The underwater world is a fascinating and exciting environment which we divers are privileged to explore, but individual reasons for entering 'Neptune’s Kingdom' are many and varied. There is now such a bewildering choice of diving holidays on offer that many people seek our advice before selecting a holiday. We are always very happy to discuss your holiday arrangements and choices with you, but to assist you in making your choice we have prepared this guide which is designed to answer many of the most frequently asked questions.
THE DIVER’S GUIDE TO DIVEQUEST DESTINATIONS [top]
The underwater world is a fascinating and exciting environment which we divers are privileged to explore, but individual reasons for entering ‘Neptune’s Kingdom’ are many and varied. There is now such a bewildering choice of diving trips on offer that many people seek our advice before selecting a destination. We are always very happy to discuss your dive travel arrangements and choices with you, but to assist you in making your choice we have prepared this guide which is designed to answer many of the most frequently asked questions.
PRISTINE & SPECTACULAR REEFS [top]
All the destinations we offer have reefs that can be described as pristine, or nearly so, but amongst the most spectacular can be numbered the Bay Islands of Honduras, the Cayman Islands, the Turks & Caicos islands, the Maldives, the Andaman Islands, Layang Layang, Sipadan, Manado, the Bangka archipelago, Wakatobi, Raja Ampat, Palau, New Britain, New Ireland, the Solomons and Fiji.
DIVERSITY OF FISH SPECIES [top]
All our destinations are rich in marine life, but if we had to single out areas where the diversity of fish life was particularly apparent we would include the Bay Islands of Honduras, the Cayman Islands, Bonaire, the Maldives, the Andaman Islands, Southern Thailand & Burma, Layang Layang, Sipadan, Mabul & Kapalai, Manado, the Bangka archipelago, the Lembeh Strait, Wakatobi, Komodo & Nusa Tenggara, Raja Ampat, Palau, Yap, Loloata Island and Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, the Solomons and Fiji. However, as every destination featured in the Divequest programme holds some interesting fish species that are hard or impossible to find elsewhere, the serious fish-watcher has a lot of travelling to do!
Most divers enjoy observing these elegant, exciting and beautiful creatures. Destinations that regularly offer excellent opportunities for shark observations include the Bahamas, Layang Layang, Sipadan, Raja Ampat, Palau (especially during the annual ‘Shark Week’), Yap, New Britain, New Ireland, the Solomons, Fiji, Fakarava in French Polynesia, the Sea of Cortez, the Revillagigedo Islands and the Galapagos. Beqa Lagoon in Fiji offers some wonderful close-up encounters with a variety of sharks, including Tiger Shark on a fairly regular basis. Cocos Island off Costa Rica is world famous for their incredible concentrations of sharks, while Guadalupe Island off Baja California offers fantastic cage-diving with Great White Sharks in clear blue water. Every diver wants to see that beautiful leviathan of the deep, the immense Whale Shark, and although encounters with this declining species can never be guaranteed, there are certain seasons and destinations where your chances of Whale Shark observations are better than most. The best destinations include Utila in the Bay Islands of Honduras, Mahé in the Seychelles, Southern Thailand & Burma, the Sea of Cortez and Cocos Island.
MANTA RAYS [top]
The sight of a group of Manta Rays ‘flying’ through the water is very high on most divers’ ‘wish list’. Yap in Micronesia is one of the world’s best-known Manta Ray feeding stations and here the chances of seeing Manta Rays is very high. Manta Rays are also regularly encountered in the Maldives, in the Raja Ampat Archipelago, in Palau, at Big Island in Hawaii, at Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, in Fiji, in the Revillagigedo Islands off western Mexico, and in the Sea of Cortez. They also occur from time to time in most other destinations, but are so unpredictable that no recommendations are possible.
WHALES & DOLPHINS [top]
Bottle-nosed Dolphins and sometimes other dolphin species are regularly to be seen bow-riding or frolicking in the waters around dive boats almost anywhere in the tropics. Dolphins generally do not like the sound of scuba and therefore often take off at speed when divers try to interact with them under the water. Most boat captains are more than happy to give their passengers the opportunity to don snorkel, mask and fins and jump in with the dolphins should the opportunity arise. Whales also dislike the sound of scuba equipment and so generally avoid divers. Consequently the opportunity for whale encounters below the surface are few. A notable exception are the special charters by Turks & Caicos Aggressor that provide wonderful opportunities for snorkeling with the Humpback Whales of the Silver Banks, and similar exciting charters by MV Nai’a in Tonga and boat trips out of Rurutu in French Polynesia. For those who would like to dive with Bottle-nosed Dolphins, Anthony’s Key Resort on Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras is the place. If you are considering a trip to the Sea of Cortez or the Revillagigedo Islands between December and early April, take some time off from diving and go and see the magnificent Grey Whales which congregate in the coastal lagoons of Baja California. Dominica also offers great whale and dolphin watching encounters.
