Top 10 Caribbean Dive Sites By Linda Gettmann

Head North, South, East, or West in the Caribbean Sea and you will discover spectacular sights above and below the water. No geographic area in the world gets as many diving visitors as the Caribbean-so where should you go? Perhaps these top 10 dive sites (in no particular order) will spark an idea for your next trip. Remember to always dive within your limits. Just because it's "deep" doesn't mean it's better-be a responsible diver.

Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman
I know you've heard about this one for years now, but it's true. Little Cayman has some of the finest Caribbean wall diving at Bloody Bay and Jackson's Reef Walls. The drop-off begins at only 18 feet then sinks quickly into blackness along this more than a mile-long stretch of the island's north shore. Coral and sponges of all types, colors, and sizes cascade downward as you slowly descend along the wall. Take your camera along, you will be rewarded with colorful and dramatic photos. Small caves and ledges honeycomb these walls providing an interesting visual terrain and hiding places for shy, elusive critters. You can dive at depths from 40-100 feet here depending on your comfort level. Grouper, horse-eye jacks, triggerfish, and many small tropicals make this area come alive and are ready to pose for that special shot.

Santa Rosa Wall, Cozumel
The other famous wall dive spot in the Caribbean is Cozumel. One of the most colorful and interesting dives is at Santa Rosa Wall beginning at about 60 feet. Sponge-covered jagged coral heads line the wall's edge before it spills off into a maze of deepwater gorgonians, azure vase sponges, and orange elephant ear sponges of all sizes. Near the northern end of this reef are swimthroughs that will lead you upward to the top of the reef. Most of the dives here are drift dives, so go with the flow and enjoy the kaleidoscope of scenery as it passes by.

Bahamas Shark Dive, UNEXSO, Walker's Cay, Stella Maris
Do a shark dive somewhere, sometime in your diving life. Whether you watch the feast at UNEXSO from behind a chain-mail suit, at Walker's Cay or Stella Maris kneeling on the sandy bottom, it's the thrill of a lifetime to be so close to these magnificent creatures. So sign that waiver, swallow your butterflies, pay attention to the dive briefing, have someone take your picture to prove you did it, and enjoy yourself!

The Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef, Belize
A geologic phenomenon in the middle of Lighthouse Reef, the Blue Hole at 1,000 feet in diameter is the largest in the world, reaching down over 440 feet into the inky blackness. Formed during the last Ice Age when the sea level was 300 feet lower, the Blue Hole is Belize's most famous underwater landmark. This is a deep, guided dive and you need to do a deco stop at 15 feet before surfacing. Our group went to 144 feet after a quick descent along the inner ring. Beginning at about 100 feet you see huge stalactites hanging from cavern ceilings indented along the limestone walls. Take a flashlight, it's dark down there. Swimming through the stalactites is a surreal experience, and the few fish that you'll see at these depths are wary of bubbling intruders. This is not a pretty, leisurely dive, but one you might want to do, just to say you've done it. It's definitely different. See Sink Into The Blue Hole

Half Moon Caye Wall, Lighthouse Reef, Belize
Close to the Blue Hole is a totally different diving experience at Half Moon Caye. In only 25 feet you will descend over a reef crest along a coral wall decorated with corals and sponges in every imaginable color. Sand channels separate spur and pinnacle coral formations teeming with tropical fish. Schooling eagle rays are often sighted here, as well as turtles and pelagic fish cruising these lush reefs. A popular picnic and snorkeling spot; Half Moon Caye is a National Park and home to the frigate and booby bird sanctuary. Spend your surface interval up on the tower overlooking the red-footed boobies or gazing past the quaint lighthouse out to sea. (See other Belize articles by clicking on Articles)

Carl's Hill Annex, Klein Bonaire
Divers rave about Bonaire every chance they get, and for good reason. This is a great spot for divers of all skill levels to enjoy the protected reefs and marine life and see some special creatures not found just everywhere-seahorses and frogfish just to name two. Off the shore at Klein Bonaire you will find a gently sloping reef beginning at 10 feet with every square inch covered in hard corals, sponges, soft corals, gorgonians, and alive with glistening fish in all colors of the rainbow. You could see a huge green moray out swimming, a brown long-snout seahorse clinging to a lavender sea rod, a yellow frogfish stoically poised on top of a brown sponge, or a myriad of other striking sights in front of your mask.

Southern Point, Isle de Ronde, near Grenada
Gliding through crystal clear water in over 100-foot visibility, I said to myself, this is the best spot yet! Not often dived, this small rocky island north of Grenada rewards the adventurous diver with awesome marine life, coral formations, and unmatched visibility. I say adventurous because it is over an hour-long bumpy ride in a small open boat to get there, but well worth the effort. A teeming reef at 20 feet slopes off to a wall covered with waving soft corals and sponges. The largest green moray I've ever seen swam out to greet us, along with big squirrelfish, queen angelfish, coneys, spotted filefish, spanish hogfish, queen triggerfish, and many more. This is an all day trip, so schedule it when you get there. Don't miss out on this little Caribbean secret.

Pigeon Cays, Honduras
In only 30 feet of water roaming pairs of angelfish, big scrawled filefish, schools of tangs, durgeons, wrasse, barracuda, and stingrays cruising through the area will mesmerize you. This is a protected area and it shows with no coral damage and plentiful fish populations. You can lay in the warm, clear water here forever snorkeling, diving, and enjoying a picnic lunch on the boat or ashore.

Sandy Point Cave, San Salvador, Bahamas
On the southern tip of San Salvador you will find lavish coral and sponge-covered walls plunging into the great blue abyss-watch your depth carefully on wall dives, it's easy to get deep looking at all the remarkable scenery. This site has a nice swim through to the cave and surrounding walls covered with big sponges, black coral, and gorgonians. Keep an eye out to the deep blue for a hammerhead sighting and the other pelagics that routinely roam these waters. You don't need to go below 100 feet to see all of this dramatic area and with typical 100-foot visibility, you are guaranteed to see LOTS.

The Duane, Key Largo, Florida
Fudging to the far north of the Caribbean diving region, I have to include this wonderful wreck dive off Key Largo, Florida. The Duane is a 327-foot Coast Guard cutter intentionally sunk as an artificial reef in 1987. This is not a dive for beginners, as the ship sits on the bottom in 120 feet of water and there is usually a current. The deck level and wheelhouse are at 70-90 feet, and that is where all the fish hang out and the great photo opportunities are waiting. The ship railings are now encrusted with bright red and orange corals and sponges. Massive schools of grunts, barracuda, and permits swirl in and around the mast, crow's nest and deck. Many other marine creatures have made the Duane their home, so enjoy exploring the portholes and passageways that are opened for divers.