The sunny island of Jamaica is much more than just listening to reggae music, sipping delicious rum and sunbathing on stunning sandy beaches. Scuba diving in Jamaica is surprisingly interesting and will offer something exciting to divers of all levels. From overhangs covered in soft coral, to shipwrecks and wall dives, the waters of Jamaica hide some gems that are truly worth exploring.
Located in the heart of the Caribbean Sea, 90 miles South of Cuba and 600 miles South of Florida, Jamaica is just a quick flight away from all major American airports. The island, with an area of over 4400 square miles, is the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean Sea, which makes it an easy destination to navigate for diving enthusiasts from around the world.
Ready to enjoy the Caribbean dream and discover the best scuba diving in Jamaica? Then read on as we show you what marine life to expect, where to see it, and what makes each region different for diving!
Scuba Diving in Jamaica: An Island Full of Surprises
The name Jamaica actually comes from the Taino word Xaymaca which means “The Land of Wood and Water”. The beauty of its coasts, rivers, waterfalls, and jungles, alongside Jamaica’s world famous culture is why it’s become a tourist destination.
Nestled in the magnificent Caribbean Sea, and surrounded by more popular dive destinations such as the Florida Keys, Cuba, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, Jamaica actually has surprising underwater scenery that will leave divers and snorkelers pleasantly surprised.
The north coast is rich and versatile, and offers three major diving areas that are well served by hotels, resorts and transportation alike. The three major towns of Negril in the west, Montego Bay and then Ocho Rios more to the east, have different peculiarities and interesting locations. Divers of all levels can experience the true Jamaican underwater landscape, with its beautiful corals and vibrant marine life. We look at all three areas for diving below.
Even though the different sides of the island look quite different underwater, the common features of Jamaican dives are the presence of huge healthy sponges and coral reefs surrounded by sandy bottoms. There’s many interesting and exciting animals too, such as sea turtles, eagle rays, stingrays, octopuses, squids and plenty of nurse sharks.
Even though the shallower reefs are still unfortunately attacked by illegal fishermen that carelessly break the corals while spearfishing, the best dive locations in Jamaica belong to Marine Protected Areas and are therefore in better shape.
Let’s see where to find the best diving in Jamaica!
Scuba Diving in Negril and Best Dive Sites
The so-called Capital of Casual, Negril, is located between the parishes of Westmoreland and Hanover, in the west side of the island. It’s particularly popular among beach lovers thanks to the presence of the famous 7 Miles Beach.
Other famous attractions in this town are Rick’s Café, which has spectacular sunset views and professional divers that plunge from cliffs. But there’s also wonderful snorkeling and diving reefs here too.
The sea bottom in Negril gently slopes from the surface and creates a shallow plateau in the majority of this area. Breathtaking shallow overhang systems are typical of this side of the island, and are covered in soft corals that often give shelter to peaceful nurse sharks, moray eels and octopuses.
Negril is also known among snorkelers for Booby Cay Island where families of spotted eagle rays live peacefully, and a close-by shallow reef where an old cannon and anchor can be seen, lying underwater since the sinking of Calico Jack’s pirate ship in 1720… at least according to local guides.
Negril is also a special place for exciting and dramatic encounters underwater: this is the only place in Jamaica where scalloped hammerhead sharks, tiger sharks, bull sharks and whale sharks have reported to have been spotted. That makes it a must visit Jamaica diving location.
Don’t miss the dive at the Arches either for its colorful and healthy soft corals, and the small Cessna plane wreck which is surrounded by a thriving reef and offers shelter, in its cabin, to a multitude of glass fish.
Scuba Diving in Montego Bay and Best Dive Sites
Montego Bay, also called Mo Bay, is Jamaica’s second city – second only to the capital, Kingston. A vibrant hub of business and tourism activities, Montego Bay can be reached easily via cruise ship or plane.
Various places attract tourists in this town, such as the famous Hip Strip, the long Jimmy Cliff Boulevard where all the best restaurants and shops can be found – including the famous Margaritaville and the more recent Coral Cliff game lounge. The spooky Great House, a stunning haunted villa in the area of Rose Hall, lures people fascinated by paranormal activities, while the luminous lagoon in Falmouth is not too far and offers the unique experience of swimming in a naturally bioluminescent lagoon.
