Best Caribbean Islands for Water Sports

At these destinations, there’s more than one way to take to the water

 

Which destinations have the best water sports will likely remain a subject of endless debate among aficionados of diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kiteboarding and fishing. Every island has something to offer. Some provide the best conditions for one sport, but may not be well suited to another. And then there are the islands that deliver a bit of everything, from wind and waves to calm, clear shores, along with the necessary infrastructure to support these aquatic pursuits. If you are looking to sample a broad range of on- the-water adventures, here are the islands that deliver on multiple fronts.

Grand Cayman

It’s hard for one island to please everyone looking to get wet and have fun. Divers want clear water and calm seas. Sailors want wind; big game fishermen need access to deep water. If there is one island in the Caribbean that can please the widest variety of water-sports enthusiasts, it is Grand Cayman. World famous for its precipitous underwater walls, it remains one of the prime diving destinations in the Caribbean. But that’s just the beginning. The expansive bay known as North Sound is an aquatic playground. Kayakers cruise the mangrove-fringed corners, while fly fishermen tempt tarpon and bonefish on nearby flats. Day sailors zip across the breezy yet protected waters of the sound, while closer to the wave-washed northern edge, windsurfers and kiteboarders carve and hop in the chop. From marinas daily fishing expeditions depart into the blue waters beyond, while the Seven Mile Beach, on the island’s western leeward shore, is perfect for flat water pursuits such as stand-up paddleboarding, glass-bottom boat tours and waterski runs.

Cayman Windsurfing, Best Caribbean Islands for Water Sports

A windsurfer skims across clear waters along the north coast of Grand Cayman Island. An offshore reef beyond the sandy shallows provides a buffer from large offshore swells. Photo: Cayman Windsurfing

Cozumel

It was Jacques Cousteau who kicked off the Caribbean diving craze with his 1961 declaration that Cozumel was one of the best diving destinations on Earth. And he was right. The island, which sits at the northern end of the massive Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, is blessed with a magical combination of clear water, spectacular reefs and abundant marine life. Along the island’s sheltered western shore, a sloping bottom leads to enormous reefs towering up off the sand. The structures are washed by a steady north-flowing current that delivers a stream of nutrients that leave the filter-feeding creatures of the reef—corals, sponges, and gorgonians—very, very happy. It also keeps the ocean clear, and this was the place where divers first spoke of “gin clear” water. It’s so clear that light that usually fades to dusky blue at 60 feet is still clear and bright at 100 feet or more. In the deep blue waters beyond, there’s also excellent fishing, and each spring sees an international cast of anglers arrive to do battle with plentiful populations of high-flying sailfish. Angling action also extends to the reef and into the mangroves where feisty bonefish play hide and seek with your fly all day long. When conditions are right, explorers can hop a speedboat for a run to the island’s wild east side, or remain on the sheltered west and discover the shoreline in a kayak, or launch a catamaran into the mellow breezes that grace western beaches.

Cozumel Underwater

A school of yellow grunts congregate over a shallow reef off the island of Cozumel. Steady currents wash sites such as this, nurturing coral and sponge growth. Photo: Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock

Dominican Republic

Good diving and snorkeling can be found in the Dominican Republic, especially in the south around Catalina Island, but the real water-sports action is on the north coast at Cabarete. This is a world mecca for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Strong and consistent winds blow into the bay, while an offshore barrier reef breaks up the prevailing swells and creates surfable and jumpable breakers for the more advanced, as well as sheltered nearshore areas for beginners. Kiting is best just northwest of Cabarete, and scores of operators are eager to hook you up with gear, lessons, advice, whatever you need. There are dive sites nearby, including some awesome pinnacles, but the wind, waves and runoff limit the appeal. Around the corner and down the coast to the south at Punta Cana you’ll find superb deep-sea fishing. The area faces right into the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, with deep water not far offshore. Blue marlin run year round, peaking in the summer months, and you can chase white marlin, mahimahi, tuna and sailfish too.

Dominican Republic Kiteboarding

Steady easterly trade winds power a fleet of kiteboarders at popular Cabarete Beach. Located on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, this site has become a mecca for the sport. Photo: iStock

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