Worldwide travelers visit the Caribbean for its warm sands and amazing onshore destinations, but avid snorkelers and divers travel to the Caribbean for another reason.
Ducking your head under the incredibly blue tropical waters off the coast of just about any Caribbean island can dazzle you with sights beyond compare. Bright yellow fish darting between flame-colored coral and fragile sea anemones dancing in the current are just part of the wonders that can be found under the waves.
With all that's out there to be explored, it's no wonder that the Caribbean is home to many of the world's most popular snorkeling and scuba diving destinations.
To help you decide where to go on your diving vacation, you can find great diving at some of the largest, most popular destinations, at "dive resorts," which offer the ultimate in diving convenience (but are sometimes lacking in other amenities) and "the best of the rest":
Farther down the page, we offer suggestions based upon the type of diving you are seeking, and other specific topics:
Throughout this page you will find links to our comprehensive guides to scuba diving at specific destinations. Each of these guides includes contact information and other details concerning local dive operators, as well as descriptions of area dive sites, including GPS co-ordinates, water conditions, depth range and the like. These local guides also make it easy to learn about local accommodations, beaches, transportation, attractions and restaurants. All of this information is just a click or two away, making it easy to choose your destination and plan your entire vacation. You can also read about snorkeling, here.
If diving is a top priority, but not everyone in your group dives, or it isn't your only priority, then you're probably going to be happiest at a major tourism destination that offers plenty of other ways to stay active. The list below was developed by first identifying the region's most popular tourism destinations, then choosing the ones that have the best diving.
A great example is Cozumel, Mexico. It has grown to become a major tourist destination in part due to its proximity to excellent offshore dives. In fact, you can seemingly travel the entire Western coast and never run out of underwater sites. Meanwhile, the non-divers in your party will never complain due to lack of other things to see and do.
Palm Beach, Aruba is another prime choice. This area is one of the island's top tourists spots thanks to the shopping, dining, casinos, and other natural attractions on land. Under the sea, on the other hand, there are at least eight different great dive sites including a breathtaking shipwreck, and it offers a wide range of accommodations including major hotels as well as condominium and villa rentals.
|Aruba: hotels in Palm Beach are closest to the best dive sites|
|Bahamas: especially Grand Bahama which has lots of dive sites, hotels and restaurants|
|Barbados: hotels near Bridgetown are close to the most popular dive areas|
|Curacao: this small island is packed with restaurants, attractions, and bars, in addition to many great dive sites|
|Dominican Republic: especially the popular Punta Cana and Puerto Plata|
|Grenada: divers looking for active beaches and plenty to do, as well as diving will want to stay near Grand Anse|
|Cayman Islands: as the most developed of the Caymans, Grand Cayman grants divers all the amenities|
|Turks and Caicos: stay on Grand Turk and Providenciales for some of the best hotels and restaurants|
|US Virgin Islands: cruisers and weekend getawayers will want to consider St. Thomas|
|Yucatan Peninsula: the ever famous Cozumel is always recommended for diving|
The Caribbean has many secluded spots where you can get away from it all -- where peace and quiet are the main attracition. From the Out Islands of the Bahamas to the tiny island nation of Saba, the following list of hideaways are all places where relaxation is an art form, and the diving is great. But be forewarned: at most of these spots, there isn't a lot to do except to rest, relax and enjoy the area's natural beauty both above and below the water. If that sounds marvelous, this list will help you find the perfect diving hideaway for your next vacation.
|In the Bahamas the out islands of Abaco and Andros offer great diving.|
|Cayman Islands there are some great dive sites off Little Cayman, but little to do on land.|
|Just north of Grenada the small island of Carriacou is a quiet destination that's perfect for divers.|
|From Puerto Rico take a ferry to Culebra for diving in a quiet setting.|
|Saba: this tiny island nation is known for its great diving.|
|In the Turks and Caicos the small island of Salt Cay has some of the best diving in the chain.|
The list below features some destinations that aren't famous tourist destinations, but they're diving favorites. A few are somewhat remote will and take a bit of effort to reach, while others are located close to a major airport, so they're easy to reach, or they're close to other attractions, so there will be plenty to do in between dives.
