Scuba Diving Top 100: Best Diving in the Caribbean & Atlantic | Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving Top 100: Best Diving in the Caribbean & Atlantic

Beautiful, accessible and packed with marine life — these are among the many favorite things divers love about the sun-kissed islands in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Read more about the best scuba diving in the world: 2014 Reader's Choice Top 100 Awards

Best Advanced Diving

best advanced scuba diving

Best Advanced Diving

Martin Strmiska

1. Grand Bahama, Bahamas (pictured above)

2. Cozumel, Mexico

3. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

4. British Virgin Islands

5. Bermuda

A shark-filled cave is local legend Cristina Zenato’s ideal dive. Until she stumbles upon one, the shark handler and cave-diving instructor contents herself with the next best thing: logging both experiences in the same day. Grand Bahama delivers an adrenaline rush in many underwater forms: Caribbean reef sharks, a massive cave network and almost a dozen deep wrecks. Kneel and watch a shark-feeding show, or don chain mail and try your hand at offering snacks to predators. Inland, Lucayan National Park contains a labyrinth of caves and caverns; even those with no overhead experience can kick through light-filled rooms studded with stalactites. Those looking to build experience with overhead environments should target Blair’s Reef, where cracks and fissures carve through, creating tunnels. Come winter, clouds of silversides sweep through these cavities, luring in tarpon and jacks ready to snap. It’s all part of the action that keeps your senses piqued and your mind dreaming about future encounters. GO NOW scubadiving.com/bahamas


Best Advanced Diving

best advanced scuba diving

Best Advanced Diving

Gerald Nowak

1. Bonaire

2. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

3. New Providence, Bahamas (pictured)

4. Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

5. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

Nobody wants to remain a beginner. From the moment we clutch a C-card, we fix our eyes on better buoyancy or improved air consumption. The only thing separating us from these achievements is bottom time — this Bahamian island ranked high for Best Beginner Diving thanks to dozens of shallow dive sites: wrecks, reefs and walls within the 40-foot range. The famed shark-feeding arena is 45 feet beneath the surface; the only 3 prerequisite is an open-water certification. After a stay here, the only skill you’re not likely to have mastered is navigation: A bad day’s visibility off New Providence is 60 feet; on a good day, it’s 100 feet and beyond. GO NOW scubadiving.com/bahamas


Best Big Animals

best big animal dives

Best Big Animals

Ellen Cuylaerts

1. New Providence and Grand Bahama, Bahamas (tie)

2. Gladden Spit, Belize (pictured above)

3. Bimini, Bahamas

4. Ambergris Caye, Belize

5. Silver Bank, Dominican Republic

There are few encounters in the world that can compare to sharing the water with a whale shark. Far from the thrill of cage diving with great whites or the adrenaline overload of a reef-shark dive disco during a controlled feeding dive, to glide alongside nature's largest fish is to experience pure majesty in motion. And one of the most consistent spots to witness these incredible fish, which can grow as large as 40 feet, is Belize's Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve. Located on the Mesoamerican barrier-reef-system — a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's the planet's second largest — this world-famous sport attracts whale sharks that feed on the eggs of spawning snapper 10 days or so after the full moon from March to July. Catch a ride with a local operator out of Placencia and prepare to have your mind blown. GO NOWscubadiving.com/belize


Best Macro Diving

best marco scuba dives

Best Macro Diving

Fabien Michenet

1. Bonaire

2. Curaçao (pictured above)

3. St. Vincent and the Grenadines

4. Dominica

5. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Here the wonderful world of macro is always present: The longer you study a patch of reef, the greater the number of nudibranchs, sea slugs and crabs that reveal themselves. Curaçao won high honors in this category thanks to healthy reefs, currents supplying a steady nutrient stream, and stellar visibility that eases the hunt. If you’re an advanced diver, it’s a mistake to pack only a wide-angle lens, or skip asking for help finding curios like the sap-sucking or headshield slugs. Where can you find these fanciful critters? The answer might surprise you: everywhere. GO NOW scubadiving.com/curacao


Best Marine Environment

best scuba diving marine environments

Best Marine Environment

Carlos Virgili/SeaPics

1. Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras (pictured)

