Top 5 Bucket List Dive Destinations

#5

Lembeh/Ambon, Indonesia

 

 

Known as the macro and muck diving capitals of the world, Lembeh and Ambon, Indonesia are dream dive destinations if you are looking for bizarre and unique smaller sized critters. Lembeh is located just off the northeast coast of Sulawesi, while Ambon is on the south part of the Maluku archipelago.

When you are muck diving, don’t expect to see beautiful coral reefs. Most dives will consist of a fairly shallow sandy bottom, which may look unappealing at first, but as you examine the site closer you will uncover the beauty! All experience levels can handle these dives, but it always helps to have at least an advanced certification so you can explore below 60 feet. Expect to see several types of nudibranch, eels, squid, crabs, blenny, clownfish, mandarinfish, scorpionfish, rhinopia, seahorse (pygmy, thorny, and giant), shrimp (mantis, tiger, and harlequin), ghost pipefish (ornate and robust), and frogfish (painted, clown, and hairy). One of the holy grails of macro diving, the psychedelic frogfish, has only been located in the waters around Ambon. My personal favorites, octopus and cuttlefish, are also permanent residents. The poisonous and dazzling flamboyant cuttlefish, and the deadly blue ring octopus are found here, along with the mimic, mototi, hairy, wonderpus, and the coconut octopus!

Go out and explore these sites during the day, and then come back with a torch at night to witness a whole new world! Lembeh and Ambon are relatively close to each other, so if you love macro diving, you can check them both off (2 hour flight). If you really want to be ambitious, and you have plenty of time and money, you can pair these macro hotspots with other amazing Indo destinations including Raja Ampat and Komodo National Park (there would countless hours of travel involved). This would also be subject to seasonal weather patterns. The bottom line is, if you enjoy the small things in life, or the strange, definitely put Lembeh and Ambon on your list!

Top Dive Sites:

Lembeh: Nudi Falls, Hairball, TK 3

Ambon: Twilight Zone, Laha, Duke of Sparta, Mimic Point

Best Season:

Lembeh: Year-round (Rainy season December – February)

Ambon: Year-round (Rainy season May – August)

Arrival:

Lembeh: Fly into the city of Manado, Sulawesi, and arrange transport to Lembeh

Ambon: Connect from Jakarta or Manado and fly to Ambon, Maluku

Dive Prices:

Lembeh:      $$ Land based day trips: $40 USD per dive

Ambon:       $$$ ALL INCLUSIVE Resorts: $250-$300 per day (3 dives per day)

$$$$ ALL INCLUSIVE Liveaboards: $300-$350 per day (3-4 dives per day)

Skill Level:

Beginner – Advanced

Recommendations:

  • Go for a night dive!!!!
  • Dive nitrox to give yourself longer time at depth (nitrox has a higher level of oxygen which limits the amount of nitrogen build up in your blood, allowing you to stay down for longer)
  • Bring a camera capable of focusing and capturing small close up subjects (macro lens, strobes)
  • For Ambon, if you would like to see other areas in the Banda Sea, choose a liveaboard

#4

Red Sea, Egypt:

If you want to see a great balance of healthy coral gardens, wall dives, stunning wrecks, never ending visibility, and everything from small nudibranchs, to dugongs, to oceanic white tip and hammerhead sharks, head to the Red Sea! Most divers stay at resorts at Sharm el Sheikh, on the Egyptian Sinai peninsula. You will not be disappointed with the variety of corals and fish you encounter here!

On your way out, make sure you stop by Giza! You can see these ancient buildings, you mayyyy have heard of them. They’re called… the pyramids. I’ve heard from a credible source they store grain. Anyways, Egypt offers great experiences on land and underwater, and I will check it off eventually!!

Best Dive Sites:

SS Thistlegorm Wreck

Daedalus Reef

Best Season:

Year-round

May – July (Whale Shark Season)

June – September (Hammerhead Season)

October – January (Oceanic White Tip and Thresher Shark Season)

Arrival:

Fly directly into Sharm El Sheikh or connect through Cairo

Dive Prices:

$$ Day Trips: $30-$50 per dive

Skill Level:

Beginner to Advanced

Recommendations:

  • Bring a macro and wide angle lens for your camera
  • Explore the shipwrecks, and do a night dive
  • Make sure you have a dive computer since there are some deeper dives
  • If you want to see all of the Red Sea, choose a liveaboard

#3

Socorro Islands, Mexico

The Socorro Islands are a remote pacific volcanic island destination, so if you can’t imagine living on a dive boat for a few days, this destination is not for you. If you can manage sleeping at sea, you’re in for a treat! Located 250 miles southwest of the Baja coast, these islands are a hot spot for some of the larger marine animals. You have a good chance to dive with whales, dolphins, manta rays, mobula rays, barracuda, tuna, and sharks!!

