West Indies scuba diving holidays combine idyllic holiday destinations with a stunning underwater world. But with over 7,000 islands in 28 island nations, plus the tip of Florida, some of Mexico, the Central American coastline and the northern coast of South America, there is a lot to choose from! So what are the best Caribbean dive sites?
West Indies scuba diving holidays
The West Indies was Christopher Columbus’s original name for what is now known as the Caribbean. When you think of holidays there you probably picture white sandy beaches, clear blue seas, beautiful weather and a rum based drink in your hand. A generalisation? Yes, but true? Probably.
I pose the question though, not withstanding the merits and pitfalls of Malibu and mojitos, should West Indies scuba diving holidays be near the top of your list of places to dive?
Overall Caribbean diving is great. Fair weather divers will love the deliciously warm climate, which provides an average water temperature of 27 degrees. So you will only need to pack your 5mm shorty.
On the whole there is little in the way of currents and fantastic visibility. There is a huge diversity of destinations and types of diving to choose from. With wrecks and walls, reefs and rock gardens, drop offs and deep dives and caves and coral there is something for everyone.
The region has long been popular with scuba divers. However the 2,000-mile-long group of islands separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, and it’s mainland coastline, are often overlooked as a scuba destination.
It’s not regularly featured amongst the more obvious scuba ‘biggies’, like the Red Sea, Australia, Galapagos, Philippines or Sipadan. Perhaps it’s just too hard to decide where to go scuba diving in the Caribbean when there is so much to choose from? Which is why we’ve pulled together the 9 best Caribbean dive sites.
When to dive the Caribbean
Year-round sunshine makes West Indies scuba diving holidays a good idea almost anytime of the year. The only time to avoid is hurricane season which is June to November. In most of the Caribbean, hurricanes are rare outside mid August to early October, although it varies across the region.
However, unless hit by a Hurricane – which is actually pretty unlikely – the diving is just as good during the low season and prices are significantly cheaper. So if you don’t mind taking a risk it is a great time of year to book West Indies scuba diving holidays if you need to keep the costs down.
But the Caribbean makes a particularly good winter destination. After the hurricane season ends it’s mainly hot and dry. The lovely weather makes a nice change to the chilly northern climes. However, winter is peak season so everything – including dive sites – is busier and more expensive.
9 best Caribbean dive sites
OK so you are convinced, but where to go? Well here are 9 great dive destinations in the Caribbean any of which would be a great place to start.
Please note, this is not a bible to West Indies scuba diving holidays, but a snapshot to whet your appetite. It is ordered alphabetically, simply because it was tough enough narrowing the list down to nine let alone choosing an order!
The Central American country of Belize should be on your diving list. It’s known most famously for the UNESCO world heritage site the Blue Hole. A perfectly circular limestone sinkhole that’s over 400ft deep. It is an experience not to be missed but is far from the best diving Belize has to offer.
The Blue hole is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which at 900km long is the second largest in the world. Around 300km of the reef is in Belizean waters, which team with life and are abound with excellent dive sites.
Glovers Reef is a highlight. With sites named Manta Reef, Shark Point, Turtle Tavern and Dolphin Dance, I think you can see why? It’s also one of the less visited atolls so you can take full advantage of the quieter dive spots.
If you want to see whale sharks then head to Gladden Spit in April and May. Spawning cubera snappers attract the whale sharks, and the best time to visit is three days either side of a full moon.
But Belize offers much more than some of the best Caribbean dive sites. It is also an excellent holiday destination well set up for tourists. You can even stay in stilt accommodation over the water in quite a few destinations, including Glover’s Atoll. So you can snorkel over the reef right from your room.
Situated outside the main hurricane belt – hit on average once every 28 years – this Dutch island isn’t typical of the Caribbean. The absence of crowds, even in peak season, means it’s a great place to do some diving and enjoy a holiday. Plus costs are generally lower cost than many other Caribbean Islands.
