6 Top Caribbean Dives
‘Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but bubbles’
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.
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.
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
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