One of the ways learning to dive changes your life is that it alters the way you choose and plan holidays. It's not a massive shift, but you'll probably start to add a couple more steps into your destination research. When you check the weather patterns for potential destinations, you also start to check out the water temperatures and the seasons when your bucket-list critters are more likely to be in town. When you book flights, you start to pore over the small print to check baggage limits more closely. And when you choose your resort, the presence of a house reef may become more important than a swimming pool. While how to choose a dive destination will ultimately depend on what type of diving you enjoy or wish to try and who your travel buddies are, here are a few questions to consider when choosing your next underwater adventure...
A dive holiday or a holiday with some diving?
The first thing to decide on regarding how to choose a dive destination is whether you're planning a dive holiday or a holiday with some diving. If diving will be the main activity and the main reason for travel, consider staying in dedicated dive resorts and liveaboards. Destinations like Palau, the Maldives and Cocos Island are perfect for those looking to dive, eat, sleep and repeat, while the Galapagos remains the ultimate dive destination for those looking for a liveaboard trip in the company of some of the ocean's most impressive megafauna.
If you're not planning to dive every single day, it's worth picking dive destinations where there are other experiences on offer. Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, the Red Sea and Oman all fit the bill, with a variety of dive sites, plus rich histories to discover and an array of top-side activities for non-dive days.
What do you want to see?
Many divers have bucket lists of marine life they are hoping to encounter below the waves, and if you're one such diver, your wish list can help you narrow down your dive destinations. Many creatures, including manta rays and whale sharks, are more prevalent in certain destinations at certain times of the year.
Whale sharks top many a diver's bucket list and if you're itching to see one of these huge, spotty behemoths, make sure to time you trip carefully. Once you have some rough dates in mind, you can then check reports regarding the best whale shark diving destinations to see which places' whale shark seasons match your travel timeframe.
For those who prefer the smaller critters, do your research to find out when certain species are more abundant. Meanwhile, for macro diving, the wind conditions can come into play. Many macro sites are located in bays that are either sheltered or choppy depending on the time of year. Again, a good strategy is to start with choosing your dates first, then find the best weather patterns to suit.
What is your level of experience?
Your experience level is a key consideration when it comes to the question of how to choose a dive destination. If you've just completed your first dive certifcation course, for example, shipwrecks like Chuuk Lagoon will be too deep. And as incredible as the diving and marine life is in Komodo National Park, you may not be ready to handle the washing-machine currents on some of the more popular sites.
Destinations like Bali and Hurghada have a mix of dive sites for all levels to enjoy and can be great choice for family dive holidays, whereas destinations like the Galapagos, Cocos Island and Socorro are accessible by liveaboard only, and best suited to more experienced divers.
Dive destinations that offer a good mix of relaxed dive sites and trickier ones are also good for those looking to gain more experience diving in currents or venturing a little deeper. In such destinations, you can speak with the dive centre staff, and they can help you plan when the conditions will be suitable for your level of experience at the trickier sites.
Long-haul or short-haul?
If you're yearning to dive alongside thresher sharks in Malapascua, but you can only get one week off work, a 12-hour journey probably won't be the best option. Meanwhile, the Azores - off of Portugal - is only a four-hour flight away and offers diving with whale sharks, mako sharks and manta rays.
For northern Europeans with a week at their disposal, dive destinations like Gozo, Oman and the Red Sea all offer excellent diving and are just one short-haul flight away. And for those looking for something a little different? Head to Iceland (just a three-hour flight from London) for the chance to dive between two continents.
The Lunar Cycle
If you enjoy drift dives, it's worth having a little look at the tide charts and moon phases for your potential destinations. For example, Palau (the land where the reef hook was invented) is a big drift-diving destination, and the full moon brings about bigger tidal changes; stronger, faster currents; and, according to some, more big fish.
For those who are a little less inclined to dive in stronger currents, plan your trip to avoid the full moon, when the conditions should be a little easier. But also keep in mind that currents can also get a little freaky around the new moon too...