From the world’s largest brain coral to the Vulcan bomber from Thunderball, scuba divers can get their fix. In the Bahamas, Iceland, Tobago, Mexico and Russia, I go underwater sightseeing
THE BAHAMAS – THE JAMES BOND WRECKS
Thunderball, the most successful 007 film of all time, was released in 1965. The plot involves the ditching of a Vulcan bomber in the crystal-clear waters off New Providence – where the superstructure still rests on the seabed. Like most film props, it is an imitation – a mass of scaffolding that resembles an aeroplane only in outline, its wheels and undercarriage the only clue to its original appearance.
The galvanised steel frame has survived remarkably well, however, and is now held together by an encrustation of sea fans, gorgonians and sponges. It has become an artificial reef. Close by, on the pure white sand, is another relic from the Bond era – a small boat used in the 1983 film Never Say Never Again.
Stuart Cove’s Dive Centre (+1 954 524 5755, www.stuartcove.com) offers regular trips to the Bond wrecks, plus shark experiences and instruction.
The quaint 32-room Orange Hill Beach Inn is a popular choice with divers, halfway between Stuart Cove’s and Nassau. Doubles from $110 a night. A more upmarket option is the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort, set on a long stretch of white sand with three freshwater pools, waterfalls, whirlpools and a swim-up bar among its facilities. Doubles from $199 a night, plus taxes.
ICELAND – DIVING BETWEEN CONTINENTAL PLATES
Only an hour by road from the capital Reykjavik is the Silfra underwater ravine. This is freshwater and quite cool – just 2° to 4°C, whatever time of year you visit. You will need a drysuit, but the crystal-clear water and 100m-plus visibility make the endurance test worth it. You dive here knowing that this is the spot where the Eurasian and American continental plates meet – and where they are drifting apart at the rate of about one inch per year. Sometimes there are bubbles rising from the lake floor as gas escapes from fissures in the earth’s crust far below.
Dive Iceland (+354 897 6696, www.dive.is) offers regular trips to Silfra.
Stay in Reykjavik, at the four-star Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, spread over three buildings renovated in the style of 1900 – but with modern hardwood floors and smart bathrooms. During construction, the remains of a Viking longhouse were found beneath, and are still in situ. Doubles from €149.
TOBAGO – THE WORLD’S LARGEST BRAIN CORAL
Tobago has great drift diving and a good selection of reef dives, but visibility sometimes leaves a lot to be desired – especially during the late summer. However, the plankton-rich waters support a wide array of marine life. You also have the chance to see what locals claim is the world’s largest living brain coral.
Tobago Dive Experience (+1 868 660-4888, www.tobagodiveexperience.com) offers dives at Kelleston Drain on the island’s north-east coast, where the brain coral (Colpaphylia) stretches almost 5.5m across and 4m high.
The homely and laidback Manta Lodge, in the sleepy fishing village of Speyside, is popular with divers. All rooms have sea views and a private porch, verandah or roof deck. Seven-night packages start at $953 per person, excluding flights, based on two sharing and including daily diving.
MEXICO – THE CENOTES
On the Yucatan peninsula, the cave system is effectively a giant underground river cutting straight through limestone. The cenotes – mysterious circular holes in the bedrock – were sacred sites to the ancient Maya, and are often surrounded by verdant jungle. They provide interesting dives, where thrill-seekers can swim through cloudy hydrogen sulphide layers and soar around eerie stalactites.
Cenote Dive (+52 984 871 2232, www.cenotedive.com), based in Tulum, has experienced cave-diving instructors who know the systems well. Tulum is less hectic than the main resort city of Cancun, 100 miles north.
The Playa Azul Tulum has cabanas on an idyllic stretch of beach south of Tulum. Seven-night packages start at $575 per couple sharing, excluding flights (diving extra). Slightly grander, though small – with just six “ocean chic” rooms – is the Pez Ocean Palace Hotel. Doubles from $140 per night.
RUSSIA – ICE DIVING UNDER THE WHITE SEA
This trip isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it allows you to say you have dived in the Arctic Circle. The cold water brings the benefit of 30-40m visibility and a trip here will get you up close to wolf fish and giant basket stars. You are also diving under ice, visiting a remote region and enjoying idiosyncratic Russian hospitality.
Best booked through a specialist operator such as Dive Worldwide (0845 130 6980, www.diveworldwide.com) or Ice Diving (www.ice-diving.co.uk). From £1,669 per person for 10 days, including flights and five days of diving.
An “ice-camp”, staying in wooden huts with all the amenities.