Splashing Around the Western Caribbean

In the western Caribbean, you’ll find some of the world’s top places to snorkel, scuba dive and swim.


Jamaica, the third-largest island in the Caribbean, is famous for throbbing nightlife and boisterous marketplaces. But thanks to its lush, river-filled interior, it’s equally seductive to those longing for quiet time in paradise. Rafting or tubing down a languid river, wading through warm waterfall-fed pools: They’re guaranteed to wash away whatever ails you.

Even quieter surroundings await on the western Caribbean’s smaller islands, such as Roatan. Thanks to its proximity to the Mesoamerican Reef (the largest in the hemisphere), the sea life here is vast, varied—and close. Snorkelers can slip into the water directly from beautiful West Bay Beach to see Technicolor-hued fish.

Pining for an even smaller—but still exciting—getaway? The Mesoamerican Reef also runs near Cozumel, Mexico. Just 29 miles long and an average of 9 miles wide, relaxed Cozumel offers a perfect entree to scuba diving; here, beginners can learn the basics, then explore a reach-from-the-beach dive site full of dazzling coral and fish.

Yet another scuba/snorkel hot spot: The warm, ultra-clear ocean around Grand Cayman. The Caribbean’s deepest waters teem with bright parrot fish and undulating rays. Average annual air temps of 81 degrees make life on shore just as welcoming.

In this part of the Caribbean, the excursions are all about meeting wildlife up-close. Off Grand Cayman, visitors can swim with “Ray Charles,” “Sugar Ray” and other friendly stingrays, while the surprisingly puppy-like iguanas at Roatan’s Arch’s Iguana and Marine Park love to be hand-fed. Rather stick with mammals? Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park on Cozumel is home to a posse of performing sea lions. And riding a horse right into the surf off Jamaica’s Chukka Beach is a wild, salty and exhilarating experience.

Insider tip: The western Caribbean lies conveniently close to the popular departure ports of Tampa and Port Canaveral, Florida.

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