How to Choose SCUBA Diving Destination
There are many things to think about when choosing a SCUBA diving destination. Here we explore the key ones including:
Matching location with Experience
Time vs. Distance
What else Do I Want to Do on My Diving Vacation?
TIMING is everything in choosing a diving destination
There are many ways to pick a dive destination but my favorite answer to this question is to tell you to begin by brainstorming. Make a list of ALL the places you want to dive and stick it on your refrigerator. Then you always have a master list and you can keep adding to it and crossing off.
Then, the second thing to do is look at timing. Write down the BEST time of year to dive each location for whatever reason you will be diving. If, for example you want to go to Galapagos (and you should!) look at seasonality for various animals like whale sharks and hammerheads and even land animals like migratory birds. Timing is EVERYTHING in dive travel.
When you make your list, be sure to have at least one destination for every month of the year. That way no matter when you can take time off, you’ll have a dive destination to match that time of year.
Your available time + Best time to dive a location = Great dive trip!!!
Best diving in Tahiti? Not December in the Societies
DO NOT say, “oh, but I really want to go to Tahiti and the only time I can go is in December (height of rain and storm season in the Society Islands) and then try to justify it. Chances are you will be disappointed. When you only have a couple of vacations a year and a finite bank account, why take a risk? (personally I like Sept and Oct in the Society Islands. Calm, clear water, whales and mantas and it’s after the windy season)
Best Diving In Australia? Not February at Heron Island
I met a man once at a dive resort on Heron Island in Australia in February. it was a rainy day and the dive conditions were crappy. He was fist pounding and yelling that he had spent all kinds of money and time to come to the Great Barrier Reef to dive and it sucked (like the poor girl in the dive shop could change the weather) He said he’d had better diving in the Cayman Islands. Then he started cursing his travel agent. I couldn’t help but put in my two cents. I explained to him that it was neither the resort nor his travel agent’s fault but it was ultimately HIS responsibility! (don’t worry, I don’t think he has my blog on his RSS feed!) By the way, I knew it was a crummy time to be there but I happened to be in the area anyways. I didn’t like the rain or the poor dive conditions either, but I at least made the choice knowingly.
If you are new to diving, start talking! Do not rely on dive magazines. Most dive magazines are pay for play meaning most articles are simply paid advertising. You will rarely read an article that tells it like it REALLY is but traveling divers WILL tell you.
The same is true for many resorts (sorry, but really it is true). Most resorts will tell you the diving is good all year around because they have to fill the resort all year around! Beware of seasonal specials when resorts give you a discount to come during the bad diving season. I would rather pay more to be there at the best time of year than “get a deal”.
Here are other important things to think about when picking a dive destination
Matching location with Experience at your Dive Destination
Generally, difficulty in diving surrounds a few core topics including depth, water temperature, currents, critters, visibility, surface conditions and available supervision. If you learned to dive in warm, clear, calm water then obviously variability in these other conditions can make diving much more difficult. If you learned to dive in cold, choppy, low visibility water (God Bless You!) you will have an easier time making transitions. Here are some things to consider.
In many locations you can dive at whatever depth you want allowing for all levels of divers. However, if you are going to see the seasonal greater hammerheads in Rangiroa they are at 150ft or if you want to wreck dive on the San Francisco Maru in Truk Lagoon (max depth 220ft), there are limits to how shallow you can dive and still see what you want to see.
The colder the water, the more there is to think about. You’ll need heavier suits (wet or dry?) and use more air for example. It is more work to dive in cold water. Find out the min and max temperatures for your locations at the time of year you want to dive.
Currents can be a function of tides, narrow passages or moon phases to name a few. Therefore, some destinations have currents that come and go and some dive locations are known for strong currents most or all of the time. This is why sometimes currents are listed as mild to strong and change often. This can be one of THE most stressful types of diving if you have not learned about how to handle yourself in current. It can also be one of the most fun! If you are a new diver, get lots of experience in mild current first before tackling the kawabunga rides!
If you have six dives under your belt we don’t recommend jumping into the water with 200 sharks if you are afraid of them. Understand the critters you are getting into the ocean with before you do and maintain your head. Diving with whale sharks, for instance is some of the most fun diving I have ever done. BUT, I have watched people forget ALL the rules of diving when one comes into view because they are so excited. I hear depth alarms and ascent alarms and low air alarms going off all over the place. Buddy? Where’s my buddy?
Diving in low visibility can be disorienting, claustrophobic and downright scary for people. Be sure you are a comfortable navigator. Check out normal visibility conditions for the time and place you plan to dive.
As with visibility and currents, these can change at a moment’s notice. Some dive locations are known for always having rough surface conditions. Know before you go.
Amount of Supervision
The amount and degree of supervision varies considerably with resorts even within a single destination. Be sure to know how much you need and that it is matched with how much is provided.
Or…come dive with us. We offer the infamous….
Each of our itineraries is accompanied by our “Tiki Scale” which gives you a great idea of what experience level you will need to dive in that location.
