and Curacao, in the Netherlands Antilles, lie just off the coast of
South America. Outside the usual hurricane belt, they offer good weather
year-round and excellent visibility.
If Saba sounds
idyllic to you -- well, it did to us, too. That's why we selected
Saba as the location for the first dive trip we ever offered,
Octopus's Garden, which remains a memorable week for both new
and experienced divers.
The islands speckled through the Caribbean represent
a full spectrum of attitudes toward gay visitors, and toward their
own gay residents. As a rule of thumb, those with largely a Dutch
or French influence are best; the Spanish islands tend to be okay
but may require a higher level of discretion and judgment; and British
islands get the lowest grades. Saba and the Caymans, both listed below,
vividly illustrate the full range of attitudes.
Bonaire & the Netherlands Antilles
Bonaire, just as its license plate promises,
is "A Divers' Paradise." The entire perimeter of the island has been
a protected Marine Park since 1979, and its excellent administration
serves as a model for other Marine Parks. Spear fishing is illegal,
dive boats are required to use fixed moorings, and popular dive sites
are periodically closed to allow them to rejuvenate.
is popular on Bonaire. So is shore diving. The sandy beaches quickly
drop off into deeper waters, making it an easy destination for shore
diving. Nearby, the uninhabited island of Klein Bonaire offers additional
sites. Larger sea life is relatively uncommon here, though sharks
and rays are occasionally seen. Reef fish and other small creatures
are abundant, and your odds of spotting a seahorse are higher around
Bonaire than at most Caribbean islands.
and Curacao, the other two islands of the Netherlands Antilles
(sometimes known together as "the ABC islands") have
some good dive sites, but Bonaire is the best choice of the
has several gay-owned businesses, but organized gay life is
largely non-existent on these three islands, but with their
Dutch influence, a live-and-let-live attitudes prevails for
gay and lesbian visitors. Curacao's reputation as a party island
seems not to have extended yet to include gay nightlife.
The Caymans have indisputably good diving. "Stingray
City" is famous worldwide: By some accounts, more divers and
snorkelers visit Stingray City than any other dive site on globe.
since Grand Cayman authorities pointedly turned away a gay cruise
ship, most gay and lesbian vacationers have wisely chosen other ports. We suggest gay divers do the same until
such time as both the legal situation, and general attitudes, improve
is one of the Caribbean's best known dive destination. There's no gay
life or culture here,
View Resort (www.cocoviewresort.com), which has a mix of hotel
rooms and cabanas, and is suitable for divers of all levels of experience,
with both boat diving as well as beach diving.
Puerto Rico's best dive sites lie off the east
and west coasts. To the east is Vieques, an island best known to the
media for the controversies
surrounding the U.S. Naval base there, but known to divers for its
Phosphorescent Bay. The other island off the east, Culebra, is a nesting
ground for loggerhead, leatherback, green, and hawksbill turtles.
sites on the west coast of Puerto Rico are more likely to have strong
currents and choppy seas. While beginning divers will sometimes encounter
suitable conditions, the west coast is more likely to be enjoyed by
experienced divers. Aguadilla is the main dive center here.
the diving in Puerto Rican waters can be fine, other spots in the
Caribbean offer better. Gay divers who come to Puerto Rico are likely
to choose it because it's one of the few Caribbean destinations that
offers both good diving and a lively gay scene. San Juan has several
gay clubs, restaurants, hotels, and guesthouses, and the gay men of
Puerto Rico tend to be friendly, and happy to meet visitors from the
states. Note, however, that San Juan is quite a drive from Puerto
Rico's best dive sites. You're best off spending a long weekend in
the city, then several days at a location closer to the diving.
Most people have never heard of the tiny Dutch
island of Saba. Too small to host cruise ships that ply the usual
Caribbean ports, too vertical to have the beaches that large resorts
need, Saba is just a small, friendly island.
vertical. The volcanic forces that created Saba also created several
towering underwater pinnacles, which are a highlight of any diving
vacation here. Most of the best dive sites are less than 30 minutes
by boat from the island's only dock. Many of these dive sites were
only discovered in the past few decades, and were quickly preserved
by the marine park surrounding the island. In addition to a good variety
of smaller reef fish, divers in the waters of Saba regularly see octopus,
nurse sharks, black-tip sharks, lobsters, hawksbill turtles, garden
eels, and an occasional seahorse.
their motherland, Holland, the people of Saba are quite accepting
of the island's small gay community. There's not much for gay nightlight
-- there's not much nightlife at all -- but there's a clear gay presence.
As you leave, your passport will be stamped to show that you've visited
Saba, "The Unspoiled Queen". And furthermore, the director of tourism
who stamps your passport is also gay.