Scuba divers are a passionate community who relish the peace of the underwater world and the unique marine animals roaming in the seas. Seasoned adventurers will tell you that the sport does not have to be expensive. There are plenty of affordable getaways across the world including:
Koh Tao, Thailand
The island of Koh Tao is among the regions making up the Chumphon Archipelago on Thailand’s western shores. It is an idyllic island, complete with white sand beaches, breathtaking sunsets, palm trees, and rugged cliffs. Koh Tao is blessed with more than 25 sites, which can be assessed only by boat. Most of the dive centers provide a two-dive trip, and you can choose to go in the morning or the afternoon. Many of the dive boats have been fashioned from fishing boats and fitted with a sundeck for relaxation.
When it comes to the number of yearly diver certifications, Koh Tao only comes second to Cairns in Australia. The island is appreciated for the affordability of scuba diving services. A 3-day Open Water Course will typically set you back $250 to $300. You will be spoilt for choice in singling out a diving school as they are over 60 of them in Koh Tao. This enthusiasm for the sport creates an exciting environment for learners.
The cheap accommodation in Koh Tao further attracts water sport enthusiasts. Most diving schools and resorts offer accommodation as part of the services, and even if you choose to book a room independently, there are many hotels, bungalows, and guesthouses. The dives schools instruct in a variety of languages and styles. The diving conditions are also diverse. There are shallow and artificial sites for beginners and even a shipwreck for the more seasoned divers.
Bonaire is among the Caribbean islands and part of the Dutch Antilles. The island has heavily protected its marine resources for over 35 years. The reef scape features large sponges and sea fans. Bonaire’s marine life include tarpons, groupers, barracudas, and turtles. Other subjects include butterfly fish, shrimp, crabs, eels, seahorses, octopus, peacock flounders, flamingo tongue cowries, and fireworms.
Source: Bonaire: Top Scuba Dive Sites
Bonaire has invested in shore diving. It is predictable and not very deep (under 70 ft). The dives sites are marked with a big yellow rock painted with the name of the site. These rocks are easily recognizable as you drive along the main road. Among Bonaire’s top dive sites is 1000 steps where you take numerous steps down to the beach. The reef welcomes you with stunning coral formations and colorful marine life like barracudas.
The Klein Bonaire, a tiny offshore island, offers better visibility and hundreds of boat diving points. It is uninhabited, and its incredible aquatic life encourages some divers to do all the scuba diving here. The Salt Pier is easily accessible, and its pillars transform into underwater pieces of art due to colorful corals and sponges. Huge Populations of fish are drawn to the shadows created by the overhead pier.
If you are wondering where are the top 10 cheapest scuba diving destinations, look no further than Utila. Utila’s southern region is home to a shallow fringing reefand deep seamounts. The reef stretches for 5 miles with 15 prominent dive sites. Dives begin at depths of 20 feet and drop to 40 to 60 feet with some reaching 100 to 130 feet.
Source: Diving in Utila – 2018
Popular sites include Jack Neil Beach, Pretty Bush, and Black Coral Wall. The southern side is rich in marine life like spotted drums, seahorses, groupers, moray eels, and trunkfish. The underwater region has amazing sights including mountains that emerge from the ocean floor and underwater hills. The southern sites have vibrant coral coverage and higher fish diversity although the current can make for challenging dives.
The northern side has more exposure to the open ocean and has spectacular wall dives. It features a protected marine area called Turtle Harbor. The region’s topography features caverns, swim-throughs, and pinnacles. The north side offers an increased probability of encountering marlin, sharks, dolphins, and whale sharks. There are over 100 dive points in Utila which accommodate beginners, intermediaries, to expert divers. The variety of sea life and cheap accommodation further makes Utila a perfect scuba-diving spot.
Sharm El- Sheikh, Egypt
Not only is Sharm El-Sheikh a popular diving destination in Egypt, but in the Red Sea as well. Warm year-round climatic conditions, historic wrecks, and colorful coral reefs, all add to the popularity of this spot. The town as a simple Bedouin Camp before it was transformed into a bustling tourist center.
Among the area’s best dives sites is the wreckage of the SS Thistlegorm which sunk in 1941 during World War II. It takes four hours from the shores to reach the wreck which still has two tanks, two locomotives, riffles, and motorbikes and populations of jacks and barracudas and so much more. The Ras Mohammed National Park is another spot to check out. Beautiful corals line its walls making for an unforgettable diving experience. The Straits of Tiran is ideal for expert divers, and you can spot the Tiger and Hammerhead Sharks.
The beautiful wrecks and good underwater visibility in the region encourage underwater photography. Sharm can get crowded, and you may opt to take a liveaboard to more isolated sites. These liveaboards will not only take you to sites like the Thistlegorm but further North to less-explored wrecks.
PADI Open Water courses in Sharm average at around $360, making the town surprisingly affordable. Egypt’s tourism has suffered recently because of safety concerns traced to increased terrorism and political tension. Sharm El-Sheikh is, however, considered safe and still welcomes thousands of scuba diving enthusiasts.
The coastal paradise of the Philippines is a favored attraction among scuba diving communities. Among the archipelago’s cheapest diving areas is Dauin which sits on Negros Island south of Dumaguete. Entry-level courses are available at an average of $300 (PHP 16,500).
Dauin is teeming with dive sites, and macro-photographers will especially love the populations of seahorses, octopus, yellow snappers, flamboyant cuttlefish, and blue-ring. Dauin is ideal for shore diving as most marine life thrives in the inshore waters. If you desire to see larger animals, you can opt to pay for boat dives to Apo Island. The Dauin dive sites are especially favored by novices and intermediates.
