Best Caribbean Diving - Bonaire Cayman Islands

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Bonaire's massive reef system begins just a few hundred feet offshore, which is rare anywhere in the Caribbean. Instead of taking a boat, you literally can walk out a few yards, fall on your face and find the reef almost directly below you. That's because the island is actually an exposed mountain top.

Bonaire has the Caribbean's best shore diving, most of it a protected marine park.

Situated in the Netherlands Antilles, Bonaire offers ideal diving conditions. It is southwest of the normal hurricane belt, the sun shines virtually every day and all the underwater activity is conducted on the island's 24-mile leeward west side where the seas are normally calm. This is one of the few places you can travel to and not worry about crashing waves and heavy winds ruining a long-planned vacation.

Diving at night is a specialty of Bonaire, and a night dive on the Old Town Pier in the capital city of Kralendijk must be experienced to be believed. After dark, the pier pilings that stand in just 20 feet of water transform into a huge orange flower garden when thousands of thimble-sized, orange coral polyps emerge to feed. They are also joined by countless tiny shrimp, crabs and worms. A good underwater light is essential to appreciate the show. Bring your own.

If you want to become dive certified while on vacation, Bonaire is the place to go. With waters just offshore so shallow, training can be conducted in the real world, not just in a pool.

Cayman Islands

While the Cayman Islands are known mostly for finance and Cayman Lawyers, Grand Cayman boasts two aspects virtually unequalled anywhere: unusual marine life and good wall diving.

Its most famous site is Stingray City, a shallow area only 12 to 15 feet deep where as many as 50 Southern stingrays have almost become divers' pets. The rays are like cats, nuzzling and brushing against diver's heads, chests, backs, all over. One of the world's great underwater spectacles, all the excitement is well within reach of even novice snorkelers.

Grand Cayman's North Wall offers superb diving but it starts deep, around 90 feet. However, at Little Cayman's Bloody Bay the drop off begins at a very shallow 18 feet, then plunges sharply to 1,200 feet. Every type of Caribbean coral and sponge you've ever wanted to see is at Bloody Bay, lots of them, in all colors and sizes, and all in superb condition.

It was here looking over the edge into the deep abyss below I first appreciated that remarkable color divers call "deep drop off blue," a color unlike anything found anywhere above water. It's also an incredibly elusive tint, one that no roll of my film has ever been able to capture.

Dive boats also come over from Cayman Brac to dive Little Cayman when the wind permits, but that's like staying in Tampa to see Disney World.

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