First there was Christopher Columbus, met by the waters of Guanahani in 1492.
And then, 530 years later, there was SpongeBob.
SpongeBob is a 25-pound Nassau Grouper that calls Long Bay home, the most famous current resident of a bay that was the first landfall of Columbus and his crew on Oct. 12, 1492.
Today, tiny San Salvador, called Guanahani by the native Lucayans, is the frontier of The Bahamas, a far-off Out Island with sparkling beaches, blue holes and some of the best diving anywhere on earth.
Captain Bruce Niro has been diving these waters and running a robust dive operation for four decades, an earnest steward of some of the most pristine coastline you’ll find in the hemisphere.
It’s a place of pilgrimage for divers (and snorkelers) the world over, anchored by the reef at Long Bay that starts out at 40 feet offshore and a wall that begins less than 200 yards off the coast.
What’s different here, Niro says, is the sheer size of the marine life.
“Other places, you don’t see big fish, you see grunts and yellowtails, nothing big,” he says. “Here, your have reef sharks, Nassau groupers, rock groupers, mutton snappers.”
But the biggest draw is SpongeBob, the most popular – and certainly most friendly – resident of these waters.
And then in the winter, the bay teems with hammerhead sharks.
And it stays that way, thanks to San Salvador’s remoteness and fishermen who know better than to enter the coast’s protected areas.
What makes it so special, Niro says, is the lack of crowds.
“We don’t get 200 divers a week here, that’s what keeps our wall healthy.”
And while Long Bay, the place where Columbus arrived, is spectacular, this relatively tiny island is home to a whopping 50 dive sites, all within easy access of the shoreline up and down the western coast.
And the best way to see it is with Captain Bruce (and colleague Captain Tony Mackey), whose Guanahani Divers operation, part of the Riding Rock Inn, is the island’s best.
While San Salvador has an international airport, there’s just one nonstop flight per week from Miami. Otherwise you have to arrive on Bahamasair through Nassau. There is regular service on Air Caraibes from Paris, thanks to the island’s Club Med resort, and nonstop service from Montreal on Air Canada.
The island’s best place to stay is the 18-room Sands Hotel, with a prime perch over a stunning San Salvador Beach, right next door to the larger Riding Rock Resort.
Plainly, there are few islands like this anywhere in the region. And that’s what makes it perhaps the ultimate Caribbean diving destination.
“I’ve got divers that come here three, four times a year and don’t go anywhere else,” Niro says.
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