Cave scuba diving is a category of scuba diving in which technically qualified divers explore the physical features of natural and artificial caves. It’s a specialized division of the sport, with unique equipment, rules and qualifications, but any seasoned cave diver will deliver a wall of sound about how worthwhile it is to get into overhead environments. Curious? Time to pack your mask and buy a ticket.
1. The Great Blue Hole at Belize’s Lighthouse Reef needs no introduction to a scuba aficionado. It’s the ultimate–a perfectly circular limestone sinkhole, 300’ across and 412’ deep–and it sends hundreds of scuba divers a year scrambling for their PADI Deep Diver certification. The intense blue water opens into a cave system with elaborate coral and stalactite formations as well as a hoppin’ neighborhood full of eye-boggling schools of sharks.
2. Cave diving in Emergence du Russel in France gives novice divers and experienced divers a memorable caving experience. The deep entrance is fun to encounter in and of itself–then it splits into two tunnels. One tunnel stays at 10m, the other drops repeatedly until it reaches a depth of over 70m.
3. Once you’ve found your way to the epic scuba diving in Mexico’s Blue Abyss, you’ll be one of the privileged few that have experienced the wonder. Blue Abyss divers get their socks knocked off by a series of imposing (yet delicate) cave decorations, including colorful flowstones that almost encapsulate the rocks. Also, it’s blue. Blue, blue, blue. You’ve seen some blue in your scuba diving days, but you ain’t seen Blue Abyss blue. Really.
4. The Cuzan Nah Loop in the Sac Aktun cave system proves a very important point: in scuba diving, size does matter. It’s the world’s longest underwater cave system, and it’s made even more exhilarating by the beautiful, massive, cave decorations you’ll discover there. What’s more–it’s EASY. You suit up next to the tables located right next to the parking lot, waddle a teensy distance to the edge, descend a set of stairs to the dock, and jump on in. Voila: instant cave dive.
5. For a bit of cave scuba Americana, go south. Mill Pond in Marianna, Florida, conceals four vastly different cave systems in its depths: Jackson Blue, Hole in the Wall, Twin Cave, and Shangri-La. You wouldn’t expect it, but you’ll enjoy clear, avg-68° water down here. It’s a full day’s diving, too: the main line goes back almost 5000′, and there are thousands more feet of side passages along the way.
6. We’re going to give you some advice: GO TO ZIMBABWE. You’ll love it for all sorts of reasons (heck, we can’t wait to go back!), but here’s a very, very compelling one: Chinhoyi. The Chinhoyi Cave offers cave scuba diving like you’ve never experienced before, we promise. It’s fraught with challenges, sure–but you love those. Zimbo divers that enter one of the tunnels could easily see four branches leading off in different directions, and it’s 120m to the warm, blue bottom. (Chinhoyi was a local tribal chief who, demonstrating typical Zimbo resourcefulness, used the caves to hide from raiders. How cool is that?)
7. The Alghero Caves are, arguably, the very best caves in the Mediterranean for scuba diving. Tucked away in the warm Sardinian waters close to Porto Conte bay, there is the most important cave diving site in the Mediterranean Sea. More than three hundred (!) caves pepper the massive limestone cliffs of Capo Caccia and Punta Giglio both above and below the waterline, thirty of which are large sea caves (and many of which are smaller offshoots). The Nereo Cave, the largest in the Mediterranean, is the belle of the ball, with stalactite formations of every description and size that surround divers on their decent to the cave’s floor. (Plus, your surface intervals are wine-soaked and fancy free!)
8. If you’ve ever played Peter Pan in a high school production of the play, you’ll know what it’s like to start your scuba dive at the Abismo Anhumas Cave in Benito, Brazil. (It requires divers to be lowered to the entrance in a harness.) Once you’re in, you’ll take in immense rock columns that stretch from floor to ceiling, as well as fascinatingly textured, stripey walls. If you plan to dive here, though, be aware: you won’t be able to get by on your PADI certification. Once in-country, get certified by IBAMA (El Instituto Brasileiro de Administração do Meio Ambiente).
9. Whether or not you give a hoot about cigars, you now have a reason to wrangle a trip to Cuba: El Cenote, in Matanzas Province. At one time this cave was dry, and the impressive stalactites that formed there during centuries of tropical rainstorms provide a jaw-dropping backdrop for a scuba dive. A new species of fish was discovered here–lucky scuba divers might catch a glimpse!
10. If you’re a serious cave diver with a solid head screwed onto your shoulders, you just might be able to handle the lost world of “blue holes” that waits in the Bahamas. This is not scuba diving for the faint of heart. The caves seem to disappear into the nether, pumping salt water through an immense network of labyrinthine subterranean passages that ebb and flow with the tide. As well as supporting ample marine life, the network of tunnels is the perfect tomb for all manner of ancient animals. Beware, though–blackouts are frequent, as you’ll be swimming through a dangerous maze. It’s the scuba dive of a lifetime, though, and if you’re ready for it…it’s time to go!