Your choice from this list will depend mostly on the other factors that influence your vacation planning -- like pricing and availability of accommodations, or the number of restaurants nearby -- since they all have excellent diving.
|Bahamas: still easy to reach, Bimini Islands and Eleuthera are great for diving|
|Barbados: moving away from the capital, Holetown has modern amenities without the crowds|
|Belize: many of the outlying areas are primed for diving, but Caye Caulker's proximity to the Belize Barrier Reef makes it our favourite.|
|Bermuda: the wreck capital of the world, divers will find most services in Somerset Village|
|Dominica: close to the major dive sites, the capital city of Roseau offers plenty of other activities|
|Grenada: just south of the capital, Calliste is close to both tourist amenities and good dive sites|
|Puerto Rico: if you want to stay close to San Juan, Fajardo is your best bet|
|Tobago is Trinidad's little sibling, but offers a much better diving experience|
|US Virgin Islands: both St. Croix and St. John offer some good diving, but require a longer trip|
There is no getting around it, diving is an expensive hobby to pursue. That doesn't mean you can't still get a great deal on your lodgings, equipment, training, and excursions – especially if you can book it all as a package deal. If you're looking to save some money on your dive vacation, check out these destinations. They all have inexpensive hotel options, and the dive services offer some of the best prices in the region. Just remember to ask questions before you commit -- and be on the lookout for hidden fees!
|Destination||Lowest Price to Expect for Double Tank Dive (USD)||Typical Price (USD)|
The underwater ecosystems of the Caribbean may be diverse, but these waters are prime breeding grounds for coral. Coral provides protection from rough waters from the coast, but it is also beautiful, and provides a home for many colorful marine creatures, so it's not surprising most divers love spending time exploring different reefs.
Off the coast of Belize is the second largest coral reef system in the world, so the region is rife with snorkeling and diving opportunities. Additionally, marina parks on Bonaire and Curacao provide wonderful waters for snorkelers. Bonaire's snorkelers can practically wade from the hotel to reef, while Curacao has coral gardens teeming with fish.
|Destination||Typical Quaility of Dives|
|Caye Caulker||Very Good|
|Sint Maarten||Very Good|
|St. Kitts||Very Good|
If you're planning to spend a lot of time under water, a dive resort, or a hotel with an on-site dive operation, can be one of the most convenient places to stay. Many of these resorts can assemble a package that includes meals, equipment, training, and guided excursions, making it easy to focus on diving, with maximum convenience.
Of course, even if you opt for "ala carte" pricing and plan all of your own arrangements, these resorts still offer a lot of convenience because they are located close to some of the top dive sites, or have a dive operator on site. Many are run by hosts who love the sport and can give you lots of advice and suggestions.
|Destination||Popular Hotels for Dive Vacations|
|The Bahamas||Grand Lucayan and Green Turtle Club|
|Barbados||Radisson Aquatica Resort and Mango Bay|
|Curacao||Blue Bay Village and Lions Dive & Beach Resort|
|Grand Cayman||Cobalt Coast Resort & Suites and Wyndam Reef Resort Grand Cayman|
|St. Kitts||Bird Rock Beach Hotel and Sugar Bay Club|
|St. Lucia||and Windjammer Landing|
|Turks and Caicos||Bohio Dive Resort and Royal West Indies Resort|
Antigua's calm waters and plentiful marine life make it an attractive snorkeling and diving destination, and that is just the start of the unique offerings that exist throughout the Caribbean. In addition to the coral reefs that are so popular, many people choose their dive spots with visions of swimming with a specific type of fish. If you're hoping to see the majestic habitats of this region, these destinations are best known for their great underwater environments. Whether you're interested in sharks, sting rays, dolphins, or more vibrantly colored fish, you're likely to see unusual at any one of these destinations.