Time vs. Distance
A factor in picking your next dive destination may likely be a factor in how much time you have to take your trip. If you have only one week, it’s really a schlep to get to SE Asia. Don’t travel halfway around the world for five days of diving, it’s just not worth it. Once you get over the jetlag and relax (this always takes a couple of days) it will be time to head home only to face another couple of days of jetlag, to which I will ask you, “Hey, how was your jetlag? Oh, I mean dive vacation”.
From the US, the Caribbean is always an easy option for a week trip. However, note that these days it takes pretty much a full day to get anywhere (unless you live in Miami!).
But did you ever consider that you can get to fabulous diving in the South Pacific in the time it takes to get to the Caribbean in many cases? Think about Tahiti or Fiji for a week? Get on the plane Thursday night and go to sleep. Wake up and you’re there! You arrive Saturday (over the date line), then leave the following Saturday and get home the same day having Sunday to organize your photos, do the laundry and get a good night’s sleep for Monday morning. PLUS, airfares are often cheaper than the Caribbean. And…..I’ll just say it like it is..the diving, in my opinion, is better.
Is the Best Diving Land or Yacht based?
The choice of diving by yacht or live aboard vs. a land based operation is one answered best by asking yourself:
Do I get seasick?
Is my partner a diver? If not, generally better not to pick this option unless you have the whole yacht chartered.
How many dives do I want to do per day?
Do I just want to dive or do I want to see more of the destination?
Is it possible to get to the best diving from a land based resort?
For some locations like Cocos Island, Soccoro Islands and Galapagos (to see the whale sharks) there is no choice. If you want to get there and see the wildlife you must take a boat. For some locations you can get to most of the best diving land or live aboard like Fiji, Truk Lagoon, Belize and Palau. For other areas like many in the Caribbean, there is no live aboard option for places like Saba and Bonaire.
Many people prefer to stick their toes in the sand at the end of the day, get out to see more of the country or enjoy the large spa at a resort. Many have non diving spouses who would not be happy “stuck” on a boat full of smelly wetsuits for a week or ten days. Some people just can’t handle a rocking boat.
For others, the more time in the water the better, especially many underwater photographers. Ask yourself and your traveling partner these questions and see what works best for you.
What else do I want to do while I am on my dive vacation?
Dive and/or see the Country
Ask yourself if you simply want to dive or if you want to experience the topside attractions of a destination as well. In places like Belize, Borneo, Costa Rica, and Africa you can spend oodles of time doing other things such as bird watching, safaris, river tours, zip lining, rafting, wine tasting, mountain climbing etc…. And if you plan to travel 24 hours by plane to get there, consider making your trip a “surf and turf” itinerary. If you have a non diving spouse/partner this can be a way to have your cake and eat it too. Spend a week diving at a location that offers great fun things for your spouse while you dive, then take the second week to adventure and get to know the country and the people.
Sharkman and I believe strongly in giving back to the communities where we dive. We have partnered up with a fantastic organization called The Muskoka Foundation . They help travelers find communities in which to give back. Spend your second week teaching photography to children in a community (a fantastic program where the foundation gives you the tools and the equipment to do it) or use your own profession to teach valuable skills to a community (teach them to build a house, or fix a vehicle or give basic first aid). What a great win/win!
Money, of course, is a factor in choosing a dive destination. Once you have your budget look at the various factors that you want in a vacation.
Would you rather have more luxury or more diving for your dollars? Or can you simply afford to do what you want?
How far can you go on what you’ve got?
How far do you WANT to go?
What destinations are currently a good value?
It may surprise you where value lies. I’m not talking about picking up that “trade show special” for a cheap price at an expensive place because it is the crummy dive season. I’m talking about countries that are good values. For example, I LOVE French Polynesia and have been diving there since 1994. I even lived there for two years. But right now it is not a good value. The CFP (Pacific French Franc) is tagged to the Euro and it is currently quite expensive to travel there. Fiji, on the other hand, is a great value. You can get some of the world’s best diving in Fiji for less than the price of a week in the Caribbean and airfares to match. Choosing a destination that is currently a good value can get you the best diving at the best time of year in luxury at a good price. Sounds like a winner to me!
If you have always wanted wanted to dive somewhere, however, that is pricey and will always be, think about waiting a year to take that vacation rather than taking a bunch of smaller, less satisfying ones, otherwise you’ll never get to those dream places.
Use This Resource
Bookmark this blog and when you begin to look at taking your next scuba diving vacation think about all of these questions. I can’t tell you how many times I have been on an expedition and met divers who tell me, “Oh, I should have…..stayed longer? taken or not taken a live aboard? arranged a few days to give back to the community? Whatever. Many destinations divers travel to are once in a lifetime opportunities for that destination so you’ll want to take advantage of everything you can.
Where ever you pick to go diving, I wish you safe diving, safe travels and the dives of your dreams. And when you come back, let us know about it!!
How do you pick your destinations? Let us know!
To your diving adventures!
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