Image: Scuba diving
Bonaire Tourism
Despite its stunning beaches, Bonaire, 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, is best known for spectacular shore diving as well, and is ranked No. 2 on the PADI network of top 10 travel destinations.
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updated 11/11/2007 2:54:02 PM ET 2007-11-11T19:54:02

Two months ago we turned to an expert panel to help us list the "World’s 10 Best Scuba Spots". After finalizing our list, we took a step back and had a realization: Four of the 10 spots were in the Caribbean. Appreciating how much our experts seem to enjoy diving in this area of the ocean, we decided to go back to them for to develop our list of the 10 Best Caribbean Scuba Spots.

Because the water conditions for diving are fairly consistent throughout the Caribbean, our panel did not have to factor this feature as highly into their ranking as they did when compiling the global list. "When you dive in the Caribbean it's a known quantity. The conditions are pretty much relatively good,” says Nick Lucey, Editor at Large, Scuba Diving Magazine. Just as one of the benefits of diving the Caribbean is its reliability in the water, so is its reliability out of the water. “It's got a very developed infrastructure for diving,” adds Lucey. “You know you're going to get a high level of service with the dive operations and the resorts.”

The quality of these water and land services in the Caribbean is well represented by the Cayman Islands. In fact, the panel came to a consensus, as they did on our global list with Palau, identifying Grand Cayman, part of the Cayman Islands, as the greatest place to dive the Caribbean. Ranked No. 3 on the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Network’s list of favorite scuba destinations, Grand Cayman is known for its themed dives at locations like Stingray City, where you can float through shallow water and come face-to-face with stingrays the size of table tops.

“The diving requires little effort and there are many shoals of fish,” says Jack Jackson, underwater photographer and author. The abundance of interesting dives in the Caymans at beginner and novice levels, as well as the different activities on the land for the non-divers, make these islands accessible for a range of adventures. For instance, Tom Morrisey, Executive Editor, Sport Diver Magazine, mentions the very cool Cayman Turtle Farm, a quarter mile away from Stingray City.

The Caymans are not the only Caribbean dive sites suitable for all levels of divers. The interesting shapes and colors found in the color reefs and shallow diving of Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean (ranked No. 2 on the list of top 10 by PADI), and Provo, Turks and Caicos (PADI ranking of No. 7) are just as intriguing for snorkelers as they are for divers. "All sites [around Bonaire] are accessible from the beach," says Morrisey. "You rent a pick-up and drive around the island shore to dive around big yellow rocks that are numbered." So even if your loved ones don’t love the water, they can still tag along for a good time. Cozumel, the Mexican Caribbean's largest island, is ranked No. 1 by the PADI Travel Network and is an all-around fun destination. “Cozumel has currents, fish and great visibility,” says Jackson. It also has luxury lodging and great nightlife.

For the more advanced diver not as concerned about out-of-water activities, Cocos Island, Costa Rica is the spot. You’ll need to live aboard a boat, however, because this island is over 300 miles from the Costa Rican coast. But it’s worth the trip—Cocos Island is a great dive site for spotting some of the most impressive underwater creatures. "Cocos Island has earned the reputation as being one of the best big animal dive destinations in the world," says Amy Christopher, Operations Manager, Ocean First Divers. The PADI Network agrees, ranking Cocos Islands at #6.

From the wall diving of the Blue Hole, Belize and Northwest Point Drop-off, Grand Cayman to the shallow reefs and colorful fish of Bonaire or the amazing shipwrecks of Aruba, one thing is obvious: Narrowing the range of scuba spots to the Caribbean by no means lessens the variety and wonder that can be found.

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