You may encounter justttt a few types of sharks here, including silkies, duskies, oceanic white tips, silvertips, Galapagos sharks, whale sharks, tiger sharks, and schooling hammerheads! Humpback whales usually hang around these islands from January to March, while whale sharks are more common in the warmer waters during November. You are almost guaranteed Pacific mantas because several cleaning stations are located around the islands, which can provide an incredible up close experience. Since many pelagics (larger open ocean animals) congregate at deep depths in areas with strong currents, this destination is recommended for intermediate to advanced divers.

Top Dive Sites:

Socorro, Roca O’Neal, Roca Partida, San Benedicto

Best Season:

November – May (Liveaboards only operate during these months due to weather conditions)

Arrival:

Fly into Cabo San Lucas, Baja, Mexico. Liveaboard will transport to destination.

Dive Prices:

$$$$ ALL INCLUSIVE Liveaboards: $250-$350 per day (3-4 dives per day)

Skill Level:

Intermediate to Advanced (moderate to strong currents)

Recommendations:

  • Bring a camera with a wide-angle lens, and keep looking out into the blue
  • Maybe even attach a gopro to a mirrorless/DSLR camera, so you can record the entire dive (use a battery bacpac and large SD card for the gopro)
  • Make sure you have a dive computer since you will have some deeper dives
  • Bring a device to watch your footage back on the boat
  • It takes around 24 hours to reach the islands from the mainland, so bring medicine if you are susceptible to seasickness

#2

Protea Banks, Aliwal Shoal, and Gaansbai/Mossel Bay, South Africa

One of the most specular displays in the animal kingdom takes place off the coast of South Africa every year, the sardine run. In June and July, shoals of sardines migrating along the eastern “wild” coast attracts all types of predators who come to feed off the bait balls. The sardines follow a cold water current as it travels east and then north along the South African coast, as the warmer Indian ocean water creates a narrow gauntlet that the sardines must pass through. Dive companies use small planes to locate the sardines, which can be 10 miles long, 2 miles wide, and 100 feet deep. The scouts then radio in the location to the dive boats, and you’re off! You have to be able to gear up quickly, comfortable enough to drop into choppy open ocean conditions, and calm enough to descend into complete underwater chaos! Understandably, the sardine run is for more experienced divers.

Whales, dolphins, sharks, tuna, fur seals, marlins, and other predatory fish zero in and attack from below, and drive the sardines up towards the surface. Common dolphins work together to herd the bait ball, dusky sharks and marlins shoot through nabbing individuals, while humpback and Bryde’s whales create bubble nets to further consolidate them, and then simultaneously open their gaping mouths and grab as many as they can. The bait fish head towards the surface to escape the attack, where they are met by diving gannets and other sea birds. An incredible amount of bait fish are consumed, but plenty more survive and make it through “the gauntlet.” If you are really lucky, you may encounter a pod of orcas, which have been documented hunting seals, dolphins, and even great white sharks!! It is truly an amazing spectacle to watch on a documentary, I cannot even imagine how exciting it would be to see in person.

There is another dive on the wild coast worth mentioning. Raggie’s Cave is located in an ancient sandstone reef within Aliwal Shoal, that attracts large numbers of bull sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads, and ragged tooth sharks from June to November. Ragged tooth sharks congregate here, hence the site name, and it’s not out of the question that divers can see well over 100 of them on a single dive.

Further west, you can experience a different type of adrenaline rush by getting up close and personal with great whites. Gaansbai and Mossel bay offer cage diving opportunities with whites, although chumming to lure the sharks in takes place, which is a controversial practice. If you partake in regular dives in these areas, you have a chance to see them in their natural habitat, with no cage, which would be an extreme heart throbbing experience!

If you get bored of looking for sharks, whales, and dolphins underwater, pair your diving with a safari expedition in Kruger National Park to see the big five land animals (elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and Cape buffalos). South Africa is completely packed with amazing wildlife experiences!!!

