The Best Dive Centres and Resorts in the World
Here are the Top 10 dive centres in the world as voted by our readers in the 2018 DIVE Travel Awards - more than 12,000 votes were registered, almost double those of the previous year - and Siladen were crowned winners for the second year running...
SILADEN RESORT & SPA INDONESIA
Siladen Resort & Spa is a boutique dive resort located on Pulau Siladen, a lush tropical island in the heart of the Bunaken National Marine Park, North Sulawesi. Situated just above the Equator on the lush tropical island of Pulau Siladen, the resort opened in 2003 as an eco- friendly, socially responsible dive resort, with an emphasis on protecting the Marine Park and the local environment. The secluded accommodations offer all amenities, with open-air showers and sunbeds overlooking the calm seas. Siladen Resort & Spa is a 5 Star PADI Resort with over 50 dive and snorkel sites within easy reach. The Bunaken National Park covers a total area of over 890 square Kilometers, hosts 390 different species of corals, is a centre of marine global biodiversity and ranks among the top diving destinations worldwide. The Park is known for its rich macro life and is mostly characterized by wall dives rich in hard and soft corals. Away from the park, Siladen also organizes muck/critter diving in Manado Bay or soft coral dives in the slopes of Bangka Island. A wreck is also available for diving close by. The traditional style wooden boats are spacious and have all the necessary safety facilities, particularly for photographers.
MUST SEE Located inside the crescent of Bunaken Island, Lekuan is described as the 'signature' dive of Bunaken Marine Park. Stretching for several kilometres, Lekuan is made up of four different dive sites, Lekuan I, II and III, and Pygmy. Encounters with green and hawksbill turtles are almost guaranteed, often more than ten in a single dive. Tuna, napoleon wrasse, eagle rays and reef sharks often spotted cruising along the coral and sponge encrusted wall, and plenty of macro species can be found in the nooks. Currents can be strong, but there is usually a place to shelter if necessary.
BUNAKEN OASIS RESORT & SPA INDONESIA
Bunaken Oasis is built on a steep hillside overlooking the mangroves on Liang Beach, a luxury resort that prides itself on offering a 5-star service while keeping its ecological footprint to a minimum. The Bunaken Marine National Park is a protected environment, and Bunaken Oasis uses its own desalination facility to produce drinkable fresh water and avoid the need for plastic bottles. Wastewater is processed through a water treatment plant. The resort offers 12 large, traditionally-built villas, including one family villa with two bedrooms, and one villa near the Long House for those who may have difficulty walking. A major focal point of the resort is a free-form infinity pool, with sun-loungers and easy access to the chill-out cocktail bar, for those who want to spend time above, rather than below, the water. The full-service restaurant serves Indonesian and international cuisine, and guest amenities also include an air-conditioned library, a fully-equipped classroom in the dive centre with 4k flat-screen TV, especially useful for photographic groups, and a spacious camera room with an abundance of charging points. The Spa's fully trained therapists give divers the opportunity to wind down with a massage from an extensive range of treatments.
MUST SEE Mike’s Point is one of the most popular dive sites around Bunaken with steep walls covered with huge gorgonian fans and bushes of black coral. The walls form a natural amphitheatre and the current can be strong, so it is usually dived as a drift. Eagle rays and whitetip reef sharks are commonly spotted, along with turtles and the occasional silvertip.
CENINGAN DIVERS INDONESIA
Ceningan Divers is an award-winning eco-oriented PADI 5 Star Dive Resort based on Nusa Ceningan, the smallest island of the trio that contains Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida, just off the south-eastern coast of Bali. The diver resort is located 'off the beaten track' some 500m away from the iconic yellow bridge that joins Ceningan to Lembongan, just on the edge of the mangrove forest that lies between the two islands. The world-class dive sites of Blue Corner, Mangrove and Toyapakeh are just a short distance away, with easy access to Penida's north shore. The famous Crystal Bay, home of the molas, and the resident population of manta rays that inhabit Penida's southern coastline are within easy reach. A Green Fins Operator and member of the International Ecotourism Society, diving in the area is conducted in small groups, and PADI courses are available in Bahasa Indonesia, English, French, German, Italian, Romansch, and Spanish.
MUST SEE Manta Point is a cleaning station on the south side of neighbouring Nusa Penida, and the location of a cleaning station for the islands' resident population of manta rays. Sightings are very common, sometimes just a solitary animal, sometimes over 20 circling the cleaning station while waiting their turn.
LEMBEH RESORT INDONESIA
Lembeh Resort is set in a secluded location on the Island of Lembeh, accessible only by boat from the mainland. First opened in 2002 with three guest cottages, today the resort is home to one cliff-side villa, 13 luxury cottages and six garden rooms. A swimming pool, spa, ocean deck and cocktail bar provide opportunities to relax at the end of a busy day of critter-diving. The accommodation is offered on a full-board basis and the central restaurant offers a wide range of foreign and domestic cuisine.
