The top 3 live aboard diving trips for shark lovers.

The top 3 live aboard diving trips for shark lovers.

Sharks have long been portrayed in the media as mindless killing machines (thanks Jaws!) but this is far from the truth.  These apex predators are essential to keeping ocean ecosystems thriving and healthy.

If you are a bit apprehensive about diving with sharks, let me put your mind at ease. You’re more likely to win an Oscar than get bitten by a shark, and you’re also more likely to be killed by a toaster. So watch yourself when you’re making breakfast tomorrow.

Sharks are graceful and often shy and timid creatures, and are mesmerising to see on a dive. Watching them slink through the water with such ease is a stark contrast to the clips we see of them on the news, eyes rolled back in their head as they bite down on bait.

The picturesque dive destination; the Maldives, is home to over 26 species of shark. The Maldives is most well-known for its impossibly beautiful sandy cays bordered by turquoise water and abundance of coral reefs, so it’s easy to over-look the fact that this destination offers divers the chance to come face to face with a whole range of different shark species, including the enormous and completely harmless whale shark. Since 2009 there has been a complete ban on any form of shark fishing, so the Maldives is the place to head to to dive with healthy and stable populations of sharks.

1. The Maldives: Want sharks? Head south. Deep south.

school of hammerhead sharks from below
A school of hammerheads swimming overhead.

No doubt you’ve seen those awe-inspiring images of giant schools of hammerheads circling together on the web. How much better would it be to see it in real life?!

The Maldives is one of the few places where divers have the chance to spend some time immersed in a school of hammerhead sharks. One of the best spot in the Maldives to see hammerheads is in the Thaa Atoll, which is only accessible by live aboard boat. The ‘Deep South Shark’ trip on board the liveaboard ‘Carpe Vita’ will take you here among many other shark-filled destinations.

The ‘Deep South Shark’ trip is designed specifically for shark diving experiences in the Maldives. Starting in Male, this unique intinerary includes diving in Vaavu Atoll, Meemu Atoll and the Laamu atoll. You will also have the rare chance to see the the illusive thresher shark when you pass the equator and reach the Fuvahmulah atoll, where tiger sharks and thresher sharks are plentiful.

During the trip the ‘Carpe Vita’ will visit up to 8 different atolls, each more spectacular than the last and offering divers a variety of encounters with numerous different species of shark. Add Atoll is normally visited last, and here you’ll even have the chance to see manta rays.

These ‘Deep South’ shark trips only run in February and March when the conditions are premium. Spaces fill up quick so what are you waiting for?! Start planning your ‘Deep South’ shark adventure now!

The Carpe Vita during a beautiful Maldivian sunset. Click the image to learn more about this vessel.
The Carpe Vita during a beautiful Maldivian sunset. Click the image to learn more about this vessel.

2. The Maldives: A ‘Sharktastic’ adventure on board Emperor Atoll

woman diver and whale shark in the ocean
Coming face to face with a whale shark in South Ari Atoll. Image by Victoria Monk.

Between January and April divers can have ten days filled with nothing but sharks (and of course a few sunset cocktails!) onboard the Emperor Atoll. During these early months of the year, currents flowing from Sumatra and Indonesia not only bring fantastic visibility of 40 metres, but pelagic species coming to the reef for a quick snack.

Lonely planet rated the Maldives as one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks, and it’s easy to see why.  The 12 foot ocean giants can be spotted year round in certain parts of the Maldives, and one of the best sites to spot whale sharks is at ‘Maamigili Beyru‘ in the southern part of Ari Atoll.  You’ll visit this area as part of your ‘Sharktastic’ journey and be able to come face to face with one of the largest, yet completely harmless sharks as juvenile whale sharks can be spotted here year-round.

South Ari Atoll is one of the largest atolls in the Maldives, and is renowned for encounters with big marine life. The area is scattered with pinnacles where pelagic species congregate, supplying divers with no shortage of incredible dive sites and more importantly, no shortage of shark interaction. ‘Rangali Madivaru’ translates directly from ‘Divehi’ (Maldivian language) to english as ‘Manta Point’. This is without a doubt one of the best Manta cleaning stations in the Maldives, and mantas coming in for a quick clean are regularly spotted.

Kandooma Thila’ in the South Male Atoll is home to shark cleaning stations and grey reef sharks and eagles rays can be seen in abundance. ‘Cocoa Corner’ is one of the best shark dives in the Male atoll, with hundreds of grey reef sharks stalking the outer edges of the reef.

