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Dreaming of scuba diving in the Bahamas? We’ll show you the best dive sites in the Bimini Islands, where to stay, and why the this exciting destination make a top choice for your next dive trip.
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Why go scuba diving in the Bahamas?
The warm shallow waters have allowed a vibrant reef system to develop. Five percent of the Earth’s coral is found in the Bahamas. This is more coral than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Visibility of over 200 feet is an everyday treat in the turquoise waters of the Bahamas. It’s no wonder that the Bahamians consider their islands the Dive Capital of the World.
The Bahamas offers a complete range of diving adventures. Visitors can find dive charter operators on all of the main islands. Many offer certification and equipment rentals. Most can offer a complete vacation package with diving, hotel and transportation.
Several charters offer liveaboard trips which allow you to dive, dive, dive all day from the comfort of a liveaboard boat. There are charters for snorkelers, novice divers, and caves, wrecks and Blue Holes for the advanced diver. Dive charters also offer opportunities to swim with dolphins and observe sharks.
The Bahamas are a part of an archipelago of 700 islands covering 100,000 square miles of the Western Atlantic ocean. The Spanish explorers called these islands “baja mar,” which means shallow sea. The islands are formed by a plateau that is sunken beneath shallow waters. The average depth along the shorelines is 20 feet, making it easy to explore with a tank or without one. The plateau is cut by a deep underwater trench, the Tongue of the Ocean, where the depth drops vertically from 150 feet to thousands of feet. The Gulf Stream brings a huge variety of marine life as it courses between Florida and the Bahamas.
New Providence Island and Grand Bahama Island are the most populated and are the islands most visited by tourists. Nearly every cruise ship that sails from a beach paradise of Miami, Florida, will be making a stop in either Nassau (the capital city located on New Providence) or in Freeport, Grand Bahama. Some of the best diving takes place on the Out Islands: Andros, Abacos, the Biminis, Berry Islands, Acklins/Crooked Island, Eleuthera, the Exumas, Cat Island, San Salvador, Long Island, Inagua, and Mayaguana.
Where to scuba dive in the Bahamas: Bimini Islands
The Bimini Islands, near the northwest corner of the Great Bahama Bank, are the closest Bahamian Islands to the United States. This means it is also the island group farthest from the rest of the Bahamas. This remoteness has left Bimini with a unique, laid-back, rustic, small-town feel that many visitors return to again and again.
How to get to the Bimini Islands: You can combine scuba diving in Floridawith your trip to Bimini because it is just 50 miles from Miami and many people travel here on their own boats in about three hours. Charter air flights are also available from Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. You can fly by seaplane into North Bimini, or by small jet into South Bimini.
A little bit about the Bimini Islands
Bimini consists of North Bimini, South Bimini, and several smaller islands and cays. The islands were settled by emancipated slaves from Nassau. Rum runners made frequent visits to Bimini during the Prohibition. The tiny islands were made famous in the 1950s when Ernest Hemingway visited frequently after learning of the excellent gamefishing near Bimini. Hemingway hung out at The Compleat Angler in Alice Town on North Bimini. The Compleat Angler was the island hotspot on Saturday nights where a Calypso band played and the rum punch flowed freely. Unfortunately, the Compleat Angler burned down to the ground January 13th, 2006 (Friday the 13th!)
Where to stay in Bimini Islands
Alice Town, on North Bimini, is the commercial center of Bimini. Many hotels, bars and restaurants can be found there along the main street of King’s Highway. The Chalk’s seaplane lands there. The largest hotels have marina facilities. Many dive charters operate from Alice Town. If you decide to spend a day on land, there are several public beaches, an Open Air Market, and the Hemingway Museum.
The island is tiny enough that you can walk around it in half a day. Or rent a bicycle or golf cart for exploring. Bimini follows British driving laws and there are just as many golf carts & bicycles on the road as cars, so use caution. North Bimini is connected to South Bimini by ferry. South Bimini is quieter and mostly residential, but more and more cottages, condos, and resorts are developing here each year.
Marine lifein Bimini Islands
More than 20 of Bimini’s dive spots have permanent mooring buoys installed and available for you. The dives in the Gulfstream waters range from the exploration of shallow waters to wall drops and wreck diving.
Head to the deep waters of the Gulfstream to the West of Bimini for a chance to spot dolphins, turtles, stingrays and even nurse or reef sharks.
Snorkeling is possible from the public beaches and from hotel beaches. One of the most interesting sites to dive or snorkel is the legendary “Atlantis Road.”
Just offshore of North Bimini are limestone blocks in about 15-20 feet of water. Many people speculate that the blocks are the remains of an underwater road to the lost continent of Atlantis. Whether you believe in the legend of Atlantis or not, this site is still a great dive spot.
