Cafe and Rock Cafe & Sam’s Piano Bar. If you go to the Rock Cafe be sure to get there early enough to sit behind the main restaurant on the tiered terrace that is surrounded by, you may have guessed it, giant rocks with a water fall. The menu covers everything from pasta dishes, to pizza, to fresh seafood, and even burgers. It other words there is certainly something on it for everyone in the family.

When going to the Mine Shaft for dinner be sure to arrange your arrival to get there before the sunsets and get there with a reservation for sitting outside to see the amazing view as the sun goes down. It has an extensive menu including Caribbean dishes and the wings (Mine Shaft Suicide) are worth a try if you like it hot!

Sunset view from The Mine Shaft Cafe