This Caribbean Dutch Island is home to the famous wreck of the Antilla - a 120-meter/400-foot German ex-supply ship that was scuttled during World War II to avoid capture - along with the wreck of the Pedernales, and several other wrecks. Reef dives such as Malmok Reef, Barcadera Reef and Lago Reef are packed with schooling fish and healthy coral formations. Most divers come to Aruba to experience the wrecks. In between dives, Aruba caters to even the most sophisticated traveler with state-of-the-art casinos, first-rate entertainment, accommodations in 5-star all-inclusive resort, an extensive array of fine restaurants as well as fabulous shopping in downtown Orangestad.
This is the Caribbean with an English twist. Tea time on Barbados is a serious daily event, but you don't have to enjoy a "cuppa" to take to the sea. You will, however, need to know how to pronounce the name of the island's signature dive, the wreck of an ex-Greek freighter, 110 meter/365 foot Stavronikita, although most divers simple call it the Stav. There's also the 50 meter/165-foot long Pamir and wrecks of the Berwyn, C-Trek, Fox and Eilon in Carlise Bay. The wrecks host everything from sea turtles to seahorses. Above the water, Barbados is well manicured and exudes a civilized, structured and laid back air.
With more than 700 islands, you could spend the rest of your life exploring the undersea offerings in the Bahamas. Few places offer this kind of diversity. You have everything from heart-stopping shark feeds and deep, lush wall dives, to marine life covered wrecks and oceanic blue holes. Each island has its signature experiences, and unique shark dives. New Providence, which is typically called Nassau after the main city on the island, is Hollywood H 2O. The waters off this island have hosted the cast and crew for movies like Thunderball and Into the Blue, as well as BBC documentary productions.
The top end of the mythical Bermuda Triangle, this small Atlantic outpost has been eating ships since the days of Shakespeare. Hundreds of shipwrecks litter the seafloor off Bermuda as a result of storms, treachery and more recently, purposeful sinking. Millions of dollars in treasure has been discovered in these waters, and probably millions more of undisclosed treasure. It's heaven for people that like stories, especially those encapsulate in the decking, bulkheads and boilers of sunken ships. Interestingly, Bermuda is hyper-civilized above the water. Teatime, well-structured gardens and yards, order and logic all earmark the topside experience. It's as if all the chaos underwater, has found its polar opposite on land.
British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands (BVI's) have long been synonymous with one dive: the RMS Rhone. Sunk in 1867, the wreck came to fame with the movie, The Deep, and has grown in popularity since and, rightfully so. It's a multifaceted dive, with easy penetrations, lots of artifacts and thick coats of marine life. But, it's not the only dive in the BVI's. The wreck of the Chikuzen has been giving the Rhone a run for its money and would probably be more popular if it wasn't weather dependent. If you're not a wreck aficionado, the BVI's offer a variety of diving off most of it's approximately 36 island, and dive shops can be found on Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Peter Island, and Anegada.
Located just north of Venezuela, Bonaire is the middle part of the A-B-C (Aruba - Bonaire - Curacao) island chain. The island has an arid climate with little rainfall, which makes the surrounding sea exceptionally clear, and the desert landscape unique for a tropical island. But, it's not just the visibility that makes Bonaire a diver's paradise it's the fact that the island's marine resources have been protected for more than 30 years. Marine life abounds in this untouched and unspoiled underwater kingdom. And, you access some great dive sites right from shore - step off the dock and you're there. Of course, dive boats can get you to the outer reef.
In a place well-known for over-indulgence, an all night party scene, and beach lounge recovery, as well as a coastline crowded with soaring, expansive hotels, you wouldn't expect there to be good diving within shouting distance of shore. Cancun's dive sites, including wrecks and reefs, are action-packed with marine life. Wrecks are typically washed with a little current, and it's not uncommon to have 20 spotted eagle rays lolling in the current. The reefs flow with rivers of snapper and grunts, and small hawksbill sea turtles find Cancun's reefs the perfect places to munch on a sponge or two among the clouds of fish. These reefs have surprised many a professional photographer. Nearby, the island of Isla Mujeres has a sculpture garden that seems to grow every day.
With clear, warm water, almost no current, walls, wrecks, coral garden, caverns, almost 365 moored dive sites and more, the Cayman Islands have dominated the dive scene for years. The list of world class and world famous dive sites among the three islands - Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Cayman Brac - that comprise the Cayman Islands is almost daunting, and professionals and novice divers each have their favorites. And, each island has its unique vibe. Grand Cayman is a cosmopolitan hub offering everything from McDonald’s on the beach, to 5-star dining and superior nightlife. Grand Cayman also has a quieter side in the East End. Little Cayman, however, is all about diving the famed Bloody Bay Wall. Divers make yearly pilgrimages to this precipice.
