A tiny crescent shaped strip of perfect white sand on Indonesia's most remote island right off the tip of the country. You will find almost no tourists here, quite a few turtles and the snorkelling and diving are second to none. Crystal clear waters, an abundance of marine life and warm tropical temperatures. There is virtually no accommodation on Pulau Weh so be prepared to book in advance if you can for one of the handful of places available.
Pulau Weh, Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia
One of the best dive destinations. Manta, whale shark, turtle. Beneath the waves are spectacular reefs full of fish, some very rare. Plenty of wobegong sharks. Fly to Sorong to get on a boat. Above the waves the islands are beautiful with no-one there except the occasional friendly local village and the scenery is spectacular - similar to Halong Bay in Vietnam but you will be the only people there.
Jalan Gunung Merapi 38, Sorong, Papua Barat Indonesia
+62 813 4437 9888
On the road between Casalabate and San Cataldo on the east coast, turn off just beyond Torre Rinalda on one of the many unpaved tracks that peter out where the dunes begin. Clamber over the dunes, find your spot - it’s rarely busy, often just a few sunbathers and a man with a dog - and go into the sea. If it’s windy there are waves, if it’s sunny the sea is warm and turquoise and there is this secret to be discovered: fifty metres off-shore, just below the surface, a sunken wreck. The outer boards of the hull have rotted away but the ribs, the skeleton, are intact. It’s so near to the surface you don’t need special equipment to explore it: just take a deep breath, dive down, cling on to the beams and move from one to the next for as long you can hold your breath. Magic. There’s no marker, but I’ve found it each time I’ve been there.
Google map: bit.ly/MiFDcB
Tofo with its infinite sands, windowless wicker bungalows, perfectly spaced surf-waves and amazing market eateries serving up plates of enormous buttery prawns would have put Tofo in my top five travel spots even without the whale sharks.
Having de-rusted our diving skills with the extremely patient staff in Tofo Scuba's pool we joined a boat and headed off into the Indian Ocean.
First we noticed a whale tail - then five, twenty, too many to count, the most our dive leader had ever seen.
Without scuba gear we leapt into the water and spent the next hour swimming with the pod and their hangers-on - a couple of enormous but exceptionally graceful manta rays. Coming face to face with alien whale shark grimaces, swimming between their enormous bodies and sensing their utter ambivalence towards us was a euphoric and uniquely calming experience.
Earlier this year we stayed on Providencia Island: a small, mountainous Caribbean island, part of Colombia (although closer to Nicaragua), lying midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica. The primitive Island has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve and has a 20 km coral barrier making it a divers’ paradise. But for us, it offered the small Hotel Sirrius situated on a long, white sandy beach. We had the four sun-beds to ourselves and our lazy days involved reading, watching the fishing and scuba diving boats go in and out and having frequent dips in the warm sea. Saturday was the highlight of the week with horse racing along the beach: we stood in the ‘sea stand’ as the horses galloped past. There was only one nearby restaurant, no internet, mobile phone access or TVs: just total relaxation at the end of three months travelling.
We learned to dive a few years ago with Nature Island Dive in Soufriere and have since been back every year. The diving is sensational - really unspoilt (not that many tourists) with lovely corals and fantastic sealife. Turtles on almost every dive, seahorses, frogfish, huge shoals of creole wrasse, jacks etc and occasional sharks. The best sites are the least dived - with pristine reefs. All dives must be guided as it is a marine reserve. There are divers from the cruise boats but they are taken to limited sites so if you stay for a few days/weeks ask to go to other sites such as Scotts Head Pinnacle, West End, Craters Edge, Condo as well. The boat rides are short from Soufriere.
Dominica is a wonderful island - the Atlantic coast is amazing for views and walking. The Dominican people are really friendly and proud of their country although you can see and feel the changes happening on the island.
Getting around is, er, interesting. Cars/jeeps can be hired but driving isn't easy due to the poor roads, enormous potholes and other drivers. We have preferred to use the little cheap and interesting buses where possible.
You can buy fish from the fishermen in Soufriere and Scotts Head - they don't sell reef fish fortunately.
The Saturday market in Roseau is great fun - and good value. The fruit on the island is amazing - pineapples have a totally different taste than when eaten in Europe.
I'd recommend staying outside of Roseau - not the prettiest place on the island. Dive shops will arrange accommodation according to your budget and preferences.
If you stay in the south, walk up to Galion village and the top of Scotts Head for the best views in the Caribbean.
The Paradise Bungalows in Cambodia are exactly that, bungalows in paradise. Situated right on the heavenly white beaches of the sparsley populated island of Koh Rong 40km off the coast of SihanoukVille. There are various beach huts from $15 and even dorms available from $3. You really feel you have the island to yourself if you visit in the off-peak season. If you fancy combining diving the coral reefs around the island with idyllic hammock swinging and swimming with phosphorescence in the sea just like in The Beach, you can book your dives and nights accommodation through The Dive Shop located at SihanoukVille. You can then miss the masses that dive Thailand. The authorities have big plans for the island so best to visit before it gets over developed.