Diving along the island is mostly resort-based, and you will likely be diving with any of the established resorts. The climate averages at 30 degrees Celsius all year with the wet season running from June to November. Diving is, however, possible all year.
Belize has curved itself as a tourism hub among its Central American neighbors. Its jungle-like landscape coupled with its diving opportunities attract thousands of adventurers. The Belize Barrier Reef is only second to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia in terms of sheer size. The reef is 190 miles long at its longest distance from shore although it reaches 980 ft at its closest point.
Barrier reefs separate the land regions from deep waters and offer a shallower lagoon to protect the shores. The deep waters are nutrient-rich, and they enhance the proliferation of corals on the reefs. Belize’s reef system is a UNESCO heritage site and has seven marine reserves.
Source: Diving Belize 2019
Belize is more affordable than most of the Caribbean islands, and a lot of resorts offer accommodation and diving packages. Scuba diving in Belize is not complete without a trip to the blue hole. This famous site is a large marine sinkhole that is 410 ft deep and 1000 ft in diameter. The hole has clear waters to offer the best visibility for species like hammerheads and bull sharks.
Also situated in the Lighthouse Atoll is the Half Moon Caye Natural Monument which is often touted as the world’s most colorful wall dive, and is also a bird sanctuary. The South Water Caye Marine Reserve offers a 7-mile long section of the barrier reef perfect for wall dives. During the snapper and grouper breeding season, there are large populations of whale sharks. Sponges, corals, and reef fish also thrive in the deep waters.
The Shark Ray Alley is a great site for snorkeling. This plateau of sand was commonly used by fishermen to clean their catches. The chum they discarded populations of marine life including sharks. The season for the whale shark runs from March to May which attracts many divers.
Sipadan Island, Malaysia
Sipadan is among the best diving sites in Borneo due to its pristine reefs and underwater biodiversity. It can be accessed from Semporna town by taking an hour-long boat ride. Sipadan is a volcanic pinnacle dropping 2000 feet to the sea floor. Hawksbill and green turtles are visible in the shallow waters.
Sipadan hosts schools of barracuda, parrot fish, jackfish. If you are lucky, you might spot sealife like manta rays, hammerheads, and whale sharks. The cleaning stations attract populations of sharks while the coral formations host impressive macro-species including Pygmy Seahorses and Mandarin fish.
The Sipadan Barrier Reef ranks as the largest of its kind in South East Asia, and it offers wall dives with drops to more than 1600 ft. Sipadan boasts of unique topography, and it hosts excellent dive sites. You can not, however, stay on the island. Most of the resorts sit an hour away in Kapalai and Mabul islands.
Divers will need permits from the Sabah Parks as the island is patrolled by guards. This requirement has been necessitated by the government’s efforts to alleviate the stress placed on marine life. Most resorts give preference to tourists signed up for longer stays.
Cozumel is a perfect spot to experience the incredible Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System which is characterized by towering corals inhabited by rich sea life. Some of the area’s most beautiful reefs are hosted in the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park. The island is a mere 30 by 10 miles, and it is christened the “Island of the Swallows.” It prides in over 500 fish species and 26 coral species. Divers will typically spot eels, nurse sharks, turtles, groupers, and toadfish.
The island’s southernmost reefs host coral heads containing tube, vase, elephant ear, rope, and other colorful sponges. The heads provide a channel of swim throughs and channels with depth and vibrant colors. The northern reefs are shallower and have small fish and inverts. Open water fish love the waters here including jacks and barracuda.
The depth range in Cozumel’s sites is between 33 to 131 ft. Dive sites to visit include Columbia Deep, Palancar Reef, and Barracuda Reef. You can get open water courses for a little over $300 or opt for packages with accommodation from the various resorts.
Curacao lies north of Venezuela and is among the Caribbean islands. Most of its dive sites are reachable from shore and are protected from strong currents. Curacao enjoys good weather all year and is mostly left untouched during the hurricane season of the Caribbean. The calmest weather runs from April to June with its dry season running from April to November.
One of Curacao’s renowned dive site is Alice in Wonderland which is a mini-wall stretching down to depths of 60 ft. The site gets its name from the colorful reef fish inhabiting the coral formations. Another dive site to experience is the “valley” formed between two parallel reefs. The reefs drop for 50 and 60 feet and host lobsters, turtles, and nurse sharks.
The Superior Producer is an excellent wreck site which lies at depths of 100 ft, and you can enter its cargo holds. Groupers and anemones are plenty at this wreck.
The answer to where are the top 10 cheapest scuba diving destinations lies in Croatia which lies along the Adriatic Coast. It is not as visited as some of its neighbors which makes it especially affordable. It is well-served by major airlines although local transport can get a little unreliable.
Croatia prides in 1000 islands dotting its coast which are characterized by canyons, reefs, and underwater caverns. There are also numerous wrecks to dive through. The waters surrounding the island of Vis host numerous WW1 and WW2 shipwrecks including a B-17 bomber.
Kvarner, situated on the northern side, is among the most stunning gulfs on the Adriatic. Diving is possible all year due to favorable warm waters. The underwater region of the gulf has breathtaking wall dives as well as rocky reefs littered with beautiful gorgonians. The beauty of Croatia is that you get to immerse in the wonders of the Mediterranean and not pay hefty prices.