Of all the places in Mexico to dive, Cozumel is the most famous because almost every hotel and resort caters to divers first, and rightfully so since the current washed reefs are some of the most colorful and notable on the planet. Every dive here is a current dive, in some places faster than others, but it's like being wrapped in the arms of the sea and being guided through a wonderland. The sponges, corals and marine life all conspire to wow you with the maximum amount of color anyone can take in at once. Sea turtles and spotted eagle rays are common, as is 45-meter/150-feet of visibility. Truly, a world-class dive experience.
Long a hidden gem in the Caribbean, Curacao has come out of hiding and risen to the top of many divers lists. Curacao offers a little bit of everything, underwater and topside. Underwater, you'll find pristine reefs, wrapped in year-round clear water, with world-class wrecks, like the 70-meter/230-foot Superior Producer and a host of tugboats, sloping walls and astounding macro worlds. As a desert island, there's little run-off to affect visibility. As wonderful as the diving is, the diversity in culture and topside offerings is what sets this one-time Dutch island apart. You can have bright-lights, city escape with a vivid restaurant, music and nightlife scene by staying near the town of Willemstad, or head to the West End and lounge in the beach and nature life.
This high, lush, extremely verdant volcanic island will evoke dreams of Robinson Crusoe. Dominica has one of the world's two boiling lakes, hot springs erupt from everywhere, there are reputed to be a waterfall for every day of the year, with Trafalgar Falls leading the way, and there's so much green, you'll run out of ways to describe it. There are no major hotel chains (a good thing), and the diving evokes visions of Indonesia. The word "eco" probably got its start here and it's the one island with a self-nominated nickname that fits: The Nature Island.
The eastern half of the island of Hispaniola (shared with Haiti), the Dominican Republic has sat at the crossroads of history and nature since Christopher Columbus set up shop on his way through to the new world. Offshore, shipwrecks dominate the underwater scene with pinnacles a close second. The Dominican Republic is a hotbed for all-inclusive resorts, but don't limit yourself to the confines of the resort because there's a heady mix of cultural and natural offerings that few Caribbean islands can rival. Diving here is done by region and each region offers its unique taste of undersea adventure. And, when the whales come down from their northern feeding grounds to give birth, the Silver Bank off the Dominican Republic becomes a nursery and one of he world's top places to encounter these majestic creatures in the ocean.
Dangling off the tippy end of Florida, the Keys, which stretch more than 160 kilometers/100 miles from Key Largo to Key West, almost look like an afterthought and have always taken pride in their unique "Conch Republic" ideals. They have hosted everyone from Hemingway to James Cameron. But, for us, it's the diving that elevates the Key's status. You can wind your way down the Key's one superior wreck experience after another. Behemoths like the Spiegel Grove and the Vandenberg take dozens of dives to explore, while some of the older wrecks like the Bibb and Duane have developed into such diverse marine ecosystems that you'll want to slow down to savor all the action.
French West Indies
You'll have to brush up on your French, but for the flair of the culture and cuisine, it's worth learning a phrase or two. The one key word you'll need to know is plongée - to dive. The French West Indies include Hollywood's favorite Caribbean hangout, St. Barts, along with Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, Marie-Galante and Iles des Saintes. Most divers head to Martinique, especially for the wreck dives. When Mt. Pelee erupted in 1902, the ash-fall accumulation sank 12 ships at anchor forming a wreck graveyard and dive Mecca simultaneously.
Perhaps the island with the most wrecks in the Caribbean, Grenada's seascape is littered with top wrecks, including the biggest and baddest, the 183-meter/600-foot ex-luxury liner, the Bianca C. This world-class wreck sits on its keel in 50 meters/165 feet of water, with the decks at 36 meters/120 feet, so it's an advanced dive, but worth the effort. The wreck literally crawls with life. You could easily spend an entire week in Grenada and never see a reef, although the reefs here are also quite prolific and harbor everything from napping nurse sharks to seahorses.
Most of the diving occurs along the north coast at Negril and Montego Bay which is also great; Doctor's Cave beach features one of the most accessible spots on the island. But one of Jamaica's most famous underwater sites is Port Royal or the 'City that Sank'. On June 7, 1692, an earthquake struck largely destroying the city and causing two thirds of it to sink into the sea. It is considered the most important underwater archaeological site in the western hemisphere. Pirates from around the world congregated at Port Royal coming from waters as far away as Madagascaron the far side of Africa. Several 17th and early 18th century pirate ships are sunk within the harbor and being carefully harvested under controlled conditions by different teams of archaeologists.