|Destination||Be on the Lookout For...|
|Bahamas||Sharks and other Large Fish|
|Belize||Wall Ecosystem and the Great Belize Reef|
|British Virgin Islands||Sharks and other Large Fish|
|Curacao||The Wall Ecosystem|
|Holbox||The Whale Shark Habitats|
|Little Cayman||The Wall Ecosystem|
|Turks and Caicos||Large Fish
Shore diving allows divers to access great underwater locations directly from land, making hiring a boat to take you to deeper waters unnecessary. These types of dives are not the most popular in the Caribbean, but they certainly do exist. Be aware that while they are often less expensive, they tend to be more physically demanding.
|Destination||Notable Beaches to Dive From|
|Curacao||Jan Thiel Beach|
|Grand Cayman||Seven Mile Beach|
|St. Croix||Cane Bay Beach|
Haunting and yet somehow magical, many divers yearn to explore the wreck sites of ships that dot the underwater landscape of this region. Some of these vessels were purposely sunk in an effort to encourage the start of a new coral reef system, while others found their final resting place under more tragic circumstances.
Martinique, St. Eustatius, and Tortola have famous shipwreck dives, including ships that were sunk by the eruption of Martinique's Mt. Pelee and a hurricane that occurred in 1867. Aruba, though, is considered to be a top wreck diving location not only in the Caribbean, but in the world. Dive-able wrecks include the Antilla, California, Jane Sea, and Pedernales.
|Destination||Typical Depth of Dives|
|British Virgin Islands||45.01 Feet|
|Grand Cayman||38.52 Feet|
|New Providence Island||45.29 Feet|
While snorkeling and diving are two very different activities, and both snorkelers and divers can sometimes visit and enjoy the same spots, in most cases these activities occur in very different locations.
One of the most fundamental differences between snorkeling and diving is your location in the water. Snorkelers float on the water's surface and breathe through a snorkel, while divers challenge the ocean's depths with air tanks strapped to their backs. Anyone can learn to snorkel quickly, but to dive, you'll need to get training and a license.
...ready for full certification...
On many islands in the Caribbean, merchants on public beaches rent equipment, but check with your resort first. Many offer complimentary equipment and even lessons. Wear sun block and a Lycra® dive skin or long-sleeved shirts for the best protection; even under the surface of the water you will not be immune to the sun. Many vacationers don't realize they can get severe sunburn because the water has a cooling effect, but it also magnifies the intensity of the sun's rays.
The long sleeves and dive suit will also help to protect you from accidental scrapes on underwater rocks and coral. It's easiest to stay safe by swimming with your arms at your sides. To get closer to anything you see, just hold your breath and kick without touching the living corals.
Divers will need to take an extra step before embarking on their underwater adventure by becoming certified before they can dive. Dive shops in your hometown can help prepare you before you leave, and many resorts have even faster one-day courses that allow you to go out with an expert guide. Once the certification is taken care of and you have your "C" card, you can proceed with diving, which is actually easier on your body than snorkeling, despite requiring more equipment.
If you're not ready for full certification, some companies offer tethered scuba dives for depths of up to 20 feet. These provide a floating air tank and 20-foot tube, and a short course on how to use the equipment before letting you perform a shallow water dive. For more information on tethered scuba diving, visit snuba.com.
Coral reefs are just one kind of the amazing sites available under the Caribbean Sea. Divers, and sometimes snorkelers, can visit old shipwrecks and underwater formations. Deep dive sites offer even more incredible sights to behold. Volcanic vents can provide fascinating and fun experiences. In addition, snorkeling and diving can be activities for the whole family to enjoy. Depending on the ages of the children, and of course diving certification, diving and snorkeling can be interesting for all ages.
Many of the most popular sites to reach in the Caribbean for both snorkeling and diving require a boat ride. Still, remember that on nearly every island there will be something just offshore to spark your interest. In many cases you'll find colorful fish, rays, and anemones close to land. While many vacationers are content to explore what's nearby; others choose a specific site and then stay at the nearest lodging. Many of the sites that inspire this kind of visitor are world-famous.
