Top Dive Island: Bonaire

Bonaire is known as “the shore-diving capital of the world,” and it really does feel purpose-built for divers, with gently sloping reefs, sheer walls, world-class wrecks, and colorful corals and marine life all within a few steps of the coastline.

Bonaire Highlight

A standout on Bonaire is a night dive on the Hilma Hooker. This 236-foot vessel lies fully intact on its side in 100 feet of water. During the day it makes an awesome dive, but at night it takes on a whole different persona.

The vast majority of the dive sites are located on the west coast, and finding any of the numerous hot spots entails simply driving along the coastal road and keeping an eye out for large yellow stones with site names written on them. No schedules to keep, no guides to follow, just you, your buddy and Bonaire’s underwater wonderland. If you really want something different, Buddy Dive Resort dive manager Augusto Montbrun recommends a special drift dive. “Taking the high plunge from La Dania’s Leap and then drifting to Karpata for the exit makes a wonderful dive,” he says.

The majority of hotels and resorts on the island cater specifically to divers, with handy features such as drive-through air-fill stations, drying rooms and rinse tanks. And when you aren't diving, Karels Beach Bar, City Café and Tropical Ranch are popular watering holes with the divemasters. If you want to be totally immersed in the culture — where you will live and breathe all things diving — it would be hard to find a better destination. — Mark Evans

Travel Tip: While shore diving, don't leave any valuables in your rental vehicle, and leave the windows open. It will deter potential thieves, but it will also save you from a sweltering ride back to the resort.

When to Go: December through April brings some of the coolest weather and calmest seas.

Getting There: Continental, American, Northwest and Delta all fly to Bonaire (BON) from U.S. cities.

Dive Conditions: Bonaire's waters have been a protected marine park for 25 years, with water temps from 78°F to 84°F and 100-foot visibility.

Operators/Accommodations: Buddy Dive (www.buddydive.com); Captain Don's Habitat (www.habitatbonaire.com); Plaza Resort Bonaire (www.plazaresortbonaire.com); Sand Dollar Condominium Resort (www.divesanddollar.com).