Onboard the MV Emperor Atoll you’ll head to the Vaavu and Meemu atolls which like the South and South Male Atoll, are places plentiful in sharks. If the conditions are right, you’ll visit ‘Bodu Miyaru Kandu’ or ‘Big Shark Channel’. It’s all in the name really, and shark fanatics won’t be disappointed on this dive.

The picturesque Emperor Atoll. Click the image to learn more!
The picturesque Emperor Atoll. Click the image to learn more!

The MV Emperor Atoll takes a maximum of 12 divers on each trip, making your live aboard adventure far more personal and resulting in crowd-free diving. Most dives are drift dives, so divers should be comfortable diving in strong current.

3. Indonesia: A festival of whale sharks on board WAOW

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) gather under fishing platforms to feed from fishermens nets. Source: unknown
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) gather under fishing platforms to feed from fishermens nets. Source: unknown

In Cenderawasih Bay in the northern Province of West Papua, Indonesia whale sharks gather under the platforms of traditional fishing platforms; ‘bagans’. Normally filter feeders that consume plankton, these opportunistic feeders have developed a taste for the fish that slip through the fishermans’ nets. Because of this, intimate sightings of whale sharks are guaranteed onboard the WAOWs’ ‘Festival of Whale Sharks’ trip.

Along with intimate encounters with these gentle giants well off the beaten track, a ‘Festival of Whale Shark’ trip on board the WAOW will visit dive sites full of pelagic species, and also offers some fantastic muck dives such as the ‘Fish Market’ so all divers tastes are catered for, however the friendly whale sharks of Cenderawasih Bay are the show stoppers of this live aboard. Diving in Cenderawasih Bay is best from April – November, when the weather is fine and calm.

The luxury live aboard 'WAOW'. Click the image and find out more.
The luxury live aboard ‘WAOW’. Click the image and find out more.

Diving with the most respected fish in the sea is a fantastic experience. Live aboard diving on a trip with an itinerary that is specifically tailored to increase shark experiences is a great way to holiday for any shark enthusiast!

The top six dive destinations to encounter BIG animals.

The top six dive destinations to encounter BIG animals.

Macro diving is great, but there’s nothing quite like being side by side underwater with some of the biggest animals in the ocean. Being a mere body length away from an inquisitive dolphin, or watching on in awe as a manta ray dances around you is indescribably amazing. From humpback whales to great white sharks, we’ve got you covered for the best places to dive with the biggest creatures to call the ocean home.

Where to go if…

You want to come face to face with a great white shark.

Media worldwide has long portrayed Great White Sharks to be monsters of the deep, but after diving with these sharks you’ll realize this just simply isn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong, your heart will be beating at a hundred miles an hours as the sharks slowly swim past you as they check you out, but it’s impossible to return from a dive with a great white without a new sense of respect for these apex predators.

Mexico is the place to head if you’re up for coming face to face with a great white shark. Choosing an itinerary when it comes to live aboard diving in Mexico is a tough decision, as there are no shortage of fantastic dive sites. For great white shark diving though, you want to book a trip that includes Guadalupe in its itinerary. Dive live aboard’s visiting Mexico, such as Solmar V, are specifically set up for cage diving with great white sharks.

You want to be immersed in a school of hammerhead sharks.

In the Coco’s Islands off Costa Rica hammerhead sharks can be found in the hundreds, and that’s not all you’ll see diving in this iconic and protected area.

The renowned dive destination is a melting pot of underwater biodiversity, and is 550 kilo metres off the coast of Costa Rica so is best explored by live aboard. It seems that the more remote the destination, the more phenomenal the marine life and along with swimming alongside 200 or so scalloped hammerheads divers on a live aboard in Costa Rica can expect to see Pacific manta rays, eagle rays, sea turtles giant schools of pelagic fish and whale sharks. The schools of fish can be so dense that they cover the sun, and all of a sudden it’s as if someone has flicked off the light switch and you’re surrounded by hundreds of hammerhead sharks.

You want to dive with manta rays. In the dark.

