POST-PANDEMIC TRAVEL DREAMSCAPE NO. 4: FIVE-STAR DIVING TRIPS TO GET FAR AWAY FROM COVID-19

by | Oct 27, 2020 | Travel

People often ask, what’s the best part about scuba diving? Is it dolphins? Shark encounters? Being in an alien world?

Related: Post-pandemic travel dreamscape No. 3: What about heli-skiing in B.C.’s coastal mountains?

All of the above. But mostly it’s about that Zen moment where you’re weightless without a care in the world. Except your air supply, of course.

It’s really magic.

Image: Pexels, Francesco Ungaro

Next to actually diving, however, the joy is in traveling, being on the water, enjoying the sunshine. There’s also the incredible social aspect of diving. On a dive boat you meet and chat with so many interesting people from all over the world. It’s never boring.

Seek out a reputable travel agent first

Of course, between scuba diving, it’s also about fine dining. And here’s a plethora of palace-like hotels and resorts – and boats – to stay around the world’s greatest diving locations.

The best advice is to work with a reputable and experienced travel agent who knows the best locations and flights. They should also be connected with the best-in-class hotels and resorts and, most importantly, five-star dive operators.

Let me seed the conversation for you. First, I’m no fan of cold water. So let’s stick with warm water experiences where a three millimetre wetsuit or shortie are all you’ll need.

Isla Mujeres

Kicking off this bucket list is Cozumel, Mexico, mostly because it’s so accessible, warm and friendly and because the drift diving is second to none.

A few miles north is Isla Mujeres with its famous cave of the sleeping sharks. Across the bay at Playa Del Carmen the bull shark migration starting in November offers fascinating encounters with pregnant sharks heading for their birthing grounds.

The reefs around Cozumel, may just pip the Great Barrier Reef in some ways and the generally gentle drift currents make for some of the most relaxing scuba diving you’ll ever experience.

Seek out a quality dive master

For top notch dive operators check out my personal go-to, Cesar at Caribbean Divers. You won’t find a better dive master and crew.

For accommodation there are some gold level resorts like the Cozumel Palace or and Presidente Inter-Continental and a wealth of similar resorts in Playa and on Isla Mujeres.

Then there’s the Bahamas

Further north, one of my most memorable trips was to the Bahamas, starting with Nassau. There’s no shortage of five star resorts such as Atlantis Cove, or for some celebrity sightings, the Four Seasons’ Ocean Club. That’s where James Bond’s Casino Royale (2006) with Daniel Craig was filmed.

It’s also where the original Bond, Sean Connery, loves to lunch. Versaille-inspired, it is set on 35 fabulous oceanfront acres and the food, I can attest, is fantastic.

Talking of Bond flicks, I’ve been hooked on sharks since I saw my first Bond flick as a kid – Thunderball – and so naturally I hooked up with Stuart Cove’s Shark Diving programs which range from simple encounters all the way to feeding the reef sharks yourself.

Not so coincidentally, Stuart Cove – that’s his name BTW not the location – was also a shark wrangler on the remake of Thunderball and other Bond movies shot in and around the Bahamas. Here’s a link to a story I wrote about the connection.

Ian Harvey diving with sharks

Bahamas offers a feast for divers

But don’t get stuck on Nassau, as comfortable and inviting as it is. The Bahamas is made up of 700 islands over 100,000 square miles. Look up dive master Brendal. He’s a legend in the Bahamas. You’ll find him at Green Turtle Cay a short small plane skip over on the Abaco islands where there are all kinds of luxury accommodations and fine dining.

Dive master Brendal

The key to Brendal’s dives is that he knows every inch of those reefs, hand feeding the local morays who anticipate his arrival, and coaxing other fish to join the group, including the giant groupers.

At the surface interval between dives you might end up at his favourite sandbar with the baby stingrays come to play. They’ll chase each other over your feet and between your legs while hoping for a morsel or two, perhaps the fresh conch ceviche Brendal prepped while en route from the marina. It’s priceless, trust me.

You’ll find sumptuous accommodation at the Bluff House Beach Resort and Marina, and places like Green Turtle Club Resort and Marina.

Nothing like the live-aboard experience for hardcore divers

But enough about dry land. Serious divers know the live-aboard experience is the pinnacle of the sport. As it sounds, you live aboard a ship, diving morning, noon and night, relaxing topside with fresh seafood, fresh local produce, all prepared, cooked and elegantly served.

That said, you’d have to include Belize on any list of five-star scuba diving live-aboard. For about $400 a day each, up to 20 guests can enjoy a week aboard the Aggressor IV. It’s a 118-foot luxury yacht with 10 staterooms, private en-suite bathrooms and air conditioning. Considering the price covers food, drink, accommodations and five dives a day, it’s a gold star holiday at an incredibly reasonable cost.

The shopping list of dive sites is stunning: Aquarium, Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye Wall and Quebrada with Blue Hole being the jewel in the crown as a world famous destination.

Finally, with so many to choose from, what else could make this bucket list complete? French Polynesia? Caymans? The Galapagos Islands? Fiji? All worthy destinations but the one place I’ve always wanted to experience is the Red Sea. To do that, I’m also told, the live-board is the only way to go, given the geography.

Bucket list: Red Sea excursions

The Red Sea stretches from the Suez Canal down to the Gulf of Aden and there is an abundance of dives sites. Since the best access is by boat, there’s no shortage of Red Sea live-aboards such as the Red Sea Aggressors fleet, covering both the north sites and south sites and other boats such as the Emperor and many more.

The Red Sea has it all: reefs with fantastic marine life, reef sharks, dolphins and Dugong, a rare species of manatee.

Image source: Shutterstock

The North Red Sea has spectacular wreck dives such has the highly rated 1940 Thistlegorm. There is also Ras Mohammed National Park with its wall dive and there’s Hurghada with four wreck dives while Dahab has a famous Blue Hole.

World-class drift diving

The South Red Sea is more laid back and features Marsa Alam and some world class drift diving at Elphinstone Reef. That’s where you might find the oceanic whitetip shark, Hammerheads and other shark species. Other sites include Fury Shoals and its pristine reefs and the magic of dolphin encounters.

When the gloom of 2020 finally lifts, it’s comforting to know there’s a world underwater, far from any virus, where you can literally get away from it all and still live in style.
May your tank be generously filled, your buoyancy perfect and the water warm and remember, plan your dive, and dive your plan!

TOP IMAGE: SHUTTERSTOCK

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