Best Snorkeling in the Caribbean

The Caribbean is a great place for beachcombers, but if you’d like to exert yourself a little more, it’s also a great place for snorkeling or diving. Anyone can snorkel, but diving requires some instruction. Fortunately most places with great diving also offer diving courses. Or, you can learn to dive before you take off. There are a variety of options out there.

Antigua & Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda are almost completely surrounded by coral reefs, walls, and shipwrecks, providing excellent conditions for diving and snorkeling. Underwater visibility is good and tropical marine plants and animals are diverse and plentiful. One of Antigua’s best-known offshore sites, Cades Reef, is now partly contained in a designated underwater park. Another popular destination is the wreck of the Andes, a three-masted merchant ship that sank in 1905 and now rests in less than thirty feet of water in Deep Bay. Some others:

  • John’s Cave at Ariadne Shoal: A long rocky ledge with barracudas, parrot fish, trumpet fish and grunts.
  • Pillars of Hercules: The site is named for the limestone formation in the cliff above the site. The site is mainly composed of large boulders which have fallen from the cliff above. Sergeant majors, chromis and blue tang snappers can be found here
  • Mary K: Lobsters, barracudas and lots of small fish are usually present among the small ledges found here.
  • Billy’s Grotto: A large knoll with rocky ledges, the site contains sea fans and soft corals as well as nurse sharks, turtles, barracudas and large schools of small fish.
  • Sandy Island Barge & Knoll: Site features lots of soft and hard corals and a sunken barge. Home to stingrays, barracuda, Atlantic spade fish, parrot fish, snappers, grunts and chromis.

New Providence Island has several popular dive sites. The Lost Ocean Hole is dotted with coral and teeming with fish — grunts, margate, jacks, pompano, amberjack, and nurse sharks. Lyford Cay Drop-Off plummets from a 40-foot plateau almost straight into the mile-deep Tongue of the Ocean. The wall has sponges, black coral, and wire coral. Along the wall, grunts, grouper, hogfish, snapper, and rockfish abound.

On Grand Bahama, Ben’s Blue Hole is a ledge overlooking a blue hole, a pool of fresh water floating on saltwater. Pygmy Caves is a formation of overgrown ledges that cut into the reef. At Shark Junction reef sharks hang out, along with moray eels, stingrays, nurse sharks, and grouper. Lucayan National Park is the site of an underground cave system, the longest of its type in the world. The largest cave contains spiral staircases that lead visitors into a world of shrimp, mosquito fish, fruit bats and freshwater eels.

Pelican Cays National Park is a popular dive and snorkeling area on Great Abaco Island. The park is filled with sea life; turtles are often sighted, as are spotted eagle rays and tarpon. Snorkelers will want to visit Mermaid Beach, just off Pelican Shores Road in Marsh Harbour, where live reefs and green moray eels make for some of the Abacos’ best snorkeling.

Exuma Cays National Land and Sea Park is a 22-mile long nature preserve with spectacular reefs, flora, and fauna. Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park is known for its undersea caves–a special treat for divers.

Snorkelers on Bimini can see black coral gardens that are easily accessible from shore.Divers can check out the wreck of a the Sapona, a yacht owned by Henry Ford, which sank in 1929.

Bonaire

This island in the Dutch Antilles offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world thanks to its status as a marine sanctuary. The reef that surrounds Bonaire is a National Marine Park from the high water mark down to a depth of 200 feet.

Bonaire’s narrow reef startclose to the shoreline and extends 984 feet offshore. About 55 species of coral can be found in Bonaire. And the waters sport 469 species of fish, including parrot fish, angel fish, sergeant majors, and butterfly fish. Sea turtles, eagle rays and sea cucumbers are prevalent as well. Bonaire is also home to 170 different species of birds.

British Virgin Islands

Just off the Coast of Salt Island lies the most famous dive site in the Caribbean–the RMS Rhone. The Rhone sank in the Great Hurricane of 1867 and now lies broken in half along the ocean bottom. Wreck diving is prominent in the British Virgin Islands with both natural and man-made disasters. Near Cooper Island sits wreck alley, a field of ships sunk by local dive shops and the government. Anegada, is home to more than 500 vessels, victims of the coral reefs surrounding the area.

Norman Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s inspiration for Treasure Island, is home to the Caves, four tunnels that provide the sensation of a night dive even in the sun.

Snorkeling is found in the islands that form the southern boundary of the Sir Frances Drake Channel, with 11 notable sites. But the best snorkelling site is found at The Baths on Virgin Gorda. Large granite boulders form caverns and grottoes filled with shallow wading pools. Some of the individual stones are as large as three-story houses, and are encrusted with coral and sponges.

