To me there is nothing better than combining my two loves of diving, and going on holiday, into one. This is why over the last few years I have always planned my holidays around a dive site I want to explore.
By luck it also so happens that nearly all of the top dive sites around the world are located in breathtakingly beautiful places to go on holiday where there’s plenty of things to do out of the water if you want a break from diving, or are travelling with non-divers.
And with flight paths and developed countries’ infrastructure improving every year, it has opened up a whole new range of possibilities to easily explore.
Nothing can beat a great dive holiday. However, I also know from experience that nothing is worse than a bad dive holiday, and all diving sites are definitely not the same.
To help you avoid a disappointing trip – and a huge waste of money – I have listed the best dive sites around the world, which either I, or someone I know, have been to so can personally recommend.
I have made it as easy as possible for you to explore any off my bucket list by including all the information you will need on how to get there and what to do when you get there.
How many of these sites have you been to?
Do you have another site I have missed off but you think deserves a place on my list?
Or are you due to visit another diving site and want to see if I know anything about it that I can share with you?
If so drop me a line.
Palau, Micronesia – Best Dive Site For Big Fish
Palau is a country 458km squared off the southeast of the Philippines, made up of three islands – Koror, Malakal and Ngerkebesang. Researchers estimate that approximately 41,000 divers visit Palau each year, of which around 8,600 come specifically to dive with big fish such as sharks.
Best time of year to visit
December to March is when diving is usually at its best, with calm, warm water and less rain. The rainy season is September – March time.
How to get there
Unless you are travelling from Hong Kong, Manila, Tokyo, Seoul or a handful of other Asian cities, there are no direct international flights to Palau which can make it a bit of a pain to get to.
However, finding an international flight to one of these Asian hubs and then catching an extra flight to Palau is completely worth it in order to see its big fish and underwater beauty. It also means some of the country’s islands remain more unspoilt and quiet than other hot diving spots such as Bahamas and Malaysia due to the fact they require a little more effort to get to.
Your flight will arrive at Koror which is the ‘capital’ of Palau. Koror town itself is home to about two-thirds of Palau’s population and has plenty of dry land activities, restaurants and shops if you get tired of being in the water (as if that would ever happen!)
Where to dive
Palau has a huge choice of different dive spots that you could easily spend weeks in the country if you wanted to spend a decent time diving at them all. You might want to pick two or three locations maximum for a week’s trip without feeling rushed. That’s what I did.
I stayed in Koror at the Palasai Hotel Palau for the first four nights I arrived to rest up after a long flight and a stopover. The hotel is bang in the middle of the capital on the main street and some of the rooms have breathtaking views of the rock islands.
I spent the first day staring out the window excitedly telling myself I would be over heading over there the next day.
The hotel was built in 1998 and in some places, such as the room furniture, it can feel a little old not having been updated since it was built but it is clean and the rooms are a decent size. The staff there are so friendly and wonderful, and so too is the breakfast buffet!
From Koror I took a short boat ride to the rock islands. There are plenty of tour guides or boat companies along that beach that can take you when you get there, or you can ask the hotel to book for you.
On the rock islands thanks to the conservation work which has been going on there I saw an amazing array of underwater life (probably more than I did in the Great Barrier Reef!).
The Lonely Planet describes the rock islands as “like nowhere else on earth. It’s no exaggeration to say that these unique island formations scattered across a 32km stretch of turquoise ocean southwest of Koror are the reason to come to Palau [….]Unsurprisingly, the Rock Islands are a world-class destination for diving, snorkelling and kayaking.”
These islands have been added to the World Heritage Sites 2012 due to their beauty and sea life. This has increased their popularity so now some parts are extremely busy with touristy activities for non-divers such as kayaking. But there are plenty of islands which means plenty of water to have your own spot.
I asked the boat owner to take me around the back to some of the quieter islands. I would say I had the sea to myself but I did have to share it with an array of big fish, including about hammer heads and black tip sharks!
Lunch was spent in my favourite way – eating a sandwich (I had taken with me) on a small sand beach, my diving gear had dried in the sunshine by the time I had finished my sandwich – and I was back in the water.
It is yet another great thing about these islands that you can stay in the comfort and convenience of the city centre and catch a daily boat there and back to the rock islands in no time at all. This also makes it a great place to take travel companions who cannot dive, as they can either travel to the rock islands with you and take a swim, or stay on the mainland which is a short boat ride away.
After spending 4 days in Koror, I was ready to venture a bit further to probably what is Palau’s most famous big animal diving site – Blue corner, which is only 25 miles south west of Koror .
The currents can be pretty strong here so simply clip yourself in to the reek hook and wait. I only had to wait for about 10 minutes until a snapper came past, then literally on its heels was a barracuda. Then it was non-stop one big fish after the next: red-toothed triggerfish, tuna, wahoo, eagle rays and turtles. I met a diver there who returns to blue corner every year and within two years he had seen 12 different types of sharks in blue corner alone.
The current can be very strong in blue corner so when it’s at its maximum it’s only suitable for experienced divers. Yet there were a few novices who were quite comfortable there when the current was milder.
Other diving spots to explore whilst you’re there
As I was in Palau for a week I only had time to head to two diving spots as there is nothing I hate more than rushing around only staying one night in a place without enough time to unpack your suitcase before you move on. However, if you have more time some divers I met during my stay in Palau recommended Ulong channel and Peleieu Express as other top diving spots for big fish.
There is also the option of a liveaboard where an operator will take you around for minimum of a week to different dive sites instead of you having to arrange your own separate boat trips. Whilst this is a great way to fit in more dives, I like to be in charge of where I want to go and how long I want to stay in a place.
The distance is the only thing I can complain about Palau. Without a direct flight from Europe, States or even Australia it just makes it a really long way once you add any stopovers unless you are coming from another nearby country. It also makes it an expensive place to fly to and stay because it is rather off the backpacker trail (which is probably why most the visitors I met were divers not gap year backpacking students on a budget).
Overall, Palau really is an amazing place for big fish. You will be hard pressed to see as many different big fish species and numbers in one place with the advantage of having access to comfortable amenities and friendly locals at the same time.