Manta rays are often referred to as the ‘ballerinas of the sea’. The completely harmless and unbelievably graceful rays are one of the most beautiful animals to see underwater. But how about a manta ray experience that gets the adrenalin racing even more? Diving with manta rays after dark in Kona, Hawaii is an amazing experience. The rays gather to feed on the plankton in the moonlight, and you simply watch on as the mantas twirl and spin around you. On one night dive onboard the Kona Aggressor II guests were astonished when over 46 manta rays showed up on a single dive.

You want to dive with the largest bony fish in the sea.

Sunfish are the largest, and the most bizarre looking species of fish. These giant fish love to sunbathe, and divers can often see them soaking up some rays on the surface of the ocean (hence the name!) Liveaboard diving in Indonesia is the best way to get yourself next to these enormous fish, and they can often be spotted visiting cleaning stations on shallower reefs.

You fancy babysitting a humpback whale calf.

Imagine being so close to a humpback whale that you can see every groove it it’s skin, every curve of its enormous body. Humpback whales are a migratory species, and when they head to warmer waters to mate and have their young that ocean-enthusiasts are presented with the rare opportunity to swim with them.

There are a handful of places to swim with humpback whales, but without a doubt the Dominican Republic is one of the best. Between January and March every year, the Turks and Caicos Explorer 11 visits Silver Bank and offers itineraries purely focused on getting people up close and personal with humpback whales.

You can’t decide what large animal you most want to encounter.

So why not try for them all on one phenomenal dive trip?

Ask an avid diver what their number one dream live aboard destination is, and no doubt they’ll respond with a live aboard in the Galapagos Islands. This area is so well protected that the marine life feels no need to shy away from divers. Here you can spot schools of hammerheads, whales, marine iguanas, birds with bright blue feet and almost every species of pelagic you can think of.

Had any amazing encounters with BIG marine life? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Why A Philippines Liveaboard is the Way Forward

Why A Philippines Liveaboard is the Way Forward

The first time I went to the Philippines was a budget trip with my husband, Thomas. We had all our dive gear and just a few clothes crammed into our burgeoning backpacks and set out with the aim of seeing as much as we could of the Visayas region by public transport. Our journey took us around Cebu, Negros, Bohol and Panay and there was so much to see and absorb of the colourful life here another visit was definitely on the cards. But whilst it was a fun experience, 5 hours on a bone-shaking bus to Malapascua or waiting 8 hours for a ferry from Bohol to Siquijor were not some of the trip highlights of our vacation!

When we were offered a job as cruise directors with Siren Fleet we jumped at the chance to dive the Philippines a different way, and even though we were working hard we did get to some new dive sites and the travelling was far easier.  We spent 8 months on board and during this time one of my favourite itineraries took us to Southern Leyte. This was a new area for us, plus being on the liveaboard we were able to explore a new diving region even further east – Hagakak Island. Here we found untouched reefs with soft corals, bommies, a wealth of critters and a few shark species. Even better there were no other divers around and the islands themselves are picturesque and easy to explore by kayak or speedboat. It was also whale shark season so we snorkeled daily with these gentle giants at Limasawa Island.

philippine_siren
Luxury Liveaboard Philippine Siren

With a wealth of dive resorts for all budgets in the Visayas (Cebu / Bohol / Negros) it would hardly seem that a liveaboard could improve your diving experience, but this year I boarded the Philippine Siren as a guest for a 7- night trip to Cabilao, Balicasag, Apo, Dauin (Negros) and Pescador Islands. Diving all those areas in just 7 days would be an impossible feat if you were land-based. We also dived with whale sharks at Oslob and could be there first thing in the morning before other snorkelers and tourists were up and about. Siren Fleet also run 10-night dive safaris which include Malapascua – so you can dive the highlights of the region without having to step foot on land – or wait for the Ceres Liner bus! The other great thing about being on a liveaboard is having a group of like-minded people to share the experience with. We met up with some old friends and made a few new ones which all adds to the fun of a dive trip.

Tubbataha, a tiny atoll in the Sulu Sea, is only open for diving between February and June each year. Due to its remote location is only accessible by dive liveaboard and sadly I have not as yet managed to take a trip there. The abundance of marine life – from sharks and rays to huge fish schools and turtles, plus pristine corals, sponges and sea fans – make this area a top destination for divers. The good news is that there are now several liveaboards to suit all budgets that operate dive trips to Tubbataha each year – so the plan for 2017 is made!

