Diving and Snorkeling in Jamaica

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Diving and Snorkeling

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Jamaica isn't a major dive destination, but you can find a few rich underwater regions, especially off the North Coast. Mo'Bay, known for its wall dives, has Airport Reef at its southwestern edge. The site is known for its coral caves, tunnels, and canyons. The first marine park in Jamaica, the Montego Bay Marine Park, was established to protect the natural resources of the bay; a quick look at the area and it's easy to see the treasures that lie beneath the surface. The North Coast is on the edge of the Cayman Trench, so it boasts a wide array of marine life.

Thanks to a marine area protected since 1966, the Ocho Rios region is also a popular diving destination. Through the years, the protected area grew into the Ocho Rios Marine Park, stretching from Mammee Bay and Drax Hall to the west to Frankfort Point on the east. Top dive sites in the area include Jack's Hall, a 40-foot dive dotted with all types of coral; Top of the Mountain, a 60-foot dive near Dunn's River Falls with many coral heads and gorgonians; and the Wreck of the Katryn , a 50-foot dive to a deliberately sunk 140-foot former minesweeper.

With its murkier waters, the southern side of the island isn't as popular for diving. However, Port Royal, which is near Kingston's airport, is filled with sunken ships that are home to many different varieties of tropical fish, although a special permit is required to dive some sites here. Prices range from $45 to $80 for a one-tank dive. Most of the large resorts have dive shops, and the all-inclusive places sometimes include scuba diving in their rates. To dive, you need to show a certification card, though it's possible to get a small taste of scuba diving and do a shallow dive—usually from shore—after taking a one-day resort diving course, which almost every resort with a dive shop offers. A couple of places stand out.

Montego Bay

Jamaica Scuba Divers. Here are serious scuba facilities for dedicated divers as well as beginners. This PADI and NAUI operation also offers nitrox diving and instruction as well as instruction in underwater photography, night diving, and open-water diving. Operations are based at Travellers Beach Resort in Negril and Franklyn D. Resort in Runaway Bay. Pick-up can be arranged from most hotels and other locations along the North Coast. 876/381–1113. www.scuba-jamaica.com.

Ocho Rios

These waters have been protected since 1966, which is why the Ocho Rios region is a popular diving destination. The Ocho Rios Marine Park stretches from Mammee Bay to Frankfort Point. Some of the top dive sites in the area include Jack's Hall, a 40-foot dive dotted with many types of coral, Top of the Mountain, a 60-foot dive near Dunn's River Falls filled with many coral heads, and the Katryn, a 50-foot dive to the wreck of a 140-foot minesweeper.

Five Star Watersports. The company's "Cool Runnings" catamaran cruises to Dunn's River Falls. The trips leave from Mahogany Beach at 12:30 pm and cost US$85. 121 Main St., Ocho Rios. 876/974–2446 or 876/974–4593. www.fivestarwatersports.com. Closed Sun.

Port Antonio

Wall diving is especially popular in the Port Antonio area. For intermediate and advanced divers, a top spot is Trident Wall, lined with stunning black coral. Other top spots include Alligator Hill, a moderate to difficult dive known for its tubes and sponges. A beginner site, Alligator West is prized for its calm waters.

Lady G'Diver. The only dive operator in Port Antonio runs trips to interesting sites almost every days. Two-tank dive trips depart at around 11 am. Call two or three days in advance to set up the trip. Errol Flynn Marina, Ken Wright Dr., Port Antonio. 876/995–0246. www.ladygdiver.com.

Negril

Thanks to its protected waters, Negril offers some of the best scuba diving on the island, although some sites damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 have taken longer to recover. A wide variety of dive sites suit all levels, and you can see everything from unusual coral formations to forbidding caves to shipwrecks (and even some downed Cessna planes).

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