This June, ScubaEarth’s Featured Destinations include South Africa, Belize, Costa Rica and Greece. If you’re looking for ideas for your next dive trip, make sure you check out these vacation hotspots. Click on the title of any destination to get top tips on dive sites, marine life and diver reviews.
In addition to topside safaris and infamous game cuisine, South Africa is equally compelling below the surface. Cape Town boasts leaping great white sharks in False Bay and cage dives at Dyer Island, as well as excellent night diving at A-Frame, where lobsters, pipefish, seals and rays come to play. Look out for the Knysna seahorse around Western Cape, a critter endemic to South Africa, whilst on the Eastern Cape, Port Elizabeth is the door to countless corals and colourful reef fish. Kwazulu-Natal is the place to visit for sea turtles nesting at Sodwana Bay in Dec-Jan, or Aliwal Shoals’ Shark Alley, where ragged-tooth and bull sharks mingle amongst tiny nudibranchs.
South Africa’s bigger claim to underwater fame, though, is the Sardine Run – one of the ocean’s greatest migrations. Divers travel from all over the world to witness this incredible event, which takes place around Protea Banks between May-June. Millions of sardines form a supersized shoal over 4 miles long, 1 mile wide and nearly 40 meters deep – a phenomenon that can be seen by satellite. Travelling north, they attract a frenzy of predators in thousands – including dolphins, sea birds, whales and sharks. Not for the faint hearted but an unforgettable dive with close-up action of some seriously big creatures.
Belize offers doorstop diving on the world’s second largest barrier reef, the MesoAmerican, which stretches across 600miles (1,000km). One of the most famous dive sites is the Great Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef. As the only sinkhole visible from space it measures 300m (1,000 feet) wide and over 120m (400 feet) deep, and at the edge of recreational depths, divers can take in the impressive sights of gigantic stalactites and stalagmites. Elsewhere on this reef, at Half Moon Caye Bird Sanctuary, turtles laying their eggs can be spotted ashore. Turneffe Atoll is made up of a fairy-ring of coral-encrusted walls, with the renewed sheer drops at The Elbow a must for adventurous divers. Gladden Spit (off Placencia) gives excellent access to see whale sharks passing by between March-May.
Ambergris Caye embodies Caribbean island life with its laid-back beaches and bars, as well as the chance to get close up to nurse sharks in HolChan Marine Reserve. Sergeant’s Caye is a more sheltered destination, with calmer waters and crystal clear visibility. Wall dives abound, you can spot moray eels, crabs, lobsters, manta rays, dolphins and even manatees. Above the surface, the Belize culture is warm and friendly, with the chance to try a Seaweed Shake, explore Mayan ruins and trek across jungle to watch a myriad of tropical birds.
One of the few Central American destinations to focus on Pacific coast diving, Costa Rica is an eco-wonderland with diverse landscapes rich with flora and fauna – both above and below surface. Guanacaste’s Isla Catalina is famed for upwellings which bring dramatic in-dive temperature changes and a variety of marine life including stingrays, frogfish, orca, humpbacks, dolphins, tiger sharks and octopus. The Caño Island dive site, made up of majestic pinnacles, peaks and valleys, is full of fish life including jacks, pufferfish, snappers, sharks and rays. Playas del Coco is a hotspot for photographers with volcanic rock reaching down to 26 meters (85 feet) setting the perfect background for macro life.
Divers might have seen iconic images where hundreds of schooling hammerheads fill the ocean from seabed to surface; at Dirty Rock, Cocos Island, this image is brought to life. Located 215 miles (346km) off the mainland, Cocos Island is accessible by liveaboard only, but the long journey is worth the wait – this divers’ paradise is home to countless hammerheads, whale sharks, eagle rays, reef sharks, jacks, pufferfish, moray eels, hunting tuna and dolphins. Costa Rica also takes credit for the longest humpback-watching season (Dec-Apr) as these leviathan creatures migrate from both Artic and the Antarctic. Back on dry land is no dull comparison either – with erupting volcanos and rainforests to explore as well as the taste of authentic Costa Rican coffee.
Over 1,400 islands make up the nation of Greece which offers year-round diving and a wealth of dive sites which unveil historical and archaeological treasures, as well as charismatic creatures including seals, moray eels, scorpion fish, parrotfish, octopuses and bottlenose dolphins. In Kefalonia’s Two Caves, divers can discover an abundance of ancient Greek coral-encrusted amphoras before entering a cavern inhabited with slipper lobsters and nudibranchs, whilst Little Rio reef features a cavern which runs underneath the island. On
Rhodes Island, Lindos has a cavern decorated tiny lights – the eyes of shrimp – and ocean currents attracting tuna and seals.
Greece is also a popular destination for underwater photographers. The Zakynthos shipwreck (a 1600-ton ferry in 36m (120 feet) of water) is photo favourite, with propellers, winches, stairs, upper deck all in place whilst in Crete, divers exploring the Mades Coral Cave can find two World War II bombs amidst teams of marine life. Electra’s Cage is a macro paradise, with countless invertebrates hiding in cracks and fissures along the wall. In Santorini, explosive volcanic activity has resulted in outstanding seascapes, with walls encompassing old and new lava formations and providing home to lobsters, moray eels, clams, groupers and seals. Above water, Greek food and national aperitif Ouzo must be sampled alongside excursions to visit ancient Grecian ruins and temples.