Diving by liveaboard can really enhance your experience in the Philippines and there are now several quality liveaboards to choose from. I dived with Siren Fleet but other options include Atlantis Azores and Solitude 1. You can search for trips and compare prices at www.liveaboard.com/philippines  

Live aboard diving in Mexico: you’re guaranteed to have a whale of a time.

Live aboard diving in Mexico: you’re guaranteed to have a whale of a time.

With a head like a truck and a body covered in polka dots, swimming alongside the enormous whale shark is high up on any avid divers ‘must do’ list of underwater experiences.

Whale sharks are the largest cartilaginous fish in the world, yet are nothing to be afraid of. The ocean giants filter feed on plankton, which explains the enormous size of their head and mouth. To sustain a 12 metre long shark feeding on a food source that is around 0.04% of its size requires one huge set of jaws.  Whale sharks scoop up plankton and any unsuspecting small fish hanging near the ocean’s surface, using their mouth like a net to collect the massive amount of food they require.

Whale sharks thrive in waters of warmer temperatures, which means if you want to spend some time underwater with them pack your bags for somewhere tropical. Mexico is not only renowned for the encounters travellers can have with these magical animals, but is an insanely fantastic and relatively untouched dive destination in its own right.

Mexico is  where seeing these incredible creatures is almost guaranteed at certain times of the year. Live aboard diving vessels in Mexico usually plan their itineraries around the seasons, so you’ll have to decide where you want to go and what you want to see prior to booking your trip.

Whale sharks can often be spotted in the Sea of Cortez. Protected by the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez’s relatively calm water stretches for over 1000 kilometres. Almost a third of the world’s species of cetaceans can be found in this underwater microcosm, and diving in the Sea of Cortez is absolutely phenomenal. From July to October, dive live aboards  visit this area for week long action-packed trips.

Scattered throughout the Sea of Cortez are endless pinnacles, islands and rock formations so there’s no shortage of live aboard dive sites. There are few animals that can melt even the coldest of hearts quite like sea lions can, and the Sea of Cortez is where a dive can quickly turn into an underwater play session with these puppies of the sea! It’s not uncommon to be able to tick more than one kind of whale off your bucket list, with species of orcas, dolphins and whales spotted regularly.

The unique geographical position of the sea and the surrounding area has resulted in species that can only be found in this area, and diving in the Sea of Cortez presents divers with the rare chance to encounter the endangered and unique sub species of porpoise endemic to the area, the vaquita. The Sea of Cortez is bursting with so much life that it’s difficult to list it all and really do this melting pot of marine life justice, so I recommend you just book that trip and head over there yourself! Due to the remoteness of the Sea of Cortez, the best way to head over to this part of the world is by a dive live aboard.

A humpback whale calf comes in a little closer to inspect my camera lens.
A humpback whale calf comes in a little closer to inspect my camera lens.

If a different kind of ocean giant is more your thing, Socorro in Mexico is one of the few destinations where you have the chance to interact underwater with humpback whales (another great spot to swim with humpbacks is the Kingdom of Tonga).  Socorro has been coined ‘Mexicos Galapagos’, and it’s easy to see why.

The Socorro Islands are a group of 4 islands each named individually, but are often collectively referred to as the Socorro group. Liveaboard diving at Socorro offers encounters of the pelagic kind, and plenty of them. Sharks can be found here in the hundreds.

Solmar_1_printw825h550crwidth825crheight550
The luxury Mexican dive liveaboard, the Solmar V. Click the image to learn more!

The team onboard the Solmar V live aboard once counted 7 different species of shark on a single dive!

Huge schools of hammerheads can be seen gliding past along with Giant Pacific manta ray. This species of manta can grow to just under 7 metres from wing-tip to wing-tip, and are regularly visitors to the Socorro Islands. Whale sharks are a special treat at the islands, and can be spotted in November/December and late April/May.

If heart-stopping adrenalin rushes and interactions with some of the biggest creatures to call this blue planet of ours home is what you’re all about, Mexico needs to be your next live aboard dive destination. The biodiversity of this dive destination truly needs to be seen to be believed.

High Five for Koh Haa

High Five for Koh Haa

Koh Haa islands in ThailandKoh Haa, or Five Islands, is in Thailand’s South Andaman Sea, the area consists of 5 limestone outcrops, under which are caverns and coral encrusted boulders.  I came to this famous dive site in December 2014 as part of a Thailand dive liveaboard holiday and was instantly impressed by the coral life and critters. Due to persistent rumours that the corals in Thailand were bleached and mostly dying, I hadn’t expected the diving to be that great but was so pleasantly surprised during the 3-night liveaboard trip that I’ve vowed to go back again.

