Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Wed July 29 2015

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  • Amber Nolan | July 29, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    8 Best Ports for Scuba and Snorkeling on Caribbean and Central American Cruises

    8 Best Ports for Scuba and Snorkeling on Caribbean and Central American Cruises

    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

    Cruise ships that sail Caribbean and Central American itineraries often bring passengers to locales that are known for fabulous snorkeling and scuba diving. When planning shore excursions, consider taking a trip to underwater worlds and explore coral reefs, atolls, walls, caverns and shipwrecks. These eight ports of call offer some of the region’s best sub-surface sights.

    St. George’s, Grenada

    The “Spice Island” famous for its supply of nutmeg established itself as a premier diving destination in May 2006 when it opened the world’s first underwater sculpture park in St. George’s. Since then, coral formations have developed on the statues, giving the park an ever-changing image, and each year new works of art are added. Both scuba divers and snorkelers can access the park, but note that some sculptures are nearly 40 feet deep.

    Tortola, British Virgin Islands

    The British Virgin Islands offer an underwater playground and there are many day trips to dive locations near the main cruise hub of Tortola. Often considered the inspiration for the book, “Treasure Island,” Norman Island is a top snorkeling spot with offshore reefs and caves that snorkelers can swim through. Divers often scope out the RMS Rhone, a British Royal Mail Steamer located in a protected national marine park, or the “Painted Walls,” a vibrant site where green turtles, octopus and frogfish often loiter.

    Roatan, Honduras

    As one of the most affordable places to get scuba dive certified, Roatan has no shortage of dive operators and outstanding dive sites. “Mary’s Place” starts off with a coral reef and continues to a colorful wall more than 100 feet deep with crevices frequented by turtles. Other top dive sites include the “Hole in the Wall” with swim-through formations covered in flourishing marine life, and “Mandy’s Eel Garden,” a home for eels about 65 feet down with a wall at 20 feet that is accessible to snorkelers.

    Cozumel, Mexico

    Part of the Mesoamerican Reef system, the largest reef in the Western Hemisphere, Cozumel is a popular port stop on Western Caribbean itineraries. Most major cruise lines visiting Cozumel offer packages to Chankanaab National Park, an eco-archeological park with snorkeling from the beach. Visitors can also book a boat trip to Paradise Reef or San Francisco Reef. Stingrays, hawksbill turtles, and the rare splendid toadfish are just a few of the marine animals that inhabit the reef system.

    Belize City, Belize

    Known for atolls and blue holes, cruise passengers visiting Belize are in for a treat. Turneffe Atoll is one of the most accessible diving sites offered through cruise excursions, but some passengers hop a flight or ferry to San Pedro where even more options are available. For divers, Tres Cocos reef is a short boat ride from the shore and filled with canyons and soft coral. Snorkelers can check out “Shark Ray Alley” filled with nurse sharks and stingrays.

    Georgetown, Grand Cayman

    The Cayman Islands boast a dive site for every day of the year, and most of Grand Cayman’s underwater attractions are located are in shallow water not far from shore. “Devil's Grotto” is a stunning snorkeling or shore dive site filled with fish like tarpon and silverside. The Cali freighter shipwreck, another popular site, is submerged in about 20 feet of water, making it another easy option for snorkelers. Divers can check out “Ghost Mountain,” with a pinnacle situated around 110 feet down that’s loaded with orange encrusted octopus sponges and vibrant gorgonians.

    Kralendijk, Bonaire

    Established in 1979, the Bonaire National Marine Park offers unbelievable shore diving with a whopping 86 dive sites filled with turtles, eels, octopus and other marine creatures. Of the dive sites, Bari Reef has some of the best fish diversity in the Caribbean with over 300 species. The Salt Pier is a great option for snorkelers and new divers with large schools of fish gathering in shallow depths.

    Freeport, Bahamas

    While many cruise passengers flock to the shops of Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island is surrounded by stunning reefs for snorkelers as well as caverns, caves and blue holes for experienced divers. Deadman’s Reef is one of the most frequented sites for snorkelers, in addition to Peterson Cay. Lucayan National Park is part of an expansive freshwater cave system including Owl Hole and Ben’s Cave.


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Amber Nolan Captain’s Blog: Cruise Tips and Advice

Amber Nolan Amber Nolan loves to be on the water, and although she enjoys the fun and excitement of larger cruise ships, she prefers setting sail on smaller vessels to unique destinations. Originally from western New York, this restless traveler has a knack for finding creative ways to travel and befriending interesting characters along the way. On her most recent adventure, she hitchhiked on private aircraft across the United States. She previously served as the cruise editor at Sherman’s Travel but her work can also be found on and USA Today Travel. She current resides in South Florida.
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