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Divers' DestinationsOctober 1, 2008 By: Joe Pike Home-Based Travel Agent
Five top dive spots in the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America
If you are a casual diver, pretty much any destination in the caribbean, mexico and latin america offers enough dive spots to whet your appetite.
But if you are a seasoned vet looking for the best of the best, here are five spots—in no particular order—in those regions that Home-Based Travel Agent recommends.
There are roughly five amazing dive spots in this Central America destination, but perhaps the most unique, and most beautiful, is the "Blue Hole." In the center of Belize's Lighthouse Reef Atoll, about 50 miles east of Belize City, the Blue Hole was originally a cave. The roof of the cave fell in about 10,000 years ago and the land receded into the sea. The gaping hole, nearly 1,000 feet in diameter and 412 feet deep, is said to be visible from outer space.
The site gained worldwide fame when it was featured on a Jacques Cousteau television special. Today the Blue Hole can be toured through day or overnight dive trips with operators out of Ambergris Caye, Belize City or from various other offshore cays and atolls.
Other honorable mentions in Belize include the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which protects the Hol Chan Cut, in the barrier reef four miles southeast of San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye. Established in 1987, the reserve—said to be the first of its kind in Central America—includes a five-square-mile area of three distinctive zones. Zone A includes the reef (both inside and outside), Zone B includes the sea grass beds inside the reef and Zone C includes the mangroves of southern Ambergris Caye. All three zones are closely linked and are interdependent. We recommend seeing all three.
Looking for some exotic fish in Belize? Dive in Shark Ray Alley. Located about five miles southeast of San Pedro Town and Ambergris Caye, this dive spot is home to an array of nurse sharks and Southern sting rays. Waters about eight feet deep allow for clear visibility as visitors observe and interact with these rather friendly sea creatures, which were originally drawn to the area over time as it served as a common location for fisherman to clean out their catch for the day.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
In general, the Galapagos Islands are a must-see in Ecuador even if you aren't a dive enthusiast, as bird watching is also an immensely popular activity here. With that said, the Galapagos Islands, along with Belize's Blue Hole, are arguably the greatest spot for diving in all of Central and South America. Certain areas of the Galapagos Marine Reserve offer divers the opportunity to take part in either deep or shallow diving and to have up-close and personal contact with exotic sea creatures. One can see whales, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, swordfish and more. The sea creatures are much more visible here than in many dive spots.
In fact, there is about 50 to 80 feet of visibility in the Galapagos waters. Specifically, there are about 30 dive spots in the Galapagos archipelagos, and dive operators use only internationally approved boats and equipment.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
The waters of the Caribbean Sea are great for scuba divers to experience underwater life on the Great Maya Reef in Mexico's Riviera Maya. The coral formations extending along a large portion of the coast (the largest coral reef in the Northern Hemisphere) are an unforgettable sight. The numerous subterranean rivers and cenotes (underwater caves formed by water filtering through the limestone) provide another option for those who love diving. Many locations within the jungle provide rental equipment as well as guides and instructors for cave diving.
Along with Bonaire, Dominica is one of the best dive spots in all of the Caribbean. In fact, the tourism board has reinvented the destination recently by marketing it as an eco-friendly dive destination rather than a typical "fun in the sun" Caribbean destination.
Dominica offers one of the healthiest reefs in the Caribbean, with vertical walls, volcanic craters, lava pinnacles and shallow reefs teeming with marine life. The majority of Dominica's more than 40 dive sites are located close to shore and can be found in three locations: the southwest, central west and northwest coasts. Located at the southwest tip of the island is the Soufriere Scott's Head Marine Reserve, which includes dive sites like Scott's Head Pinnacle, Champagne (an underwater hot spring), Crater's Edge, L'Abym, Condo, Suburbs, Village and Dangleben's Pinnacles. Other notable dive sites are Rodney's Rock and Toucari Bay.
Not only is Bonaire perhaps the top dive spot in the Caribbean, some actually describe this location as the best dive spot in the world. Specifically, the Bonaire National Marine Park, known as a "Diver's Paradise," in the Netherlands Antilles, is a must for ecotourists who want to learn about the environment in the water. The Marine Park includes 6,450 acres of coral reefs and sea grass and mangrove ecosystems. In addition, it has eliminated all destructive practices, such as anchoring and spear fishing, and reefs now support a variety of non-destructive tourism activities. The park carefully monitors the impact.
Another diving gem found in Bonaire is the "Alice in Wonderland" complex. Accessible by boat, Alice in Wonderland is a double reef complex separated by a sand channel and extending from Point Vierkant south toward Salt Pier. There are a number of good dive sites within this reef system, all marked by dive buoys.
Angel City, one of the most popular sites, is home to the 1,000-ton freighter Hilma Hooker, Bonaire's most notorious shipwreck. Twenty-four reef sites with depths of 20 to 130 feet surround Klein Bonaire, a small uninhabited islet, and all are easily accessible from shore.