Dive right in to some of the world’s most exciting underwater experiences, says Katie McGonagle
Gaze out over a bright blue sea and it might seem as if nature doesn’t get any better – but duck under the surface and there’s a world even more alive with colour.
Fluorescent fish, tiny minnows moving as one enormous shoal, happy-go-lucky turtles swimming serenely and vast networks of brightly coloured coral – and that’s just the beginning.
Diving holidays are big business, but knowing where to direct would-be divers is something else entirely. Which shipwrecks do they most want to see? Are they experts or beginners? Is diving the priority, or just one part of a family or romantic holiday?
So here is our quick guide to some of the world’s most diverse dive spots.
The Great Barrier Reef is ‘great’ for a reason: the world’s largest coral reef system is 50% bigger than the UK, stretching more than 1,400 miles along the Queensland coastline. Competitive pricing and plenty of dive centres make it ideal for first-timers, who are guaranteed to see the reef’s dolphins, porpoises and more than 1,500 species of fish.
Book it: Contiki’s five-day Learn to Dive course in Cairns includes two nights’ in-resort and two on-board a boat, plus transfers, equipment and Padi open water certificate, from £640 without flights.
Great beaches don’t always make great dive spots – but the Maldives has both. Divers need not go far to see manta rays, tuna and whale sharks, but more advanced drift dives are also popular.
Book it: Seven nights’ premium all-inclusive at Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa costs from £3,605 with Western & Oriental, including five dives, international and domestic flights and transfers, in August and September.
Don’t fancy flying long-haul? Gozo’s calm waters are home to caverns, reefs, tunnels and wrecks suited to advanced divers, as well as offering shore dives for beginners. Depths vary from 12 metres to the 50-metre-deep underwater tunnel at Lantern Point off Comino.
Book it: A week’s B&B at the Hotel Calypso in Marsalforn starts at £561 with Belleair Holidays, including flights and transfers, for departures on September 20. The Calypso Dive Centre offers shore dives from £25 and Padi-certified courses from £209.
Turks & Caicos
Caribbean diving is world-renowned, but the 200-mile-long, 65-mile-wide reef surrounding the Turks & Caicos set these islands apart. The visibility is up to 60 metres, and there is diverse flora and fauna, including humpback whales.The family-orientated Beaches Turks & Caicos includes twice-daily dives for Padi-certified divers, while novices can try the three-hour Discover Scuba Diving course ($90) and little ones learn the basics on the Bubblemaker ($85) and Seal Team programmes ($150).
Book it: A week’s all-inclusive in a concierge room at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa starts at £2,530 in October, including flights, transfers and tips.
These Atlantic islands lie in the blue shark’s summer migration path, making them the ideal place to spot these unusual-looking creatures along with mako sharks and other marine life. Dive Worldwide’s Blue Shark Adventure, based in off-the-beaten-track Pico, is only for the experienced (at least 50 logged dives), but the specialist operator has also introduced a beginner’s package in Santa Maria that will offer divers the chance to spot sharks, barracuda, tuna and manta rays.
Book it: A week’s B&B at the Hotel Santa Maria on Santa Maria starts at £1,175, including flights and 10 dives. A week’s B&B on Pico starts at £1,095, including eight dives.
Sharm el-Sheikh is a firm favourite, according to Olympic Holidays’ diving executive Richard Ward. “Sharm offers a variety of dive sites within easy reach, with reefs and wrecks to explore, and competition keeps prices sensible,” he says. “Ras Mohammed National Park is my personal favourite.”Adding diving to a hotel stay is easiest for novices – one-day tasters start at £75 with Olympic – but the more experienced might prefer a liveaboard, which offers access to more distant dive sites.
Book it: A week on Snefro Pearl liveaboard starts at £1,199, including flights, transfers, meals, and day and night dives, departing September 14.
Looking for the best of both worlds? Thailand combines great diving with plenty for families or non-divers, so no one feels neglected. Popular choices include western resort Phuket for access to the Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock, and laid-back eastern island Koh Tao for the variety of species around Chumphon Pinnacle.
Book it: Eight nights’ B&B at family-friendly The Sands Khao Lak by Katathani starts at £899 with Travel 2, including Etihad flights and transfers. Sea Fun Divers in Khao Lak offers day trips to the Similan Islands from £85 for two dives.
Forget cute Nemo-like clownfish – South Africa has sharks. Cage dives are concentrated around Cape Town, but – strictly for experienced divers due to currents – Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks on the Durban coastline boast unrestricted access to hammerheads, tiger, bull and ragged-tooth sharks. Novice divers can still see plenty at Sodwana Bay, which is home to 1,200 species of fish, turtles, bottle-nosed dolphins, angelfish, migrating whales (April to July) and whale sharks (January and February).
Book it: 2by2 Holidays’ 10-night Scuba Diving: Sodwana Bay, Safari and Aliwal Shoal starts at £1,995 including mixed-board accommodation, flights, dives and equipment.
Shallow dive sites and short transfers make Playa del Carmen the place to combine a few dives with a relaxing beach holiday. Be on the lookout for turtles, barracudas, stingrays, nurse sharks and lobsters. More experienced divers can explore the caves and caverns dotted along this coastline, or wreck sites further north towards Cancun.
Book it: Funway offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at the Occidental Grand Xcaret from £899 for departures on October 9. The price includes a two-tank dive for certified divers and flights.
The Galapagos Islands are great for wildlife-spotting, but they are even more of a thrill for divers, being home to species such as whale sharks, hammerheads and manta rays. The islands are best suited to those with at least 50 dives under their belt because of the complex currents and cool water temperatures.
Book it: Original Diving offers nine nights’ full-board in a deluxe cabin on board Galapagos Sky from £4,250. The price includes dives, three excursions, all flights and a stopover in Guayaquil.
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