A select number of resorts across the Caribbean blend excellent scuba diving with a first-class vacation experience.
Divers crave clear waters and colorful reefs. But while the most dedicated scuba fanatics may be willing to compromise on above-water amenities to gain proximity to the best sites, most vacationing divers want to surface to something more. The good news is that there is no need to sacrifice topside pleasures to gain underwater treasures. Some of the best islands in the Caribbean for scuba divers are also home to premier waterfront resorts that don’t ignore the rest of the vacation experience. Here are some of my favorites, based on my 20-plus years of diving the Caribbean.
Captain Don’s Habitat
Bonaire is home to a number of dive-centric waterfront resorts, and for nearly 40 years, Captain Don’s Habitat has remained among the island’s best. Its namesake founder was one of the first to promote scuba tourism in the Caribbean, and he was instrumental in the creation of the Bonaire Marine Park. What started as a modest shoreside lodge has kept pace with the times, and now includes a series of attractively landscaped oceanfront rooms and villas, perched on a low rock bluff overlooking Kline Bonaire. Rum Runners, the property’s open-air cliffside restaurant, delivers memorable meals and dramatic water and sunset views. The only thing lacking is a beach, but most guests gladly exchange this for the convenience of stepping from the resort pier to one of the island’s favorite reefs. A fleet of well-maintained dive boats take advantage of the resort’s mid-island location to provide quick run times to many popular sites.
Alternate: The Plaza Resort is a larger resort complex situated on a white-sand beach just south of the town of Kralendijk. Toucan Diving is located on the premises.
Lions Dive & Beach Resort
The clear waters of Curacao are ideal for both shore and boat diving. Most of the latter takes place along the islands southeastern shore, and the boats from Lions Dive & Beach Resort are the best choices to reach these sights. Located adjacent to the Curacao Sea Aquarium and less than two miles from downtown Willemstad, this property houses not only the island’s premier diving service, but also a spa and the island’s most popular waterfront bar and eatery: Hemingway’s. During surface intervals, guests can spend time on the private palm-fringed beach, or head into town to stroll the waterfront and nosh at open-air cafes.
Alternate: A bit to the west, the Sunscape Curacao Resort is an all-inclusive with a wide range of activities and a private beach. It’s walking distance to popular Mambo Beach and serviced by a satellite facility of Lions Dive.
Little Cayman Beach Resort
The Cayman Islands are famous for clear waters and lively reefs. The most discriminating divers head for remote Little Cayman, home to the famed underwater landscapes of Bloody Bay Wall. With a resident population of less than 200, Little Cayman is a puddle-jumper flight and a world away from the bustle of Grand Cayman. A single road circles the island to connect a handful of small lodges, and not much else. The premier property for mixing diving and beach time is Little Cayman Beach Resort, which overlooks a solitary stretch of palms and sand that is the stuff of postcards. Diving is the focal point of resort life, with shoreside activities trending towards a casual bicycle ride or time in a hammock.
Alternate: For a more upscale and cosmopolitan take on the Cayman Islands’ diving scene, skip the commuter flight and stay on Grand Cayman. Check into the Westin Grand Cayman on Seven Mile Beach, which is serviced by Red Sail Sports.
You can’t beat the view from the upscale rooms and suites of the Palace, which faces west to overlook the turquoise waters of the Cozumel Strait. On an island known for its all-inclusive properties, this one raises the bar for both amenities and service. The resort’s in-town location makes for an easy walk to San Miguel’s charming zocalo (plaza), but this same proximity means there’s no sand beach at the water’s edge. If the stunning pool deck doesn’t suffice, you can catch a shuttle south to the affiliated Playa Mia beach park. Diving services are handled by on-site Aqua Safaris, which is one of Cozumel’s highest-rated operators.
Alternate: Those who want to get away from the crowds can move south to the expansive beachfront grounds of Allegro Cozumel, which is another top-shelf all-inclusive property. Pro Dive services the resort, and its southern location means shorter boat rides to some of the prime sites along Palancar reef.
Bay Islands, Honduras
Laguna Beach Resort
Isolated on a peninsula on the quiet island of Utila and accessible only by boat, the Laguna Beach Resort is the epitome of the Caribbean away-from-it-all dream. Individual bungalows sit on the water’s edge overlooking a mangrove lagoon, while just steps away via sandy paths is the ocean, where you can wade in and find your way to one of the best reefs in the region. Native hardwoods and tin roofs set the tone, and activity centers around daily dive trips aboard a trio of spacious boats. Other water-centric pursuits include fishing and excursions to outlying islands. Evenings are quiet time, with perhaps a game of billiards and conversation at the clubhouse.
Alternate: On the nearby island of Roatan, Anthony’s Key Resort provides a similar vibe and equally fine diving. Guests can opt for hillside bungalows overlooking the shore or take a short taxi boat ride to beachfront cottages nestled on a private island.
New Providence, Bahamas
Stuart Cove’s Aqua Adventures
From humble beginnings as a beachfront scuba concessionaire, Stuart Cove’s has created a business that dominates the Central Bahamas diving scene, and is the go-to location for underwater filmmakers. From a small harbor on the southern shore of New Providence, Cove’s fleet of dive and snorkel boats departs daily to stage shark feeds and wall dives for the adventurous or lead trips to picturesque wrecks and snorkel-friendly reefs. The dive operation is not currently offering accommodation packages with the nearby South Ocean Resort, as the property is in flux, and instead works with the Wyndham Nassau Resort and the Sheraton Cable Beach Resort on the north shore, which have the advantage of being closer to Nassau.
Alternate: Valentine’s Resort sits just north of the town docks on exclusive Harbour Island. In addition to unique dive adventures, guests will find themselves within walking or golf-cart distance of the island attractions, including the fabled pink sand beaches, which lie just over the bluff.