Long before your plane touches down in Bermuda, the island's greatest asset becomes breathtakingly obvious—the crystal clear, aquamarine water that frames the tiny, hook-shaped atoll.
So clear are Bermuda's waters that in 1994 the government nixed a local scuba-diving group's plan to create a unique dive site by sinking an abandoned American warplane in 30 feet of water off the island's East End, fairly close to the end of the airport's runway. The government feared that the plane would be easily visible from above—to arriving passengers—and could cause undue distress. It's the incredible clarity of the water that makes Bermuda one of the world's greatest places for exploratory scuba diving and snorkeling, especially among the age-old shipwrecks off the island. The presence of these sunken ships is actually one of Bermuda's ironies—as translucent as the water is, it wasn't quite clear enough to make the treacherous reefs visible to the hundreds of ship captains who have smashed their vessels on them through the centuries.
Thanks to Bermuda's position near the Gulf Stream, the water stays warm year-round. In summer the ocean is usually above 80°F, and it's even warmer in the shallows between the reefs and shore. In winter the water temperature only occasionally drops below 70°F, but it seems cooler because the air temperature is usually in the mid-60s. There's less call for water sports December through March, not because of a drop in water temperature but because of windy conditions. The wind causes rough water, which in turn creates problems for fishing and diving boats, and underwater visibility is often clouded by sand and debris.
Whether it's renting a glass-bottomed kayak for a gentle paddle over the reefs, taking a motorboat for a spin, or spending an adrenaline-filled afternoon wakeboarding, getting out on the water is an essential part of the Bermuda experience. In high season, mid-April through mid-October, fishing, diving, and yacht charters fill up quickly.
A handful of major water-sports outfitters on the island—Blue Hole Watersports, Somerset Bridge Watersports, Fantasea Diving & Watersports, H2O Sports, and Just Add Water—provide most of the rentals. Many boats carry fewer than 20 passengers, so it's advisable to sign up as soon as you arrive on the island. During the "golf and spa season," December through February, many operators close to make repairs and perform routine maintenance.
As well as snorkeling tours and various other boat trips, you could try snuba, a kind of intermediary step between snorkeling and scuba diving that enables participants to breathe underwater without heavy dive tanks. It involves a short training session and a shallow orientation dive prior to a guided deep water reef excursion. Since you don't need qualifications or experience, and all of the gear is provided, snuba is a popular option for people who have never dived before. Prefer to stay above water? Bermuda offers a variety of paddleboarding, glass-bottom, jet ski, and even Gosling's Rum tasting tours. For a detailed list of aquatic activities available in Bermuda, be sure to visit Island Tour Centre online at www.islandtourcentre.com.
Bermudians take their onshore sports seriously, too. Cricket and soccer are the national sports, but road running, golf, field hockey, rugby, and a host of other activities get their share of love. Bermudian soccer stars, such as former Manchester City striker Shaun Goater, have delighted crowds in British and U.S. leagues through the years, and Bermudian sailors hold their own in world competition, as do runners, equestrians, and swimmers. Tennis is quite a big deal here, too, and with 70 courts packed into these 21.6 square miles, it's hard to believe there's room left for horseback riding, cycling, running, and golf.