6 Thrilling Dive Destinations Around the World
Many dive snobs place a premium on out-of-the-way destinations. The harder to reach, the better. This list is not for them. For most vacation divers, what matters-in addition to the diving, of course-are topside attractions from eco-adventures to cities and towns worth exploring, and accessibility. After all, not everyone has the time or inclination to jump multiple time zones just to get wet! Forget a roundup of far-flung destinations you’ll only dive once in your life.
Here are six exhilirating dive destinations-a couple far, but most a same-day journey from major Canadian cities-that you can enjoy now and for years to come.
Los Cabos, Mexico
What Makes it Notable: Los Cabos, which includes Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo, lies at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez. The marine environment boasts migratory species (including humpback and grey whales) as well as wildlife endemic to both bodies of water. Topside, Cabo San Lucas is known for its nightlife, beaches and possible celebrity sightings.
What the Diving’s Like: Hypnotic. “With over 900 species of reef fish, the Sea of Cortez is one of the most prolific bodies of water on earth. It’s known for encounters with large pelagics like whale sharks and giant mantas, and also one of the areas where hammerheads school,” says Kevin Colter American expat and owner of Amigos Del Mar De Los Cabos.
Bucket List Dive Site: Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. See giant rays, 100 lb groupers, sea turtles and playful sea lions. Then crack open a cold Pacifico and eat fish tacos on a shady restaurant patio.
Vancouver Islands, Canada
What Makes it Notable: Jacques Cousteau called this the world’s top cold water diving. Topside, the eco-attractions are world-class with fantastic whale-watching opportunities including grey whales and humpbacks (plus orcas). Sea kayaking, hiking the Pacific Rim National Park, First Nations cultural experiences, beach combing and surfing round out the area attractions. Dive sites pepper Tofino, Ucluelet and Victoria.
What the Diving’s Like: If you’re willing to don a drysuit or 7mm + 7mm wetsuit layers, Tofino’s Clayoquot Sound offers a beguiling underwater world of giant kelp forests, Dayglo soft corals, crabs, rock fish, giant Pacific octopus, wolfish, anemones and other critters. Don’t be surprised if mischievous sea otters horn in on your space.
Bucket List Dive Site: Tofino’s Eagle Island has two dive sites, one an intertidal reef and the second a deep wall dive with minimal current, that’s covered in colourful anemones, nudibranchs and has a resident school of black rod cod said to enjoy “tagging along” for the duration of many dives.
What Makes it Notable: Besides great cold water diving, Seattle is known for its thriving arts scene, coffeehouse culture, locavore dining and outdoor pursuits including trail hiking in the Cascade Mountain Range. Boat charters offer whale and orca-watching opportunities.
What the Diving’s Like: Avid diver and Seattle local Amanda Castleman describes the nearby waters of Puget Sound as “teeming with colour and activity, not to mention shipwrecks, kelp forests and meadows of plumose anemones.” Other denizens of the deep include wolf eels and giant Pacific octopuses.
You’ll need to layer up in two 7mm-thick Neoprene suits, or wear a dry suit, to dive the roughly 10 degrees Celsius water, but “the views and adventure make any shivers worthwhile,” says Castleman.
Bucket List Dive Site: “Six-gill sharks circle freely under the pilings of Seattle’s Aquarium smack in the city’s center,” says Castleman. Sign up with a local dive shop and hope for a chance encounter with these creatures, which are usually only found in deep waters.
The Republic of Palau
What Makes it Notable: This off-the-beaten-track Pacific island chain 500 miles east of the Philippines is a secret no longer, but you can still dive with schools of colourful fish, not crowds of people. Après dive, just chill or explore: “Palau is also great for wilderness kayak expeditions,” says dive enthusiast Amanda Castleman.
What the Diving’s Like: “It’s dazzling with its sharks, mantas, high-currents, big-blue drop-offs and the Rock Islands, which are shaped like hybrids of a Chia Pet and a button mushroom,” says Castleman. Batee Tokong is known as a top moray eel hotspot with eight different types calling the dive site home. Other sites boast giant groupers, snappers, unicorn fish, barracuda, octopuses and venomous wonders like scorpion fish and lionfish.
Bucket List Dive Site: Snorkel Jellyfish Lake (diving isn’t allowed) with Fish ‘n Fins to check out the approximate five million golden jellyfish. The population is practically sting-less so unless you have a jellyfish allergy you can snorkel freely among these fascinating creatures.
The Red Sea Triangle
What Makes it Notable: You can explore the “Red Sea Triangle” with dives in neighbouring Eilat, Israel; Sinai, Egypt and Aqaba, Jordan in under one week. Use Eliat as your home base. Situated at the southernmost tip of Israel, the city offers great shopping, restaurants, and nightlife. Red Sea Sports Club has packages that get you to each point in the triangle with options to view historic sites and trek the desert.
What the Diving’s Like: Pristine reefs, remarkably calm, warm, crystal-clear water, over 2,500 species of marine life-include 270 corals-make this a biodiversity hub. A few notables: Napolean wrasse, tangerine orange coral groupers, big morays, various shark species, gigantic manta rays, sea turtles, dugongs and several types of dolphins.
Bucket List Dive Site: The Thistlegorm, off Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, is considered by many to be one of the 10 best dives in the world. The British warship was sunk by the Germans in 1941 and its cargo of vehicles and weaponry is in good condition. Experienced divers will find numerous penetration routes into the wreck.
What Makes it Notable: “Roatan has kept its originality with a mix of tourism, local tranquility and unspoiled nature. Next to diving you can find several points of interest: the iguana farm, the Garifuna village of Punta Gorda, mangrove tours, dolphin encounters and deep-sea fishing. West Bay Beach is one of the best beaches to hang out on and enjoy paradise,” says Anja Garrido Barnet, a German expat who settled in Roatan and opened Mayan Divers seven years ago. Be sure to also check out Gumbalimba Park, where you can zipline and meet free-roaming capuchin monkeys.
What the Diving’s Like: Set on the Caribbean Sea’s Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, there’s a variety of dive types (walls, wrecks, coral gardens, canyons, swim-throughs). Meet big groupers, barracuda, snappers, turtles, morays, scorpion fish, parrotfish, horse-eye jacks, seahorses and more.
Bucket List Dive Site: Spooky Channel. Zigzagging canyons and depths up to 95 feet make this a dive for intermediate to advanced divers, but even snorkeling above the crystal clear depths affords great views of behemoth groupers, as well as sea turtles and rays.