Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands
One of the bummers about learning to scuba dive is that most of your first dives take place right from the beach, while all the good stuff — the brightest coral, most exotic fish — is out in the deeper ocean, accessible only by boat. Not so in Bonaire, which boasts 53 world-class sites that are shore dives. Simply gear up and step right into the sea, no boat required. Located at the far southern end of the Caribbean, Bonaire has desertlike conditions and sees very little rainfall; as a result, the water is calm, clear, and silt-free year-round. More than 20 outfitters offer every conceivable kind of experience — from beginning PADI or NAUI certifications (four days, $400) to night diving and underwater-photography classes. For dive packages, check out Coral Paradise Resort, 100 steps from the sea, where a seven-night deal with a rental truck (for your tanks) and unlimited shore diving runs around $950 per person. Blue Divers has 10 apartments around a swimming pool ($85 per night); for another $25 per day you get unlimited shore diving.
For those who really want to push the limits, Rec Tek Scuba teaches the kind of technical diving needed for the crazy-deep stuff — like the wreck of the WindJammer, a three-mast sailing ship that sank in 1912 and now sits on the ocean floor, 200 feet below.
Getting there: Delta flies nonstop to Bonaire from Atlanta. United has direct flights on Saturdays from Newark and Houston.