The lure of a warm fire and indoor comforts can’t beat the thrill of a dive after a long year of Covid-19 enforced hermitage. Winter is the time to pack your gear, head out, and create memories that will get you through all the meetings and business events lined up for the next few months.
When planning your winter getaway dives, the biggest challenge shouldn’t be when and where to do your pre-flight PCR test. We are unfortunately almost all but used to those already. It should be all about normalcy, and that means selecting your destination. Here are my top five picks, each guaranteed to deliver outstanding dive experiences, clear water, and magical wildlife sightings.
Top Five Winer Dive Destinations
Jardines de la Reina, Cuba
Aptly named “The Queen’s Gardens,” this is a dive fit for royalty. It is tucked away in a region with no permanent population and no commercial fishing permitted. The result is a stretch of unsullied coral reefs in pristine condition and a breathtaking delight for even the most experienced and traveled diver.
Cuba is a good year-round destination for diving, but Jardines de la Reina is best during the winter months. You will see sharks of various species, fish in a dazzling array of colors and species, and vibrantly healthy coral.
While the diving is remarkable, you will find your evenings equally engaging with music, food, and mojitos served with memorable warmth and hospitality from the Cuban people.
Palau is a destination that offers everything you could possibly want from a mid-winter tropical dive adventure. This marvelously small stretch of heaven rolls out the diver’s red carpet with wreck diving, enchanting coral reefs, sharks, and even manta rays. Sea turtles also make appearances as they surf the currents around the islands!
Palau’s peak diving season is from October to May. A tip for maximizing your bottom time is to rent a liveaboard so you can travel from one fantastic dive to the next without having to move your gear for your entire stay.
Ari Atoll, Maldives
Drift diving the warm waters of the Ari Atoll is as close to what I imagine the experience of heaven will be! Diving the Ari Atoll represents the best of Indian Ocean diving, and winter in the northern hemisphere is the ideal time to venture to the Maldives.
You will find comfortable water temperatures that range between 25 – 30 degrees Celsius, leaving the cold of winter as a distant memory. You will be awed by sightings of whale sharks and manta rays as you drift past and through thilas (pinnacles) and kandus (channels).
While this is a spectacular dive vacation, I don’t recommend it for novice divers. The open exposure of many of the sites make for strong currents that are best navigated by experienced divers.
Crystal River, Florida
Florida makes an excellent winter dive holiday for keeping the kids in your crew engaged and excited. Of course, topside, you will have a plethora of kid-friendly amusement parks. However, Florida has some surprise dive adventures that will be enjoyable for parents as well as the younger crowd!
When the temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico drop, hundreds of manatees seek the warmer climes of the Crystal River as their home for the cooler months. Crystal River is the only place in North America that permits diving with the manatees. You can get in the water at Three Sisters or Homosassa Springs. I recommend morning dives as this is the time that these gentle animals are the most playful. (In the afternoon, you can hop over to Palm Beach and catch a nice, perhaps slightly chilly drift dive.)
Finally, for those of you who are drysuit certified and willing to jump into the cold, Silfra is a dive that you won’t soon forget. Far from tropical warmth, it is none-the-less a diver’s dream! Diving Silfra is not a dive to see wildlife; the only fish you’ll see are Arctic Chars, and they are shy, tend to hide in dark recesses, and are not typically sighted.
This dive is for the exquisite pleasure of the supremely clear water, up to 100 meters of pure Icelandic visibility fed by Langjökull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier. Your underwater adventure will return you home with bragging rights after having explored the depths between continental plates!
Topside, you can warm up from your 3-degrees-Celsius dive in the Blue Lagoon, a magnificent natural hot spring with its 39-degree warm water!
Regardless of where you set your compass, I am confident that after months of being cooped up and socially distanced, the salt in your hair and sun on your skin will be welcome reminders of happy days past and many more to look forward to in the future.