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June 2002 Vol. 17, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Five Personal Caribbean Favorites

and summertime in Cayman

from the June, 2002 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

“My wife and I are both experienced divers and prefer small inns and unique experiences. We’ve pored over the Chapbook and plenty of past issues of Undercurrent and seem to have too many choices in the Caribbean. So, I thought I’d write to ask where you personally might go for good diving, decent accommodations and food, and activities besides diving?”

So writes subscriber Barry Bonds (no, not THE Barry Bonds, which I learned after I called him the instant I got his letter) from Manhattan. I’ve got several personal favorites in the Caribbean that have better than average Caribbean diving and offer unique experiences as well. Here are a few ideas:

Belize : A real sleeper is the seldom- if-ever advertised St. George’s Lodge, which has been owned and operated by Fred Good for more than two decades. Fred is perhaps the best guide and critter locator in the Caribbean, and earns accolades for working with new divers but not at the expense of experienced divers, who can get Nitroxcertified if they are not already. Fish life is good and Fred frequently finds dolphins for his guests to dive with. Fred has six cottages built on a dock over the water, which tend to be hotter and buggier than the ten small guest rooms in the Lodge (though I still prefer the cottages). His partner Fran presides over an excellent and healthy menu. Because this is only a twenty-minute boat ride from Belize City — Fred picks you up — one can stay for just a few days, then head inland to any number of fine Belize jungle lodges, such as Chan Cheech, for a first-rate vacation. The prices (dive packages run $1400 to $1900 per person, per week) are too high for the quality of accommodations (no air conditioning). But Fred has never been interested in keeping his rooms filled, and so he often had only a handful of guests, which seems to suit Fred just fine. And, it suits me too. St. George’s Lodge: www.gooddiving.com; 800- 678-6871, 941-488-3788.

Mantas appear in the springtime, and there
are a good number of fish and plentiful
corals, including what may be the largest
brain coral in the Caribbean.

Dominica : This remarkable island has plenty of beautiful coral, tropical fish life and critters to make for interesting diving and good photography. The leading dive operation, Dive Dominica, runs two-tank morning dives, leaving the afternoons open for touring the rainforests. To turn this into a unique vacation, consider accommodating yourself at the rustic Papillote Wilderness Retreat in the midst of the rainforest, surrounded by flowers, yet only a fifteen- minute ride from the dive operation. Accommodations are clean and simple; suites go for $105/night. Of course, you can stay at Dive Dominica’s Castle Comfort, or next door at the Evergreen Hotel if you want to hang with divers (a dive package runs about $1000 per person, per week). Island tours, guided hikes to Boiling Lake, and other adventures are easily arranged. Papillote Wilderness Retreat: www.papillote.dm; Dive Dominica: www.divedominca.com; 767-448- 2287, 767-448-2188.

Little Cayman Island: This is one of the Caribbean’s best wall diving venues, with beautiful coral, plentiful fish life, and an occasional big critter. What I like best there is Pirate’s Point, a tenroom inn owned and operated by Gladys Howard. Gladys, a trained chef who once had her own TV cooking show in Texas , produces some of the best and most creative cuisine in the Caribbean, which by itself is enough to attract repeat guests. A typical day here means heading out after a leisurely breakfast for two long two-tank dives, returning for a late and elaborate lunch, napping or reading by the pool, taking an afternoon bike ride, joining others for cocktails and a gourmet dinner, and then doing it all over again the next day. A little more expensive than most places, a weekly high-season package runs $1750 per person, double occupancy. Pirate’s Point: www.piratespointresort.com; 345-948-1010.

Saba: On each day’s first dive, divers drop sixty or more feet to the top of pinnacles where there is a better than even chance of seeing sharks and other pelagics. Nice coral and fish life makes the Saba Marine Park a real attraction. With but 1400 very friendly residents and only a handful of tourists, Saba is one fine place to get a way from it all. Saba has no beaches and accommodations are at 1000 feet or higher in tiny villages. Transportation is by taxi to the diving, which is usually part of the packages. Typically, one makes two morning dives, lunches by the dive operation, then takes a third tank in the afternoon. Two-tankers can taxi back to their rooms to spend the afternoon with a book or climbing the 2900 foot Mt. Scenery. Both Sea Saba (www.seasaba.com; 599-416-2246) and Saba Deep (www.sabadeep.com; 599-416-3347) are reputable operations and will handle your hotel reservations. The Sea Saba Web site is particularly good for researching accommodations. Many people prefer to stay in cottages here, such as Flossie’s cottage, part of Julianna’s, where double occupancy prices with diving run about $1000 per week. You can find other accomodations and diving for about $800/person. To get to Saba, you fly to St. Maarten, then take a short flight or a 90 minute ferry ride.

Tobago: The comfortable Blue Waters Inn sits on a beautiful cove on the north end of this lovely island. Surrounded by jungle, it’s a half-mile walk to a couple of other restaurants, or a short drive over the hill to picturesque Charlottesville. Other than that, the entertainment involves diving, rainforest walks, and birding. Diving there isn’t easy — there’s often surface chop and a lot of drift diving. Mantas appear in the springtime, and there are a good number of fish and plentiful corals, including what may be the largest brain coral in the Caribbean. The rooms are nice, and suites and even a cottage are available. Accommodations and diving run about $900 per week and up, depending upon the season. The dive operation has improved over the years, but the guides have always seemed a little spacey, and a few years back they lost one woman diver for a day and a night adrift, until she eventually climbed ashore several miles down island. Nonetheless, I’d go back in a heartbeat. Blue Waters Inn: 868-660-4341, 800-742 4276; www.bluewatersinn.com.

There are also folks who like to go to the most popular venues, like Grand Cayman, which regardless of the constantly increasing prices, continues to expand. To get the scoop, we asked Reader Jeremy Wainwright, who has covered the island, for a reporton summer diving.

Grand Cayman: “In the summer, accommodations can easily cost half of winter prices. Go for a condo rather than a hotel. You get more space for the same price and can avoid those astonishing restaurant and bar prices. Last July I dived north and west with Red Baron, owned by Nick Buckley. Sharks came up from deep water to mate and we saw them on every north-side dive. Once five reef sharks encircled us and a hammerhead was in the distance. A turtle was completely ignored! In September I dived west and north with Divetech and east with Cayman Dive Lodge. No sharks this time, but the eastside diving was particularly lovely. The quality of your experience will vary in inverse proportion to the size of the operation, with the o w n e r-operator of a small boat being the best way to go. Nick has a fast 26’ Duskie, is enormously experienced in these waters, and passionately wants his divers to have a good time. He’ll treat you like an adult and will be there when you need him, but he is not at all officious and has no annoying time restrictions. The average bottom time on my dives with him was fifty-three minutes. Divetech are the go-to people if you want something more ambitious, advanced Nitrox, trimix, rebreathers, scooters, or perhaps a free diving course. Other operators with whom I have had a good time include Aqua Adventures, Off the Wall Divers, and Seasports. All of these operations offer Nitrox, but the demand on the island exceeds supply, so order it in advance and don’t expect other than a 32% mix. Aqua Adventures: 345/949-1616, aqua@candw.ky; CDL: 345/947- 7555, cdl@candw.ky; Divetech: 345/949-1700, divetech@candw.ky ; Off the Wall: 345/916-0303, fish@candw.ky; Red Baron: 345/916- 1293, julnnick@candw.ky; Seasports: 345/949-3965.

----Ben Davison

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