The Virgin Islands National Park and Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge are popular as both snorkeling and diving locations. In the National Park, locales like Trunk Bay and Leinster Bay Beach are great spots for snorkelers; while Cane Bay Beach has something for everyone -- the divers in your group can enjoy a spectacular wall dive directly off the beach while everyone else can relax at the beach, or spend the afternoon relaxing at one of the nearby restaurants and bars.
The islands' reefs have plenty of brain and elk coral that grow to amazing sizes and are populated with colorful fish, crustaceans, and sponges. St. Croix is slowly growing in popularity as a dive spot due to it's many drop-offs, coral canyons, walls, and wreck dives in its waters. The Puerto Rico Trench, the earth's fifth-deepest body of water, is also off the shores of St. Croix.
For adventure or amazement, many Caribbean visitors choose the Cayman Islands. While the Caymans are popular with divers, the most impressive and unusual of all the sights is just off Grand Cayman. It's called Stingray City, and there you'll find both snorkelers and divers swimming with dozens of peaceful stingrays. The Bloody Bay Wall off Little Cayman is excellent for divers, beginning at 18 feet and dropping swiftly to more than 1,000 feet. It goes without saying that visitors to the Caymans are in for something a little different.
The Cayman and Virgin Islands are just two of the most popular areas to snorkel and dive, but there are plenty of other locations throughout the Caribbean.
Dominica has plenty of walls, but is better known for its volcanic vents. Offshore from the city of Scott's Head, waters bubble like warm champagne and are great for divers.
The mixture of cool ocean waters that mix with the Caicos bank in Turks and Caicos creates a spectical of corals, sponges, and sea animals along 6000 feet vertical drop-offs.
Some of the smaller islands of the Bahamas, or islets known as the Biminis are known for explorable shipwrecks, black coral gardens, shallow shoals, and blue holes.
Puerto Rico is surrounded by a continental shelf that creates sea walls that divers can not seem to get enough of. Underwater caves, and a visibility of between 60 and 100 feet deep are other draws.
The waters of Jamaica are home to several marine parks, including one in Negril and Montego Bay.
Both snorkelers and divers need to keep a few things in mind while they're visiting the creatures under the Caribbean waves:
Be aware of currents and stay watchful of your location. You don't want to get too far away to return easily.
Always snorkel or dive with at least one other person - it's safer and more fun to explore together.
Wear a watch so you don't lose track of time. It's easy to do underwater.
Snorkeling vests are adjustable to keep you afloat.
Don't feed the fish or touch the animals or coral. Their protective layers can be stripped away.
Never stand or walk on a reef and tread carefully on shallow water around reefs. (Shuffle your feet to avoid stingrays, and watch out for sea urchins, spines.)
Never wear jewelry. Caribbean fish, barracudas especially, seem drawn to shiny objects that look like their natural prey, small silver fish.
Avoid jellyfish, fire coral, and other stinging creatures.
Never reach into holes or crevices; they might be an animal's home--especially moray eels.
Shark sightings are rare, but if you do run into one it is best to keep calm, and if necessary, move slowly out of the water.
Never remove anything from dive sites and reefs; it is illegal to do so.
The Caribbean has plenty of beautiful sites for both snorkeling and diving, but it is always best to keep safety in mind when planning your vacation.
Now that you have the information required to dive, choose your destination! See the table below for a list of our most populat diving guides.
|Major Destinations||Notable Local Guide(s)|
|Antigua and Barbuda||--|
|Bahamas||the Bimini Islands
|Barbados||Saint Lawrence Gap|
|British Virgin Islands||Virgin Gorda|
|Cayman Islands||Seven Mile Beach|
|Dominican Republic||Punta Cana|
|Martinique||Fort de France|
|Sint Maarten||Simpson Bay|
|Turks and Caicos||Providenciales|
|US Virgin Islands||St. Croix|
Playa Del Carmen
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