It’s hard to choose the five best diving destinations anywhere in the world, let alone in the Caribbean, because every diver wants something different. Maybe they are looking for a certain species of fish, or perhaps a certain colour coral, or even a certain formation of sponge. Certain aspects of diving and snorkelling remain constant however, such as good access, clean water, good, healthy corals and loads of underwater action from the residents of whichever reef is being dived.
Just outside Venezuela lies Bonaire’s Bari Reef, which according to most divers, provides the best diving in the Caribbean for beginner divers. With excellent shore diving and over 390 different species of fish, most of which can be found at 50 feet and above, Bari Reef has taken the Reef Environmental Education Foundation’s top spot for fish diversity. Before divers are allowed to visit this reef, they are required to do a warm-up dive off the shore. The reef is very easy to access, starting with only 20 feet of water. There is also an old, collapsed pier around which gather many species of fish. Deeper into the reef are elephant-ear sponges, along with small eels, and unusual reef formations. There is also debris lying between 20 and 100 feet from a hurricane in 1999. In among these pieces of broken concrete and stone dart numerous species of fish, easily visible by even the most inexperienced diver.
Moving on we come to Little Cayman, and what’s considered by most professional divers as the ultimate wall dive – Bloody Bay. There is a beautiful plateau leading to the wall which proudly displays a wonderful variety of marine life including hard corals, inquisitive fish, and a good variety of sponges. There are wonderful photographic opportunities at the Mixing Bowl where triggerfish, grouper, and horse-eye jack’s seem to be waiting to have their pictures taken as they feed, socialise and nose around in the sand. As divers descend the wall itself, nature puts on a show, with almost every species and type of sponge and coral jostling for position. Some divers only visit the wall in order to look out into the open water and see the colour of the vast ocean depths, often called “deep drop-off blue” and experience a feeling of awe. The best times to visit are summer and autumn, with cold months bringing with them strong winds.
Moving on, the British Virgin Islands and the wreck of the Royal Mail Steamer (RMS) Rhone, the 310 foot long ship which was broken in two when it sank during the hurricane in 1867. There were 120 people on board, most of who unfortunately were killed. Most of the wreck is still intact, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities, which makes it one of the most visited sites in the Caribbean. The wreckage is deemed very safe and stable and was also used during the 1977 filming of The Deep. The girders inside the hull are completely covered with sponges and beautiful orange corals, while schools of fish roam around the ship’s interior. Unfortunately divers are not permitted to take anything away from the wreckage, either for educational purposes, or for pleasure.
In Bimini in the Bahamas, an experience awaits unlike any other. All around the Caribbean there are captive dolphin facilities popping up like dry cleaners, selling extremely expensive “swim with the dolphin” packages. However this is nothing like what is on offer in Bimini. In this dolphin hotspot there are wild pods of ocean-going dolphins that swim with snorkelers on a daily basis. In this part of the Caribbean, the dolphins are not thought of as possessions, being thought of instead as friends and visitors. Snorkellers and divers visiting the area are taken out on boats to search for pods of dolphins and upon finding one are invited to jump into the water. This is thought of as being the same as asking the dolphins for a swim, with the mammals sometimes sticking around for up to 5 hours at a time. There is no guarantee however, that the dolphins will swim with the diver, as they are after all completely wild and totally unpredictable. This however, only adds to the excitement of the trip. It is said that the longer you spend on a trip, the longer the experience you will have with the dolphins. Indeed many divers engage in trips of at least five days, in order to better their chances of having an extended swim with a wild pod. Swimming with dolphins however, is not the only pastime here, with snorkelling and boat trips also popular among holidaymakers. There are many tour operators here, offering educational trips around these islands.
On the last leg of the journey we come to Saint Thomas, USVI, and Cow and Calf Rocks. Cow and calf rocks are two rock formations which Sailors in olden days sometimes thought where the backs of two whales, a mother and her calf. The maximum depth here around both rocks is about 50 feet, and is suitable for snorkelling or diving. Cow Rock has an amazing tunnel system and what divers call the “champagne cork”, because under the right conditions wave action around and inside the rock might boost you up through a hole at the top of the rock. There are many creatures to see in both rocks including green moray eels, lobsters, turtles and many species of fish. While diving the tunnel system in Cow Rock, divers are advised to bring a good quality light source and an equally good camera, as there are many photographic opportunities available. Divers should also expect to see, and be ready to photograph the beautiful corals living in both rocks. This is an excellent night diving location, and is truly an unforgettable excursion.