READERS CHOICE: BEST SHORE DIVING
Access is the name of the game at these prime locales that offer amazing encounters nearshore
Shore diving holds wide appeal, not just because it’s a savings-smart option. It also affords leisurely divers more time because there's no schedule when you dive it yourself. Plus, shore diving can often pack more adventure, allowing you to drift across two sites in half the time. The more daring can scout the shoreline and start swimming wherever they see the most potential for awesomeness.
BONAIRE NO DIRECTIONS REQUIRED
Introverted divers love Bonaire. Unlike other locales, where finding the put-in means asking directions, then getting lost and asking again if you were supposed to turn at the banana tree or coconut palm. Free maps of Bonaire’s 80-plus dive sites can be scored anywhere, and every site is marked with a yellow stone painted with the dive site’s name, so you never have to ask if you’re in the right spot.
BEGINNER TO ADVANCED
Bonaire’s sites vary in intensity and difficulty. Newbies ought to stick to the south, which offers less surge and entries that slope gently.
The north requires slightly more skill, with rockier entries that can call for better balance, patience and planning.
NO OVERHEAD CONCERNS
Every bit of Bonaire’s coast is either part of the national marine park, a marine reserve or a no-take zone. Spearfishing and collecting are prohibited. Best of all, the island has outlawed personal-watercraft rentals. Together, these restrictions make Bonaire one of the most scenic, fish-filled and headache-free dive getaways on the planet.
Dive centers in Bonaire seem to come standard with a house reef. Resorts such as Buddy Dive have clearwater real estate yards from where staff keeps watch. Not only does this front-yard diving allow beginners to get acclimated, but it’s also a great resource for anyone trying a new skill, or brushing up on a rusty one, such as navigation. It’s also the perfect place to try out new gear.
HAWAII BUFFET OF CHOICES
Hawaii’s four biggest islands — Kona, Maui, Kauai and Oahu — all have well-known, mapped shore dives, most with easy access. Kona’s shores offer 28, Maui 40, Kauai 16 and Oahu 36, and that’s just the named sites. Rent a car, and you can explore the coast, greatly opening up the playing field of choose-your-own-adventure spots.
This underwater landscape offers something many islands don’t: lava caves, caverns, tunnels and other photo-worthy formations. Sites such as Makena Landing on Maui’s southwest side offer lava-formed caves, home to a host of life, from nudis to whitetip sharks. On Oahu’s North Shore, take on the Firehouse Cathedrals to see beams of light pouring into rooms where whitetip sharks lie sleeping.
FLORIDA SPRINGS ALL ARE WELCOME
Florida’s springs might have the reputation of being only for trained cave divers. Certainly, the more advanced stretches of caves are. But places such as Ginnie Springs, in the town of High Springs, two hours north of Orlando by car, are great for open-water divers. They can explore 120 feet of linear penetration into the cave, down to 55 feet, and into the cavern’s big ballroom. The nearby Little Devil, Devil’s Ear and Devil’s Eye, all part of the Devil’s Spring System, are also open to OW divers, provided they don’t carry a light — meaning they stay in areas where overhead sunlight grants visibility.
Most of the concessions operating near Florida’s springs have made a business of making their spot as comfortable and accessible as possible. Wooden walkways, large wooden platforms at the entry point, and facilities within yards of the entry all make for ease of use. Blue Grotto Dive Resort, in the town of Williston, also a two-hour drive north of Orlando, offers these amenities, plus barbecue grills, picnic areas and even cabins should you choose to overnight.
Clockwise, from left: Divers return from Salt Pier, one of Bonaire’s signature sites; spinner dolphins travel in a pod off Hawaii Island; stairs lead toward Florida’s Devil’s Den.