Corals of ThailandMy favourite dive site of the trip was the Cathedral due to  outstanding corals. We descended down to the large cathedral-like cavern at just 5-8m depth. This is a super spot to capture divers in silhouette if you’re into underwater photography. Emerging from the cavern you come to a ravine between the main island reef and two large boulders, which I can only assume was all one structure at some point. Diving along the ravine I opted to make a figure-of-eight pattern around the boulders. Cutting through the split I came to one of the most fantastic broccoli coral gardens I’ve ever seen. The sea bed, at 20-30m, was covered with these light purple dendronephthya, only having air in my cylinder I was unable to explore for very long at that depth but this coral field stretched as far as I could see and that was at least 30m!

chromodoris_1Returning to the boulders, themselves covered with soft corals, cup corals and black coral bushes, I was able to find several species of nudibranch, moray eels being cleaned by attendant commensal shrimps, file fish, scorpion fish, wentletraps and a porcelain crab. I’m positive that this site would also be home to ghost pipefish and perhaps seahorses but I didn’t manage to find any at this time.

wentletrap Batangas halgerda

porcelain crab

Moray eel

Moving up to the shallow top of the boulders at 8m I was stunned to see beautiful schools of snapper cruising about in swathes around the ridges. I spent the rest of the dive time there, mesmerized by their movement before returning to the main reef for my safety stop.

Sea fans thailandThis was definitely one site I would have been happy to dive again, but being there were more places to dive and we needed to begin our journey back towards Phi Phi Island. Over the course of the 3 days we dived not only Koh Haa but spent a day around Phi Phi. Bida Nok was lovely – with big fish schools around us and one group finding leopard sharks and maybe a hammerhead, though I’m not sure I believed them! Other dives were made at Shark Point, where the sea fans are huge and very pretty, and the King Cruiser wreck. This wreck is now home to huge schools of fish and so encrusted with corals and barnacles that nudis, flatworms and smaller benthic fish call it home.

Sadly due to adverse weather we did not make the crossing down to Hin Daeng and Hin Muang. These sites are also famous not only for their soft corals and fish life but for manta ray and whale shark sightings, so of course I was disappointed but I think the dives made at Koh Haa made up for that and I have even more excuse to go again!

Many of these dive areas in Thailand can be reached by day boat from Phuket, Phi Phi or Koh Lanta but choosing a liveaboard I was able to combine them all together and miss the day boat crowds. My trip was only 3 days long and we managed 11 dives in total. I opted to dive with MV Scuba Adventure, a budget liveaboard operating out of Phuket, but there are many more options to choose from.

Thailand Aggressor LiveaboardThe Thailand Aggressor offers 7-night trips on their “South Andaman” itinerary departing from Chalong, Phuket. This itinerary can also be combined with a 7-night trip to the Similan Islands, to make a full dive program of the west coast of Thailand.

 

Panunee (1)w825h550crwidth825crheight550The Panunee Liveaboard, offers 5-night trips to Phi Phi, Hin Daeng and Koh Haa, also departing from Chalong. Dive safaris can be combine with trips to the Similan Islands, with a 2 day break in Phuket.

 

 

Giamani Liveabaord ThailandThe Giamani Liveaboard offers a 3-day / 2-night dive safari which departs from Chalong and cruises directly to Koh Haa then Hin Daeng and back to Phi Phi before returning to Phuket. You could easily combine with their 7-night Similans trip too.

 

Top three live aboard trips for divers on a budget.

Top three live aboard trips for divers on a budget.

Travelling on a shoe-string doesn’t mean you have to rule out jumping on a diving live aboard or two. (Which we think is the only way to scuba dive. Find out why here).

The one thing that you need to remember about booking a dive live aboard is that they are all-inclusive. So while it might seem like you’re forking out a fair bit of your hard earned cash, you’re actually paying for your food for a week or so, your air fills, your insanely amazing diving, a comfortable bed and in most cases, all those sunset cocktails.

A budget dive live aboard is a particularly good choice for anyone who wants to spend part of their time touring the above-water sites of their chosen holiday destination, yet also wants to explore what the underwater world has to offer. And the best thing? Once you’ve paid for your live aboard trip upfront all you have left to do is count down the days on your calendar without worrying if you’ve put enough cash aside for your holiday, because you’ve already paid for it!

