Unearthing Adventure: The Top Cave, Cavern and Grotto Destinations for Divers
A pair of divers illuminates the entrance of First Cathedral, a cavern off Lanai, Hawaii.
Maui’s best cavern dive requires a boat ride that can be canceled due to weather—but the highly revered site is well worth the trip.
“Lanai Cathedrals is visually stunning,” says Jessica Pickering, owner of Maui Diving Scuba Center. “There aren’t many places in the world where you can see the sun shining down into a cavern in the ocean.”
For those looking for more of a sure thing, Five Caves provides a good, all-weather option. “It’s easily accessible, and you can go any time of day,” says Pickering. “It’s a very easy dive as the cave mouth is huge.”
She adds that Maui offers many more cavern dives—they just haven’t been found yet. “The same lava that created those caves and caverns created the whole island,” she says. “There are tiny nooks and caverns off the whole coast of Maui just waiting to be discovered.”
Aaron’s Dive Shop, Hawaii
Big Island Divers, Hawaii
Dive Oahu, Hawaii
Jack’s Diving Locker, Hawaii
Kona Honu Divers, Hawaii
Related Reading: The Best of Big Island Shore Diving
“Here, we don’t use the word cave,”says Jeffrey Birch, owner of the Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros Island, where several oceanic and inland blue holes have endured ceiling collapses, changing the entire profile of the sites. Because sunlight is always within sight while inside the blue hole, no added training is required. “These blue hole dives are aimed at recreational divers who want something extra, something a little different,” he says.
“It’s amazing that the blue hole becomes several distinct dives depending on if it’s low tide or high tide,” he continues. “You enter a dark abyss that drops below you. Once inside, you get the iconic view of the deep blue above and that shaft of coral-covered walls.”
Head inland on Andros to find two more blue holes. One of which, Stargate, starts with a narrow chimney passageway, leading to large rooms filled with stalactites. Stargate owes its existence to shifting fault lines: When Andros edged forward, the whole island didn’t move together. A gap resulted, and along with it, tunnels.
Related Reading: Entering the Underworld: Cavern Diving in Grand Bahama
- Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, New Providence
Aqua Cat, Bahamas
Blackbeard’s Cruises, Bahamas
Cat Ppalu, Bahamas
Caribbean And Atlantic
- Cayman Islands
- Turks and Caicos
- Bay Islands
Pacific And Indian
U.S. And Canada
- Florida Keys
What Is Readers Choice?
More than 3,000 readers cast their vote in our 2023 survey to decide this year’s Readers Choice awards. Here we feature standout destinations in each category, listing in alphabetical order the winning resorts, operators and liveaboards serving those areas. For more: scubadiving.com/readerschoice
Never enter a cave or other overhead environment without first getting the proper training for that environment.
3. Cayman Islands
Devil’s Grotto, one of the most popular shore dives on Grand Cayman, holds the distinction of being one of the few cavern dives in the world prized for its marine life. Come summer, the limestone walls hem in thousands of silversides, packing the site so tightly that, upon entry, you can’t see the back wall until the fish are disturbed. Their dartings seem random, scattering every which way, but always synchronously.
“Divers can be surrounded by these giant moving, glittering clouds of silver,” says Kim Pisano, dive instructor with Sunset Divers, a scuba center located at Sunset House Resort outside the main city of George Town.
Then there’s the predator drama. Tarpon, found year-round at the site, are the biggest disruptors of the patterns. Joining them are barracuda and a handful of nonpredatory visitors, from green sea turtles to spotted eagle rays.
- Cayman Brac Beach Resort, Cayman Islands
- Reef Divers, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
Related Reading: 24 Reasons to Dive the Cayman Islands
A diver explores beneath the stalactites of Mexico’s Tajma Ha cenote.
Caribbean Mexico’s Riviera Maya is riddled with caverns and caves open to a range of qualified divers, from open-water to full-cave certified.
In the laid-back town of Akumal, you’ll find Diverz Den, a PADI Five Star Dive Center offering guided trips to the reefs and cenotes, as well as all levels of instruction, including technical. Ask co-owner Benjamin Lynch which site is best, and he’ll name Tajma Ha, located 5 miles from the shop. “The formations are brilliant white, and there are loads of haloclines,” he says, referring to the lines where salt water and fresh water mix, creating oily swirls among the otherwise impossibly clear water.
Allegro Cozumel of Barcelo Hotel Group, Mexico
Casa Del Mar, Cozumel, Mexico
Cozumel Hotel & Resort, Mexico
Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, Cozumel, Mexico
Secrets Aura, Cozumel, Mexico
Aldora Divers, Cozumel, Mexico
Dive Paradise, Cozumel, Mexico
Dive with Martin, Cozumel, Mexico
Dressel Divers, Cozumel, Mexico
Pro Dive International, Cozumel and Riviera Maya, Mexico
Scuba Club Cozumel Dive Center, Mexico
Related Reading: Tourist Train Endangers Mexican Cenotes and Prehistoric Sites
Ginnie Spring's "Ballroom" in High Springs, Florida, is a popular site amongst divers.
Northwest and Central Florida are home to the country’s largest concentrations of underwater cave systems, most of which are lined with inky black or deep-brown walls. Not so with those in Marianna, a town 66 miles west of Tallahassee. There, the walls are white limestone, which not only gives a psychological advantage and the feeling of spaciousness but also aids in navigation. “When you have a dark cave system, it eats up your light—black walls can make a $2,000 cave light feel more like a $500 cave light,” says Edd Sorenson, owner of Cave Adventurers, a training facility located in Marianna.
One of the top picks in the area is Jackson Blue, accessible from shore. Its popularity also stems from the fact that it connects to a man-made lake with a dam-controlled flow. Elsewhere in Florida, heavy rains can reverse water’s natural flow within the cave. When the river is too high from rainwater, says Sorenson, “The hydraulic pressure gets to be too much and it back-flows that muddy water into the cave, and then the cave is said to be ‘blown-out.’” Not possible in Jackson Blue, and the other six springs in the Merritt’s Mill Pond area.
Related Reading: What It’s Like to Discover New Lengths of Underwater Caves
The Philippines is perhaps best known for macro diving, but the country’s caves—found in the province of Cebu, the island of Dinagat and the municipality of El Nido, on the northern end of Palawan Island—are all home to equally memorable cave diving.
Alex Santos, a local cave diving instructor, names El Nido as his favorite. “You can enjoy a day of cave diving and then party in town at night,” he says of the popular tourist area.
His favorite is Paglugaban Cave, thick with stalactites. Its stains indicate that it weathered at least four different sea changes. Cave divers can also see four sets of fish skeleton fossils—another reason to celebrate indeed.
Aiyanar Beach & Dive Resort, Philippines
Atlantis Dive Resorts, Puerto Galera and Dumaguete, Philippines
Atmosphere Resorts & Spa, Dumaguete, Philippines
- Philippine Siren, Philippines