Top Dive Sites:

Protea Banks (Sardine Run), Aliwal Shoal (Raggie’s Cave), Gaansbai, Mossel Bay

Best Season:

Year-round (Great Whites and Aliwal Shoal)

June-July (Sardine Run)

Arrival:

Sardine Run: Fly into Durban

Aliwal Shoal: Fly into Durban

Great Whites: Fly into Cape Town

Dive Prices:

Sardine Run: $$$$$ ALL INCLUSIVE: $450 per day

White Shark Cage Dive: $$$ One day for $100-$200

Aliwal Shoal: $$$ Marine Park fee + 1 dive = Approx. $75 – $100

Skill Level:

Sardine Run: Advanced

Aliwal Shoal: Advanced

Cage Diving: Beginner – Advanced

Recommendations:

  • Use a thick wetsuit, at least 5mm, as water temps can be cool
  • Bring a camera with a wide-angle lens and a torch
  • Maybe even attach a gopro to a mirrorless/DSLR camera, so you can record the entire dive (use a battery bacpac and large SD card for the gropo)
  • Use a dive computer for all dives, you can become easily distracted by all the action going on around you, dive computers notify you when you are descending/ascending, and also notify you at time intervals during the dive, they can literally be life savers
  • Leave your fear of sharks at home, and remember to breathe!!

#1

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

My top dream dive destination! The legendary Galapagos Islands are a set of volcanic islands located approximately 700 miles off of mainland Ecuador, known for their endemic species and biodiversity. They are currently protected as a national park and marine reserve, but unfortunately, illegal fishing is still a large problem.

For years, people flocked here to see unique examples of evolution and natural selection, made famous by Darwin, in land animals and birds (ex. Galapagos tortoises and finches). What Darwin failed to document however, is the rich marine life existing just below the surface. Several oceanic currents converge here, which creates upwellings of nutrients that attract a wide variety of marine animals, but also create advanced diving conditions.

Galapagos is considered one of the “sharkiest” places in the world (around 30 recorded species), and the only place in the world where you can dive with marine iguanas, penguins, flightless cormorants, fur seals, sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles, mantas, eagle rays, mobulas, mola-mola, whales, and sharks! Schools of hammerhead sharks are one of the main marine attractions. Divers can see a few hundred of them on a single dive (January – June for biggest numbers). Other shark species include black tip, white tips, grey reef, silkies, duskies, and Galapagos sharks. From June to November, you may see a whale shark (or a few of them) casually cruising by you. If you are especially lucky, you may be able to witness a rare sighting of orcas, sperm whales, or even blue whales, so you should always have one eye looking out into the blue!

Galapagos is a dream come true for scientists, scuba divers, and nature lovers in general. Pair this dive trip with a land tour while you wait for your body to expel some nitrogen, and you have an adventure of a lifetime!

(Looking at the cost, most divers may only be able to afford this trip once in a lifetime)

Top Dive Sites:

Wolf, Darwin

Best Season:

Year-round

January – June (warmer wet season and more hammerheads)

July – December (dry season and whale shark season)

Arrival:

Fly into Quito, Ecaudor.

Take another flight to any of the following islands in Galapagos: Baltra/San Cristobal/Santa Cruz

Dive Prices:

$$$$$$$ ALL INCLUSIVE Liveaboards:

$550-$800 per day (3-4 dives per day)

Skill Level:

Advanced (moderate to strong currents, possible down currents)

Recommendations:

  • You can stay on one of the islands and dive with day trips, however liveaboards are recommended to reach the best dive sites
  • Use a thick wetsuit, at least 5mm, as water temps can be cool
  • Bring a camera with a wide-angle lens, again, not a bad idea to attach a gopro to a higher end mirrorless/DSLR camera
  • Make sure you have a dive computer since you will have some deeper dives and possibly dangerous vertical currents
  • Bring a device to watch your footage back on the boat
  • Keep looking into the blue, and try to count how many different species you encounter!!

 

Honorable Mentions (not in order):

Ari Atoll, Maldives

Azores Islands, Portugal

Cenotes, Tulum, Mexico

Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia

Fiji

Guadalupe Island, Mexico

Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

Kona, Hawaii

Malpelo, Colombia

Ningaloo Reef, Australia

Outer Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Poor Knights Island, New Zealand

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Rangiroa, Polynesia

Seychelles

The Kingdom of Tonga

Tofo, Mozambique

Tubbataha Reef, Philippines

 

(I would have included Palau, Komodo, Sipadan, Bali, Similan Islands, Bonaire, Roatan, Bahamas, and Key Largo on this list, but I’ve already checked those destinations off)

 

Please feel free to include your top 5 in the comments! What are your thoughts?

6 replies
  1. paula
    paula says:

    Thanks! Great post! Just dived in Galapagos Islands (not Wolf island, unfortunately…) and loved it! Despite I did not do live aboard (too expensive) and just stayed in the main island and went to the diving spots everyday it was quite worth it! Must try your other spots! Thanks!

    Reply

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