‘MACRO LIFE’ [top]
Of particular interest to both keen students of marine life and underwater photographers are those fascinating but tiny critters that many divers never notice as they race around using up their air! If you want to see or photograph amazing creatures we can especially recommend the Bay Islands of Honduras, Dominica, Bonaire, Sipadan, Mabul & Kapalai, Manado, the Lembeh Strait (surely the best place for weird and wonderful ‘macro life’ on earth!), the Philippines, Wakatobi, Bali, Komodo & Nusa Tenggara, Ambon and Raja Ampat in Indonesia, Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland and the Solomons.
Many people immediately think of Truk Lagoon and its ‘ghost fleet’ of wrecks as the best place in the world for wreck diving. Without a doubt this stunning destination, with almost 70 charted wrecks, is truly the world’s ‘wreck capital’. The world’s largest and most spectacular World War II wreck, however, is the SS President Coolidge, a luxury liner converted to a troopship that went down in 1942 off the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. For the even more adventurous, remote Bikini Atoll offers the most spectacular warship diving, including a complete aircraft carrier! (Unfortunately, as of the time of going to press, the only dive centre at Bikini was still closed owing to the cessation of the regular air service.) Saba, Saint Eustatius & St Kitts in the Caribbean and Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea offer splendid wreck diving, while Bali has one of the world’s most famous diving wrecks at Tulamben. You should also get the chance to explore excellent wrecks in the Cayman Islands, in Dominica, in Bonaire, in Palau, in the Solomons and at Beqa island in Fiji.
SHORE DIVING [top]
The Caribbean Sea has its shore diving ‘capital’ in Bonaire. Shore diving around the island is very easy with car parks at all the well-marked dive sites and good shore diving guides. A self-drive car is required to visit many of the shore diving sites, but good shore diving can also be had directly off Captain Don’s Habitat, which has a relaxed ‘don the gear and roll in the water’ approach to shore diving. Dominica has some interesting creatures off the Dive Dominica dive centre, while the resorts at the Lembeh Strait in Sulawesi offer fantastic ‘macro shore diving’. Other great places for shore diving include Bandos Island Resort and Komandoo Island Resort in the Maldives, Mabul and Kapalai in Malaysian Borneo, Wakatobi, Scuba Seraya in Bali, Misool Eco Resort in Raja Ampat, Palau Pacific Resort and Paradise Resort on Taveuni in Fiji.
UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY [top]
Underwater photographers make up a high proportion of Divequest clients. We work closely with some of the UK’s leading underwater photographers and we consequently understand the very special needs that underwater photographers have in their search for the ultimate image. We run some very popular specialist courses and guided group photographic expeditions. Many of our dive centres and liveaboards are specifically chosen by us because they offer excellent facilities for the underwater photographer. Most of our destinations provide great photographic opportunities, but we can especially single out, as destinations that offer prime photographic opportunities, the Bay Islands of Honduras, the Cayman Islands, the Silver Banks (for Humpback Whales), Dominica, Bonaire, the Maldives, the Andaman Islands, Southern Thailand & Burma, Layang Layang, Sipadan, Mabul & Kapalai, Manado, the Bangka archipelago, the Lembeh Strait (the world’s underwater macro photography mecca), Wakatobi, Bali, Komodo & Nusa Tenggara, Ambon and Raja Ampat in Indonesia, Palau, Yap (for Mantas and Mandarinfish), Truk (for wreck photography), Big Island in Hawaii (for Mantas at night!), Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, the Solomons, Fiji (especially the sharks of Beqa), Tonga (for Humpback Whales), Vanuatu (for wreck photography), French Polynesia (for sharks and Humpback Whales), Guadalupe Island (for Great White Sharks), the Sea of Cortez, the Revillagigedo Islands, Cocos Island (for sharks and other big creatures) and the amazing Galapagos (for wildlife photography above the water as well as below!).
EASY DIVING [top]
Even destinations which are well-known for their easy diving conditions can experience unusual weather conditions at times. However, almost all the Caribbean destinations offer diving in sheltered waters and there is usually little current or surge on the dives, while most South-East Asian destinations are also not very demanding. If you have any doubts about your abilities we will always be happy to discuss with you the diving conditions likely to be encountered at particular destinations.
