Explore Under the Sea
An underwater fantasyland of coral reefs, rainbow-colored fish, amazing rock formations, walls, and shipwrecks.
By Lisa Mullins Bishop
Caribbean Edge Staff Writer
Most people who visit the Caribbean find plenty to do topside. Surfing, swimming, sailing, sunbathing--to mention just a few popular activities. Yet, there's a whole other dimension to the Caribbean--its underwater fantasyland of coral reefs, rainbow-colored fish, amazing rock formations, walls, and shipwrecks. No matter what your age, you can experience this amazing underwater world up close. Here's our short list of some of the best ways to explore this wonderland.
Glass Bottom Boat
Stay dry as you observe coral reefs, shipwrecks, colorful corals, exotic fish, and other marine life. How? By taking a cruise on a glass-bottom boat. Passengers on these glass-bottom boats view the underwater world of the Caribbean through glass windows in the bottom of the boat, thus giving passengers of all ages the opportunity to see marine life. These trips are offered on most islands throughout the Caribbean. The length of the cruise varies from one hour to longer voyages that may even combine a cruise and snorkeling. When venturing out, pick a day when the ocean is not choppy. To get a good underwater view, the water should be clear and somewhat calm.
Another great way to explore the underwater treasures of the Caribbean to take a journey on a submarine. The Atlantis submarine operates on the islands of Aruba, Barbados, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and St. Thomas, and each tour is different depending of the island and the vessel operating there. On Grand Cayman, where the first Atlantis submarine went into operation in 1985, visitors can choose from a variety of tours including a night tour of Cayman's marine park or the chance to go onboard one of two deep-diving research submarines that descend to 800 and 1,000 feet. Those departing from Barbados descend 150 feet to see a shipwreck, while Aruba's passengers will see the wreckage of either an airplane or a Danish sailboat, depending on the tour. On St. Thomas, the Atlantis XVII takes its occupants to depths of 90 feet on the two-hour trip that includes the corals of Turtle Cove and the canyons of Snapper Valley. Cozumel is considered one of the top diving spots in the Caribbean and the Atlantis operating there takes passengers to Chankanaa, a well-known environmentally protected marine park. Depending on the vessel's size, the air-conditioned Atlantis takes groups of either 28 or 48 passengers to underwater places that were only familiar to scuba divers. Everyone from ages 4 to 84 will love this undersea adventure.
Those wanting to enter the water to explore it might want to try the unique underwater experience known as helmet diving. Helmet diving allows everyone from age 5 to 85 to safely view the Caribbean's underwater treasures. Divers wear a helmet with a large glass mask. The helmet is connected to the surface by an air hose. After climbing down a ladder into depths of 10 to 12 feet, helmet divers take a guided undersea walk--past corals, sponges, rainbow-colored fish as well as other marine life. Helmet diving originated in Bermuda, where it is also known as Bermuda bell diving. Bermuda and Nassau in the Bahamas are the main places helmet diving is offered.
Snorkeling is a favorite activity of many visitors to the Caribbean, and there are numerous places to try this fantastic water sport. Snorkelers can find flippers, masks, and snorkels at most hotels and beach side vendors. If they prefer, they can choose to take a cruise that also combines some snorkeling or have a guide take you out snorkeling. If you are new to snorkeling, be sure to test your equipment before venturing out into the ocean, and never snorkel alone. When snorkeling, pick calm and clear waters so that you have good visibility. Remember not to touch anything that you see because you don't want to disturb the fragile underwater habitats. For those wanting some instruction, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) offers videos and courses.
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Jacques Cousteau invented the demand-regulator in the 1940s and since then the sport has opened up new worlds for many people. Scuba diving requires specific equipment and training so before you give it a try you'll need some instruction. In the Caribbean, many hotels, resorts, and dive shops offer short courses for beginners that introduce them to diving and the undersea world. Once they've completed the course, beginning divers are certified to dive to depths of 40 feet under supervision. When deciding on an instructor or course, make sure they are certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). If you are already certified, be sure to bring your certification card. Equipment can be rented from the numerous dive shops and hotels throughout the islands.
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