With 70-80 dive sites Bonaire is perfect for West Indies scuba diving holidays. It claims to be home to the most diverse range of species found in the Caribbean, with nearly 400 species of fish alone. Not surprising when you consider Bonaire’s reputation for marine preservation.
And what makes it one of the best Caribbean dive sites? Over 50 of the sites are accessible from the shore. Yippee! Sloping terraces with drop offs at around 30ft. Great walk in dive sites include Thousand Steps – which thankfully only has 64 steps in real life – which is full of activity from filefish to sharks.
Kallis Reef is in great condition being a relatively new addition to Bonaire’s dive sites. Two words. Seahorses and turtles, well, that’s three but two of them should keep you interested.
Angel City is a popular site offering funnily enough, angel fish, but also rays, eels and the small but perfectly formed nudibranchs for the eagle eyed diver. Finally, Baris Reef offers lovely easy diving and the chance to see over 300 species of fish. Check out our Bonaire scuba diving guide for more info.
British Virgin Islands
The BVI has some of the best Caribbean dive sites for those that like to get wrecked…. There is a dive known as The Kraken on the 1940s ship the Kodiak Queen and the 75 foot deep Wreck of the Chikuzen – advanced divers only – which are both spectacular. But the real draw for West Indies scuba diving holidays is the RMS Rhone.
It sank in a hurricane nearly 150 years ago, and this former British Royal Mail steamer is now one of the most famous dive sites in the Caribbean. Turtles, octopus and giant green moray are just some if the marine life you can hope to see alongside many artefacts that remain intact on the vessel.
Given the sheer size from bow to stern, at least two dives are recommended to explore its hidden treasures. The wreck was featured in the 1977 film The Deep. If you watch that before your scuba trip, you’ll know to keep your hands off anything you find! Try a night dive for a truly spectacular and slightly eerie experience.
But the British Virgin Islands offer much more than wreck dives. The Dog Islands alone have around nine excellent sites including wall dives, caves and the infamous chimney that was a favourite of Jacques Cousteau. Scrub Island, Virgin Gorda, Ginger Island and Cooper Island also have plenty of diving.
Cozumel Island (Mexico)
Cozumel Island is part of Mexico. Located just off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, it has some of the best Caribbean dive sites. Including Palancar Reef and Colombia Wall.
However, when on a quest for something a bit different, it has to be Devils Throat that gets some exposure. Even the name feels scary, but exciting. This one is only for experienced divers only, who need to be very good at controlling buoyancy and don’t panic in relatively confined and deep environments.
Dramatic intro over with. Let’s get to it. So you enter via a coral tube, like a cave system and its dark, so a light and trusted guide are required. You continue to descend and travel along the tube until you reach the “throat” where it is darker still. A sharp vertical drop at around 40m leads round a corner where you’re greeted with a beautiful expanse of blue as you exit the cave.
The labyrinth of caverns exposes sponges and coral. Divers are often rewarded with green turtles as they come into the big blue. Unique and unforgettable and yes, a tiny bit scary. But one not to miss during West Indies scuba diving holidays.
Until recently tourism to Cuba was rather restricted, this means the it has less developed dive scene. And that is what makes it one of the best Caribbean dive sites. But it’s not only the quieter and less explored waters that make it attractive, it’s what you’ll see and experience that gets Cuba on this list.
The Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud) located to the south of the western most point of Cuba is well worth a visit. It is a marine reserve which is sheltered from the prevailing winds keeping things calm and visibility good. It has caves, drop-offs and wrecks to explore.
Want the best of the best on your West Indies scuba diving holidays to Cuba? Then head to Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina), which can only be visited on a liveaboard. It is an archipelago extending 150 km off the southern coast of central Cuba that has been protected since the 1990s
Activities here are restricted, with just a few hundred divers allowed to visit each year. The site has abundant and healthy marine life that has been described as the best in the Caribbean.
The beauty of Cuba is new dive sites are being found all the time. Half of the 100 species of shark found in the Caribbean swim in Cuban waters, so it’s clear there is plenty to see. So book your scuba diving holidays in Cuba now before the word gets out.