2. Bonaire

3. Providenciales, Turks, and Caicos

4. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

5. Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands

Maybe it’s the Bay Islands’ implementation of 60 mooring balls as of 2009. Or it could be the enforcement of Roatan Marine Park policies that has secured the island’s win in the Best Marine Environment category. Whatever the reason, one dive reveals that these efforts are working: The environment supports the small stuff, from frogfish to seahorses, plus a slew of larger wonders, like nurse and Caribbean reef sharks. Careen down a wall, be it at Mary’s Place or John’s Spot, and be overwhelmed by color — sponges in merry-prankster hues elbow for room among sea fans and corals. It’s that variety that prompts resorts to shuttle divers by boat when you could just kick out from shore. How much bottom time you log is determined only by your ability to fight the itch for a cold Salva Vida and a hammock siesta. GO NOW scubadiving.com/bayislands


Best Shore Diving

best shore diving destinations

Best Shore Diving

Barry Brown

1. Bonaire (pictured above)

2. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

3. Curaçao

4. St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

5. Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

The perennial champ in this category takes the Readers Choice crown for the 21st year. The island’s license plate says it all: Diver’s Paradise. With more than 60 named sites peppered along its western shore, there’s enough underwater variety to keep intrepid divers engaged visit after visit. When you share stories at the bar during sunset happy hour, you’ll discover that most of your new friends have been here before — many times. But it’s more than just the natural attractions and plentiful marine life that put Bonaire at the top of our readers' list. A Bonaire dive vacation defines "user-friendly." Local operators offer true drive-and-dive packages that include rental trucks outfitted with tank holders, plus drive-through fill stations to simplify the process and keep divers wet in the most convenient way possible. Plus, the local waters are consistently warm and the weather balmy, so it’s one of the best dive destinations in the world to rack up more bottom time than you ever thought possible. GO NOWscubadiving.com/bonaire


Best Underwater Photography

best scuba destinations for underwater photography

Best Underwater Photography

Christian Vizl

1. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

2. Belize Atolls

3. Exumas, Bahamas

4. Riviera Maya, Mexico (pictured above)

5. St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Home to one of the largest barrier reefs on the planet and otherworldly sinkholes known as cenotes, Mexico’s Riviera Maya has been rising in the Best Photography category — but only because its treasures have been so closely guarded by savvy shooters in the know. Now the secret is out. On the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula, divers can ramble down coastal Highway 307 through the state of Quintana Roo to some of the best dive sites in Mexico. Playa del Carmen offers world-class drift diving at Palancar Reef and Columbia Wall with more than 150 species of fish, plus regular bull-shark dives. The region is also the jumping-off point to reach the remote and unspoiled Chinchorro Banks. And in Riviera Maya’s numerous crystalline freshwater caverns, it might just be impossible to take a bad photograph — and that can only increase your odds of capturing your best image ever. GO NOW scubadiving.com/rivieramaya


Best Visibility

best dive sites with good visibility

Best Visibility

Doug Perrine/SeaPics

1. Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands (pictured above)

2. Riveria Maya, Mexico

3. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

4. Bonaire

5. Roatan, Bay Island, Honduras

Why do the waters around Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac run so clear? Currents, upwelling, low runoff, giant sponges, gravity ... magic? A combination of all these factors inspired our readers to vote the Cayman Islands No. 1 in our Best Visibility category for 2014. It’s just one of the reasons so many divers rank the western Caribbean nation among the best dive destinations in the world. Perched at the edge of the 25,000-foot-deep Cayman Trench — the deepest part of the Caribbean — the trio of islands benefits from very fortunate geography. At special times along the plunging walls, it seems as though you could see straight to the bottom. For flat-out consistency, the Cayman Islands are tough to beat. GO NOW scubadiving.com/caymanislands