Whilst some people might not want to splurge all their holiday savings on a diving live aboard, there are plenty of options out there to suit a diver with a tight budget. Below we’ve listed the top three best live aboards for those on a budget, in a few of the must-dive destinations.

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Dive the Great Barrier Reef AND have money left over to see everything else Australia has to offer? Yes please!
Dive the Great Barrier Reef AND have money left over to see everything else Australia has to offer? Yes please!

This place is spectacular. Thousands of kilometres long and the legendary David Attenborough’s favourite place in the world (or so he told Mr. Obama). The Great Barrier Reef is the one place you have to dive if your planning on visiting the sunburnt country that is Australia.

While there are day boats that leave from Port Douglas, Cairns and the Whitsunday’s, hands-down the best way to see the Reef is on a dive live aboard. There is nothing more beautiful than waking up and getting in your dive gear for a dawn dive, just as the sun is beginning to rise over the horizon. Watching the fish begin to become more active after a night of rest, and seeing the coral regain its colour as the sun begins to get higher in the sky is an incredible experience that you just don’t get on a day trip.

You’ll visit the more untouched parts of the Great Barrier Reef on a dive live aboard, and the Scuba Pro vessels offer trips that won’t break the bank.  ScubaPro has three vessels, called ScubaPro I, ScubaPro II, ScubaPro III. For a two night trip you’re looking at around $230 AUD a day, and the short length means you can visit the Great Barrier Reef and have still have time to see the rest of Australia and do some croc-wrangling, koala cuddling and kangaroo wrestling.

The Red Sea, Egypt

The Red Sea Aggressor. Click the image to learn more about this fantastic live aboard.
The Red Sea Aggressor. Click the image to learn more about this fantastic live aboard.

This is not only one of the most renowned scuba diving destinations, but also one of the most reasonably priced. If you’ve got your heart set on a Euro-trip, the Red Sea needs to be on your travel itinerary. With no shortage of budget diving liveaboards, the Red Sea is renowned for it’s incredible coral formations, drift and wall dives, pelagic species and tropical water.

Sipadan, Malaysia

The Celebes Explorer is the only vessel that offers year round diving in this iconic dive destination and is great for a diver on a budget. Another area of the underwater world that is  best explored by live aboard, you can expect turtles galore along with huge schools of pelagic fish on a backdrop of fantastic coral formations. There are only a maximum of 120 diving permits issued in a single day, ensuring this area remains pristine and treasured, making your trip even more rewarding.

Liveaboard.com has the most extensive range of live aboard dive trips to suit any dive enthusiast, on every kind of budget.

Have you got any great tips for divers on a budget? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Diving Palau; A Sharktastic Adventure

Diving Palau; A Sharktastic Adventure

The spectacular diving in Palau first came to my attention when a dive buddy moved there for work in 2008, but it would be almost 5 years before I had the opportunity to dive there for myself…and yes it was worth the wait!

Palau -where’s that?

Palau is an island nation made up of around 250 islands in the Pacific Ocean, to the east of the Philippines and north of Indonesia. The remote position and being on the edge of the Coral Triangle makes the country an ideal location for a wide variety of marine life. Many shark species are known to frequent the waters of Palau, so much so that in 2009 the country was declared a shark sanctuary with all shark fishing activities banned.

Marine Life of Palau

Palau is a veritable dream for big fish lovers. There are numerous dive sites where grey reef sharks and white tip reef sharks are commonly seen – and in good numbers. Other shark species seen are black tips, hammerhead, tiger, whale and bull – though these are not on the day to day dives the possibility is thrilling. Add to that the huge schools of snapper, barracuda and trevally jack and you’re on to a winner. Hawksbill turtles, though considered rare, are found on almost every dive in Palau, whilst huge Napoleon wrasse get up closes to divers, unperturbed by our presence and schools of bumphead parrotfish congregate in their thousands during mating time. During my liveaboard trip I had the pleasure of diving with 8 manta rays for 60 minutes! Though I’d seen a few mantas before in Egypt, Komodo and Raja Ampat, this had to go down as one of the best manta dives ever due to the way these graceful creatures looped and twisted, open mouthed feeding hungrily on the plankton.