Encompassing Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, the quality of the diving in the Cayman Islands can be hard to beat. Their location on Cayman Ridge, a massive underwater mountain range, provides incredible underwater adventures.
There are more than 200 great dive sites to discover during West Indies scuba diving holidays in the Cayman islands. The USS Kittiwake is a top spot, deliberately sunk in 2011 you can still swim through its various rooms. The MV Captain Keith Tibbetts is another popular dive and is the only Russian wreck in the western hemisphere.
If you prefer your dives more natural there is plenty to see. Babylon, found on the north side of the Grand Cayman wall, is a beautiful spot. Expect to see parrot fish, barracuda, eagle rays, green and hawksbill turtles and even the odd hammerhead. Stingray city, Jackson’s Blight and Ghost Mountain are all worth a visit.
But top spot goes to Bloody Bay Wall off Little Cayman, which is regarded as one of the best Caribbean dive sites. It’s a fantastic shear wall dive with outstanding visibility. You can get close to a huge diversity of fish and a rainbow of sponge corals, whilst still experiencing big blue travellers such as sharks and rays.
Its not generally featured in many articles about West Indies scuba diving holidays, but it should be. Known as the Spice Isle, in diving circles Grenada is also known as the wreck capital of the Caribbean. Nearly half of all it’s recognised dive sites offer novice to experienced divers the chance to explore sunken wrecks.
These include cargo ships MV Veronica and MV Shakem. But also the renowned Bianca C, the ‘titanic of the Caribbean’, an enormous cruise ship that sank in 1961. Reaching down to 50m it’s for advanced divers only, but as the Bianca is the largest wreck that can be dived in Caribbean it’s well worth getting certified for.
The feature dive though, is much easier. The Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park is based on the work of British artist Jason deCaires Taylor. He created 65 sculptures designed to capture the folklore and culture of the island.
Each has a story including tales of free divers and she-devils. It also features a spooky yet beautiful circle of children, unexpected still life and figures half buried in the sand. Intriguing, engaging and more than a bit different – easily one of the best Caribbean dive sites.
Like Belize, Honduras is home to a section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. It is also home to some of the cheapest diving on the planet – you can pay as little as $280 to get your PADI Open Water here.
But low prices are not the only reason for a West Indies scuba diving holiday to Honduras, as the Bay Islands are an excellent dive destination. Utila is one of the best places in the world to dive with whale sharks. And is one of the few places that they can be seen year round – often with just a snorkel.
But Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands is the top spot with some of the best Caribbean dive sites. Hole in the wall offers cave and cavern diving, whilst the El Aguila offers the chance for an excellent wreck dive. Other popular spots include Texas, Blue Channel, Overheat, Toon Town, Eels Garden and Coco Sea Mount.
But possibly the best dive spot in the area is Mary’s Place. Here you’ll dive through lush, narrow canyons that are crowded with sea fans and black coral trees. Everywhere you look is alive with movement, and each crack and crevice is full of life. Unforgettable and unique.
Turks and Caicos
Located southwest of West Caicos, French Cay doesn’t sound like a pirates hang out and these days doesn’t look like one either. It currently enjoys its protected status as a bird sanctuary which is a far cry from it’s former life as a pirates hangout.
A small, uninhabited island only a few hundred feet long, it takes you 50 minutes to get there. But why is it one of the best Caribbean dive sites? It offers walls that get sunshine all day that are abundant in large coral and sponges that are full of life, colour and variety.
From January through to early April there is another reason to visit Turks and Caicos. Caribbean humpback whales pass through the Turks Head Passage while migrating. It takes patience and persistence – and a full tank! – but diving with whales is a magical experience that is tough to repeat anywhere else in the Caribbean.
We hope this article has inspired you to book West Indies scuba diving holidays! For a slightly different take on the best Caribbean dive sites check out this artyicle about 10 of the best Caribbean scuba diving destinations.