Diving trifecta: Reef, critters, clear water
Divers in the know love Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles, largely because they can simply wade from the beach to great diving spots, says Ben Davidson, editor of the diving magazine Undercurrents.
Divers in the know love
, largely because they can simply wade from the beach to great diving spots, says Ben Davidson, editor of the diving magazine Undercurrents.
"There aren't big fish, but that's pretty much true throughout the Caribbean these days," Davidson says. "But the reefs are quite nice, and you can save money and time by not having to take a boat."
Bonaire's sister island,
, offers the same advantage. Moreover, both islands have mild currents, and both are virtually hurricane-proof.
, and particularly
, have dramatic underwater walls and great coral reefs. "It's pretty pristine. You can't compare it to 30 years ago, but it's as good as it gets for underwater terrain," Davidson says, and there aren't many currents.
For nice and easy diving,
Turks and Caicos
is a great choice, but don't confuse ease with mediocrity: The island has a dramatic vertical wall not far offshore and a lot of small tropical fish.
More experienced divers - especially those who don't care that there are no beaches or nightlife - should consider
"Offshore pinnacles are quite dramatic, sometimes you can see sharks, the coral is lovely, and it's pretty unique," Davidson says. "But many of the pinnacles don't break water, so it feels like open-ocean diving, and you have to go deeper. Saba attracts serious divers but otherwise doesn't get a lot of tourists."
The critter capital of the Caribbean is
, where you'll find unusual small things hiding, such as sea horses and inch-long pipefish and frogfish. If you're into underwater photography, this is a great place to find tiny living things to shoot. For big, scary things, go to the
, which has organized shark dives.
The elements that make for great diving - reefs, crystal-clear water and underwater wildlife - also make for great snorkeling at these islands. Add
, where visibility is up to 90 feet, and coral reefs are covered with sea fans and giant sponge tubes.
, divers love the
Anse La Raye wall
, but it's also accessible for snorkeling.
Sea Life Educational Center
, where a marine biologist offers a hands-on lesson, then guides participants on a snorkel search for fish, lobster, octopus, sea stars and turtles.