Here we present our choices for the best Caribbean diving destinations for exploring coral reefs of the region.
This is not such an easy task, for the Caribbean Sea spans thousands of square miles of ocean and contains numerous islands and coastlines that harbor coral reefs.
In this section, we address the best coral reef diving destinations within the Caribbean Sea proper (see graphic, below), which is somwewhat smaller than the biogeographic region we call the Greater Caribbean (Tropical Western Atlantic) in our section entitled “Where are coral reefs located?“.
The Caribbean Sea is the central portion of the Tropical Western Atlantic. It is bounded to the north by The Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico), and so does not include the waters and reefs of South Florida, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, or Bermuda.
Likewise, it is bounded to the east by the Leser Antilles (The arc of islands reaching from the U.S. Virgin Islands to the north through Trinidad and Tobago to the south).
The Caribbean Sea is blessed with the the warmest average water temperature and greatest coral reef biodiversity of the entire Tropical Weatern Atlantic region. It also includes the only true atolls and barrier reefs to be found in that larger biogeographic province.
Thus, for scuba divers wishing to get the best “bang for the buck” from their coral reef explorations of the region, this is the place to be.
Our selections for the Best Caribbean Diving Destinations were made using the following main criteria, all of which must be “good to outstanding” for a destination to be included in our list:
Quality and variety of coral reef diving sites
Diversity and condition of reef life
Active coral reef ecosystem management incorporating environmentally responsible diving practices
Ready accessibility by international visitors
Acceptable accommodations available at reasonable cost
Let’s take a moment to explain what we mean by each of the above standards.
The quality and variety of coral reef diving sites refers to the condition (i.e., “health”) of the coral reefs, average underwater visibility, water quality, and diversity of shallow and deep dive sites readily accessible by a short (no more than a 30-45 minute) boat trip.
The diversity and condition of marine life refers to the number of fish, coral, and other invertebrate species you are likely to see while diving at this destination, and their health.
Active coral reef ecosystem management incorporating environmentally responsible diving practices means that the referred destination has designated reasonably sized portions of its coral reef ecosystem(s) and adjacent waters as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
It also means that the MPAs include sport diving regulations incorporating sensible, reef-friendly dive practices, and that these areas are actively patrolled and the MPA regulations enforced.
For example, at many popular diving destinations (Nassau and Freeport in The Bahamas being prime examples), divers and/or tour boat operators regularly feed or harass (chase, touch) marine life.
In such areas, the behavior and distribution of these animals and their reaction to divers is dramatically different from the Marine Protected Areas recommended here where such practices are rare or are non-existent.
By good accessibility for international visitors we refer to the availability of regularly scheduled flights from major cities around the world to the final destination available most days of the week.
By acceptable accommodations available at reasonable cost we mean that clean, comfortable and well maintained lodging is available at a cost comparable to that which may be readily found at most major tourist destinations in the region. Of course, some visitors may wish to pay considerably more for luxurious accommodations.
Based upon these variables, our picks for the best places for scuba divers to explore Caribbean coral reefs and reef life are (in no particular order) the following four “Best Caribbean Diving Destinations”: