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Time to hit the winter-diving hotspots 

Winter diving hotspots
Escape to the hotspots in winter
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The Scuba Diver editorial team has put together a list of warmwater getaways where divers can get their scuba fix without having to break out the thermals

Winter in the UK can be pretty bleak. When it’s dreary outside – 6°C-and-drizzly sort of dreary – it’s easy for the mind to wander, for images of sunnier climes to flood the brain. But sometimes daydreams just don’t cut it; sometimes you just have to escape.

With winter in full flow, many of you might have already found yourselves staring off into the middle distance at work, in traffic jams on the way home, or as you wash up the dinner dishes five hours after the sun bowed its head. It could be time to just do it, escape the grey and find a piece of the good stuff. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of what we think are some of the best winter-diving destinations.

Cyprus

Diving in Cyprus
Diving the Zenobia

Cyprus is a nearby winter diving destination that offers decent underwater action and a splash of sunshine at affordable prices. A popular spot among European (and particularly British) divers, there are plenty of reputable dive-centres from which to choose. A range of good hotels makes it easy for visitors to piece together a last-minute trip with ease, and because of the relative closeness of the destination, this can be anything upwards of a long weekend. 

Cyprus’s location in the Med means that the visibility tends to be good and the topography is interesting and varied, even if the marine life is less prolific compared with other options. 

Cyprus Dives
Wreck-diving in Cyprus

The pinnacle of Cyprus diving is the wreck of the Zenobia, a site that regularly appears in “top wreck dives” lists. The ferry, which sank in 1980, now sits in 42m and is a must for visiting divers. But the island has also worked hard to broaden its range of diving attractions in recent years, including the Museum of Underwater Sculpture Ayia Napa and an underwater archaeological park.

Canary Islands

Diving in Canary Islands
Diving in the Canary Islands

Located in the North Atlantic far off the coast of Morocco, this collection of Spanish islands offer European divers some very accessible winter diving. The autonomous archipelago consists of a number of islands already popular with holidaymakers, the most famous being Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.

The diving on each of the islands is excellent, with both shore- and boat-diving available from a variety of centres. As with Mediterranean Island diving, the Canary Islands can sometimes be more about excellent visibility and stunning topography than marine life, but there are still plenty of creatures to be found, including nudibranchs, moray eels and grouper.

Diving in Canary Islands
Grouper

The islands’ standing as existing holiday spots means that there is plenty of choice with regards to accommodation and places to spend your evenings. Add to that a range of affordable airlines and you have yourself a very tempting winter holiday that won’t break the bank.  

Malta

Winter-diving in Malta
Wreck-diving in Malta

As far as winter-diving destinations for UK divers are concerned, Malta is about as established as they come. Only a few hours away by plane, the Mediterranean island offers year-round diving of excellent quality. Yes, you’ll need a semi-dry or drysuit as the water temperatures do drop off a little, but with average air temperatures sticking in the mid- to high-teens, you’ll still be able to top up that vitamin D when topside. 

The variety of sites is vast, from the famous Inland Sea on Gozo to the multitude of wrecks off the island of Malta itself. It is these wrecks that provide the main draw for most divers, with the extensive range of depths providing something for all levels of diver, from open-water newbies to seasoned technical divers. Among the most famous are the Um El Faroud, a 10,000-tonne freighter, the old passenger liner Le Polynesian and the HMS Stubborn, a 66m-long S-class submarine.

With a host of established and reputable dive-centres to choose from, as well as excellent hotels, restaurants and bars, all that action under the waterline is well-complemented on land.  

Egypt

Winter dive in Egypt
Lionfish and characteristic anthias

Egypt has long been regarded as the diving destination for European divers. It is affordable, less than six hours away by aeroplane and offers genuinely world-class diving. Regardless of the type of diving you’re into – wreck or reef, macro or massive, deep or just a dip – there is something for everyone, and the reduction in visitors caused by the Covid pandemic is widely reported to have made the marine-life diving better than ever. 

The Red Sea boasts some of the most famous dive-sites in the world, including the sheer walls of the Ras Mohammed peninsula (known for its vast congregations of fish at certain times of the year) and the wreck of the Thistlegorm, the well-preserved World War Two wreck where divers can journey into holds filled with trucks, motorbikes and piles of soldiers’ boots.

Egypt dives
Coral on a Red Sea wreck

Shore-diving, day boat-diving and liveaboards are all available, with the latter allowing divers to access sites such as the incredible Brothers islands, particularly popular among those hoping to encounter sharks (though you’ll also witness some of the healthiest reefs around, as well as a couple of wrecks!).

Tiny critters, shoaling fish and huge pelagics – Egypt has it all. And although the Red Sea is colder in winter you can go there in comfort at any time of the year.

South Africa

South Africa
Beach scene in South Africa

Think of diving in South Africa and sharks spring to mind. Great whites were for a long time an undoubted draw in the south, with people flocking there for the cage-diving until many of the sharks decided to move on. However a wide range of shark species can be found by divers off the east coast, with the raggedtooth sharks particularly popular. For shark encounters mixed with beautiful rocky reef, Aliwal Shoal is worth your attention. 

