The Caribbean, a crescent shaped groups of islands, approximatley 2000 miles long separates the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea to the West and South and the Atlantic Ocean from the North and East. Caribbean islands lie within the tropics, and despite the vast region over which the different islands are situated, the climate and conditions for all of them are extremely similar.
The Caribbean enjoys a tropical climate with a temperature range between 24C and 32C. The rainy season begins in May, with the Caribbean still enjoying 9-10 hours of sunshine per day during this time. Attracting tourists from all over the world, the best time to visit is during the winter, this is when the islands have warm and sunny days, and there is little rainfall. Hurricane season runs from June to November, with most occurring during the month of September.
Getting to the Caribbean is relatively straightforward these days. Most airlines will fly direct to the majority of the islands within the Caribbean. Or, if you want to take a more leisurely way of travel and take in more than one island on your vacation, there is the option of the Cruise lines. Currency throughout the Caribbean is normally the USD, but some islands may have their own local currency too, so it may be better to check before you leave.
The Caribbean is famous for white sandy beaches, blue skies, clear warm water and pirates, not forgetting the rum of course. A lot of the tourism these days is from people wanting to get away from their busy lives at home to take advantage of the beautiful weather and surroundings in the Caribbean. People come to get married, go diving, have a party or just relax.
Each island has its own history, activities and life style, so depending on what you want out of your vacation, you may want to do a little research as to what your chosen island has on offer for you. There will be something for everyone. The Caribbean caters for all nationalities; so don’t be surprised to find a variety of restaurants serving all kinds of wonderful foods.
Getting around on the islands is pretty easy, hire a car and drive yourself or use the local bus network. For the smaller islands try slowing the pace down a little by hiring a bicycle. You will get to see a lot more from the experience, and a chance to take in the true beauty of it all. Many of the islands have Flora and Fauna found indigenous only to that island. Too many people miss out on so much of what their chosen island has to offer, but you don’t have to: hire a guide to take you off the beaten track, and let them show you what the island is all about, village life, culture, arts & crafts and local delicacies. How do you know you won’t like it unless you try?
So you have taken the decision to go to the Caribbean for your next vacation… But where, exactly in the Caribbean? You’re a diver and want to go somewhere that offers a wide range of diving to suit all levels, so from the many islands to choose from, all offering clear warm waters, which one would be right for you?
The Dominican Republic’s North coast region of Puerto Plata, will find divers usually heading for Sosua. This is an excellent place for novice and advanced divers. For something a little more adventurous La Piramide is a site with a series of interconnecting tunnels. Advanced divers may also enjoy visiting Cabrera, a fresh-water cave-diving experience, where apparently the light effects are amazing.
Honduras offers you “Islas de las Bahia”, the Bay Islands. Part of the Meso American Barrier Reef they feature vibrant coral, numerous species of tropical fish, huge sponges and the odd pelagic encounter Manta rays, Sea Turtles, Sharks and if you’re really fortunate maybe the odd Whale Shark. Most divers will head to one of the three main islands of Roatan, being the largest of the three, Utila, the smallest and Guanaja, noted for its more secluded atmosphere, each island is uniquely different to last.
Grand Cayman boasts dramatic drop offs on the North Wall; this is where most of the “big Stuff” cruises by! Atmospheric swim throughs, over-hangs and tunnels will greet you when diving on the West Wall, Not forgetting the “Kittiwake” wreck, which was purposely sunk for divers in 2011. Don’t count out shore diving here either, as Eden Rock is famed for its maze of swim throughs and tunnels and is reasonably shallow waters, which add to a perfect training site.
Curacao was chosen as a top 3 location for 'Best Snorkeling', 'Best Shore Diving' and 'Best Macro Marine Life' by the readers of Scuba Diving Magazine in their annual Reader's Choice Awards. Most dive sites are on the south of the island, where the waters are calmer and give way to an unusual feature where by the sea floor drops steeply. So, the reef can be easily reached with out a boat.
With over 1000 dive sites to choose from, the Bahamas definitely offers something for everyone taste. From the Andros Barrier Reef and famous Blue Holes to the many wrecks dotted around the coastline, the marine life here is in abundance and it’s not uncommon for you to have the company of wild Dolphins whilst on your dive. Not forgetting the Lucayan National Park, containing a freshwater cave system, the longest of its type in the world at approximately 6miles.
Belize's reef, cays, and atolls provide exceptional opportunities for diving. Adventurous scuba divers shouldn't miss the exhilarating experience of diving the Great Blue Hole, a large underwater sinkhole off the coast of Belize. Ambergris Caye shares the same Caribbean coral reef as the Bay Islands in Honduras, and its most popular dive site is Hol Chan Marine Reserve. And Belize's Turneffe Atoll, the largest atoll in the Caribbean, is comprised of over 200 islands, sheltering innumerable tropical species from rough waves. The atoll is fringed by sixty Belize dive sites, boasting an extraordinary variety of underwater landscapes and marine life
Cozumel, in Mexico, has a little something different to offer than some of the other Caribbean Islands, as most diving here is drift diving. Most dives sites are situated south of the city, where the boat will drop you off, leaving you free to gently go with the flow allowing you to take in the colorful reef and marine life, before returning to collect you. There are some shore dives but these are limited compared to what you can enjoy further out and places like Palancar Reef.
The waters surrounding Bonaire are an officially designated Marine Park, so you will be required to attend a Bonaire National Marine Park Orientation/Briefing prior to your first dive on the island. You also need to purchase a token for $25 before you are allowed to dive. Bonaire is a photographers dream; the reefs are pristine, untouched and un-spoilt. Just like how diving the Caribbean used to be.
From Beginners to Advanced, Recreational to Technical many of the Caribbean islands can support your needs. There tends to be a depth limit of 30m/100ft for most recreational divers, so you will not be taken past your own training or comfort level. If you are trained for depths beyond these, then look to use those companies advertising Technical diving, as they are able to fulfill your requirements without disappointment.
As you already know the Caribbean offers clear, warm dive-able waters pretty much all year round, with water temperatures averaging from 26 degrees in winter to 30 degrees in the summer, not to mention visibility of 100ft plus on most days.
However, you should also know that the Caribbean has a Hurricane season, starting the end of May leading up to and through Oct. It’s also the rainy season round this time, so be prepared for the odd short sharp shower. Whilst Hurricanes are unpredictable, this does not mean that the entire Caribbean is affected at the same time, but when a storm comes through or close by, water clarity can drop dramatically.
The majority of dive centre’s across the Caribbean will offer Boat and Shore diving, but it’s what type of diving you want to experience and the marine life that you want to observe, that will draw you to your chosen destination.
Marine Parks are becoming more common on most Caribbean islands now, so please make sure you are familiar with the rules and costs of diving these areas.
Do your research, find the right island for you, and go have fun. Already been to some of the islands? Mix it up and try a new one… The possibilities the Caribbean and its many islands have to offer are endless!
(By Mandy Newton)