Emerging Dive Destinations
These up-and-comers have everything required for your next epic holiday, including the world’s largest turtle rookery, tons of secluded beaches and 13 species of whale
1. Solomon Islands
Only recently has the Solomon Islands government shifted its attention from logging, mining and other finite resources to tourism.
“They realized that the truest natural resources they have are the people and culture,” says Shannon Kozak of Solomon Islands Dive Expeditions, operator of the M/ V Taka liveaboard.
Right now, the southwest Pacific country sees just 30,000 visitors annually, although Kozak expects this to rise now that the government has sent the international invite.
Those who accept will find World War II history and wrecks to rival Truk, coral reefs with species diversity to rival the Great Barrier Reef and the chance to reach villages so remote that a meet-and-greet feels like a step back in time, as little has changed for centuries.
Nor will it. “These villages see outsiders just 10 times a year,” says Kozak. Which, some might argue, only strengthens the push to go now.
2. Sri Lanka
It’s hard to imagine that one locale could be home to 13 species of whale, but Sri Lanka is precisely such a place. Blue whales, sperm whales, humpbacks, beaked whales, melon-headed whales, pilot whales, false killer whales and even whale sharks are among the cetaceans and large pelagics cruising off the island’s coast in the Indian Ocean. And if that doesn’t suit your fancy, visit the plethora of shipwrecks — an estimated 200 are in Sri Lankan waters. Or head to a site like Goda Gala Diyamba, where you can visit with humphead wrasse or scout for nudibranchs.
“[The Solomon Islands] realized that the truest natural resources they have are the people and culture.”
It’s hard to imagine that one locale could be home to 13 species of whale, but Sri Lanka is precisely such a place.
3. Raine Island Australia
The world’s largest turtle rookery is the main draw of Raine Island, found along the northernmost stretch of the Great Barrier Reef.
On exploratory trips, divers with Mike Ball Expeditions found up to 100 turtles far from juvenile in size on a single dive.
Says Laura Waters, part of the most recent trip, “Each was a good 5 feet across — I didn’t know turtles got that big.”
4. Marquesas French Polynesia
The South Pacific has long been known for blacktip sharks, whitetips, humpback whales and a host of other big stuff, and with the demand for curated experiences with these animals growing, it’s not surprising that a boutique liveaboard — catering to just five divers per sailing — stepped in to do exactly that. Enter Itemata. With stops ranging from the island of Nuku Hiva to Hiva Oa, the schedule is flexible aboard this scuba-centric vessel.
5. Sipadan Malaysia
For Americans hooked on DIY culture, it’s a natural fit to choose Seaventures Dive Rig — a former oil platform converted into the ultimate scuba base camp and chill-out pad in the middle of the Celebes Sea — as the place to bed down while exploring the reefs of Sipadan. A lowering pad brings suited-up guests right to the waterline, making the start of every self-guided dive as easy as riding an elevator. If saying goodbye after the typical four-night stay — the minimum number of nights necessary to secure a Sipadan diving permit — proves too challenging, don’t. The complex is also a PADI IDC, so you can bump your standing to the next level, all while mixing with cuttlefish, napoleon wrasse and funnels of barracuda.
As soon as photos of orcas powering through shoals of herring off Norway’s coast made the rounds, the next question on every diver’s mind was: How soon can I take time off? Because it’s one thing to spy an orca from behind glass, and quite another to share the icy Norwegian Sea with the apex hunter. For many, it’s a trek to reach the village of Andenes, found in the country’s northernmost smattering of islands ( but totally worth it). The season for sightings runs December to February.
7. Pemba Island Tanzania
For those seeking a post-big-five-safari beach holiday, Pemba is not only quieter than tourist-favorite Zanzibar, but its reefs have seen no impact from humans or development. “The first thing most divers notice are all the juvenile fish,” says Filbert Nathan, instructor at Fundu Lagoon. Followed by nudibranchs. “Pemba has every species that you can find in the Indian Ocean.” The other experience to grab on Pemba is an encounter with humpback whales, August through October. Says Nathan, “Sometimes it surprises people when we see humpbacks, but then again, the island itself is such a surprise.”
8. Gili Islands Indonesia
For some Indo-bound travelers, the idea of a two-hour boat ride to reach a final dive destination is too much of a turnoff — that is, if they’ve even heard of the three Gili islands, Trawangan, Meno and Air, found off Lombok, neighbor to the tourism hub that is Bali.
Collectively, the islands are known especially for turtles, thanks to two sanctuaries devoted to growing local populations. The reefs here are also home to everything you’d expect in the species-rich country, including frogfish, ghost pipefish, cuttlefish and a host of nudibranchs.
And when it comes to small and quiet, the Gili Islands offer an experience completely unlike Bali. Consider that the total area of all three is less than 6 square miles.
Says Viola Elenious, manager of Oceans 5 Dive Resort on the island of Gili Air, “Because of the size of these islands, it’s easy to be part of the community quite quickly.” The Middle East has long held sway over divers intrigued by drift dives, populations of oceanic whitetips and other big animals, and the romance of the desert itself. With Egypt becoming an increasingly complicated country for travelers to navigate, Oman has stepped in to welcome divers.
The Aggressor Fleet saw the appeal of offering trips through the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman, especially after mentions of mola mola, whale sharks, humpback whales, manta rays and mobula rays came back on early trip reports. Starting this November, the fleet will be sailing the region regularly.
Thanks to newly loosened travel restrictions and just-launched direct flights, Americans are discovering what Canadians, Europeans and other travelers have long known: The Caribbean’s largest island offers reefs unrivaled in the region for their pristine nature. Because Cuba hasn’t enjoyed the same influx of tourism dollars that many other neighboring destinations have, it lacks the development of a place like the Dominican Republic, or the infrastructure of the Cayman Islands. Instead, it’s still wild. Places such as the Bay of Pigs off the island’s southern coast, scheduled to become the newest offering of the Aggressor Fleet starting in 2018, are home to walls, reefs and blue holes that divers have yet to explore and name — for now.
The reefs here are home to everything you’d expect in the species-rich country.
The Middle East has long held sway over divers intrigued by drift dives and more.
The Bay of Pigs is home to walls, reefs and blue holes that divers have yet to explore.
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