The dive centre, Critters@Lembeh, is located directly on the seafront and lays claim to be home to Lembeh's first and only dedicated full-time photography centre, with a full-time photo-professional on site. Five purpose-built dive boats staffed by experienced local guides with a maximum guest-to-guide ratio of 4:1. Full-time marine biologists are in residence to help with the post-dive critter identification.
MUST SEE Hairball with its Ambon scorpionfish, Nudi Falls with pygmy seahorses (and nudibranchs, obviously) and the ever-popular California Dreaming – there's little that's not worth a 'must see' in the Lembeh Straits. For those divers feeling a bit overloaded by critters, there's always the Mawali, a 75m-long Japanese Second World War wreck, now overgrown with coral and... critters!
Wakatobi Resort is located off the southeastern shore of Southeast Sulawesi, a remote and isolated resort, yet easily accessible via Wakatobi's private airstrip after a two-hour flight from Bali's Ngurah Rai International airport, and a short boat ride to the island. 15 beach-front bungalows, nine palm bungalows set back from the beach, and four private villas are available, all interconnected by well-tended pathways that meander through the tropical jungle. A central long-house contains a meeting area, classrooms, shop and the dive centre, and the nearby gourmet restaurant serves a fine array of international and local cuisine. A small bar situated at the end of Wakatobi's long jetty provides an excellent place to unwind and watch the sunset and stars. Three boat dives are scheduled each day, with a weekly night dive also available. Sea and surface temperatures vary little throughout the year and there has been very little in the way of coral bleaching around Wakatobi's reefs. Photographers are well catered for with a dedicated, constant-temperature dry camera room with benches and charging points, and there is much to see amongst the coral. Wakatobi is a resort dedicated to conservation through eco-tourism, and dedicates much of its resources to training and educating the local villagers, many of whom work at the resort.
MUST SEE It's difficult to pick one reef in Wakatobi that's better than another, but Lorenzo's Delight is one place that every diver will enjoy. The dive site is named for Wakatobi's founder, Lorenz Mäder, who chose to build his resort after diving at this particular reef. Current is usually fairly mild although it can pick up from time to time, but the walls are filled with a wide variety of vibrant coral species, and there is plenty of stuff hiding in the many nooks and crannies of the reef.
ELITE DIVING SHARM-EL-SHEIKH, EGYPT
Elite Diving (with Divers United) is a small, family-run business owned and operated by Alun and Moyra Evans, who founded Elite Diving in 2005 and took ownership of Divers United in 2008. Based in Hadaba, the hill-top town above Na'ama Bay, Elite Diving is a 5-Star PADI Resort Centre offering a 'personal touch' to dive holidays in the Egyptian resort. Daily boat-diving trips to Tiran, Ras Mohamed and the local dive sites around Sharm are available, as are journeys to the wrecks of the Dunraven and legendary Thistlegorm. A broad range of PADI and BSAC training programmes is available, where confined water training dives are conducted in the shallow but vibrant waters of Shark's Bay, rather than a swimming pool. Elite offers a number of options for accommodation through a selection of four- and five-star hotels to meet the needs and budget of the travelling diver. Package deals are available. Elite's motto is: 'No problem, it’s your dive holiday, just relax and enjoy'.
MUST SEE Shark and Yolanda Reef is situated in the national park of Ras Mohamed at the tip of the Sinai peninsula. Upwellings against the pinnacles drive nutrient-rich waters to the surface, giving rise to some of the most vibrant coral gardens in Sharm, and the 800m sheer column of Shark reef is teeming with life, and huge schools of barracuda and snappers later in the year. The famous toilets dropped by the Yolanda, which wrecked there in 1980 are a great photo opportunity but never sit on them - lionfish and morays lurk in the U-bends!
NAD LEMBEH INDONESIA
NAD-Lembeh Resort is a small, owner-operated, photography-oriented dive resort situated in a private bay in the Lembeh Strait. Ten beachfront rooms, a pool and jacuzzi are located close to the restaurant in the centre of the resort, and five sea view bungalows are located in a more private setting in a secluded portion of the resort. A newly renovated camera room offers one workspace for every guest, with individual benches and plenty of power points. NAD Lembeh guarantees a 2 to 1 guest-to-guide ratio, ensuring that photographers are able to make the most of their time underwater, and all 15 of the guides are proficient photographers themselves. NAD Lembeh's newly built camera room has dedicated workstations for up to 30 divers. Every station comes with led lights, rubber mat, camera towel and four international and eight European power sockets including USB ports.
MUST SEE There's not a lot of marine life in the Lembeh Straits that a diver wouldn't want to see, although wanting to see it and actually being able to see it are two different things. Lembeh's black sand muck diving is a macro photographer's paradise, but there's plenty to see for divers who don't have cameras.
