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Top 7 Winter Getaways

Winter is coming – at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Check out our top seven picks for a diving getaway from December to March

Sipadan Island, Malaysia

Sipadan

About 34 kilometres off the coast of Sabah lies a diver’s paradise: an oceanic island rising 600 metres from the sea bed, home to hundreds of coral species and 3,000 types of fish. Virtually every dive guarantees sightings of green and hawksbill turtles (sometimes as many as 20), sharks and manta rays.

Don’t miss

A thrilling encounter with massive schools of barracuda at Barracuda Point.

How to get there

Fly into Tawau Airport via Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu, then take a 90-minute to the small port town of Semporna. From there, get on a boat to Mabul Island, where most accommodations are located; it’ll take 45 to 60 minutes.

Maldives

Maldives

Beautiful reefs, abundant marine life and excellent visibility guarantee a great diving vacation in the Maldives. The dive sites are generally grouped into channels (kandu), pinnacles (thila), reefs (faru) and a 30-kilometre inner reef (etherevaru), and you will never run out of things to see. Expect manta rays, a lot of soft corals, reef sharks and a variety of macro critters.

Don’t miss

An encounter with reef sharks, jack, tuna and snapper at Fotteyo Kandu which also offers caves and swim-throughs.

How to get there

Fly into Ibrahim Nasir Male International Airport in Male. Most resorts provide private sea plane transfers, you can also get around via air or water taxis.

Puerto Galera, Philippines

PuertoGalera

You’ll be spoilt for choice at Puerto Galera, which offers shallow and deep dives, wrecks, walls, drifts – basically a diver’s smorgasbord, and just a few minutes away from each other. Depending on which of the over 30 diving spots you pick, expect to see sharks, snapper, triggerfish, nudibranchs, plus a large variety of corals.

Don’t miss

Drift diving at The Canyons, generally regarded as one of Puerto Galera’s finest dive spots, to see soft corals, sweetlips and snapper, among others.

How to get there

Fly into Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, then go on a three-hour drive if you’ve booked a rental car or private transfer. Otherwise, find your way to a JAM or BLTB bus terminal along EDSA (Manila’s main highway) and get on a bus to Batangas Pier; it takes about two to three hours. From there, take a ferry to Puerto Galera – make sure you know which Puerto Galera pier you’re going to.

Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef

CodHole

Located in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef about 97 kilometres from Cairns, this is a string of 10 narrow reefs simply numbered 1 to 10. Don’t mistake that for a lack of interesting sights, as the Ribbon Reefs boast dramatic pinnacles and drop-offs and abundant reef life. Visibility is excellent all year-round, and because it’s a long way from shore, you won’t find yourself in an underwater crowd.

Don’t miss

Cod Hole, where gentle giants, specifically potato cod and Maori Wrasses, have gotten used to getting fed by divers and will usually approach you – so don’t forget your underwater camera!

How to get there

A liveaboard is your best option, but you can also go a diving tour from Cairns; the airport services domestic and select international flights.

Belize

Belize

Situated on Central America’s Caribbean coast, Belize boasts the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and offers a diverse spread for divers of all levels. Just to name a few: You’ll see juvenile fish in a sea grass meadow and three turtle species at Half Moon Wall, nurse sharks and rays at Shark Ray Alley and a vast array of sponges at the Tubular Barrels.

Don’t miss

The Great Blue Hole, obviously – though not for the faint of heart – for breathtaking stalactites and shark encounters.

How to get there

Fly into Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport, about 16km outside Belize City, then get around by taxi, bus, car or water taxi.

Lembeh Strait, Indonesia

Lembeh

One of the best spots for muck diving and macro photography, Lembeh Strait is famous for its incredible assortment of strange critters such as the hairy frogfish and the mimic octopus, plus an array of shrimp and crab species. Not a muck diver? Lembeh Strait offers wrecks and coral gardens, too. While you’re here, dive Bunaken Island’s walls and reefs as well; it’s only a couple of hours away.

Don’t miss

Hairball, a gentle slope of black sand where you’ll find creatures you’ll be talking about for the rest of the week (or year, possibly).

How to get there

Fly into Manado Airport from Jakarta, Bali, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Lembeh resorts normally provide private transfers, which usually comprise a two-hour drive to the city of Bitung, followed by a 10-minute boat ride if you’re staying on Lembeh Island.

SS Thistlegorm, Red Sea

Thistlegorm

Heralded the world’s best wreck dive and discovered by Jacques Cousteau himself, the Thistlegorm sits about 30 metres deep, which means only certified divers get to explore this piece of history. With locomotives, tanks, motorcyles (among others) and much of its cargo intact, there’s just so much to see that you’ll need more than one dive to satiate your wreck diving appetite.

Don’t miss

Details like crates of medicine, rubber boots and munitions in the holds.

How to get there

It’s best to do this dive from a liveaboard, but you can also do a day trip from Sharm El Sheikh. In the latter case, fly into Sharm El Sheikh Airport or take a bus from Cairo or Eilat.

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