Get away from the crowds in Thailand and enjoy lazy days on the island once filmed for South Pacific. You can flashpack to the island these days on a Berjaya Air flight instead of getting the ferry, but you still need to clamber onto a local boat to reach Salang Bay on the palm-fringed east coast. A handful of eateries and a beach bar are all you need when there is white sand and clear waters with coral and turtles accessible from the beach. Join in the evening campfire singsongs or make friends at the B&J diving school. Either way you'll find this an idyllic spot without any neon lights.
Excellent waterfront lodging on Lake Atitlan. Accomodation ranges from dorms to comfortable cabins so suits all budgets. Located in the village of Santa Cruz it is accessible only by boat but a reasonably priced, copious dinner is offered every night with a vegetarian option. Laze in a hammock, go for a hike or use it as a base to visit the rest of the lake.
I have never been so scared and yet so exhilarated! We were transported via luxury minibus to Gans Baai which is well known for having lots of sharks.
I don't know what I was expecting, but the trip was well planned with really helpful staff and we saw about seven or eight Great White Sharks up close from our vantage point in the cage. All the equipment was included in the rental and I just really enjoyed the whole experience.
Absolutely amazing fish. So many different species and so many colours!
I went with Sea Quest who are based, along with a few other companies, at Keauhou Bay. You can get there from Kona using the free hotel trolley bus (it picks you up from the quay and drops you at the Sheraton just up the road).
The equipment provided was top notch (much better than the stuff at Hanauma Bay on Oahu) and there were light refreshments in between the two stops. We chose the "Deluxe Morning Adventure" which also takes you to Honauau Bay - near the place of refuge.
For that you need to get the shuttle leaving Kona at 7:30.
On the boat trip out we also saw a number of pilot whales a few miles offshore.
You also get to see a few interesting volcanic rock features, such as blow holes and lava tubes.
After three weeks in Rio we'd seen all the museums, the beaches, the nightclubs and all. I wasn’t bored or anything but the girls were restless and I love new adventures. I went for Marlin Yacht Charters. I was impressed at how attentive the crew was. They had a great infrastructure and the boat was comfortable. The only thing that was a true bummer was that the visibility was horrible due to the polluted waters. But that’s just a whole other issue.
Av. Infante Dom Henrique, s/n - Marina da Glória - Loja. A1 - Glória, Rio de Janeiro/RJ - CEP 20021-140
There are several places that offer great snorkelling opportunities along the Kenyan coast. Choose your time of year carefully though, to avoid the rainy seasons, which can adversely affect conditions and visibility.
My first ever experience of reef snorkelling was at Watamu; a small, laid back and relaxed village about two hours drive north of Mombasa. The snorkelling here is excellent. There is a nice hotel on the beach called Ocean Sports, or for a more Swahili feel, try Marijani Hotel in the village itself. It's less than two minutes walk from the beach.
Alternatively you could head south of Mombasa, to either Diani or Tiwi. Diani is a bit more developed, whereas Tiwi is very chilled out. It may be tricky to get to Tiwi Beach without your own transport, but there is snorkelling available off the beach there. There are various accommodation options in the area.
Near Tiwi and Diani there is also a Colobus monkey conservation project and a very large, community-run elephant sanctuary, which are also well worth a visit.
Snorkelling is also pretty good in some spots just north of Mombasa. There are some big hotels in this area, but they are generally quite expensive.
You could also try scuba diving while you're in Kenya, with it being one of the top-rated dive destinations in the world!
Koh Lipe, a small island in the Andaman Sea, is a little gem 60km off the coast inside the Tarutao National Marine Park. Koh Lipe has become the southern anchor of the busy north-south Andaman tourist route and getting there these days couldn’t be easier with boats arriving from all up and down the coast including Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Krabi and Trang. Koh Lipe is also the jumping off point to Langkawi and Malaysia.
At it's largest, the island is only 2km long and 1km wide. With two main beaches each with their own distinct character, there is something for everyone. The busy one, Pattaya beach, has a wide beach stretched in a long crescent of fine white sand. In the evening it transforms as restaurants and bars set out chairs and bamboo mats on the sand and lit by candle lit and reggae tunes drift down the beach.
On the other side of the island is Sunrise Beach with views of several small nearby islands and a cool onshore breeze most of the year. Sunrise Beach is the opposite of Pattaya beach, with just a few resorts and bars, it is very laid back. It also has a very large coral reef with the best snorkelling on the island directly from the beach.
There are no cars on the island, and thankfully just a few motorbikes, so people get around by walking. The whole island can be explored on foot in a couple of hours. Pooh’s Bar (www.poohlipe.com) in the middle of the island is run by the charismatic Pooh and is almost an institution on the island. Famous for its live music in the evenings it draws a large crowd.
