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Just over two decades ago, Mozambique was a country plagued by civil war, and for many years foreign embassies advised against travel within her borders. Nowadays, the strife and misery of conflict have lifted from Mozambique, and yet she still does not attract the same influx of tourists as her neighboring countries, South Africa and Tanzania. Her deserted beaches and rural coastal towns give those that do visit the sense of having stumbled upon a magnificent secret – a paradise place not yet tainted by the unsightly trappings of a fully-fledged tourist infrastructure. Predictably for a country with a coastline that extends for more 1,250 miles and whose shores are washed by the warm waters of the Agulhas current, possibilities for scuba diving in Mozambique are endless. In the south, the dive town of Ponta do Ouro is the first port of call for travelers coming from South Africa, whilst the north of the country is home to the stunningly remote Quirimbas Archipelago. In between, the coast is littered with such an array of unique dive sites that the greatest hardship of a visit to Mozambique will be trying to decide between them.
Perhaps the most famous draw of diving Mozambique is the marine megafauna found off Inhambane province. Towns like Zavora to the south of the region provide an excellent opportunity for spotting mantas in their multitudes, whilst Praiha do Tofo is known worldwide for the reliability of its whale shark sightings. There, visitors are able to swim alongside the largest fish in the ocean in absolute harmony, in conditions considerably less overcrowded and more organic than are found at many of the world’s more popular whale shark encounter destinations. Tofo’s dive sites are also home to several manta ray cleaning stations and like everywhere else in Mozambique, offer an astounding level of biodiversity that translates into reefs positively teeming with life. Mozambique’s impressively healthy marine ecosystem is thanks in large part to the creation of several protected areas along the country’s coastline- including the Primeiras And Segundas Marine Protected Area that extends between Pemba and the Tanzanian border, and the Maputo Protection Area to the south.
Whale sharks aside, there are plenty of other highlights to Mozambican diving. The Quirimbas and the Bazaruto Archipelagoes are both good places to see the dugong, a rare relative of the manatee. Together, the two species are the only vegetarian marine mammals in the world, and to encounter them in their natural environment is a real privilege that very few divers will ever get to experience. Mozambique’s waters are home to 2,000 fish species representing over 80% of those found in the Indo-Pacific region. They are also home to five species of turtle, and in a place where the topography ranges from shallow coral gardens to soaring deep-water pinnacles, there’s no limit to what can be spotted underwater. From the tiniest macro creatures, to resident bull sharks and passing sailfish, Mozambique is a country with the capacity to equally surprise and amaze at every turn. The show continues on the surface, too, where pods of dolphins are commonly seen on the way to and from a dive site. Between June and October, divers are almost guaranteed sightings of the humpback whales that pass close to shore on their migration from the cold waters of the Antarctic.
Thanks to the warm currents that flow southwards from the Equator, water temperatures in Mozambique are a pleasant 72-82°F, while the visibility can fluctuate greatly from 33- 130 feet. Often, reduced visibility occurs as a result of increased plankton levels in the water, in which case the abundant marine life that follows the plankton is well worth the murkiness of the water. Despite Mozambique’s laidback atmosphere and rustic vibe, it is possible for divers to find all the amenities they need, from casual backpacker dive centers to luxury scuba resorts. A wide range of Mozambique dive packages are available to help you make the absolute most of your time in a country so beautiful it cannot possibly remain a secret for much longer.
In 1994, legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau labelled Costa Rica’s Cocos Island as the most beautiful in the world: quite an accolade coming from a man who travelled to some of the planet’s most spectacular places during his lifetime. Located 340 miles off Costa Rica’s western shore, Cocos is certainly a breathtaking sight; a prehistoric landmass of jutting mountain peaks and lush rainforest emerging from the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. It has many unique features, including cloud forests that are found nowhere else in the region and which are home to a host of rare and endemic species. However, for all the beauty of the island’s verdant landscape and many, tumbling waterfalls, Cocos’ real magic lies not on land but beneath the waves that lap upon its shores. Sheer walls, strong currents, soaring pinnacles and an abundance of nutrient-rich upwellings combine to make the waters around Cocos some of the most diverse on the planet. Over the years, the dynamic nature of the island’s diving as well as the thrilling number of marine species found there have deservedly earned Cocos a reputation as a once-in-a-lifetime dive destination- and made it the undisputed highlight of scuba diving in Costa Rica.
