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  The Caribbean: Easy access, and a wide spectrum of attitudes

A gay and lesbian scuba diver's guide to
The Caribbean








Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, in the Netherlands Antilles, lie just off the coast of South America. Outside the usual hurricane belt, they offer good weather year-round and excellent visibility.
























If Saba sounds idyllic to you -- well, it did to us, too. That's why we selected Saba as the location for the first dive trip we ever offered, An Octopus's Garden, which remains a memorable week for both new and experienced divers.





  In General 
The islands speckled through the Caribbean represent a full spectrum of attitudes toward gay visitors, and toward their own gay residents. As a rule of thumb, those with largely a Dutch or French influence are best; the Spanish islands tend to be okay but may require a higher level of discretion and judgment; and British islands get the lowest grades. Saba and the Caymans, both listed below, vividly illustrate the full range of attitudes.

  Bonaire & the Netherlands Antilles
Bonaire, just as its license plate promises, is "A Divers' Paradise." The entire perimeter of the island has been a protected Marine Park since 1979, and its excellent administration serves as a model for other Marine Parks. Spear fishing is illegal, dive boats are required to use fixed moorings, and popular dive sites are periodically closed to allow them to rejuvenate.

Snorkeling is popular on Bonaire. So is shore diving. The sandy beaches quickly drop off into deeper waters, making it an easy destination for shore diving. Nearby, the uninhabited island of Klein Bonaire offers additional sites. Larger sea life is relatively uncommon here, though sharks and rays are occasionally seen. Reef fish and other small creatures are abundant, and your odds of spotting a seahorse are higher around Bonaire than at most Caribbean islands.

Aruba and Curacao, the other two islands of the Netherlands Antilles (sometimes known together as "the ABC islands") have some good dive sites, but Bonaire is the best choice of the three.

Bonaire has several gay-owned businesses, but organized gay life is largely non-existent on these three islands, but with their Dutch influence, a live-and-let-live attitudes prevails for gay and lesbian visitors. Curacao's reputation as a party island seems not to have extended yet to include gay nightlife.

  Cayman IslandsHawksbill turtles are often seen around Puerto Rico and Saba
The Caymans have indisputably good diving. "Stingray City" is famous worldwide: By some accounts, more divers and snorkelers visit Stingray City than any other dive site on globe.

Yet since Grand Cayman authorities pointedly turned away a gay cruise ship, most gay and lesbian vacationers have wisely chosen other ports. We suggest gay divers do the same until such time as both the legal situation, and general attitudes, improve dramatically.

Roatan is one of the Caribbean's best known dive destination. There's no gay life or culture here, View Resort (www.cocoviewresort.com), which has a mix of hotel rooms and cabanas, and is suitable for divers of all levels of experience, with both boat diving as well as beach diving.

  Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico's best dive sites lie off the east and west coasts. To the east is Vieques, an island best known to the media for the controversies surrounding the U.S. Naval base there, but known to divers for its Phosphorescent Bay. The other island off the east, Culebra, is a nesting ground for loggerhead, leatherback, green, and hawksbill turtles.

Dive sites on the west coast of Puerto Rico are more likely to have strong currents and choppy seas. While beginning divers will sometimes encounter suitable conditions, the west coast is more likely to be enjoyed by experienced divers. Aguadilla is the main dive center here.

While the diving in Puerto Rican waters can be fine, other spots in the Caribbean offer better. Gay divers who come to Puerto Rico are likely to choose it because it's one of the few Caribbean destinations that offers both good diving and a lively gay scene. San Juan has several gay clubs, restaurants, hotels, and guesthouses, and the gay men of Puerto Rico tend to be friendly, and happy to meet visitors from the states. Note, however, that San Juan is quite a drive from Puerto Rico's best dive sites. You're best off spending a long weekend in the city, then several days at a location closer to the diving.

Most people have never heard of the tiny Dutch island of Saba. Too small to host cruise ships that ply the usual Caribbean ports, too vertical to have the beaches that large resorts need, Saba is just a small, friendly island.

And vertical. The volcanic forces that created Saba also created several towering underwater pinnacles, which are a highlight of any diving vacation here. Most of the best dive sites are less than 30 minutes by boat from the island's only dock. Many of these dive sites were only discovered in the past few decades, and were quickly preserved by the marine park surrounding the island. In addition to a good variety of smaller reef fish, divers in the waters of Saba regularly see octopus, nurse sharks, black-tip sharks, lobsters, hawksbill turtles, garden eels, and an occasional seahorse.

Like their motherland, Holland, the people of Saba are quite accepting of the island's small gay community. There's not much for gay nightlight -- there's not much nightlife at all -- but there's a clear gay presence. As you leave, your passport will be stamped to show that you've visited Saba, "The Unspoiled Queen". And furthermore, the director of tourism who stamps your passport is also gay.


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