It has been argued that strategies to manage natural areas important for tourism and recreation should integrate an understanding of tourist preferences for specific natural features. However, the accuracy of tourist recalled perceptions of environmental attributes, which are usually derived from post hoc surveys and used to establish management priorities, is currently unmeasured. We tested the validity of the relationship between tourist-stated preferences and actual condition of coral reefs around the Caribbean island of Bonaire. Using standardized questionnaires, we asked 200 divers to select their most and least favorite dive sites and the attributes that contributed to that selection. We also carried out ecological surveys at 76 of the 81 dives sites around the island to assess the actual conditions of the attributes indicated as important for site selection. Fish- and coral-related attributes were key features affecting dive enjoyment. In general, divers appeared to be able to perceive differences between sites in the true condition of biological attributes such as fish species richness, total number of fish schools, live coral cover, coral species richness, and reef structural complexity, although men and women divers differed in their ability to perceive/recall some of the attributes. Perceived differences in environmental attributes, such as surface conditions, underwater current, and the likelihood of encountering rare fish and sea turtles, were not empirically validated. The fact that divers perceive correctly differences in the condition of some of the key biological attributes that affect dive enjoyment reinforces the need to maintain overall reef condition at satisfactory levels. However, variation in accuracy of perceptions owing to demographic factors and attribute type suggests the need for caution when using public perceptions to develop environmental management strategies, particularly for coral reefs.