The island’s underwater topography is a wonderland of caves, tunnels, channels and impressive pinnacles; all of which are home to over 300 species of fish, 27 of which are found nowhere else in the world. When diving Cocos, the possibilities for rare and unusual sightings are endless- from passing pelagics like yellowfin tuna and sailfish, to the many shark species for which the island is so famous. Of these, the most iconic of the island’s inhabitants are the scalloped hammerheads, which aggregate in their hundreds around Cocos’ underwater sea mounts. This is one of the few places in the world where divers can observe this extraordinary species in such numbers, and the sight is both incredibly beautiful and utterly unforgettable.
The hammerheads are by no means the only sharks to be found on Cocos’ dive sites, however- the area is also home to silvertips, tigers, blacktips, Galapagos sharks and marauding gangs of hungry whitetip reef sharks. It really is a pelagic paradise, where giant shoals of trevally and other large gamefish are commonly sighted, and where cruising mantas and whale sharks often appear to feast on the nutrient upwellings that are the key to the island’s incredible biodiversity. Because Cocos Island is located so far from land and surrounded by deep water, passing whales and dolphins are also frequently spotted; thereby completing the checklist of incredible encounters made possible by a visit to this exceptional place.
Of course, Cocos’ charm and unspoiled magic is due in large part to its remoteness. The journey to the island takes 36 hours by boat from Puntarenas on the Costa Rican mainland, and the diving there can only be done via a specific Cocos liveaboard. It is recommended that divers planning to visit the island have at least 25 hours of experience underwater due to the unpredictable currents and the depth of some of Cocos’ dive sites. Depth is a defining characteristic of Cocos diving, and in a place where the majority of dive sites are deeper than 60 feet it is imperative that divers have a minimum certification of Open Water (or equivalent), with specialties in Night and Deep diving. Strong currents aside, the conditions at Cocos Island are typically good, with visibility ranging between 60- 100 feet and water temperatures hovering between 73- 84°F. It is possible to dive at Cocos throughout the year, with divers having to choose between better visibility and calmer seas in the dry season (December to May), and reduced visibility but better sightings of mantas and whale sharks during the rainy season due to seasonal nutrient blooms. Whenever you choose to go to Cocos Island, one thing is for certain- this is a destination that still deserves its Cousteau stamp of approval, and which for once, absolutely lives up to the hype.
It seems inevitable that a nation comprised of over 1000 islands should offer some of the most spectacular diving in the world, and the Maldives does exactly that. The key to the archipelago’s rich marine life and beautiful coral reefs are the currents that bring a constant stream of nutrient rich water to the islands. Scuba diving in the Maldives offers visitors the chance to experience three distinct types of diving, including high adrenaline drifting between the island channels and along the sheer coral walls that make up the atolls’ outer edges; exploring the more sedate waters in the lagoons; and marveling at the huge number of species that are drawn to the region’s many pinnacles, or thilas.
The waters of the Maldives literally thrive with life, from the microscopic to the massive; from tiny crustaceans to the mantas and whale sharks for which the area is so famous. In the channels between the islands in particular, swiftly moving currents make for a dynamic environment that attracts impressive shoals of large pelagics, giant reef fish and passing sharks. Napoleon wrasse, schools of jacks and snapper, eagle rays and grouper are all common sights in the passes and channels of the Maldives.
Cleaning stations are another highlight of Maldivian diving, where divers can enjoy reliable encounters with one of the ocean’s most graceful, awe-inspiring species, the manta ray. It is possible to see several of these amazing creatures on a single dive, and mantas are present in the islands’ waters all year round. For those seeking encounters with other large marine species, atolls throughout the Maldives offer opportunities to spot whale sharks, thresher sharks, hammerheads and tigers. Due to the sprawling nature of the archipelago’s islands, one of the best ways to experience them is with a Maldives liveaboard charter. In this way, you not only maximize your time in the water but also gain access to some of the country’s most remote, pristine reefs.
