Many of us are fascinated with pirates. Whether we're drawn to pirates' rebellious nature, wanderlust, or legends of buried treasure and adventures on the high seas – we can’t get enough. Certain areas of the world have a rich history of these swashbuckling sailors, who left behind a shroud of mystery under the surface for modern scuba divers to solve. From actual pirate shipwrecks to stunning coral reef dives, here are our choices in the Caribbean and US for scuba diving in pirate territory.Pirates in Key West — Photo courtesy of The Schooner Wolf
One of Bermuda's Shipwrecks — Photo courtesy of SportDiver.com
They don’t call it the Bermuda triangle for nothing: beyond its pink-sand beaches is an ocean floor that’s loaded with ships that met their end. Divers can spend weeks here and not experience them all, but some of the most frequented sites include L'Herminie, a French warship that sank in 1837. The vessel rests in 35 feet below the surface, and contains cannons, pottery, cannon balls, and bottles. Some divers even find an occasional coin or two. Two other popular sites are the Constellation Cristobal Colon, an enormous Spanish luxury liner, and Xing Da – a modern day pirate ship that was used to smuggle immigrants into the US. On land, be sure to visit the Bermuda Maritime Museum, where many artifacts from various wrecks are on display.
Sparking Waters of Santa Catalina, Colombia — Photo courtesy of Colombia.travel
As a child, Sir Henry Morgan ran away from his home town in Wales, was sold into slavery, and then later escaped his master in the West Indies and went on to become a swashbuckling pirate. He was one of the few who could navigate from Jamaica to Panama, and frequently visited Santa Catalina, a Colombian-owned island just north of the San Andres chain. Dotted with stunning beaches, Santa Catalina became his base as he launched his brutal attacks, and today he is remembered by the spiced rum: Captain Morgan’s. While there are a few wrecks in the area, the main draw here is the wall dives, caves, and blue holes ranging from 30 to 130 feet. The island remains untouched by commercialization, and remains an eco-tourism gem.
A "pirate ship" in Newport, RI — Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan
The port town of Newport, RI was a safe haven for pirates, and a prime place for them to unload their cargo and celebrate their journeys. For many years, piracy was tolerated and - in some ways - encouraged. Eventually, Newport caved under pressures from England, banned piracy, and hung 26 pirates in Washington Square. Prior to that, it was the place to be seen if you were pirate (numerous pirate-themed tours are available in Newport). Diving here should be done under excellent conditions (the visibility is not as high as it is in the Caribbean). The Gooseberry Arches are an easy dive with plenty of rocks and fish, while advanced divers should check out the U-853, a German U-Boat that sunk in 1945. During your dives, keep your eyes peeled for lobster! If you are feeling adventurous, Snappa Charters offers shark cage diving.
Divers in the Dominican Republic — Photo courtesy of DivingDominicanRepublic.com
Divers are still uncovering ship wrecks today, and sometimes they turn up in the most obvious of places. In 2007, the Quedagh Merchant was discovered in 10 feet of water, just 70 feet from Catalina Island, in the Dominican Republic. Divers (and snorkelers) can now have a chance to explore an actual pirate ship! The vessel was abandoned in 1669 by pirate Captain William Kidd as he fled to New York in an attempt to clear his name. (He was eventually hanged in London for piracy). The wreck was discovered virtually intact (not looted), and has now become a living undersea museum. The island also offers plenty of opportunities for wall dives, caves, other wrecks, and reef dives.
A Green Turtle in Cozumel, Mexico — Photo courtesy of Cozumel-Mexico-Tours
Just off the coast of the Yucatan Pennisula rests Cozumel, a scuba divers dream and popular stop for cruise ships and honeymooners, but at one time the sparkling, romantic island was abandoned by the Spanish. After Hernán Cortéz destroyed much of the Cozumel's Mayan ruins, he left with his men and an epidemic of smallpox took its toll on the remaining population, leaving Cozumel virtually isolated. Many pirates took advantage of the island's abandonment and key location, but perhaps the most well known was Jean Lafitte, a French pirate whose life is hidden by a cloak of mystery. Today, the waters of Cozumel are ranked among the best dive sites because of the Great Maya Barrier Reef, the second largest reef system on the planet, and as a bonus, special snorkeling tours are available on a "pirate ship."
The Florida Keys
Pirates of the Schooner Wolf, Key West — Photo courtesy of The Schooner Wolf
Want to play pirate? Head to the Florida Keys. In Islamorada, the El Zorro ship offers pirate-themed cruises (costumes and all) and the Schooner Wolf in Key West can be chartered for a full day of pirate fun. The Dry Tortugas National Park, a series of islands off the coast of Key West used to be a hiding place for pirates, and is now home to hundreds of wrecks including the Nuestra Senora del Rosario, a Spanish galleon that went down in 1622. One easy dive is the Avanti, an iron-hauled sailing shop which lies in 20 feet of water near Loggerhead Key. If you have your own boat, talk with park rangers about the locations of some of the wrecks (however, they do keep some a secret). Once you return to the Key West and get your “land legs” established, head over to the Mel Fisher Museum. The famous treasure hunter displays gold doubloons, cannons, shackles, jewelry, pottery, and other authentic artifacts from salvaged ships.