Many divers consider Tuna Alley and the Victory Reefs to be some of the best dive sites in the Caribbean. These prolific reefs are home to thousands of colorful fish and corals. The reefs gradually slope from 40 feet to 100 feet into the Florida Straits with plenty of drop-offs, swim-throughs and caverns to explore. The Sapona is a very shallow wreck perfect for snorkelers. Much of the rusted ship is above water. Another popular deep water wreck is the Bimini Barge which has structure visible in depths of 65-100 feet of water.
The best dive sites in Bimini Islands
Average Depth: 50 ft. / 15 m Max Depth: 100 ft. / 30 m
Wall or Drop-off
With its pristine beaches, the Tuna Alley is often called one of the best dive sites in all of the Caribbean. Divers can swim along a 45 feet canyon that gently slopes down to 80-100 feet. This spot is similar to diving in Japanese Gardens in Aqaba, Jordan.
When the Gulf Stream current is running, the Tuna Alley site is a great drift dive. Its name comes from the schools of tuna often found swimming along the reef. The large species you might encounter in the deep blue water are loggerhead turtles and reef or nurse sharks.
Average Depth: 40 ft. / 12 m Max Depth: 85 ft. / 26 m
3 Mooring Buoys (North, Middle and South Victory Reef)
Located close to Tuna Alley, the Victory Reef is a five-mile stretch that runs along the edge of the Gulf stream. There are several fantastic dive spots with cliffs, swim-throughs, and caves and the known spots are Rainbow Valley, Cathedral, and the Sponge Gardens. On the reef, you can spot sea turtles, sharks, rays, tangs, parrot-, angel-, and spadefish.
When waters are calm, visibility can reach over 100 feet. When the Gulf Stream is ripping, it makes better conditions for a drift dive.
Average Depth: 15 ft. / 5 m Max Depth: 20 ft. / 6 m
Built back in 1911, today, the Sapona is very popular with beginner wreck divers and snorkelers with a large part of the ship remaining above water. The bow with orange cup corals is the easiest part of the shipt to penetrate safely. The 270-foot Sapona is now home to a good deal of marine life – you can see trigger fish, grunts and large lobsters.
Average Depth: 75 ft. / 23 m Max Depth: 100 ft. / 30 m
The 120-foot Bimini Barge sunk in the late 1980s just on the edge of the continental shelf.
You can reach the top of the barge at 65 feet and the visibility there is fantastic.
The vessel is completely overgrown with corals and sponges making it a perfect home for groupers, jacks, barracudas and sharks. Also, this includes fire coral so be careful when penetrating the wreck.
Royal Caribbean International purchased Little Stirrup Cay, renamed it CocoCay, and built a secluded island paradise for its cruise passengers to enjoy. The construction was completed in adherence to strict environmental regulations and Bahamian codes.
A perfect cruise ship destination
CocoCay is located on the northern end of the Berry Islands chain near Great Harbour Cay. The 140-acre island offers beautiful, white, sandy beaches with hundreds of lounge chairs. A large number of hammocks are scattered about the island. And, since this is a cruise ship destination, there are several bars as well as waiters walking among the chairs taking your drink orders.
If you prefer action to relaxing and imbibing rum, there are several activities available for fees.
Adults and children will enjoy the Aqua Park of floating trampolines, slides, and climbing walls. Wave runners, kayaks, parasails and small sailboats are available to rent. Although CocoCay is not an inhabited island, Royal Caribbean and its sister cruise line, Celebrity, have set-up a small straw market where visitors can purchase traditional Bahamian goods and have their hair braided.
Equipment rental and dive spots
The Snorkel Shack rents equipment and offers instruction. Scuba equipment may be rented by certified divers who can show a dive log with a dive within the last two years. The Scuba trip is no deeper than 40 feet. For snorkelers, a short swim from the beach takes you to several well-marked spots. A red buoy marks a replica of a Spanish galleon shipwreck complete with cannons. A short swim away towards the lifeguard platform is the wreckage of a small airplane. A cluster of six reef balls have been placed close to the plane and single reef balls are scattered around the lagoon.
The fish are plentiful at both the shipwreck and plane thanks to a “fish-feeding” put on by cruise employees. Even if you miss the fish feeding, the fish will swim right up to you to check for food. Expect to see schools of yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, and sergeant majors. Flounder, parrotfish, and mackerel hang out near the plane wreck.
Note: CocoCay is a private island owned by Royal Caribbean International. The only way to visit CocoCay island and enjoy the amenities is by booking a cruise with Royal Caribbean or Celebrity.
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Written by Inna Nedostupenko from the Executive Thrillseeker, an adventure travel blog that will teach you how to travel smarter, cheaper and longer!