I must confess, my diving days are pretty limited and verging on non-existent. There was this one time in the Gili Islands where I attempted to snorkel. All was going well until I spotted a deadly sea snake and my goggles steamed up so fast from trying to scream underwater, that I was temporarily blinded and convinced I’d been attacked. Needless to say, my leap into diving reached a shallow end. Fortunately, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some ridiculously savvy divers on my travels that are willing to share their top diving spots. Whether you want to give diving a go in the warm waters of the red sea, find Nemo in the South Pacific or catch sunrises in Thailand, here are the best diving holidays in the world – from the experts.
Nicki Silvanus – Koh Phangan
Thailand may be famous for its palm trees and parties, but Koh Phangan has a lot more to offer than neon paint and full moon. The island is incredibly beautiful and has something for everyone. On top of incredible dive sites, it has a plethora of great bars, restaurants and beaches. Back to the diving though, last time I was there I dived at Sail Rock. You can get there from either Phangan or Koh Tao. We saw three or four whalesharks there, which was hands down the most incredible moment of my life. Sail Rock is perfect for beginners too, although I’d suggest having a few lessons in a swimming pool first. Recently at Koh Angthong National Park (not too far from the southern Thai island) they recently saw a pod of pilot whales! Koh Lanta is also a great place to dive once you’ve built up your confidence.
David Anderson – Seychelles, Maldives, Thailand
I’m going a bit diva here, but my favourite diving holiday has to be the Seychelles or the Maldives. The novelty of being able to dive straight from the jetty and drop straight into the reef is fantastic. Taking a James Bond style speedboat over the turquoise waters is also pretty cool. Some islands are richer in marine life than others, but on most you’ll see everything from clown fish (that certainly had a cameo in Finding Nemo), stingrays, mantra rays, dozens of turtles, sharks and, if you’re lucky, dolphins and the odd whale shark. Cool little story for you – having spent the morning deep sea fishing and seeing mantra rays for the first time, I was already buzzing. As I was surfacing I heard a strange, purring noise. Just a flipper away was a humpback whale and swimming right towards me to say hello was a dolphin. A perfect example of what the Indian Ocean has to offer. Obviously, it’s a bit of a pricey place to learn to dive there, so for first timers or for a more wallet-friendly option head to Davey Jones locker in Koh Tao. I recently came back from being a PADI instructor there and nothing beats walking to work as the sun rises across the island. The water could easily be mistaken for a bath…one that’s filled with turtles and plenty of fish, and no sign of a rubber duck.
Greg Beckett – Vanuatu, Egypt
Not as expensive as you might think, Vanuatu in the South Pacific is actually amazing value for money and relatively unspoilt. A beginner could easily dive the majority of dive sites and will see sharks, eels, turtles and miles of vibrant coral. Try and visit some of the mainland to hike active volcanoes and delve into the tropical rainforest, the wildlife is just as exotic. There’s also some indigenous tribe you can visit which give you a experts insight into the terrain – both on and off land. If you’re looking for something a little closer to home, Egypt is super cheap and has an amazing array of sea life. Those that like to live life on the wild side, try a shark cage dive.
Thea Richards – Koh Thao
My favourite diving holiday destination is without a doubt the island of Koh Tao in Thailand. It would be ridiculous to give any other answer, as on my second visit to the island I fell so in love that a 2 week holiday turned into 10 months! I could splash around in the sea living out my mermaid fantasies, choose between Thai street food, Buddha bowls or Canadian poutine (to name a few choices) for dinner, and then have a wild night partying at the beach bars. Perfect. Even if you’re just there for a week, getting insider tips on lesser known activities and beaches will really enrich your island experience. For me Koh Tao wasn’t just about the big nights out – although they are incredible! I was also shown some insanely beautiful hikes, took an open air trapeze class with Goodtime Adventures, and tried paddle board yoga for the first time at Maya Beach Club. It’s a misconception that the Thai islands are all about buckets of alcohol and full moon parties; I’d really encourage visitors to have those awesome nights out, but to also look beyond that and appreciate the natural beauty of the island itself. Protecting that beauty something that locals are becoming increasingly passionate about, with most bars and restaurants now using non-plastic straws. Koh Tao’s main deal is diving. When I arrived I had already decided that there was no way I was going to try scuba – it looked scary and uncomfortable. But Koh Tao worked it’s magic and within a week I found myself on a boat, getting strapped into a BCD to try a PADI Discover Scuba Dive. First dive, terrifying. Second dive, not so bad. Third dive, hooked!
Koh Tao is perfect for first time divers because the conditions are predictable and generally extremely calm. For this reason many dive schools will take you straight out on the ocean for your first dive rather than to a pool, which I highly recommend doing. Also worth mentioning is that it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to get your certifications. Experienced divers may find the conditions and scenery on standard fun dives a little too chilled, so for you mermaid folk I recommend taking advantage of the perfect learning conditions by getting a new specialty certification, or finding a school that is going to farther out dive site like Chumpon, where Whale Sharks are regularly spotted at certain times of the year.
When it comes to picking a school to dive with the prices are pretty much identical across the island, so it’s all about what you’re looking for. Are you happy to go straight out to the ocean rather than a pool? Would you rather a big class where you’ll meet more people, or a small class where you’ll have more support? From personal experience I can say that it makes a big difference if you can find a teacher who you genuinely like and get along with – the best instructors I ever had were also some of my closest friends, and I consider the memories of our spent underwater together to be some of my most valuable possessions.
One last, extremely important tip… don’t forget to buy your instructor a beer after class.
Sarah Heuser – Corona, The Philippines
To me, diving is like escaping into a different world. One with no gravity, complete freedom and a blur of kaleidoscopic colours. My favourite diving spot is Coron, a little place on Busuanga Island in one of the prettiest regions of the Philippines, Palawan. Its diving spots go beyond the usual. The famous limestone cliffs create an epic underwater panorama, including caves and reefs, and are home to some of the most colourful fish and reef sharks. It’s here that I experienced my first ‘hot and cold’ dive. The Barracuda lake (yes, there’s Barracuda fish in it, too) in Coron is a freshwater diving spot located in an off duty volcano crater! There’s few fish, but the temperature changes from 27 – 40 degrees while u go down. You can literally see the heat swinging in the water! If you are down for some historical sightseeing, leave your diving gear on and make your way to the famous wreck-dives. When I first saw the Japanese tanker Okikawu Maru, it nearly took my breath away (which is kind of ironically if you are underwater). The dive into the ship is only for advanced divers, but the view itself, including all the fish living in and around it, is a unique experience! Coron is a small place and you will find other divers in every Hostel you go to, because this place is all-singing-all-diving-experience!