DayGlo-colored reefs, underwater wrecks, and close encounters with sea creatures. Here are some of our all-time favorite scuba spots and the marinas we use while we're there.
Famed as a lively Mexican port, Cozumel sits on the second-largest barrier reef in the world, which, as a result of being constantly swept by a strong current, offers excellent visibility and ideal conditions for drift diving.
The reef south of the island is part of the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, where private vessels can only enter with special permission and must be accompanied by a local dive master. Alternately, you can charter a professional tour operator such as Pelagic Ventures Dive Shop. Sites here fall into three categories: vertical walls like Santa Rosa, with gorgonian and plate coral, enormous sponges, and a superb assortment of reef and pelagic species; pinnacles like Punta Sur and Palancar Horseshoe, for statuesque structures, wide coral shelves, and maze-like tunnels; and, closer to shore, coral gardens that sport a rich abundance of fish life, including the purple-patterned Cozumel splendid toadfish, which is endemic to the reefs surrounding the island.
About an hour's drive north of Cozumel, just off the coast from Cancun, is the Puerto Isla Mujeres Resort and Yacht Club, a full service marina with 64 slips for yachts up to 80 feet and 10 slips for mega-yachts up to 175 feet. The marina offers resort amenities such as swimming pools and spa services, as well as a fueling dock and a shipyard with a 150-ton travel lift.
No list of cruise-and-dive destinations would be complete without the idyllic British Virgin Islands. Protected waters, line-of-site navigation, and countless anchorages make getting around quick and easy, and more than 100 dive sites with amazingly diverse bottom topography offer something for everyone: stunning coral gardens, canyons, caverns, tunnels, and grottos, plus wrecks teaming with underwater life. The RMS Rhone, which sank off Salt Island in 1867, is home to a giant green moray and several octopuses; it's considered good luck if you spot them on your dive. Undersea boulders at the world-famous Baths on Virgin Gorda create a gorgeous jumble of overhangs and ledges for parrotfish, wrasse, and lobster.
To the west, Great Dog Island features rich reefs and structures:The Chimney has a tall archway covered in multicolored sponges and cup corals, while Coral Gardens sports a low, lush reef and a wide range of fishlook for the occasional nurse shark or turtleas well as the remains of a small commuter plane that has become a focal point for a number of barracuda.
Tortola's Village Cay Marina, with 106 slips for yachts up to 185 feet, has been expanded and updated over the past 30-plus years, but it still retains its casual Caribbean vibe. Guests can expect the amenities of a full service marinawater, fuel, electrical, cable TV, Wi-Fi, laundryalong with provisioning services and all the pleasures of the adjacent hotel, which has a swimming pool, restaurant, and boutiques.
The well-known Bitter End Yacht Club, located on the North Sound of Virgin Gorda, has 70 moorings as well as docks that can accommodate a wide range of vessels from catamarans to mega yachts. For visiting boaters there are lots of activities and a lively waterfront with watersports, restaurants, and shops. This is an ideal place from which to explore BVI's diving - each morning fully equipped dive boats leave from the Bitter End docks (including two tank dives).They also offer PADI Resort Course for those who are beginners.
The best-known island of theTurks and Caicos has a long coral reef on its north shore, part of the protected Princess Alexandra National Marine Park. Grace Bay, which sits within the park, is famous for its stunning beach, but underwater there are equally as alluring attractions. The sandy slopes of the ocean floor lead to walls and large stacks of coral such as the Graceland site, plus spur-andgroove formations like Aquarium, loaded with schools of reef fish, turtles, and sharks. At Hole in the Wall, the island's most celebrated undersea attraction, divers can fin down a vertical fissure from about 55 feet to 100 feet before emerging into deep water. Pine Cay, a small island northeast of Provo, provides good visibility and submerged seamounts that rise to within 50 feet of the surface. This area's Football Field site, with its coral coverage, draws schools of juvenile barracuda, Bermuda chub, and groupers.
Set midway on the north shore, only 20 minutes from Grace Bay and its unspoiled dive sites, Turtle Cove Marina houses 110 slips plus restaurants and hotels. The excellent Provo Turtle Divers outfit is located at the marina. For the ultimate in convenience, visitors can book a trip with Provo Turtle Divers, which is located right at the marina.
This island paradise borders the third-largest barrier reef in the world, and it is also home to the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a 522-foot vessel that's been sunk and turned into an artificial reef. More than 100 species of fish (including parrotfish, yellow and blue tangs, barracuda, snapper, mackerel and hogfish) have taken up residency in the submerged ship, which sits upright approximately seven miles off Key West in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
At Ten-Fathom Ledge, dramatic caves and overhangs provide refuge for grouper and lobster while pelagic inhabitants parade in the blue water. One of the area's most popular offshore reef destinations, Sand Key, is an islet marked by a large iron lighthouse and 10 miles of coral at varying depths.There are many great docking options in the Key West area, such as Conch Harbor Marina, conveniently located in the historic seaport that is also known as the Bight. The marina has an on-site dive charter and a swimming pool, and plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance. Oceanside Marina, about five miles from downtown Key West on Stock Island, can accommodate yachts up to 120 feet and has amenities such as a tackle shop, laundry, on-site restaurant, and repair services. The property has the look and feel of an old-school fish camp and is the closest Key West port to the Atlantic, where most of the reef sites are located.
Ringed by reefs at three depths (shallow, medium, and deep) Grand Bahama invites bubble-blowers of all experience levels to jump in and explore. Shallow sites (10 feet to 15 feet) like Rainbow Reef andTreasure Reef feature the most color and marine life due to their thin depths, with schools of striped grunts and silversides glittering among fields of elkhorn and brain corals. Medium sites (40 feet to 60 feet) consist mostly of scattered coral heads on sand flats, though SPID City boasts a twin engine aircraft nestled on the bottom, and Ben's Blue Hole has a horseshoe-shaped ledge with jacks, schoolmasters, and porkfish. The deepest sites (60 feet to 100 feet) are solid reef with tongue-and-groove formations. Theo's Wreck, a 228-foot cement hauler, hides a giant green moray plus a few spotted eels, and Littlehale's Lair conceals two small caves created by coral growing over the surge channels; you can swim through the westernmost one in the company of white, blue, and French grunts.
Freeport's Grand Bahama Yacht Club at Lucayan Marina Village is a gorgeous, deep-water marina surrounded by classic European architecture and lush tropical landscaping. Its 150 slips can accommodate vessels up to 175 feet, and amenities include high-speed fuel pumps and top-notch shower and laundry facilities. Guests have access to a deluxe pool, fitness center and restaurant.
The marina is also a Bahamas Port of Entry with 24-hour customs and immigration services.