The Top Ten Dive Centres and Resorts Voted For by DIVE Readers
Aldora Divers • Critters @ Lembeh Resort • Dressel Divers • Elite Diving • Gangga Island Resort & Spa • Papua Explorers Dive Resort • Papua Paradise Eco Resort • Siladen Resort & Spa • Wakatobi • Walindi Plantation Resort
Papua Explorers Dive Resort Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Papua Explorers Resort on the northwest tip of the Bird’s Head Peninsula of West Papua. Most of Raja Ampat's most famous dive sites are located within a 10-30 minute boat ride. Situated on the shores of the Dampier Strait, where strong currents bring nutrient-rich water to Raja Ampat's reefs, big critter encounters are a regular occurrence. The resort is constructed using traditional Papuan methods and local, natural materials, with bungalows and the main restaurant built on stilts over the water. Papua Explorers has its own liveaboard, the Coralia, which won the 2019 Best Liveaboard Award.
MUST SEE: Cape Kri - one of the deepest and most famous Raja Ampat dive sites, Cape Kri holds the record for the greatest number of fish species observed on a single site, when marine biologist Gerald R Allen spotted 283 species in a single dive.
Siladen Resort & Spa North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Winner of the 2018 DIVE Travel Awards and now runner-up in 2019, Siladen Resort & Spa is a boutique dive resort located on Pulau Siladen in the heart of the Bunaken National Marine Park, North Sulawesi. The resort opened in 2003 as an eco-friendly 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.
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 Mohammed 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 programs 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 Mohammed 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!
Critters@Lembeh Resort Lembeh, 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 Strait. 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!
Papua Paradise Eco Resort Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Papua Paradise Resort lies along the pristine shoreline of the uninhabited island of Birie, Raja Ampat. The island is teeming with exotic birdlife, lush jungle foliage, and a spectacular array of fauna, while the reefs in the surrounding area offer world-class diving. Featuring simple, but comfortable bungalows built in a traditional Indonesian style, the remote resort is a long way from the nearest civilisation. Papua Paradise also features the only luxury spa in Raja Ampat - Spa in Paradise - for relaxing after a busy day of diving. The resort is tailor-made for divers and rich in Indonesia's wide diversity of coral and critters. Dugongs frequent the area along with manta rays, various different species of sharks and schooling pelagic fish. Above water, hiking through the rainforest offers visitors a chance to find Papua's colourful birds of paradise.
MUST SEE: Birie Island, the location of Papua Paradise, is surrounded by large fields of seagrass, and one of the best places in Indonesia for spotting the solitary dugong. Anywhere in Raja Ampat is great for diving, and although sightings of these wonderful creatures can never be guaranteed, there's no better place to start than Papus Paradise's very own house reef.
Dressel Divers Cozumel, Mexico
Dressel Divers has several outposts in different locations in Mexico, including Cozumel. As a PADI Career Development Centre, courses up to instructor level are available, along with the increasingly popular PADI TecRec and Sidemount programmes. Cozumel is renowned for crystal clear water and an exceptional array of marine life, including a gathering of whale sharks between June and September each year around Isla Mujeres and Holbox, with whale shark snorkelling tours available during the season. Trips to Riviera Maya to dive the wreck of the Mama Viña are available on most days, as are excursions to dive the Yucatan cenotes.
MUST SEE: Cenote diving is a highlight Mexican dive trips for the simple fact that they exist in few other places - eerie, yet beautiful, diving in a landscape that's as much underground as it is underwater. Bull Shark diving in Playa del Carmen is an experience many divers won't want to miss, and will certainly never forget.
Gangga Island Resort & Spa North Sulawesi, Indonesia
The small island of Gangga is located just of the coast of Manado in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, approximately 70 minutes by road and 20 minutes by boat from Sam Ratulangi Airport. Gangga Island Resort & Spa contains 30 furnished and air-conditioned bungalows with high ceilings and spacious verandas overlooking the beach, all set at the base of a jungle-covered hill with a white sand beach. Gangga Island's location allows divers to visit Bangka Island, Bunaken National Marine Park and Lembeh Strait, allowing for a diverse range of dive sites from sheer walls and coral reefs to black-sand muck diving. Two restaurants, the 'Coconut Bar', a large salt-water pool, traditional spa and personal service complete the experience. Five fully-equipped wooden dive boats, kitted out especially for photographers, ferry the divers between sites.
MUST SEE: Mandarinfish are among the most favourite of diver sightings, and Lihaga Island is particularly well known for its large resident population. In the early evening, the males pop out of their holes to woo the females with their spectacular dances, after which the swim up together to mate. Gangga Island's own house reef is also very well regarded, especially for night dives.
Walindi Plantation Resort Kimbe Bay, PNG
Walindi Plantation Resort, established in 1983, is an intimate dive resort situated on the shores of Kimbe Bay on the island of New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Accommodation is available in twelve secluded bungalows constructed with local materials in a 'bure' style with thatched roofs, spread along the beachside of the resort and surrounded by rainforest gardens. Alternatively, eight smaller Plantation House rooms are available built into two blocks with four rooms each. Fringing dormant volcanoes create a dramatic backdrop to the waters of Kimbe Bay. Submerged reefs and seamounts play host to more than 900 species of fish and 400 species of pristine coral, which has grown over the years to some spectacular sizes. Dive sites in Kimbe Bay are a five - to 45-minute ride from the resort on three covered, specially designed day boats. Resident pods of dolphins are often spotted during the boat ride, and less frequently, passing orcas and migrating pilot whales. Two or three dives are scheduled each day and a full range of courses up to instructor level is available.
MUST SEE: Inglis Shoal is a seamount rising from the depths to around 11m, and is rich in marine life. Pelagic fish species are common and include dogtooth Tuna, barracuda and bigeye trevallies. Scalloped hammerheads and grey reef sharks also sometimes put in an appearance. Hundreds of species haunt the top of the reef; clown and redtooth triggerfish are extremely abundant and there are plenty of smaller fish on the reef, with dense schools of pinjalo lewisi - a type of snapper - forming dense clouds at the edge of the reef.
Aldora Divers Cozumel, Mexico
Aldora Divers prides itself on using higher-capacity tanks than other local operators in Cozumel, claiming an average of 70 minutes dive time for its guests. Groups sizes are limited to a maximum of six when possible, and an average of four. A fleet of eight boats ensures that there is plenty of cover should one develop a fault. Aldora divers has its own accommodation at Villa Aldora, which is reserved for the exclusive use of customers. Aldora also offers a 'Special Operations' service, whereby guests get to dive at 'a multitude of newly identified and pristine sites near the north end of the island.'
MUST SEE: Santa Rosa Wall is one of the most popular dive sites, with plenty of swim-throughs and caves and is a great place for divers of all levels to enjoy a drift dive among huge barrel sponges, with turtles and eagle rays commonly spotted. More experienced divers will find their thrills at Barracuda Reef, where strong currents entice blacktip reef sharks and hammerheads to visit. plus - of course - barracuda. For an extra-special encounter, female bull sharks gather at Playa Del Carmen between late October and March each year.
Wakatobi Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia
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.
For more information on each of the destinations, dive centres/resorts and liveaboards, check out the previews below:
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