Puerto Rico is like a vacation fun house. You want culture, there's 400-years of it, including massive forts and ancient cities. You want primal nature, there's the entire center of the island and, of course, the World Heritage El Yunque Rainforest. You want tropical island escapes, bioluminescent waters, world-class surfing, music and dancing, and an event, parade or festival for almost every day of the year, Puerto Rico comes with that too. And, that's in addition to diving that too frequently gets passed over by dive travelers on their way through the hub of San Juan to other Caribbean Islands. Underwater, if you really want some bragging rights, find your way to Mona Island off the west coast.
Saba - St Eustatius
Rising like a bullet through the Caribbean Sea, the small island haven of Saba packs a punch in the dive scene. Offshore, marine life covered pinnacles reach to the surface and attract creatures from each and every niche. The healthy reefs normally boast more than 30 meters/100 feet of visibility. The offshore waters are gift-wrapped in the protective arms of the Saba Marine Park. Must do sites include Third Encounter and Man O War Shoals, which are two of the best dives not just in Saba, but, in the Caribbean. The topside adventure of Saba starts with the airport, perched on the side of a cliff. The tiny island has become an eco-haven and visitors can hike through the pristine wilderness of the Elfin Forest on well-marked trails - a flower lover's dream.
St Kitts and Nevis
If you want a hidden gem, then look no further than St. Kitts and Nevis. It's like stepping back in time in the Caribbean. Not too long ago they changed their economy from sugar to tourism, so they've kept a lot of secrets over the years. Secret forts, mist shrouded jungles, sugar mills, petroglyphs, exquisitely romantic ex-plantation home resorts, and long, lonely expanses of beach. Underwater, with all that commerce, you'll find a wonderful handful of wrecks to explore, including the much-heralded River Taw, all of which are thriving mini-ecosystems. There are numerous yet to be named dive sites, and the explorations continue.
Dominated by the twin volcanic spires, called Pitons, lush St. Lucia is that rare place where blissful romance, exotic beauty and heart thumping adventure meet. And, we're just talking above the water so far. Underwater, exploring the reefs will reveal one unexpected encounter after another. You'll frequently see numerous species of eels, both rare and common, on every dive. Sponges are prolific on the reefs, bathing them in bright colors and texture. As you might expect, the underwater seascape reflects the topside with four pinnacles covered with gorgonians and black coral, called the Keyhole Pinnacles, that rise from as deep as 500 meters/1,600 feet and are worth several dives on their own.
St Vincent and the Grenadines
This island nation has been described as a kite and its tail, with the kite being St. Vincent and the smaller Grenadines as the long tail that flutters underneath it. With such an expanse of the Caribbean off its shores, divers can expect a wide swath of undersea experiences. This starts with St. Vincent that has become a showcase for the weird, strange, rare, and macro critters that most divers have probably passed hundreds of times and never known what wonderful creatures were eluding them. Most of the dives off St. Vincent involve guides with eyes fine-tuned to the environment of the tiny, and your best tool is a magnifying glass. Just south of St. Vincent, off Bequia your view will skew on the larger scale, especially at such thrilling dives as The Bullet, a current dive past a pinnacle.
Tobago's an island of giants. The world's largest brain corals, massive sponges, manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and such thick sponge and coral growth that the reefs look as if they've been artificially fertilized with some form of nuclear radiation. Almost every single dive here is a current dive, as the Guyana Current rushes past the island, bringing with it a concentrated package of nutrients. The best dives are off Speyside, Charlotteville, the Sisters and the remote islands around St. Giles. Expect lobster that could feed a village, current sculpted sponges, seahorses, sea turtles, monster eels, eagle rays and manta rays. In the winter months when the water cools down, the hammerhead sharks rise and can be seen off the sheer walls of the Sisters.
Turks and Caicos
A group of 40 islands and cays just southeast of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos have gained fame in the dive world with a beloved four letter word: walls. Here, wall diving sits at the center of the dive experience. If you want to feel the sensation of flying on every dive, then the Turks and Caicos is the place to soar. Top dive regions include Providences, West Caicos and Grand Turk. The water is always ice clear and as with all wall diving, you never know what will pass by, from spotted eagle rays to reef sharks.
United States (U.S.) Virgin Islands
The three islands that make up the USVI could not be more different. St. Thomas has one of the top duty free shopping Meccas of the Caribbean, with a bustling economy. St. John, mere minutes away, has set aside 80 percent of its land as a national park, and maintains a strong and vital stance as a eco-paradise. And, then there's St. Croix, which exudes more a Dutch experience than American, as well as feeling like a working island nation on it's own right. St. Croix has everything from a Heritage Trail to beer swilling pigs, as well as the distillery for Cruzan Rum, the USVI's signature tipple. Underwater, each is different, as well.