Best Wall Diving

best wall dives for scuba diving

Best Wall Diving

Michele Westmorland

1. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

2. Cozumel, Mexico

3. Belize Atolls (pictured above)

4. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

5. New Providence, Bahamas

Patience is a virtue — but not one to hone during dive vacations. Thankfully, Belizean atoll wall dives go like this: Jump in. See only gray. A school — hundreds thick— of Bermuda chub flits beneath the boat. (They’ll be there come safety-stop time.) Drop to 100 feet. The visibility unfurls endlessly in all directions. You spy the acute angle of a dorsal fin. Shark! The passing Caribbean reefie twists its torso for a split-second, changing course for a closer inspection. The blue abyss swallows it again. Then there’s the wall itself. It looks like teenage boys just finished playing paint ball. Purple tube sponges jut out several feet, like horns in a Ricola ad. Lobsters and green moray eels feel their way from inside hidey-holes. You’re good on air, so you cozy into a sand channel. Now meditate on patience: In moments, an eagle ray, turtle or tarpon will appear. GO NOW scubadiving.com/belize


Best Wreck Diving

best wreck diving destinations

Best Wreck Diving

Stephen Frink/Getty Images

1. Bermuda (pictured above)

2. Grenada

3. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

4. New Providence, Bahamas

5. British Virgin Islands

Bermuda returns to its rightful position as the No. 1 vote-getter in the Best Wreck Diving category for 2014. With more than 300 sunken ships — charting no fewer than 500 years of nautical history— on display below the surface, no other destination in the Atlantic or Caribbean can match the remote island’s roster of historic underwater attractions. While any recognizable wooden structures of the oldest vessels — Constellation, L’Hermine and others — are long gone, interesting artifacts such as ballast stones, bottles, and anchors tell tragic tales of weather, reef, and misfortune. More-modern vessels — including Civil War-era steamers like the Mary Celestia and Montana— are more intact and offer refuge for plentiful marine life to reward inquisitive divers. Beyond the natural disasters, purpose-sunk ships such as Forceful and the Sea Venture continue to add to the legacy of Bermuda, ensuring its reputation in our annual reader poll for generations to come. GO NOW scubadiving.com/bermuda


Best Overall Destination

best overall diving destinations

Best Overall Destination

Pietro Cremone

1. Cayman Islands (pictured above)

2. Bonaire

3. Mexico

4. Belize

5. Bahamas

6. Bay Islands, Honduras

7. Turks and Caicos

8. U.S. Virgin Islands

9. Grenada

10. British Virgin Islands

There are a host of reasons why Grand Cayman became the birthplace of recreational diving back in the 1960s. Perched atop the Cayman Trench in the warm Western Caribbean, this 76-square-mile island offered the clean, clear water in which coral reefs thrive and marine life proliferates, combined with forward-thinking stewards with the vision to protect their natural wonders. Half a century later, landmark dive sites such as Stingray City, Big Tunnels and Devil’s Grotto continue to draw thousands of divers every year, and the roster of old favorites is buttressed by a long list of new sites, including the Kittiwake artificial reef and dozens of spots that are part of the Dive 365 Program — one for each day of the year. But what consistently puts Grand Cayman over the top with our readers in this category are the peripherals — talcum-powder beaches, high-quality dive operators, convenient airlift from major U.S. cities, and warm Caribbean hospitality. GO NOW scubadiving.com/caymanislands


Best Overall Diving

scuba diving with dolphins

Best Overall Diving

James D. Watt/SeaPics

1. Bahamas (pictured above)

2. Cayman Islands

3. Bonaire

4. Belize

5. Mexico

6. Bay Islands, Honduras

7. Turks and Caicos

8. U.S. Virgin Islands

9. British Virgin Islands

10. Grenada

The Bahamas do so many things better than most anyplace else that it’s difficult to decide where to start with the archipelago’s many highlights. Let’s kick off the lovefest with waters so uncannily blue, you’ll want to dye Easter eggs in ’em. From the second you submerge, the brilliant contrast of white sandy bottoms and beyond-blue water sets the backdrop for sensory overload. Waving purple fans and swarms of tropical fish dominate sun-dappled reefs. Goliath grouper and monster lobsters lurk on fascinating wrecks around Great Bahama Bank and Bimini. And the plunging walls of San Salvador and open water skirting Cat Island are all about encounters with the big boys — hammerheads, eagle rays, oceanic sharks and the occasional tiger shark too. Tie in a bevy of excellent (and affordable) liveaboards, and mask-to-maw encounters with the reef sharks of Nassau and tiger sharks off Grand Bahama, and you can see why the Bahamas always delivers. GO NOW scubadiving.com/bahamas