Cayman Islands

With visibility of 100 feet or better, the waters off the Caymans feature great dives. Here’s a small sample:

  • Stingray City is a great place for both divers and snorkelers to interact with the southern stingray.
  • The MV Captain Keith Tibbetts, a Russian frigate was sunk in September 1996. An excellent dive for snorkelers as well as divers, more than 100 species of marine life have been spotted here.
  • The Big Tunnels are coral formations with networks of canyons and crevasses. The dive site is home to the barrel sponge, the black coral, gray angels and eagle rays. The trinity caves are also located in this area. Here, one can see a system of four coral canyons that converge on the surface of a vertical wall.
  • The West Wall is among the most popular dives sites on Grand Cayman. Home to a large variety of fish and other marine life such as grunts, snappers and angelfish, the wall in also close to the Orange Canyon where you can see tons of orange elephant ear sponges.
  • Bloody Bay Marine Park off Little Cayman encompasses 22 of the little island’s dive sites. Grouper, horse-eye jacks and triggerfish can be found here.
  • Tarpon Alley is named for the more than 100 tarpon who swim here. Hawksbill turtles also live here, as do barracuda, stingrays and yellowtail snapper.

Curaçao’s Underwater Marine Park is a great place for snorkeling. The park is 12 miles long and dotted with the remains of sunken ships. You can also see fish in every color of the rainbow.

For divers, Curaçao offers a number of attractions.

  • The car pile–An artificial underwater reef made from wrecked cars now partially overgrown with coral.
  • The sponge forest–With varieties of sponges found only in the Caribbean.
  • Piedra di Sombré–Contains forests of elk antler and hartshorns coral, fan coral and feather gorgons.

St. Croix

St. Croix boasts the largest living reef of any Caribbean island as it is almost completely surrounded by a barrier reef. Most of the diving is off the island’s northern and western shores.

Buck Island is the most well-known snorkeling and diving spots. Visibility around the colorful coral reef tops 100 feet. More than 250 species of fish, plus a variety of sponges, corals, and crustaceans, have been found here. Other good spots for snorkelers and/or divers:

  • Scotch Banks: A flat sandy submerged mountain top east of Christiansted harbor. Barracuda, angel fish, elephant ear sponge, horse eye jacks and once in a while a eagle rays, manta rays and even whale sharks can be spotted here.
  • Cane Bay: The most popular beach and boat dive features a wall dive with great coral gardens.
  • Gentle Winds: A mile-long stretch of spur-and-groove reef starts here, offering hard and soft corals, scorpion fish, flat worms, lettuce sea slugs and lobsters.
  • Salt River Canyon East Wall: Tons of sponges, soft and hard corals can be found here. Horse eye jacks, hogfish, and snappers swim off the wall as do black bar soldier fish, angel fish, parrot fish and grouper.St. MaartenThe island offers reef, wreck, night, cave, and drift diving.Dive sites include Ilet Pinel, for shallow diving; Green Key, a barrier reef; and Tintamarre, for sheltered coves and geologic faults.One of the most popular dive sites is the wreck of the British man-of-war HMS Proselyte, which sank in 1801. Its remains lie atop a reef a mile south of Great Bay. Another common destination is the freighter Teigland, sunk deliberately on Cable Reef in 1993. Friar’s Bay is a good site for both divers and snorkelers. You will see numerous small reef fish and extensive gardens of purple sea urchins. The northeastern shores of French St. Martin have been classified as a regional underwater nature reserve. The Réserve Sous-Marine Régionale which protects the area around Flat Island, Ilet Pinel, Green Key, Proselyte and Petite Clef.St Vincent and the Grenadines

    There is no shore diving here but each island in this archipelago gives divers something different: St Vincent’s steep black coral walls, Bequia’sschools of fish, Mustique’s currents, Canouan’s hard corals and the nurse sharks of the Tobago Cays. Here’s a sample:

    • New Guinea Reef: A black coral paradise where sea horses drift lazily by.
    • Bottle Reef: Shoals of fish swim through a coral garden littered with antique liquor bottles from the English fort that overlooks the site.
    • The Forest: Swim amid giant sea fans up to 10 feet tall
    • The Garden: An array of coral and abundant fish makes this a perfect site for photography.
    • The Wall:: A steep drop from 20 feet to 100 feet, encrusted with black coral and heavily populated with fish.

    There are also interesting wreck dives, 13 in Kingstown Harbour alone.

    Turks and Caicos

    Places such as Birch’s Lookout, the Northwest Reef, and the waters off of Blue Hills are the final resting places for a host of sunken ships off the waters of Turks and Caicos. Summer is the best time to dive when the water reaches 80 degrees and the weather brings more aquatic life to the area.

    • The Amphitheater – This bowl-shaped dip in the sand starts at 85 feet and curves into the Caicos Passage, where whales, sharks, and manta rays often swim by.
    • Chimney – This 10-foot-wide hole in plate coral is home to garden eels.
    • Dax Canyon – The underwater wall starts at 45 feet and drops to a shelf at 150 feet below.
    • Shark Hotel – Reef and blacktip sharks live among and near this wall with a drop-off of about 130 feet.
    • Coral Gardens – Located in an unspoiled area of Grace Bay, this snorkeling spot easily accessible right off the beach.
    • Smith’s Reef – Ranked one of the top-10 snorkeling destinations by National Geographic. It has a limestone entry and abundant marine life.

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