Alternatively, Maldives dive resorts are a good option for those keen to take advantage of the atolls’ perfect beaches as well as the underwater treasures found just offshore. The long stretches of fine white sand and arching palm trees are the definition of tropical paradise, and resorts like the Bandos Island Resort on North Male atoll enable you to enjoy the very best of both worlds.
Scuba diving is possible in the Maldives all year round, although many of the liveaboard charters run predominantly between November and May thanks to the rains bought by the southwest monsoon in the summer months. Visibility is typically spectacular in the Maldives, averaging between 65-130 feet, while water temperatures range from 78-84°F. Although strong currents in the island channels can mean that some dive sites are not suitable for inexperienced or nervous divers, there are plenty of sites appropriate for all levels of experience. In fact, thanks to the good conditions and amazing marine life found there, the Maldives is a great place for non-divers to get certified. Whether you’re a first time diver or a seasoned veteran; whether your interests lie with macro critters or giant pelagics; whether you like to dive five times a day or spend your afternoons relaxing on the beach, the Maldives has the potential to make your dive holiday dreams a reality.
Over the years, Red Sea diving has become the stuff of legend; a diver’s paradise where all of the most exciting aspects of the underwater world come together in a body of water so startlingly blue it is like a rare sapphire in the middle of the arid desert. Bordered by seven different countries, the Red Sea is so named thanks to the sporadic algae blooms that tint its waters from time to time throughout the year. It is a place well deserving of its reputation as a world-class dive destination, where sheer coral walls, technicolor reefs, breathtaking topography and globally renowned wreck sites jostle for attention. Amazingly for an area with a relatively high level of salinity, the Red Sea is also home to a staggering number of marine species, ranging from colorful reef fish to impressive ocean pelagics. Its diversity is thanks in part to the exchange of water that takes place with the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean through the Gulf of Aden, resulting in the presence of no fewer than 1,100 species of fish. Of those fish, almost 20% are endemic species found nowhere else in the world, making the Red Sea truly a destination like no other.
Although it is possible to dive from many of the countries adjacent to this unique sea’s shores, diving in Egypt has come to define the Red Sea experience. Firstly, Egypt is a fascinating destination in its own right, boasting some of the most famous terrestrial sights in the world- the treasures of Tutankhamun, the Valley of the Kings, the pyramids of the ancient Egyptians and the Nile to name but a few. Secondly, and most importantly for divers, Egypt is home to an impressive diving infrastructure that makes sampling the country’s underwater riches an absolute pleasure. Whether it’s a luxurious resort holiday, a casual beachfront dive centre or an unforgettable Red Sea liveaboard that you’re after, Egypt diving has it all. There are several locations along the Egyptian coastline from which to start your underwater adventure, including Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, Hurghada and Marsa Alam. Each of them boast astounding marine life, unbeatable visibility and warm water temperatures, so how exactly does one go about choosing between them?
Scuba diving in Sharm El Sheikh has long been the preferred way to explore the Egyptian Red Sea, and for good reason. The town is the jumping off point for the breathless, thriving dive sites of the Straits of Tiran, and the country’s oldest national park, Ras Mohammed. The latter was described by Jacques Cousteau as one of the best dive sites in the world, and its incredible diversity in terms of both reef and pelagic species substantiate that claim. Another popular feature of Sharm El Sheikh diving is the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm, a British merchant navy ship that was sunk by the Germans in 1941 and is now possibly the most famous of all the many Red Sea wrecks. Dahab is a favourite among technical divers thanks to the prevalence there of exceptionally deep dive sites, while Hurghada and Marsa Alam act as the departure points for liveaboards to the Red Sea’s spectacular southern sites. The most famous of these are Elphinstone, The Brothers and Daedalus Reef, where intense pelagic action offers the best opportunity for encountering hammerheads and the magnificent oceanic whitetip. The Brothers islands are also home to two beautiful wrecks, the Aida (only appropriate for technical divers) and the Numidia.
