While many travelers enjoy lounging the day away on a white-sand beach, others are looking for a different experience by the sea -- or rather, in it. Scuba diving is an extremely popular activity in the Caribbean, thanks to warm waters, great visibility, and tons of wildlife at dive sites. If you’re not certified, don’t worry. Many hotels offer lessons on site, and if not, there are plenty of dive schools spread throughout the Caribbean. Once you’re ready to dive, head to one of these islands for incredible underwater experiences.
Thanks to the establishment of the Bonaire Marine Park in the 1970s, the island’s beautiful reef has been protected, meaning that it’s one of the most pristine places to dive in the Caribbean. There are more than 80 dive sites around the island, with some of the most popular being 1000 Steps (there are actually only 64 steps from the road to the water), Hilma Hooker (a shipwreck), and Oil Slick Leap (you can jump off a 10-foot cliff to start this dive).
Where to Stay in Bonaire:
Known to some as the Shipwreck Capital of the Caribbean, offers a wide range of wrecks to dive (many of which are inhabited by a variety of sea creatures), located mainly along the southern and western coasts. One of its most famous wrecks is the Bianca C, often called the Titanic of the Caribbean, as the vessel is the largest shipwreck in the region. One of the more eccentric dives in Grenada is the Underwater Sculpture Park, which comprises multiple sculptures that serve as artificial reefs.
Where to Stay in Grenada:
3. Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Whether you’re looking for wildlife, wrecks, or weird underwater topography, the waters off the in the have them all. Head to the Aquarium site for — you guessed it — plenty of sea creatures, ranging from parrotfish to nurse sharks to fire coral. The Chikuzen wreck is some nine miles off the coast of Virgin Gorda, and conditions might not always be favorable, but if you do make it down there, you might swim with barracuda, reef sharks, and eagle rays. For an unusual experience, dive the Invisibles — a site based around an underwater pinnacle covered in colorful corals and sponges.
Where to Stay on Virgin Gorda:
An oft-forgotten island in the Caribbean, Saba is a dormant volcano that rises sharply from deep waters. As such, the rocky features underwater are what make Saba’s 29 dive sites so special. There are many pinnacles to choose from, including Diamond Rock, Third Encounter, and Eye of the Needle, or divers can swim up and down a wall, like Tent Reef Wall. There are, of course, plenty of reefs to explore, too.
Where to Stay in St. Maarten, a 12-minute flight or 90-minute high-speed ferry from Saba:
5. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
In the Cayman Islands, you could dive a different site each day of the year before running out of new ones. Yes, there are 365 of them, the majority of which are centered around the largest — Grand Cayman. Two of the most popular sites are the wreck of the Kittiwake, which was intentionally sunk in 2011, and Stingray City, where divers and snorkelers can swim with friendly stingrays. Divers should also consider Ghost Mountain, a pinnacle in cloudy water that descends nearly 200 feet, and Babylon, a colorful reef wall surrounding the entire island where divers sometimes spot sea turtles and hammerhead sharks.
Where to Stay on Grand Cayman:
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