BEST DESTINATIONS FOR BEGINNERS
Top picks for newer divers seeking ideal conditions with plenty of wow factor
1 Anyone new to the sport might hear the term “wall diving” and think it’s not for them. What they’re not asking is at what depth the wall starts.
In Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras, the wall starts at 40 feet deep, which means that less experienced divers can stay shallow and still get in on the action, including big schools of Bermuda chubs and horse-eye jacks. “My favorite is the Atlantic spadefish because when you hover at 40 feet, these guys will rub up against your fins,” says Patty Grier, owner of Dockside Dive Center at CoCo View Resort.
Another site perfect for new divers is Gold Chain Reef, where the shallows are covered in lettuce and staghorn corals. “You can spend your entire dive in 20 feet of water finding nudibranchs, lettuce leaf slugs, brittle stars and yellowtail damsels— which stand out thanks to their iridescent blue spots,” Grier says.
Staying shallow, which a diver can easily do on Roatan, means having it all—from boat dives to shore dives, all teeming with wildlife.
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
2 If you’re a less experienced diver, you might not know which kind of diving is your favorite. On
St. Croix, the largest of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands, those who are newly certified or have never been diving can get wet at Frederiksted Pier, a shore dive where the bottom is never deeper than 20 feet. There, divers learn that you don’t need to swim deep to see underwater growth, color and life that surpass expectations.
Because it’s such an easy, calm dive, free from waves or current, the pier is where Cane Bay Dive Shop offers the PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience. It’s also where instructors bring open-water students. “For open-water and beginner divers, you feel a greater sense of control here because it has such a shallow bottom and you can see everything around you,” says Suzanne Rosbach, co-owner of Cane Bay Dive Shop.
For those who have completed Discover Scuba or an Open Water Diver course and crave more diving, there’s the next level: shore diving Cane Bay, a wall dive on the island’s north shore. Divers might have to enter and swim against a few small waves for the reward of a site with turtles, octopuses and eels—plus whatever swims by in deeper water. From the wall, divers can choose to take on wrecks, walls, drift dives and more— all without leaving St. Croix.
3 Experienced divers know that managed marine areas make the sport more enjoyable, but beginners might not yet realize what that protection means.