MISOOL RAJA AMPAT, INDONESIA
Located in remote Raja Ampat, Indonesia, Misool's private island resort and associated conservation centre are situated just south of the equator amongst a group of otherwise uninhabited islands, 165km/105mi from the closest port, and the nearest village 20km away by boat. The island is fringed with white beaches with a tropical interior, and home to some of the most pristine reefs in Indonesia. Misool caters to a maximum 40 guests with a staff-to-guest ratio of 4 to 1 and has explored over 60 dive-sites within a 1-hour radius of the resort, 25 of which are less than 15 minutes by boat, including Fiabacet, Boo, Yilliet, Wobbegong City, and Magic Mountain. The sites are surrounded by Misool's own 300,000 acre/1220 sq km Misool Marine Reserve, established in 2005 and which is also within the boundaries of the Raja Ampat Shark and Manta Sanctuary, spearheaded by Misool in 2010. The resort supports a range of conservation projects, including the funding of local marine park rangers through its sister charity, the Misool Foundation. There is a huge amount of marine life to be found in the area, certain to please both macro and wide-angle photographers. Blacktip reef sharks can often be found circling throughout the small lagoon around which the resort is situated. Three boat trips are scheduled every day, with night and dusk dives on the house reef available where divers often find a wonderful array of critters including the blue-ringed octopus.
MUST SEE Magic Mountain: This seamount is located about 20 minutes from the resort, and is a busy Manta ray cleaning station. The submerged pinnacle reaches up to about 7m, and there is a good chance of seeing both the giant oceanic manta as well as the smaller reef manta. Magic Mountain is also a nursery for whitetip reef sharks and a love nest for Napoleon Wrasse. Exposed to oceanic currents, divers can expect to see large schools of pelagics in the blue.
MANTA DIVE GILI TRAWANGAN, INDONESIA
Manta Dive is located directly opposite the boat terminal on the beachfront of Gili Trawangan, a 2-3 hour fast boat ride from Bali. It is the only Diamond rated Dive Center and Instructor Training Facility in the region with instructors qualified to teach both PADI and SSI dive courses. Manta Dive also caters to the technical diving community, with a range of TDI programs available on an island that is almost perfectly suited to technical diving. The dive centre comprises a pool and air-conditioned classrooms for training, a spacious area for preparation and relaxing, and three traditional outrigger dive boats to ferry divers to the nearby dive sites. The on-site Manta Café provides plenty of options for food between dives and the beach-front Chappie's bar is a great late-afternoon and evening hangout. Behind the dive centre is a small resort with a pool, 12 well-appointed double rooms and eight traditional wooden 'Lumbung' bungalows. A selection of nearby alternative accommodation options is also available through the dive centre.
MUST SEE Gili T's diving sometimes gets a bad reputation, but Simon's Reef is sure to dispel all of those myths. Simon's is a deep water site dropping to around 30m, with large seamounts with a sandy bottom in between and offers a variety of corals not seen on some of the other sites. There is plenty of fish life in and among the overhangs and outcrops, whitetip and blacktip reefs sharks are often seen patrolling, along with turtles and bluespotted rays. The dive ends in a pinnacle covered with fish life. Deep Turbo offers a similar experience.
UEPI DIVE RESORT, SOLOMON ISLANDS
Uepi Island Resort is located on a small tropical island perched on the edge of the longest lagoon in the world. Six bungalows, two units and two guest rooms offer clean and comfortable accommodation with a 26-bed maximum capacity. all the rooms are spaced throughout the resort's tropical gardens for privacy. Most of the dive sites are only a few minutes away from the dive centre, dived either from the shore or just a short boat ride away. The Solomon Islands remains one of the last scuba diving wildernesses, with incredible biodiversity in terms of both the reefs and the critters that inhabit them. The topography varies from the shallow and sheltered coral gardens of the lagoon to vertical drop-offs in an area known as The Slot, stretching 2000m to the sea floor and where passing pelagic species can be spotted. Uepi island resort is an SSI dive centre and offers the full range of training programs up to divemaster level.
MUST SEE Uepi Point and its near vertical reef corner is coated profusely with corals - especially gorgonian fans and colourful spiky soft corals. At 30m a coral peninsula juts out into the deep blue, providing the stage for a spectacular procession of pelagics which turn to hunting and feeding at certain points during the tide, creating a lot of exciting underwater action. Giant trevally, mackerel, wahoo, rainbow runner, big-eye jacks, dogtooth & smaller tuna, sharks, barracuda and others cruise relentlessly back and forth waiting for inattentive smaller fish to become their next meal. The explosive sounds and sights of a large number of fish all taking evasive action at the same time fill the water. Families of garden eels, arrays of colourful gobies and a diverse collection of invertebrate life inhabit the sand patches of the shallows.
The DIVE Travel Awards 2018 was sponsored by Scubapro, Christopher Ward and DIVE Worldwide