Clients looking to dive or snorkel in an untouched corner of the Caribbean? Laura French charts the region’s best lesser-known sites.
Clients looking to dive or snorkel in some untouched corner of the Caribbean? Laura French seeks out the region’s best lesser-known sites
When it comes to underwater exploration, few regions in the world can lay claim to quite the same prowess as the Caribbean, with more than 7,000 islands – spread across a million square miles of ocean – luring keen snorkellers and divers from across the planet.
“A forever-changing landscape means there’s always something to a warrant a second, third, fourth or fortieth trip.”
But it’s not just about the quantity; it’s the sheer variety of undersea attractions here that really stands out, with shipwrecks, drop-off walls, cave systems, coral gardens, underwater sculpture parks and plenty more all thrown into a mix.
And whether it’s shore diving in Bonaire or shark diving in the Bahamas, snorkelling with hawksbills in Honduras or exploring the ultra-vibrant reefs of Belize, there’s a forever-changing landscape that means there’s always something to a warrant a second, third, fourth or fortieth trip.
So where should you suggest when a client comes asking for exactly that? We’ve put together a guide to some of the best lesser-known options to suit every level and ability, from total novice to fully accomplished Divemaster.
From historic shipwreck dives to dramatic drop-off walls, Grenada is something of a mecca for anyone into their underwater life. The highlight, though, is the Underwater Sculpture Park, where impressive creations – that range from a string of life-size faces to a man cycling along the side of the reef on a salvaged bicycle – act as artificial reefs in a sprawling Marine Protected Area.
Where: For something a little quieter, look to Grenada’s sister island, Carriacou. Measuring just seven miles long, this pint-sized isle is something of a haven for snorkellers as well as divers, with clear, shallow waters and vibrant coral formations that have got it the name ‘Land of Reefs’.
“Sandy Island, a horseshoe-shaped islet, offers diving straight off the shore.”
Highlights: “The island’s iconic Two Sisters dive is packed with marine life,” says Phil North, brand manager for Dive Worldwide. “Large barracuda, nurse sharks and even tarpon can all be found here, darting among colourful soft corals.” Elsewhere there’s Sandy Island, a horseshoe-shaped islet that offers diving straight off the shore, and Whirlpool, so named for the volcanic bubbles you’ll see rising to the surface. A handful of shipwreck dives add to the allure.
Book it: Dive Worldwide offers a twin-centre to Grenada and Carriacou from £2,875, including 14 nights’ B&B accommodation, a 10-day dive package and transfers and flights.
Like the Bahamas?
With more than 700 islands and cays to its name, there’s no shortage of underwater entertainment in the Bahamas. There’s shark diving for the intrepid – including at the aptly named Shark Wall, which drops from 10m to more than 2,000m – alongside a host of other sites, not least in Nassau, where you can dive round a twin Cessna that’s appeared in James Bond and Jaws.
Where: If clients have already been there and done that though, suggest St Vincent and the Grenadines instead – specifically Canouan, says Rebecca Bryson, head of sales at Caribtours. “This small island is protected by one of the world’s largest living coral reefs. Travellers can marvel at the colourful coral formations, exotic marine life and giant boulders situated tens of feet below sea level.”
Highlights: Key spots include Windward Bay, a calm lagoon protected by a barrier reef; and Gibraltar, a giant stone 10m deep that attracts a whole universe of striking fish. But for some of the most extraordinary sights suggest Tobago Cays – a cluster of five islets known for their green sea turtles, that’s accessible by catamaran from the island. “It’s a paradise for snorkellers with its fluorescent waters, and a medley of colourful tropical fish,” says Bryson.
Book it: Caribtours offers seven nights at Mandarin Oriental, Canouan from £5,199 per person based on two sharing a One Bedroom Oceanview Suite, including breakfast, flights and transfers.
Like Grand Cayman?
Iconic sites like Stingray City, Devil’s Grotto and Eden Rock have put Grand Cayman on the map among snorkellers and divers the world over. Add in drop-off walls, caverns, tunnels and shipwrecks, and there’s rather a lot to see beneath the surface of this well-heeled island.
Try Little Cayman
Where: But if they’ve already seen beneath the bigger sibling’s shores, up it a notch with a small-plane flight over to Little Cayman. A handful of dive resorts, and an even smaller handful of fishermen, are all you’ll find here, with serious divers flocking from across the world to experience its renowned undersea treasures.
Highlights: At its heart is Bloody Bay Marine Park, a submerged mountain range that has a wall falling to an impressive 2,000m. Groupers, barracudas, triggerfish and more can all be seen here, with a plethora of sites to explore, from Donna’s Delight to Randy’s Gazebo, Lea Lea’s Lookout to Barracuda Bite. Suggest Southern Cross Club for a peaceful stay right on the beach, where it’s all about the diving.
Book it: A five-night stay at Southern Cross Club starts at $1,713, based on two sharing in summer and including airport pickup, oceanfront bungalow, use of club kayaks and all meals. A two-night, two-tank dive package starts at $110.