There are many great Caribbean dive destinations, from Bonaire to the Virgin Islands, but even within these dive meccas there are certain sites that stand out as extraordinary. With the help of PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, we've sorted out the best of the best that you should check out the next time you plunge into a Caribbean snorkel or SCUBA trip.
Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia
This shallow reef in St. Lucia's marine park has more than 150 different fish species and is a favorite for photographers and popular with both snorkelers and SCUBA divers. The shallow waters make it a good spot for beginner divers as well. The reef is just offshore the resort of the same name and can be dived right from the beach - no dive boat needed!
Cenotes, Mexican Caribbean
Likely the product of an ancient meteor strike, cenotes are deep sinkholes formed when the roofs of limestone caverns collapsed and filled with water. Dotting the Yucatan Peninsula of the Mexican Caribbean coast, cenotes have intricate cave systems and underground tunnels, making them a magnet for daring (and expert) divers who are also drawn by the super-clear turquoise waters and stalagmites and stalactites formed from limestone over millions of years.
Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras
Utila, the smallest of Honduras’ Bay Islands, can provide some of the best underwater animal encounters in the Caribbean -- the area is frequented by whale sharks, the gentle giants of the Caribbean waters. Plus, the region's warm waters, pristine reefs, and ample tropical fish make it a great dive destination. Utila is at the south end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest coral reef in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Moliniere Underwater Sculpture Park, Grenada
A functional piece of art, Jason DeCaires' Underwater Sculpture Park is not only a visual treat for divers but also serves as an artificial reef. The 50 life-size sculptures were submerged in a protected marine area off Grenada in 2006, and the installation is constantly being enhanced with new colors and patterns as new corals grow.
SS Stavronikita, Barbados
It was fire, not water, that did in the Greek freighter SS Stavronikita. The boat burned and drifted for three days in the early 1970s before being brought to Barbados, where it was eventually stripped and sunk as an artificial reef. Now the island's most famous wreck, the "stavro" is part of the Folkestone Underwater Park and hosts a forest of tube and rope sponges. The wreck sits upright in 120 feet of water, with its mast almost reaching the surface, making it a fun destination for snorkelers as well as SCUBA divers.
Stingray City, Grand Cayman
Just because Stingray City is the Cayman Islands most popular tourist attraction -- and indeed one of the most famous sights in the Caribbean -- doesn't lessen its appeal to divers A shallow dive over a sandy-bottomed bay will find you in the company of swarms of southern stingrays looking for a snack provided by dive operators and tour boats.
James Bond Wrecks, New Providence Island, Bahamas
Not only did the makers of the James Bond movies have a thing for filming in the Caribbean, they also had a habit of sinking ships while they were in the islands. Divers in the Bahamas can explore two ships purpose-sunk for dramatic effect in the 007 films: the Vulcan Bomber, sunk for the movie Thunderball, and the Tears of Allah, used in Never Say Never Again.
Columbus Passage, Turks and Caicos
The deep Columbus Passage separating the Turks islands from the Caicos islands is a top spot for viewing humpback whales as they migrate to their Dominican breeding grounds during the winter. The passage also serves as a marine highway for migrating fish, rays, turtles, and dolphins. Divers are also drawn to the wreck of a British warship, caverns, and walls.
Klein Bonaire, Bonaire
Klein Bonaire is within swimming distance of Bonaire and shares its big sister's reputation as the best overall destination for diving in the Caribbean. Lying in the protected marine park that encircles the islands, Klein Bonaire has calm waters and ideal dive conditions; you can also see a nursery where researchers are seeding and propagating coral.