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Best Places for Snorkeling/Scuba Diving Adventures?

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My boyfriend and I are interested in a post-Christmas December - January vacation to the Caribbean. I'm a total noob when it comes to the Caribbean, and I've never been snorkeling or scuba-diving before, so any advice is appreciated.

We are looking for something romantic and calm but still has plenty of activities. I don't want to just lie on the beach all day. On the other hand, I'm wary of noisy tourist traps. I don't have a specific budget at the moment. I'd like to see what the best is and eliminate things if they are completely outside our range.

Our number one criteria is great snorkeling and scuba diving with the chance to see a lot of exotic marine life. Walk-in snorkeling would a plus but not totally necessary. Other criteria would be nice beaches and availability of more upscale restaurants/lounges. Things we don't care about are shopping and nightlife.

Also, I know this is a complete long shot, but I would be very interested in any places that have a good chance of seeing WILD animals such as sharks or even dolphins. I read about Stingray City in Grand Cayman, which sounds very cool, but it is a tourist trap? I don't want to see some poor half-domesticated stingrays manhandled by greedy tour operators.

I've read a lot of rankings and articles about Turks & Caicos as the best place for snorkeling. However, I've also read that a lot of people seem to think that Grand Cayman, Bahamas, or Cozumel are the best. I'm completely open to anywhere. Let me know what you think, much appreciated!

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