Top Caribbean Dives

Stingray City, Cayman Islands, Caribbean

Stingray City, Cayman Islands, Caribbean.

6 Top Caribbean Dives

‘Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but bubbles’

Introduction

A southern stingray in Bonaire. Photo by P Nijenhuis.

The best cheap dive destinations are headed by Bonaire, with fantastic shore dives but not much else to do on the island except windsurf.
Then there’s the Cayman Islands, starting with Grand Cayman for swimming with stingrays and wreck diving as well as stunning Seven Mile Beach, and moving on to Little Cayman for serious cliff diving.
The last budget choice for divers is Tobago, a little developed island with excellent onshore, aprés-scuba life as well as masses of underwater action.

Most of the writer’s 300 dives to date have been in and around the Caribbean and his current five favourite sites are described below; of course there are many more great places to dive in the region so just as sharks have to keep swimming to stay alive, Daniel will have to keep diving to refine his best sites listing.

Generally accepted as being best dive locations in the Caribbean are, in no order, Cozumel island (Mexico); Bonaire, Turks and Caicos; Belize; Cayman Islands.

1: Blue Hole, Belize

Location – about 60 miles off the Belize mainland in the Lighthouse Reef system (by boat)
Type of dive – deep (130/140 feet) into collapsed cavern
Skill level – should be advanced but novices (and everyone else) are guided on the dive (below 140 foot it’s a technical dive)
Pluses – astounding site with turquoise water in an almost perfectly circular hole with stalactites/stalagmites forming a passage on the ledge at 130 feet
Minuses – a long boat ride and, unless you are lucky (see below), little marine life because there are no currents and few nutrients
DM Log – 40′ vis: 138′ max depth: no current, dive down to lip of cavern at 35′ and then spiral down the inside to sand ledge with stalactites and stalagmites at 130′ with a two minute swim through the resulting eerie passageway: no marine life worth mentioning on descent but surrounded by reef sharks for 70′ on ascent with groupers and horse eyed jacks near surface. Did someone chum?

2: RMS Rhone, BVI

Location – west of Salt Island, British Virgin Islands (by boat)
Type of dive – wreck (can be one or two dives)
Skill level – novice (stern), intermediate (bow)
Pluses – spectacular site with unusual naval engineering wreck (steam and sail), plenty of marine life, great marine growth, and relics all around
Minuses – popular site with a lot of diving traffic at peak times (aim for early morning or late afternoon if possible, noon can work)
DM Log – (a) Rhone bow – 40′ vis: max depth 77′: no current, dive down onto bow then through hull out to crow’s nest, around bow, along and over hull with a swim through hatch to side of hull: lots of marine growth and life including many sponges, blue/purple turnicates, sea urchins, lobster, spotted drum, arrowhead crab, schooling grunts, large dog tooth snapper and orange/brown file fish.
(b) Rhone stern – 40′ vis: 64′ max depth: no current, dive over rock/sand bottom to mid section (boiler room) across deck to stern going round and over all aft sections past prop shaft to huge half buried propeller and another swim through: very pretty, heavily encrusted wreck, big jacks at cleaning station, green turtle, octopus, hermit crab, lobster, more grunts, moray eel, another arrowhead crab, spiral anemone with decorated shrimp and more sea urchins.

3: Bahamas

Caribbean reef shark feeding in the Bahamas. Photo by Joi Ito

Caribbean reef shark feeding in the Bahamas (yes, I know, not exactly in the Caribbbean, but close enough!). Photo by Joi Ito.

Location – Shark Junction, off Grand Bahama, Bahamas (Caribbean/Atlantic)
Type of dive – sharks
Skill level – Open Water, but not for those of a nervous disposition
Plus: Plenty of reef shark action up really close, clear water, great conditions generally, well trained and operated dive
Minus: The water is chummed, there is no ‘protection’ from behind if you’re a little nervous, and there’s not a lot more to see
Free swim to the ‘theatre’ for the show featuring a trained diver in chain mail feeding the sharks in front. Some big groupers and barracuda hanging out nearby hoping for scraps, as well as a large, shy moray eel under a bit of wreckage. A baker’s dozen of greedy reef sharks made for a delightful spectacle, especially as there was no respect for the spectators with sharks coming from behind and even between the kneeling divers. Awesome.
DM Log – Vis 30 to 50 feet; Depth 50 feet; current negligible.
Tip: Another dive site, The Chamber, is at the back of Shark Junction and it’s a great place to get some more shark action without the feeding routine as some of them loiter in the area. If you want to, there is a course in shark feeding you can take – by the by, the chain mail weighs 20 pounds or so.

4: USCG Duane, Florida Keys

Location – about six miles off Key Largo, Florida Keys, USA (by boat)
Type of dive – deep and wreck
Skill level – advanced (penetration should only be done by divers who are duly certified)
Pluses – pretty perfect wreck dive that can be done at different depths, intact hull and structure, coral infestation, big animals
Minuses – can have ripping currents and occasionally poor visibility depending on the flow of the Gulf Stream
DM Log – up to 50′ vis: 107′ max depth (sea bed @ 125′, deck @ 100′, crow’s nest @ 60′): moderate current, down mooring line on stern of wreck (strong current on port side, little current on starboard side) along deck to wheelhouse with lovely swim through and crow’s nest: good growth on wreck, lots of sea life including shoal of large horse eyed jacks, a school of big barracuda and dolphin fish.