Wherever you choose to go, the Red Sea consistently provides some of the most rewarding diving on the planet. The summer months (from May to July) see plankton blooms that bring whale sharks and mantas in their wake, and are also the best time to spot hammerheads. From September through until April is oceanic whitetip season, while the elusive thresher sharks also prefer the cooler water of the winter months. Visibility in the Red Sea is typically unbelievable, and can range from 50-230 feet. Summer water temperatures hover at around 86° F, with the coolest temperatures falling to around 70° F in February. There are dive sites to suit all abilities, with a range of depths and currents to cater to first-time divers and experienced adrenalin junkies alike. The list of reasons to visit Egypt’s Red Sea is pretty much infinite, proving that for once, it really is possible to have it all.
The astonishing diversity of Papua New Guinea’s scuba diving is due in large part to its unique location at the meeting point of the Bismarck, Coral and Solomon Seas. Consequently, creatures from three distinct environments come together in Papua New Guinean waters, resulting in an incredible variety of marine life. Boasting twice as many fish species as the Red Sea, and ten times as many coral species as the Caribbean, Papua New Guinea’s underwater world consists of 52,000 square kilometers of reef systems and is truly a place like no other. Deep water channels create sheer coral walls within easy reach of the shore in some areas of the country, while in others, sheltered bays are home to unparalleled reefs made up of some of the biggest coral formations in the world. Rare macro species are found at many of Papua New Guinea’s dive sites, while others are meccas for big pelagics including sharks, turtles and enormous schools of fish. As if that were not enough, the seafloor all around Papua New Guinea is littered with wrecks, the majority of which are World War II casualties including seaplanes, cargo ships, bombers and submarines.
The country is home to an amazing array of well-run resorts, while those wishing to dive four or more times a day should consider one of Papua New Guinea’s many liveaboards. Liveaboards can be a great way to visit as many of the country’s dive sites as possible, of which there are plenty- each one very different to but equally as incredible as the next. In the sheltered environment of Kimbe Bay on New Britain Island, breathtaking marine life thrives against a backdrop of some of the planet’s most impressive coral- including giant soft corals, and hard coral species so large that they sometimes collapse under their own weight. A staggering 70% of Indo-Pacific coral species can be found in the Kimbe Bay area, where land-based and liveaboard diving can be arranged from the beautiful Walindi Resort. New Britain Island is also home to one of the best places for wreck-diving enthusiasts, Rabaul. There, a large number of ships sunk in the World War II battle for the South Pacific have since been transformed into incredible dive sites; other wreck diving hotspots include Kavieng on New Ireland Island and Loloata off New Guinea Island.
Kavieng is also a prime destination for wide-angle photographers and macro photographers alike, where rarely seen critters like the pygmy seahorse and the mimic octopus live side-by-side with bigger species including large numbers of grey reef sharks. In the south of New Guinea, Milne Bay is another macro highlight, offering plenty of muck diving sites that provide the opportunity to spot amazing creatures like ghost pipefish, merlot scorpionfish and panda clownfish. New Guinea Island is also the location for one of Papua New Guinea’s most beautiful dive sites, both above and below the water. Tufi is defined by its deep fjords, which are home to incredible coral, a pair of American World War II wrecks, and a wide variety of juvenile fish. The area is serviced by Tufi Resort, which also offers dives to offshore reefs where scalloped hammerheads, reef mantas and grey reef sharks are all commonly spotted.
Although some areas see strong currents in the channels between islands, Papua New Guinean diving is generally suitable for divers of all qualifications. With balmy sea temperatures ranging between 79-87 degrees Fahrenheit, and excellent visibility of up to 150 feet, Papua New Guinea boasts the perfect conditions for first-time divers and experienced divers alike. Diving is possible year round, with the best seasons running from April to June, and from September to December.