LOTS OF DIVING [top]
Liveaboards are an excellent way of maximizing your diving time, with most of the topquality boats that we feature offering up to four or five dives per day. Shorebased destinations where you can dive more than twice a day include Turneffe Island Lodge in Belize, Anthony’s Key Resort in the Bay Islands of Honduras, Compass Point and Little Cayman Beach Resort in the Cayman Islands, Castle Comfort in Dominica, Captain Don’s Habitat in Bonaire, Komandoo Island Resort in the Maldives, all our resorts in Malaysian Borneo, the Atlantis Resorts in the Philippines, all our resorts in the Manado region including Gangga Island and the Lembeh Strait, Wakatobi, Mimpi Resort and Scuba Seraya in Bali, Misool Eco Resort in Raja Ampat, all our resorts/hotels in Palau, Manta Ray Bay in Yap, Truk Blue Lagoon Resort, all our resorts in Papua New Guinea, and La Concha Beach Resort at the Sea of Cortez.
CHALLENGING DIVING [top]
Some divers enjoy challenging diving and actively seek destinations where surge, currents and thermoclines may be frequently encountered. The Galapagos and Cocos Island, because of their open ocean locations, are destinations where testing conditions can arise, and other areas such as Maratua, Sangalaki, Kakaban & Derawan and Komodo & The Nusa Tenggara in Indonesia, Palau in Micronesia and Fakarava in French Polynesia offer some rapid drift diving at times, so are best avoided until you are reasonably experienced, as are the deepest wrecks of Truk Lagoon. Of course, every diving destination can experience difficult conditions from time to time and these are simply part of any diver’s experience.
With the exception of the amazing Silver Banks, Tonga and Rurutu (French Polynesia) Humpback Whale encounters, the destinations featured in our brochure are aimed at the serious scuba diver rather than the snorkeler. However, Bonaire is a destination famed for the quality of its snorkeling, while Turneffe Island Lodge in Belize, Anthony’s Key Resort on Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras, Dominica, The Maldives, Manado, Gangga Island Resort & Spa, Wakatobi and Misool Eco Resort in Raja Ampat also offer good snorkeling opportunities.
TRAVELLING ALONE [top]
The main disadvantage of travelling alone is cost. Single occupancy supplements can be very expensive. If you want to avoid this additional cost, and are prepared to share, then a liveaboard is an excellent option. A few shore-based dive resorts offer a similar system, and there are few others that charge very small supplements for single occupancy. For many people, another potential drawback to dive travel by oneself is the problem of socializing in the evening. In the daytime one meets other divers, regardless of where one stays, but evenings can be a different matter. For this reason many lone travellers prefer a liveaboard, where there is no problem finding friends to chat to of an evening, or smaller shore-based operations where most of the guests are fellow divers. Amongst the latter we can recommend Turneffe Island Lodge in Belize, Castle Comfort Lodge in Dominica, Captain Don’s Habitat on Bonaire, Layang Layang Resort, Borneo Divers’ Mabul Dive Resort and Sipadan Water Village on Mabul, Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort on Kapalai, Scuba Seraya on Bali, Maluku Divers on Ambon, Wakatobi Dive Resort, Kima Bajo Resort at Manado, Gangga Island Resort, Kungkungan Bay Resort and Lembeh Resort at Lembeh Strait, Misool Eco Resort in Raja Ampat, Manta Ray Bay Hotel on Yap, Walindi Plantation Resort in New Britain and Lissenung Island in New Ireland. In particular, our Divequest group tours, which are open to all comers, are designed to offer an enjoyable social experience as well as great diving and/or underwater photography! Some are specifically designed for those travelling alone.
DISABLED DIVERS [top]
Suitable facilities are provided by Layang Layang Resort in Borneo, Kona Aggressor in Hawaii and Tropic Dancer in Palau.
NONDIVING PARTNERS [top]
You can still enjoy a dive trip if you have a non-diving partner! Some non-diving partners are happy to accompany their diving partner on a liveaboard, but this is something that you should discuss carefully between you first (please read the ‘Liveaboards’ section in this guide). Most non-divers find that a shore-based venue provides a better solution. Our destinations are selected primarily for their excellent diving, but some do have good facilities for non-divers. Captain Don’s Habitat in Bonaire has good swimming and snorkeling and the island’s capital town, with shops and restaurants, is just a 20 minute walk or short taxi ride away. In Saint Lucia, at the superb Ti Kaye Village, the diving is usually completed by lunchtime, leaving both divers and non-divers free to explore or relax for the rest of the day. The lovely and peaceful Anthony’s Key Resort on Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras or the excellent Kima Bajo Resort & Spa at Manado in Sulawesi are hard to beat as great places for practicing the art of relaxation! Little Cayman Beach Resort, Bandos Island and Komandoo Island Resorts in the Maldives, and Palau Pacific Resort offer a full range of activities for non-divers as well as some very comfortable accommodation and fine dining, while Turneffe Island Lodge in Belize offers sailing and kayaking. Mainland Belize, mainland India (in connection with Andamans diving), Malaysian Borneo, Bali, mainland Papua New Guinea and mainland Ecuador (in connection with Galapagos diving) have the potential for fascinating shore-based excursions. By making careful choices, non-divers can have a wonderful trip with their diving partner. Everyone can be happy!