With some fabulous cities to choose from, including Durban and Cape Town, as well as plenty of rural options, divers are spoiled for choice of topside activities. A cable-car up Table Mountain in Cape Town, body-boarding in Durban, wine-tasting at one of the many vineyards… take your pick. 

There is always the option of an add-on safari too, and if you’ve already seen one of the ocean’s most-prolific predators, why not experience some of the finest the land has to offer too?

Diving with the sharks in South Africa
Diving with the sharks in South Africa

The Caribbean

20140923 St Lucia 3642 Petite and Gros Pitons Copyright Al Hornsby 2014 1 1
The Pitons, St Lucia

The Caribbean is a paradise location, whether you’re a diver or a beachgoer – this makes it an ideal winter escape for divers with non-diving partners who are happy to kickback with an afternoon cocktail while their other half hits the water. But often divers choose to do pre-lunch two-tank dives anyway.

Of course, the Caribbean is a vast swathe of islands, and each one offers its own type of diving and its own style of life topside. If you’re into your wrecks, Grenada is the island for you – home to the Bianca C, known as the “Titanic of the Caribbean“ as well as a multitude of other wrecks, it is often referred to as the “Wreck Diving Capital of the Caribbean”.

If vast walls are more your sort of thing, why not check out the diminutive Turks & Caicos Islands, a series of limestone pinnacles that drop off into the deep blue. Islands such as St Lucia and Tobago offer impressive marine-life diving opportunities and all have their wrecks, while up into Atlantic waters there is always the option of the Bahamas, where shark fly-pasts on sheer walls are a regular occurrence. 

Regardless of where you choose, you’ll find coral reefs, good visibility, professional dive-centres (and staff) and some of the best topside downtime anywhere in the world. Sunset rum on the beach, anyone?

Diving in Caribbean
Wreck-diving in the Caribbean

The Maldives

Picture-perfect images of white-sand islands with turquoise waters gently lapping at the shores, overhanging palm trees swaying in a refreshing breeze – pretty nice, right? People from all over the world head to this low-lying archipelago for their holidays, whether they’re divers or not, but it’s those with scuba qualifications who get the most out of them. 

Most of the resort islands are home to a single resort, with the range of sites varying from nearby reefs accessible by small motorboats to spots a little further afield that can be accessed only by day boats. Big animal action can be expected as sharks and rays thrive in the often-strong currents. Excellent house reefs are also a feature of Maldivian diving, with guests generally allowed to dive or snorkel as much as they like.

Due to the range of resorts on offer, it’s worth doing some research before your trip. Monsoon seasons impact the diving and marine life in various parts of the atolls, so bear that in mind too.

Indonesia

Yes, we know Indonesia is vast (it forms the majority of the world’s largest archipelago) but it’s home to a number of the best diving spots on the planet and therefore well worth inclusion as a single winter- diving destination. If you’re into your macro photography, head for Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi; if you’re after some manta magic and current-filled fun, it’s all about Komodo (where you’ll also get to see dragons, of course); and if you want some excellent diving with fancy hotels and western comforts, Bali’s your bag. Then, if you want to venture even further east, there’s Raja Ampat

Diving in the depths
Bannerfish on the reef

If you’re after a once-in-a-lifetime experience filled with manta rays, sharks, macro critters, mangroves, reefs teeming with fish life, caves, uninhabited islands with eagles soaring overhead, and liveaboard living where you’ll go literally days without seeing another boat, Raja Ampat is the destination for you.

This is far from a quick winter break, of course, but if you’re willing to invest a little time and money and go for a proper holiday, it’s difficult to think of a better place.

Australia

The Great Barrier Reef. We could probably leave it there… but we won’t. Yes, we know it’s a long way to go and, much like Indonesia, this is a proper holiday rather than a winter escape – time and money will both be required, but once you’re there you’ll be glad you made the commitment. With regards to escaping the winter, Australia is a good shout – it will be summer over there. 

While the Great Barrier Reef offers a range of experiences for divers of all levels (dayboats and liveaboards are both available), your choice of centre will likely depend on what you want to do topside and where you plan to base yourself. Dive-centres can be found in sleepy little towns as well as the big cities. 

East coast visitors should also consider visiting the wreck of the Yongala, widely regarded as one of the finest in the world and home to some of the biggest wreck-dwelling creatures around, such as the car-sized grouper called VW!

There is always the “other side” of the continent, of course, with Ningaloo Reef the most famous of the western options. Whale sharks, anyone?

Photographs by Mark Evans and Stuart Philpott

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Rachel
Rachel
1 month ago

Lanzarote and the rest of the Canary Islands have some great marine life. It has the critically endangered angel sharks. Which during the winter is the best time of year to see them! You also have seahorses, barracudas, cuttlefish, octopus, hogfish, amberjacks to name a few! For more information about the marine life in Lanzarote check out: https://manta-diving-lanzarote.com/marine-life-diving-lanzarote-2

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