Our top diving picks in the Caribbean
March 11, 2014 | By Travel Bug |
by Michael DeFreitas
Amazing, fantastic, spectacular – Caribbean diving
Twenty metres above us, the sunlight danced on the surface like a giant disco ball. Streams of sunbeams pierced the pristine blue water, spotlighting the shallow West Caicos reef. I was trying to photograph a pesky, three-centimetre, spotted cleaning shrimp, wedged amid the tangle of stinging tentacles of a giant Caribbean anemone. Every time I had the frisky critter in my sights it would dart back among the tentacles before I could snap the shot.
I finally managed to get off a few shots when my dive buddy tugged my arm. Turning his way, I found him frantically gesturing and pointing upwards to a creature every diver dreams of but few ever experience. Floating less than five metres above us was a giant manta ray performing an underwater ballet of loops and rolls. Its enormous wings propelling it effortlessly through the water, while its cavernous mouth gathered in a feast of plankton and thimble jellies.
I raised my camera, my heart pounding. Then it hit me my first manta sighting and my camera rig was setup for macro instead of wide-angle photography. All I could do was admire the magnificent creature until it disappeared into the blue abyss.
Encounters like this are one of the main reasons scuba diving is becoming one of the fastest growing adventure sports in the world. And when it comes to exciting underwater experiences, few destinations can match the Caribbean. With easy access from Canadian gateways, 25˚ to 30˚C waters, 30-metre visibility and a variety of dive sites, it's no surprise that many Caribbean islands consistently rank in the top ten best destinations in the world.
Cozumel's strong ocean currents create some of the world's best drift diving. Divers pushed along by these fast currents literally ‘fly' over the reef. Zipping through the underwater caverns at Devils Throat is one of the Caribbean's most exciting drift dives.
Aruba's shallow water dive sites team with tropical fish and are ideal for divers of all skill levels. The island's premier dive site is the 135-metre Antilla shipwreck lying in 20 metres of water.
Grand Cayman offers the unique experience of interacting with playful southern stingrays and nurse sharks at their Stingray City dive site. Saint Lucia's incredible Coral Gardens offer a kaleidoscope of colourful sponges, corals and thick clouds of tropical fish.
I have been diving the Caribbean for almost 15 years and still have a few more destinations to cross off my diving list. Later this year, I'll check off a few more entries when I dive into the crystal clear waters of Curaçao.
Over the last 25 years, award-winning freelance writer and photographer Michael DeFreitas has authored and illustrated more than 150 stories and three guidebooks on the Caribbean.
No excuses… It's time to get certified
It's never been easier to get certified. PADI's referral program allows you to start your open-water certification program at a Canadian dive centre and complete the course at an affiliated PADI resort in the Caribbean. This program eliminates the need to make your compulsory open-water dives in cold water. Simply attend the classroom and pool sessions in Canada, then complete your certification dives on your next Caribbean vacation.
Many Caribbean resorts offer scuba-diving introductory courses and tours for certified packages. Check out our full-list of diver-friendly caribbean resorts.