Left: Stephen Frink/Getty Images; Right: Jeff Hunter/Getty Images

The best way to experience the wonders of the ocean is to get in, and perhaps no place offers a better experience for scuba divers of all skill levels than GRAND CAYMAN.


Imagine, if you will, floating — weightless ­­— surrounded by a landscape that seems straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Accompanying you are parrot fish adorned in the colors of the rainbow. Along comes a school of metallic silver tarpon resembling some elaborate, sterling creation from Tiffany’s. In the distance, a stingray cruises by, slowly flapping its wings like an alien bird of prey. As you look out to the horizon, a vast blue expanse full of the unknown beckons.

If you’ve never been scuba diving before, this scenario may sound like something from a dream world. Or, if it does exist, it’s something that you, as an underwater novice, never would be able to experience yourself. Surely, you’d reason, these kinds of rewards are reserved for veteran divers unafraid to explore the deepest, darkest corners of our oceans.

Fortunately, you’d be wrong.

Scuba diving is booming in popularity, with more than 1 million certificates issued to new divers each year by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). As those people have discovered firsthand, the sport offers access to sights and spectacles that can’t be replicated anywhere else. But for the uninitiated, the process of learning can be somewhat intimidating. Off the ­Caribbean island of Grand Cayman, however, all those worries are washed away.

Home to the first destination dive resort in the Caribbean, Grand Cayman — the largest­ of the three Cayman Islands — is the grande dame of recreational diving. Bob Soto, a diver for the U.S. Navy who grew up in Grand ­Cayman, opened one of the first dive resorts in the world on the island in 1957. Ever since, Grand ­Cayman has been hailed as a haven for the sport, cementing a seemingly permanent spot on Scuba Diving magazine’s Top 100 Readers Choice list for the best Caribbean diving.

So what makes it such a special place to dive? For one, Grand Cayman is consistently­ praised for its outstanding water clarity. Made of porous limestone, the island has no rivers to produce silt, which can cloud the water. Abundant undersea life is another­ draw, as rare and often-unseen species make regular appearances here. Kimberly ­Horning, an experienced diver from Aptos, Calif., who recently visited the island, was captivated by the variety of sea life she spotted while diving there. “I swear I saw at least half of the fish listed in the Paul Humann [species identification] books,” she laughs.

Such conditions are optimal for any diver, particularly beginners. The enhanced visibility allows divers to see what’s going on around them and discourages a claustrophobic reaction that some new divers experience. In addition, great visibility enables people to appreciate Grand Cayman’s dramatic underwater topography: vertical walls that drop off into the abyss on the island’s north side and intricate labyrinths of spur-and-groove formations that abound on the west and south shores. These formations, riddled with caverns and caves that are home to many fish and other curious creatures, are fascinating to explore and easy to access.