What with all the recent confusion surrounding air bridges, travel corridors and quarantine, short-term travel is still very much up in the air. Or not. It's hard to keep up, sometimes. Looking further ahead, though, we believe that a year hence travel will have returned to at least a modicum of normality, and that's really quite convenient because some of the greatest diving experiences in the world need booking way in advance. These fleeting experiences in inaccessible places mean planning ahead is not just recommended, it's essential. So, if ever the maxim: 'always have a trip booked so you've got something to look forward to' applied, it's now - even if that trip is in 2021 or 2022. And, as ever, Original Diving's take on these trips will make them even more memorable. Here are six of Head of Original Diving Louisa's long haul and long lead time legends. They are all-time favourite Original Diving destinations and experiences, all of which need nailing down many, many months (if not years) in advance.
'You know that we love Raja Ampat for its glorious dive sites, reached by some of the world's most luxurious liveaboards, but the best (by far) land-based hotel - Misool - is also a complete gem. We're not the only ones who have cottoned on to this, unfortunately, which is why we're struggling to find any availability until the end of 2021. If you want to visit this special place - famed for its admirable sustainability stance - any time soon, we'd recommend thinking about it now. On the subject of liveaboards, The Arenui is currently my favourite boat in Indonesia. There are only a few spaces for next summer left and then it's all about 2022, so you need to move fast with this as well. I spent a fortnight on this boat last year and it was the best all round dive experience I've ever had. Beautiful boat, incredible service, incredible food and the best guides in the perfect dive destination. One more thing about liveaboards in Indonesia, if you have already 'done' Komodo and Raja Ampat, there's still plenty more to explore on transition cruises (where liveaboards relocate according to the season) through superb dive destination areas as Alor, the Forgotten Islands, the Banda Sea and Triton Bay.'
The Galapagos, Ecuador
'With all the postponements from this year, all the best liveaboards in the Galapagos Archipelago are nearly fully booked for next year already. On the diving front, a quick reminder: the Galapagos is basically about the big stuff - whale sharks the size of buses, huge schools of hammerheads, mantas galore, masses of marine iguanas and penguins and more.'
Alphonse Islands, Seychelles
'Somewhere that always needs to be booked far in advance, Alphonse Island is dictionary definition remote, located 250 miles from the Seychelles capital Mahe. Limited flight schedules and even more limited spaces on those flights means booking a long way out is essential. The best time to go is from October to April, so in all likelihood you might need to look at 2021-2022. When you do go, you can expect some of the finest diving in the world because in our opinion Alphonse has the best coral quality in the Indian Ocean, and it's the sort of place where anything can turn up. There are 33 established dive sites (with more being discovered all the time), sheer drop-offs covered in soft corals, expansive hard coral plateaus and an exceptionally healthy and diverse fish population.'
'Again, with all the postponements from 2020 to 2021, the liveaboard diving in Mexico's Revillagigedo Archipelago needs to be booked up ASAP. The main event here is the big stuff, and advanced divers can expect ten species of shark including whale sharks; humpbacks (at the right time of year); giant manta interactions where the curious mantas like your bubbles tickling their tummies; and super friendly dolphins. Socorro is difficult to get to (it's an overnight liveaboard voyage from Cabo), but worth every second of travel. Head there from January to April for humpbacks, while May to July is bait ball season when everything intensifies.'
'In the remote Tuamotus Islands in French Polynesia there's a different reason to book early - the fact that the best pensions (charming small lodges) are really small so get booked up way in advance. For instance, in Fakarava there is really only one decent pension and Rangiroa only has a handful. Just to make things more challenging still, the flight schedules are complex and limited, but that's where we step in to offer our expertise. In terms of what to expect when you're there, Rangiroa is famous for the legendary Tiputa Pass dive (and snorkel) site while Fakarava is quite simply the jewel in the crown of French Polynesia diving. The north pass into the lagoon here is technically difficult (there are seven currents to contend with) so only for advanced divers with 50-plus dives under their weight belt, but in the south my dives left me speechless. I witnessed over 200 grey reef sharks on the incoming tide circling majestically in excellent visibility while numerous Napoleon wrasse glided by and yellow-margin triggerfish crunched away at the reef.'
'The Maldives might be less remote than some of the other places on this list, and be home to many more lovely properties in which to stay, BUT flights are looking pretty busy for Easter 2021 so I would definitely start thinking about booking this up now. In terms of which of the gorgeous island idylls to choose from, I think it would be fair to say that no-one knows the Maldives like Original Diving. We visit each and every year to check out our old favourite resorts and scope out the new arrivals and that gives us unparalleled powers of comparison so we will pick the right island (or liveaboard) for your specific requirements, be that somewhere family-friendly, with superb snorkelling, additional activities (such as surfing) or the most admirable sustainability programmes.'
So there you have it - in short, think long; long haul and long term. We're here to help put those plans into action.