Divers have sometimes to settle for the solution of taking separate trips from their families so that they can pursue their much-loved hobby. However, it is possible to take the children with you and dive as well! At the Cortez Club at the Sea of Cortez there is a full range of activities available for children aged 3-6 and 6 and upwards, including PADI Bubble Maker and Discover Scuba courses for the older kids. Child minding and baby sitting can be arranged locally. At Anthony’s Key Resort on Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras, families are well-catered for. Child-minding services can be arranged.
GROUP BOOKINGS [top]
We are always very happy to handle group travel arrangements for groups of friends, dive clubs, underwater photography societies etc. Our expertise in handling complex travel plans to far-flung parts of the globe is unsurpassed, so you can be sure you will be in good hands. For groups of 10 or more (making the same travel arrangements) we can typically provide one free place at the resort or on the liveaboard (although certain liveaboards will provide a free place with groups of 5-9).
LUXURY ACCOMMODATION [top]
Divequest destinations are almost always primarily selected for the quality of their diving, but many of our destinations offer a taste of luxury too! Almost all the liveaboard boats that we offer can be classified as very comfortable or, in some cases, of luxury standard. Shore-based venues with luxury or near-luxury hotel accommodation include Compass Point on Grand Cayman, Little Cayman Beach Resort, Ti Kaye Village on Saint Lucia, Komandoo Island Resort, Layang Layang Resort and Sipadan Water Village in Malaysian Borneo, Kima Bajo in Manado, Kungkungan Bay Resort at Lembeh Strait, Wakatobi, Palau Pacific Resort, The Pearl South Pacific Resort and Paradise Resort in Fiji.
There is little doubt that, for most keen divers, being on a liveaboard is the most productive way to experience the world’s best diving. The greatest single advantage that a liveaboard has to offer is the sheer number of dives that you can make during a relatively short time. While many shore-based dive centres offer only two or at most three boat dives a day, on first-class liveaboards the limit is usually 4 or 5 dives a day for those who wish to dive frequently. (On the other hand, if you just like to make 2 dives a day, no one will mind!) With a big airfare to pay for, it makes sense to dive often and maximize your enjoyment, unless of course you prefer a more relaxed pace.
Many liveaboards also provide opportunities to dive remote and otherwise inaccessible areas far beyond the range of day boats. They also offer more frequent night diving possibilities. Liveaboards have the flexibility to move on if conditions are less than perfect. As your dive gear is always handy there is also the fantastic opportunity to leap in the water when those amazing pelagic encounters occur – dive with dolphins, merge with the mantas or maybe even waltz with a Whale Shark!
There are no heavy gear bags to pack and re-pack, and no long boat journeys out to the dive sites and back to the resort: you will already be there. No hanging about between dives either, with the daily routine ashore being broken up by the need to be back at the dive centre in time for the afternoon boat dive. After a dive you have only a few metres to travel in order to shower and change and there are freshly prepared snacks and drinks ready and waiting within minutes of surfacing on the best quality boats. The restaurant is ‘on-site’.
Liveaboards tend to offer a much better social experience, especially for lone travellers. You will be with like-minded people who share your interests as a diver. The crew will also have plenty of fascinating fishy tales to tell! There is no problem socializing after diving, and no need to eat alone if you are travelling by yourself (the bane of single travellers ashore). A particularly attractive feature for many people is the fact that there is no need to pay a single occupancy supplement (as long as you are willing to share a cabin if required).
For many, nothing quite equals the joy of living at sea. Sip your morning coffee as you watch the morning sun creep above the horizon. As the sun dips beneath the sea relax with a glass of wine and your new-found friends at the end of a memorable days diving. In most parts of the world sea conditions in the areas worked by quality liveaboards are typically placid, so there is no need to expect a constant recourse to seasick pills!
Although expensive at first sight, top quality liveaboards offer very good value for money. Liveaboard trips include more diving (often double or more the quantity included in shore-based packages) and also all meals and snacks, and often drinks as well! You will have no car rental costs and no sight-seeing trip expenses. Consequently the cost per dive, even on luxury liveaboards, is often significantly less than for high quality shore-based trips.
A note for non-divers: If you are a non-diver you will need to think things over carefully before agreeing to travel on a liveaboard with your partner. If you enjoy being on boats and like to relax, sunbathe, read or generally hang about then the experience is likely to work for both of you. However, some people find being on a relatively small boat for a week or more very restricting, as the opportunities for shore excursions are inevitably fairly limited. All our liveaboard vessels welcome non-divers, but we want both of you to enjoy yourselves, so please think carefully about the pros and cons before deciding to book.