5: La Piedra de la Guasa, Venezuela

Location – off the point of Gran Roque, Los Roques, Venezuela (by boat)
Type of dive – deep on pinnacle
Skill level – advanced
Pluses – effectively undived site, fascinating spiral descent/ascent with great marine growth on the rock, large animals
Minuses – usually ripping current makes entry and exit a challenge, isolated nature of site means there’s no help if things go wrong
DM Log – 40′ vis: 100′ max depth: strong surface current for both entry and exit, down anchor line to top of pinnacle at about 20′ and then spiral down on lee side, good growth on the rock, a lot of marine life with large barracuda, very large lobster, gold moray eel, big parrot fish, /snappers/jacks as well as arrowhead crab, coral banded shrimp, decorated shrimp, bristle worms, many sponges and shoals of sardines: hairy exit with white caps.

Sadly, the current socio-economic environment in Venezuela, and related personal security  issues, effectively put this destination off limits as you will run far more risks topside than under the surface

6: Taj Mahal, Mexico

Location – 3. 5 miles (5. 5 kms) off the highway south of Puerto Adventuras, Yucatan, Mexico (by car)
Type of dive – cavern
Skill level – intermediate
Pluses – extraordinary visibility, great caverns, stalactites, other limestone formations, spectacular Points of Light chamber when the sun is overhead
Minuses – frequent depth changes in the system can make equalisation a challenge, to all intents and purposes zero aquatic life
DM Log – up to 100′ vis except @ saline/fresh water interface: 43′ maximum depth: no current, multilevel dive through passageways, caverns, open systems requiring constant equalisation surfacing in the ‘Batman Pool’: well laid out dive site with an orange cord guideline and a clear skull and cross bones signs for areas accessible only to trained cave divers: magical world of marvellous rock formations, stalactites/stalagmites, and weird shapes from bubbles or their shadows across the ceiling: a few translucent fish.

Bonaire parrotfish lunching on coral. Photo by by Waywuwei

Bonaire parrotfish lunching on coral. Photo by  by Waywuwei.

Beginners

Some readers may be new to diving and wonder about the importance of the factors mentioned above. The underwater world is beautiful but alien to humans – hence the need for SCUBA or self contained breathing apparatus. The hazards of this environment can be minimised with the right training and proper procedures so that the other definition of the sport’s acronym – some come up barely alive – never applies to you.
If you would like to learn more and, indeed, to take up the sport you should contact a reputable dive school/shop and sign up with a good instructor.

Depth is a critical consideration, not least because of increased pressure and the fact that the deeper you are the more air you use. Being further from the surface not only makes an emergency, such as lack of air, more urgent but also raises the risk of potential life-threatening issues on ascent. Possible nitrogen narcosis and consequent impaired judgement can also occur on deeper dives.

Visibility is important for navigation and for maintaining contact with your buddy, as well as for enjoyment of the dive. Overhead environments such as wrecks and caverns pose special challenges because there is no ready escape to the surface and in the cave case you may need frequently to equalise the pressure in your ears due to depth changes in connecting passages.

Adverse currents can dramatically increase air use and create a risk of being separated from your buddy or of being swept away from the dive boat whilst rough seas can make re-boarding more challenging and sea-sickness more likely.

Writing by Daniel Nash Segundo

Here’s Scuba Diving Magazine‘s Top 20 Dive Spots Worldwide

The Gold List of operators, resorts, live-aboards, experiences (such as best wall, shore and artificial-reef sites), beach bars, topside attractions was determined by popular vote:

1 Best Dive Site: Anywhere on Bonaire

2 Best Dive Site: Columbia Reef, Cozumel

3 Best Animal Encounter: Shark Dives, Bahamas

4 Best Shore Dive: 1, 000 Steps, Bonaire

5 Best 24/7 Dive Destination: Bonaire

6 Best Wreck Dive: M/V Capt. Keith M. Tibbetts, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands

7 Most Family-Friendly Dive Destination: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

8 Best Wreck Dive: Spiegel Grove, Key Largo, Florida Keys

9 Best Dive Site: Darwin’s Arch, Galapagos

10 Best Dive Site: Blue Corner, Palau

11 Best Animal Encounter: Stingray City, Grand Cayman

12 Best Dive Site: Palancar Reef, Cozumel, Mexico

13 Best Dive Operation: Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, New Providence, Bahamas

14 Best Animal Encounter: Hammerheads, Galapagos

15 Best Dive Site: Mary’s Place, Roatán, Bay Islands

16 Best Night Life: Cozumel

17 Best Wreck Dive: U-352, North Carolina

18 Best Night Dive: Paradise Reef, Cozumel

19 Best Dive Site: Molokini Crater, Maui, Hawaii

20 Best Dive Site: Shark Arena, New Providence, Bahamas