The world is your oyster if you want to learn to dive. From luxury resorts in the Cayman Islands, the Maldives and the Seychelles to a Red Sea chalet closer to home, I pick top dive spots for novices
Learning to scuba dive abroad is easier and cheaper than ever before. Choose a resort where there is a diving centre affiliated to one of the main training agencies (such as PADI or BSAC) and the course itself will typically cost £200 to £300. But how do beginners know which resort to choose? Clearly, the budget you have in mind for flights and accommodation plays a major part. Beyond that, it is a question of how long a flight you are prepared to endure, what climate suits you best and whether you require other holiday activities in addition to the diving.
With regard to climate, the Indian Ocean will have air temperatures of about 30°C, with high humidity. Egypt may be hotter in summer – 40°C – but without the humidity. To avoid the heat, it may seem sensible to visit the Red Sea in winter – but sea temperatures may be as low as 19°C, requiring a full-length wetsuit rather than a shortie. In the Caribbean, the hurricane season can bring disruption to flights and poor visibility. If travelling with family or a non-diving partner, you need to know they will be happy while you dive – but tropical resorts offer little in the way of cultural diversions. Here are four recommendations:
THE CAYMAN ISLANDS, CARIBBEAN
£££ – upper price range
The Cayman Islands offer some of the clearest warm-water diving in the world. Rarely affected by strong currents, these low-lying coral islands are a great choice for beginners. Fish life will not be as prolific or as varied as in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific, but the conditions for learner divers are excellent.
On Grand Cayman, the pastel pink Sunset House is a dedicated diver’s hotel a mile south of the capital, with accommodation ranging from simple courtyard rooms to suites with sea-facing balconies. Seven-night packages in summer start at $1,342 excluding flights (diving costs extra).
At the quieter East End of Grand Cayman, Compass Point is a secluded resort with 18 one- and two-bedroom condominiums, each with a private patio or garden.
THE MALDIVES, INDIAN OCEAN
£££ – upper mid range to high end
With more than 1,200 islands – about 150 of them developed as tourist resorts – the Maldives offers an excellent range of diving experiences. Divers come to see manta rays, whale sharks and reefs with a bewildering variety of marine life. For beginners, most resorts have a choice of sites that are not too demanding but nevertheless offer excellent opportunities to see spectacular coral and fish life.
With its own five-star PADI diving centre, Kuredu Island Resort on Lhaviyani Atoll is the place to go. Expect to pay from €80 to €160 a night for a garden bungalow, depending on the season (flights and diving cost extra). Pricier options include stilted water villas and Sultan villas with private pools.
THE SEYCHELLES, INDIAN OCEAN
££ – mid to upper range
This is one of the ultimate tropical island destinations, and the main island of Mahé is a good place to dive – but avoid July and August, when sea conditions are not ideal for beginners. It’s a good destination for non-diving partners, too.
Stay on Beau Vallon Bay – the most famous beach on Mahé – where there is a good range of accommodation ranging from the luxury Le Méridien Fisherman’s Cove (doubles from €302 a night) to the less formal Coral Strand Hotel (doubles from €179), adjacent to the Seychelles’ longest-established dive school, The Underwater Centre (www.diveseychelles.com.sc).
EGYPT, THE RED SEA
££ – low to mid range
The Red Sea continues to offer quality diving, very competitive accommodation and cheap flights. Traditional resorts around Hurghada and Sharm-el-Sheikh are heavily developed and offer some buzz. Go south to Marsa Alam and there is a more relaxed atmosphere – and, for the moment, the diving is less crowded.
The four-star Shams Alam Resort has its own beach and its own dive centre on site (www.shams-dive.com). Expect to pay about £400 for a week’s accommodation (on a b&b basis) in January, and about £585 in July. The Oasis Dive Resort has chalet-style rooms with a more laidback atmosphere than some of the larger resorts; it is home to a Werner Lau diving school (www.wernerlau.com/egypt). Doubles from €36 per night.