Karma Bar (www.karmabar.net) at the north end of Sunrise Beach is well known on the back packer scene with its mellow music and great location. At the other end of Sunrise beach Castaway Resort (kohlipe.castaway-resorts.com) has stunning sea and island views, which viewed from its raised candle lit deck has to be the ultimate in chilled out dining and drinking.
Tarutao National Marine Park has some of the best dive sites in all of Thailand. Within easy boat reach of Koh Lipe are hundreds of coral reefs with an amazing variety of huge hard and soft corals. The corals and seas around Koh Lipe are full of marine life, offering everything from turtles to huge rays. Even if you aren’t a diver you can enjoy the marine world drifting along the edges of coral reefs with a mask and snorkel. Compared to other dive and snorkel areas there is so much to see and no competition to see it.
Koh Lipe still has a lot of cheap back packers accommodation, with places like Varin offering simple bamboo huts close to the beach. At the top end is Sita Beach with a swimming pool and Castaway Resort with its two-story breezy bungalows which was described by the Lonely Planet as ‘the most chic on Lipe’.
Tips for travellers:
* If you are travelling from Hat Yai, be in Pak Bara before 11am to catch the speed boat.
* If you are travelling from Langkawi, the boat journey is shorter and there is a small efficient immigration on Koh Lipe.
* There are no ATM's on the island, so make sure you bring enough cash for your stay, and then double it as you'll end up deciding to stay longer!
* Varin2 on Sunrise beach has the newest and cheapest bamboo bungalow huts.
Pronounced "thung-gulie", a 14 acre coral island (off the east coast of mainland) which you can walk around in just 20 minutes. A small selection of beach huts - from around £20pppn - are all a stone's throw from the sea. Perfect location for snorkelling/diving and if you're really lucky (like us!), a Humpback whale or two might just swim past the island.
All meals (incl. in price, plus an afternoon cuppa!) served in the communal dining room - also right by the water's edge.
Island run by members of the Methodist Church of Fiji, some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet.
For more information and bookings:
Tel: (+679) 344 0166,
Caqalai Island, Box 149, Levuka, Fiji Islands
The Similan Islands are a group of nine virtually uninhabited tropic islands lying approximately 80km (50 miles) northwest of Phuket. The group has been declared a marine national park, and increasing efforts are being made to keep them in their currently pristine condition.
The islands include some of the best dive sites in Thailand. The possibilities range from touring coral gardens to adventurous drift diving in strong currents. The visibility tops out at over 40 metres (130 feet) during the November to April peak season, revealing a wonder world among the giant coral encrusted granite boulders, which are piled on top of each other from depths of 25 metres (90 feet) and more.
Koh Huyong, the southernmost island of the Similan group, offers a magnificent coral garden in 7 to 14 metres (23 to 46 feet) of clear waters. This site frequently has more than 30 metres (100 foot) visibility, only slight currents and is considered a very safe site.
Indonesia's second largest marine park, including four major islands and many atolls. Very high quality diving, bring your own kit though as this is off the beaten track in all senses. Fantastic atmosphere, relaxed environment and well worth the very long journey.
Get the Pelni from Makassar overnight to Bau-Bau, or fly from Makassar - Merpati now fly three times a week to Bau Bau. If going by Pelni, pay a bit extra for a first or second class cabin. The Wakatobi islands are 16-20hrs from Bau Bau by local ferry, which are not particularly hot on safety issues.
One of the largest marine parks in Indonesia, consisting of four major islands along with atolls and reefs. High quality diving, uncommercialised so far and given its location, unlikely to be developed hugely in the future. Bring your own dive gear, or just come out, snorkel, relax and experience rural Indonesian island life. Worth every minute of the very long journey.
Take the Pelni ferry out of Makassar. Go for first or second class - for an extra 50,000Rp or so you get a decent and secure cabin. 12 hrs later you're in Bau-Bau. Local ferries run to the Wakatobi, journey time around 16-20hrs: erratic, unsafe and all the rest. The place barely gets a paragraph in Rough Planet type guides, so check out www.wakatobi.org for a good introduction.
Above water, Tenerife’s shoreline is less than pretty in places, but beneath the sea there’s some fantastic views on offer. And, thanks to a small marine conservation project put in motion by diving operators Ocean Dreams Factory, even novice divers or those on beginners’ courses can get a share of the action.
At just eight to ten metres’ depth, we swam with the resident turtles and hovered over rays, cuttlefish and octopus, in sheltered bay El Puertito, where the team has been working to restore the ecosystem. Close to the south’s plush resorts, but a million miles away in every other sense, this is a really special experience, thanks to the firm’s enthusiastic boss and his team.
Puerto Colon, southern Tenerife. Tel. 922 716 116
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