Exploring Jamaica's Reefs
By Lynn Seldon
April 13, 2004
In James Michener's Caribbean, several American students meet a Rastafarian in Jamaica and he tells them about his country. Michener writes, "His story fascinated the Americans: Marcus Garvey and his vision of a return to Africa. . .the rituals, customs, the arcane language, the vision of a black hegemony in the Caribbean and the music."
Jamaica and its people were music to the ears of these Americans and are still music to the regulators of lots of divers. But dive travel is more than just time spent blowing bubbles. It's the entire package of diving and surface time used to enjoy the culture. This package is perfect in Jamaica.
Many great dive islands in the Caribbean have developed their tourism efforts around divers. However, Jamaican tourism has blossomed around great resorts and incredible culture. They just happen to have some excellent diving.
This is an island for explorers who keep coming back for more. Whether it's a day on the beach, an incredible hike in the beautiful Blue Mountains, or mingling with the friendly locals over some lip-burning and mouth-watering jerk pork, cold Red Stripe beer, and reggae music, Jamaica is well worth deep exploration.
The reports concerning crime and the hassles of Jamaican travel are basically a thing of the past. There are still occasional problems, but it's hardly different from other Caribbean islands or American cities. Just like in diving, common sense and caution should prevail.
The development of many resorts on the island (including an incredible selection of all-inclusive properties) and the availability of many affordable villas have made exploration even easier. The staff at almost any resort can help arrange an interesting outing. Some of the best ideas include heading into the heart of the Blue Mountains, finding some real reggae, eating jerk at a small stand, playing a round of golf, or just hiring a local guide (it's best done through the resort) for a full day to drive you to some of his favorite spots.
A great way to explore the island more intimately is with Jamaica's excellent "Meet the People" program. Through an arrangement with the Jamaica Tourist Board, visitors are put in touch with like-minded locals who want to show off their country in a personal way. Possibilities include a round of golf, joining a family for church and a meal, enjoying a local cultural event, or maybe even a dive.
The options are almost endless and it's just a matter of asking about the program at the front desk of any hotel or contacting the Jamaica Tourist Board before departure. It's a uniquely Jamaican cultural experience.
If the culture doesn't get you, the diving will. Jamaica is a volcanic island of about 4,400 square miles, with the Blue Mountains reaching 7,400 feet above sea level. The island rests on the edge of the Cayman Trench and features excellent diving at all depths.
Over the years, the ravages of hurricanes and poor reef management have taken their toll on Jamaica. The island is still recovering, but many steps, like buoys for anchoring and lots of care and training, are being taken to improve the conditions. Another example recently saw the ban on the sale of all black coral extended to include white coral. Sea turtles are also protected by law.
One of the most active organizations in reef and diving improvement is the Jamaica Association of Dive Operators. Along with governmental agencies, they have adopted many rules to protect the reefs and make diving more enjoyable (dive groups tend to be smaller and friendlier). But don't be surprised to find a few surly staff members--it's not unusual for a check-out of a certified and experienced diver to include having equipment thrown in the pool to be retrieved and "correctly" donned. Luckily, this surliness is becoming much less prevalent.
Most of the diving occurs along the northern shore, just off the gorgeous white sand beaches and some great resorts. Many of the sites are still relatively unexplored and most are uncrowded.