October 31, 2004
Story by Susan Enfield Esrey Photos by Michael Lawrence/ Lonely Planet Images
Experienced divers exploring such popular all inclusive Caribbean vacation spots as Little Cayman's Bloody Bay Wall or the Wreck of the Rhone in the British Virgin Islands have become well acquainted with the telltale sign of underwater traffic jams: circles of dive boats moored at the busiest destinations.
Avoiding the crowds may require making an extra plane connection, but the compensations for the added travel are less crowded, more tranquil wonders above and below water.
Here are four adventure travel tours that should guarantee more fish life than fellow divers.
GLOVERS REEF ATOLL, BELIZE It's tough to go far wrong diving the atolls beyond the world's second largest barrier reef, off the coast of Belize, the happy result of eons of coral growth along giant geological fault lines, which have produced sheer, 2,000-foot drop-offs. This is one of the best adventure vacations we have found.
Belize's two northerly major atolls, Turneffe Islands and Lighthouse Reef, have renowned dive sites - notably, the 412-foot-deep Blue Hole. But farther south, Glovers is out of reach for day trippers and so, often all yours to explore.
If you stay on 13-acre Long Caye, you are surrounded by the reef's 54 miles of wall diving. Clear turquoise water reveals a gaudy display of delicate sea fans and pillar coral. While you nose around to find the indigenous celebrity - the white-lined toad fish - nurse sharks, sea turtles and dolphins will check you out.
Between dives, the atoll's 82-square-mile shallow lagoon is ideal for snorkeling from a sea kayak. Paddlers startle spotted eagle rays and bonefish on the way to the 700-plus patch reefs.
On the mainland, you can explore Belize Mayan ruins and take a boat up the Monkey River from a base in the sleepy fishing village of Placencia, which is also a day-trip diving center.
Diving: Slick Rock Adventures and Long Caye Dive Shop, (800) 390-5715 and www.slickrock.com, are right on Long Caye and personalize trips to divers' skill levels. Free diving is also available. For further information on this eco tour, visit their website.