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Three Dive Vacations Perfect for Winter

These three island destinations delight new and returning divers.
By Terry Ward | Authored On November 30, 2022
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Three Dive Vacations Perfect for Winter

Planning a trip to one of these dive hotspots? Here’s what you need to know. Featuring insight from locals, tips for timing seasonal experiences, and the scoop on favorite dive sites, as well as some lesser-known sites you’ll want on your radar too.

PUERTO RICO

A green sea turtle resting in soft corals, Puerto Rico.

A green sea turtle resting in soft corals off Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Anya Burnett

Under the Radar

The island of Vieques, off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, is best known for the glowing bioluminescent waters around Mosquito Bay. But for a dive most visitors overlook, make for Mosquito Pier on Vieques’ northern coast. “There are several resident sea turtles at the pier that are used to seeing divers and snorkelers, so they just hang out with us most of the time,” says divemaster Hailey Metz, of Black Beard Sports.

The Classic Dive

Puerto Rico’s southwest corner is home to another bioluminescent bay in La Parguera. But divers know this zone for a signature site called the Wall, renowned for excellent visibility and killer features along a drop-off ranging from 60 to 120 feet deep. “Our waters are warm,” says Tania Puell, of Isla Nena Scuba, about Puerto Rico’s great diving. “Neither overfishing nor pollution are problems here, and many sites are shallow, without strong currents.”

Dive Report

While larger species aren’t usually seen around the island, smaller creatures have recently been keeping Metz captivated. “Finding yellowhead jawfish popping out of their holes in the sand always fascinates me,” she says. “These fish are so small, but incredibly beautiful and elegant.” Metz says divers have also been delighting in recent sightings of shortnose batfish at Mosquito Pier.

Plan a Trip

Humpbacks typically migrate past Puerto Rico between February and March, says Puell. “We do not usually see them diving, but we often hear their songs and sometimes see them from the boat.” Turtles and rays abound yearround at dive sites, but the winter months seem to bring a greater chance of spotting nurse and reef sharks around Vieques, Puell says.

Second-Time Visitor

Vieques’ southern coast is where you’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches you might have missed on your first visit to the island, says Metz. Playa La Chiva, Pata Prieta and Caracas, located within the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, are “so picturesque they could be featured in a tropical island calendar,” she says. Off Puerto Rico’s western coast, the protected wildlife refuge of Desecheo Island lures advanced divers to explore caverns at sites like Las Cuevas, says Yilmalia Suarez, of Sea Ventures Pro Dive Centers.

MALDIVES

Purple anemones fish life in Maldives

Fish life among a field of purple anemones in the Maldives.

Suzan Meldonian

Under the Radar

Yellow Wall, the house reef at Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas in Baa Atoll, even attracts liveaboards and other resorts’ dive boats. It’s a wall riddled with caverns and covered in soft corals, says Linde Jones, of the resort’s on-site dive center, Elements. “During macro season, it’s home to beautiful nudibranchs, frogfish, juvenile boxfish and midnight snappers,” she says. Off the wall, out in the blue, divers often see eagle rays, stingrays and nurse sharks.

The Classic Dive

The unique experience of diving a thila (a completely submerged underwater pinnacle) is a must, says dive instructor Josef Schoombie, of Patina Maldives, Fari Islands. “These are some of the most amazing dive sites, with large amounts of marine life that range from reef fish to sharks.”

Dive Report

“This is a really good year for the manta rays as the population continues to increase,” says dive instructor Mohamed Ali, of the Four Seasons Explorer liveaboard. “Our manta ray cleaning stations have been very active in the Baa Atoll. It’s always magical to meet a group of mantas up close and personal as they hover over the coral head.”

Plan a Trip

November through January is peak mating season for many species in the Maldives. “This makes it especially fun to look for macro species that are out and about displaying themselves more often in order to find a mate,” Jones says.

Second-Time Visitor

“We encourage returning divers to sign up for specialty courses to hone their underwater skills in everything from Digital Underwater Photographer to Drift Diver,” says Four Seasons Explorer’s Ali. “That way they not only experience new things during their return visit but boost their diving qualifications too.”

CURAÇAO

Wreck Scenic Superior Producer

A diver explores the coral-encrusted deck of the 165-foot Superior Producer wreck near the port of Willemstad.

Allison Vits

Under the Radar

Just under an hour’s drive north of Willemstad brings you to a hidden plantation near three beautiful beaches— Playa Largu, Playa Shon Mosa and Playa Manzaliña— where Ashari Rombley, of dive shop network Dive Division, says there are easy shore entries to dives that appeal to both beginner and advanced divers. “The most beautiful dive spot is on the left (southern) side of Playa Shon Mosa,” she says. “In the shallow areas you will find large sea slugs, and the location is also good for lionfish hunting.”

The Classic Dive

Love rust? Head down on the Superior Producer wreck—a former supply ship that sank in 1977 and can be dived by boat or right from the shore. The 165-foot-long cargo ship rests upright in 106 feet of water and is known for attracting behemoth tarpon. Bryan Horne, of Dive Curaçao, points to Beacon Point, near Jan Thiel Beach and within the Curaçao Underwater Marine Park, as another must-dive site. It features a vertical wall that plunges some 100 feet and has spectacular pillar coral formations, he says.

Dive Report

Guests heading out from the on-site dive shop at the new Sandals Royal Curaçao have been enjoying stellar diving. “The reefs are clean and healthy, with a very lively fish stock, including green turtles, angelfish, eels, a wide variety of mature parrot fish and octopuses—just to name a few,” says the resort’s assistant dive instructor, Vanessa Eugene.

Plan a Trip

Get involved with reef restoration efforts on the island by planning some time underwater with Reef Renewal Curaçao. Join a Discover Reef Renewal Dive to learn how to conduct a nursery site survey underwater, volunteer to help with regular nursery maintenance or even sign up for the PADI Reef Renewal Diver distinctive specialty course.

Second-Time Visitor

Every Thursday night, the Punda Vibes street festival takes over downtown Willemstad and the pedestrian only streets of the Punda district. Come for pop-up craft markets, music, dancing, fireworks, food and great vibes.