Now I’m a small critter lover and some of the dive guides found it entertaining that I should be photographing nudibranchs when there were sharks to watch, but if you love a mix of big and small then Palau is a fabulous option for a dive holiday. During my 10-day trip we not only saw nudibranchs but pipefish, leaf fish, mandarin fish and dart gobies. I’ve read reports of frogfish and seahorses too.

Palau’s Best Dive Sites

The topography of dive sites in Palau is varied from reef walls and coral shelves, to caverns and shallow reefs as well as several wrecks.

Reef Sharks Palau
Sharks at Blue Corner courtesy of Julie Barlow

Unarguably the most popular dive site in Palau is Blue Corner. Famed for its shark action and big schools of fish, divers approach the reef edge and, if the current is running, use a reef hook to secure themselves to watch the impressive shark displays. Blue Corner can be combined with Blue Holes – an open cavern where fire clams are found spectacular for atmospheric photography. We dived here 4 times during our trip as the site was so superb and the shark activity fascinating.

New Drop Off is another dive site known for shark action, but a great place for watching turtles munching on the soft corals. This quickly became one of my favourites due to the variety of marine life, one minute we were watching sharks cruising about on the reef edge, the next turtles, then a large trigger fish buzzed by followed by more sharks in the shallows. Awesome!

Chandelier Cave provides an excellent experience. The entrance is at about 10m and very open so there is plenty of natural light. As you dive deeper into the cavern it opens very wide, however the water does not reach all the way to the cave ceiling creating air pockets and a place to chat mid-dive.

mantas in palau
Crazy manta action in German Channel – courtesy of Julie Barlow

German Channel, a deep cut in the reef has two coral bommies at 25m and 15m where manta rays come to be cleaned. With plankton bloom the mantas stick around for feeding. Best manta dive EVER!!!

Jake’s Sea Plane – is likely one of the most photographed wrecks of all time –save the Thistlegorm or Kittiwake. The dive site is compact but the plane itself is of interest to photographers – especially when the viz is great and sunbursts can be seen.

Siaes Corner/ Tunnel lies on the outer edge of the reef surrounding Ulong Island. Getting there can be a little tricky as the reef shelf is very shallow. On our liveaboard trip the wind was up so our cruise director changed the dive plan to an alternative site – except no one told the dinghy driver and we ended up there anyway. Descending down the steep coral covered wall, we entered the large cavern and came out on the other side of the reef at 25m.Continuing on to the corner with reef sharks cruising around us we hooked in and just enjoyed the snappers and jacks bustling about, chasing fusiliers. Our dive group was thrilled by this turn of events as the dive was excellent (the other group not so much!)

If you want to see schooling snappers spawning then Peleliu Cut is the place to go around new moon. Whilst for spawning bumphead parrotfish diving at Ulong’s Sand Bank around the full moon produces results. For guaranteed action join the team from Unique Expeditions who run special spawning trips each year aboard the S/Y Palau Siren liveaboard.

Palau Dive LogThese were just a few of the dives we made during the 10-night safari, others included Dexter’s Wall, Virgin Blue Holes, Iro Maru wreck, Ulong Corner / Channel, Heian wreck, Peleliu Express, Big Drop Off and Sam’s Wall.

 

We also found time for snorkeling in Jelly Fish Lake and for a boat cruise through the Rock Islands.

Palau gets better and better…

Plans are currently underway for Palau to become a full marine sanctuary with strengthened surveillance and enforcement of their Marine Sanctuary and Fishing zone by 2017.

Want to Dive Palau?

I spent my time in Palau diving with Sam’s Tours Palau and S/Y Palau Siren. Whilst the hospitality and experience of the guides at STP was fabulous and I’d definitely choose them again for a land-based trip, I felt the ease and comfort of the Palau Siren, less time to dive sites, plus avoiding the crowds tips the balance in favour of taking a liveaboard. There are several dive liveaboards operating in Palau from which to choose – S/Y Palau Siren, Palau Aggressor II, Ocean Hunter I, Ocean Hunter III and Solitude One.

Ocean_Hunter_1 (1)w825h550crwidth825crheight550
Ocean Hunter I
Tropic-Dancer-Yachtw825h550crwidth825crheight550
Tropic Dancer
Solitude-One2w825h550crwidth825crheight550
Solitude One

 

Palau_Aggressor_Peleliu (2)w825h550crwidth825crheight550
Palau Aggressor II