Explore the reefs of Montego Bay, Jamaica — Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan
Jamaica is not known as a world-class scuba diving destination like Cozumel, Grand Cayman or The Bahamas, but that does not mean visitors cannot enjoy underwater exploration. Eels, stingrays and schools of tropical fish can be found in Jamaica's Caribbean waters, as well as the occasional turtle or shark. Plus, the many shallow dives make Jamaica a great place to learn to scuba dive.
Visitors to bustling Montego Bay will find several beginner-level dives, including “The Canyons,” an easy 40-foot dive to a reef wall with plenty of swim-throughs. The “Little Drop Off” is another top choice for newcomers because the depth changes, giving them the opportunity to practice buoyancy.
Scuba divers should be aware that the coral reefs are not nearly as vibrant in Jamaica's waters, and many have been over-fished – leaving little marine life behind in some parts if the island. Sharks are not uncommon, but they aren’t a guarantee. Most of the aquatic life consists of smaller schools of colorful fish (versus large marine life).
A swim-through off the coast of Montego Bay — Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan
There are exceptions, such as the “Colosseum” dive site (discovered by Dressel Divers and named because the reef looks like an amphitheater), where larger, oceanic triggerfish are spotted on nearly every dive, along with hawksbill turtles and schools of barracudas. This site is better suited for intermediate divers, since it reaches a depth of 100 feet.
Another daring dive in Montego Bay is "Widowmakers Cave," which begins at 80 feet before divers make their way back up the 10–foot–wide chimney. This dive is also part of the Montego Bay Marine Park.
As a popular cruise port, Ocho Rios also sees many divers (but there are dive sites all over the island), and scuba diving makes a perfect way to spend time while the ship is docked. Garfield Diving is a reputable option for those seeking an operator in this area.
A few interesting dives here include the "North Wall" (80 to 100 feet in depth); "Barracuda Reef" (60 to 100 feet), with trenches and caverns; and "Kathryn Reef" (50 feet), where a 140-foot WWII minesweeper rests on the bottom.
One thing to keep in mind – particularly for cruise passengers with a short time in port – is that you should set up a dive and have a confirmation ready before you arrive. Depending on the time of year, you might be the only one diving, so don't expect that there will be a group going out that you can join after arrival.
Make sure you know how to get to the dive shop, line up transportation beforehand and allow extra time to get back to the ship.