Scuba diving in Montego Bay offers encounters with green moray eels, turtles, stingrays, nurse sharks and lobsters. And thanks to the presence of a massive marine protected area, diving in Montego Bay can be extremely rewarding. The reefs in the protected area drop dramatically into a deep wall after a sandy plateau, and the Widowmaker’s Cave is a dive not to be missed for advanced divers that love the thrill of cave-like diving.
Further east, Stingray City is another gem of the area, where a number of huge stingrays lay peacefully on the sandy bottom, whilst Fish Pond will surprise you with its biodiversity.
Scuba Diving in Ocho Rios and Best Dive Sites
The lovely Ocho Rios, Ochie for the locals, also hosts a busy cruise ship port and is particularly famous for a few special natural attractions such as Mystic Mountain, where tourists can do zip lining or swim in the pool at the top of the mountain, and the enchanting Blue Hole where you can go swimming and diving surrounded by lush nature.
Diving in the Ocho Rios area is extremely rewarding. This part of the island is more exposed to the eastern winds, so the waters can sometimes be quite choppy, but Kathryn’s Shipwreck, Fantasy Reef and the Mountain are dive sites that absolutely should not be missed.
Kathryn’s Shipwreck is a Canadian minesweeper that lies at a depth of about 50 feet, making it easily accessible for divers of every level. It is in fairly good condition, and the colorful brain corals on the top make it really appealing to the eye. Small areas allow some form of easy penetration, and don’t be afraid of the territorial barracudas!
Fantasy Reef, not too far from the wreck, is famous in the area for the shallow collection of underwater statues, while the thrilling Mountain is a deep pinnacle rising from over 130 feet and reaching a depth of about 60 feet. Turtles, barracudas, nurse sharks, eagle rays and lobsters are typical encounters around this massive rock, and the corals and sponges living on it are some of the healthiest in the entire country.
Tips For Any Scuba Diving in Jamaica Vacation
If you want to experience the best diving in Jamaica, we recommend avoiding the hurricane season, which runs from June through November.
During this time of the year the island can be affected by heavy rains, storms and bad visibility underwater. However, it is safe to say that Jamaica is normally excluded from the dreadful path of hurricanes, and therefore good sunny days are absolutely typical of the so-called rainy season as well. Rain showers are common but pretty quick, and Jamaicans welcome them as “liquid sunshine”, so they won’t ruin your entire day.
During this time of the year hotels and resorts, as well as flights, are normally cheaper, so it’s a good option just in case you want to save some money to spend on diving instead! The remaining months of the year, December to May, are considered high season in the Caribbean, and are definitely the best in terms of weather and sea conditions, allowing tourists to dive every day and enjoy flat seas and stunning visibility.
If you visit Jamaica from a cruise ship, you will have limited time to spend diving, so we recommend getting in touch with a local dive operator of your choice in advance: they will arrange transportation from the cruise ship and back to it, and offer an all-inclusive package.
If you are staying at one of the numerous resorts all over the north coast, you will have plenty of choices for daily and night dives, full day dive trips and local single or double tank dives.
Where to stay in Jamaica
There are two international airports in Jamaica: Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, the capital, and Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.
While Kingston is the ideal spot for monuments, business, music and sports buildings and historical locations, the north side of the island is the best for beach lovers, snorkelers and divers. Therefore, if your plan while vacationing in Jamaica is diving, then flying to Montego Bay is by far the best option.
Located on the North Coast, at an ideal distance from the other major dive destinations, Negril and Ocho Rios, Montego Bay is the perfect starting point for any dive holiday.
All inclusive resorts are the most popular accommodation in these three resort towns. The choice is yours: hotels can be kid-friendly, family oriented or for adults only. Some are luxurious while others are more low-key, and many of them have private watersports or diving centers. Although numerous locally-owned operators can be found outside of these resorts for a more authentic and cheaper experience.
For visitors on a budget, hostels, bed and breakfasts and regular three star hotels are available too. For those who love and cherish their privacy, it is possible to rent beautiful villas throughout the entire country too.