The holidays are approaching, and while that usually means hot chocolate, large meals and family time, this time of year also brings blizzards, ice storms, and freezing temperatures for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Let’s face it, December and January can be frankly overwhelming for the toughest of us.
Are you ready for some underwater stress relief? Take a break from it all with the best scuba diving destinations for the holidays. Whether you travel over December 25th or take a vacation immediately following the festivities, these 12 destinations are in peak form at this time of year.
If you’re searching for a winter sun getaway, look elsewhere. For those in search of adventure, Antarctica is one of the best scuba diving destinations for the holidays and it’s an absolute must for your bucket list. The Southern Hemisphere is heading into summer, making this one of the only seasons you can actually visit the southernmost continent.
If you’re properly trained, Antarctica offers the chance to dive under the ice and beside icebergs, swimming next to penguins, leopard seals, and various gastropods along the way. Humpback whales are also present during these months, gathering fat while feasting on Antarctic krill.
The only practical way to dive in Antarctica is by liveaboard with typical itineraries lasting about 11 nights.
Another cold water destination, Norway offers some pretty noteworthy winter experiences. From October to February, pods of orcas patrol the coast and local dive operations offer orca watching and snorkelling trips.
To make Norway even more appealing, December is also known as the best month for spotting humpback whales in Norwegian waters. These large creatures follow the herring track along the Kaldfjord, a sheltered area outside of Tromso. After Christmas, they tend to move back into the open ocean.
Book a liveaboard (and pack a drysuit) if you want to swim with orcas this holiday season.
3. Chuuk Lagoon, Federated States of Micronesia
One of the best wreck diving destinations in the world and one of the best scuba diving destinations for the holidays, December and January are great months to visit Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon in the Federated States of Micronesia. During World War II, more than 200 aircraft and 60 ships were sunk in this lagoon during an Allied attack on the Japanese naval base. Today, Chuuk is a Japanese memorial, but more than 50 of these wrecks are open to scuba divers.
The peak season for this part of the South Pacific is from October to April, and during these months, you can expect dry conditions and warm water temperatures. You’ll find both dive resorts and liveaboards in Chuuk, making this a wonderful option for wreck divers looking for warm water over the holidays.
Note: Chuuk is also a mecca for technical divers as some of the wrecks are below recreational dive limits. If you are thinking about getting tec certified it’s well worth it prior to your trip!
Imagine spending the holidays on a pure, white sand beach looking over crystal clear waters. Famous for whale sharks and manta rays, the 1200 islands of the Maldives represent a scuba diving paradise. The waters around this island country are dominated by a series of pinnacles (thilas) and channels (kandus), which draw in pelagic species from the open Indian Ocean. Because of this geography, currents can be quite strong and many of the dive sites are ideal for drift diving.
Diving in the Maldives is accessible year-round, but from December to March, dry weather and calm seas dominate as the northeast monsoon arrives. This makes for great underwater conditions and comfortable water temperatures (77 – 86°F / 25 – 30°C).
All of the above combines to create a wonderful scuba diving destination that’s hard to beat during the holiday season.
5. Similan Islands, Thailand
It’s impossible to talk about the best scuba diving destinations for the holidays without mentioning the Similan Islands in Thailand! Only open from November to April annually, the Similan Islands are one of the best scuba diving destinations in Thailand. During these months, the water is calm and the weather is generally clear.
In addition to great weather, this time of year also brings frequent plankton blooms and an abundance of cleaner wrasse. These, in turn, attract manta rays and whale sharks as well as black and white-tipped reef sharks to dive sites like Koh Bon and Richelieu Rock.
Although you’ll need to travel to these islands by liveaboard, trips to the Similan Islands are comparatively affordable. Grab a spot on a 2-day trip or a 1-week vacation to enjoy scuba diving in Thailand and one of the best scuba diving destinations for the holidays.
Palau has something for everyone. Shark diving, wrecks, beautiful soft coral reefs and exciting drift dives are sure to please. Plus, heavy currents sweep in pelagic species like manta rays, reef sharks and sea turtles. And coral beds create a habitat for large schools of fish as well as macro species. Visiting Palau should be on every scuba diving bucket list.
You can dive Palau year-round, but October to April represents the peak season, making the holidays a great time to visit. If you pick the right weeks to visit, you might even get to see the famous parrotfish spawning event that takes place around the new moon. Liveaboards in the area generally feature special itineraries for the event.
7. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
One of the hottest scuba diving destinations! There’s still time to visit Raja Ampat before the end of the year. This part of Indonesia is famous for having the highest marine biodiversity on Earth – and that’s a pretty incredible claim to have! Huge schools of fish, colourful corals and macro creatures welcome divers to the underwater world. On any given dive, you might spot wobbegong sharks, epaulette sharks, manta rays, bobtail squid, pygmy seahorses and, even, whale sharks.
The diving season in Raja Ampat lasts from October to April. During these months, divers will enjoy clear weather and relatively smooth seas. In addition, diving during the high season gives you the greatest chance of seeing manta rays.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure to end the year, set sail on a liveaboard or book a dive resort in Raja Ampat, Indonesia.
8. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands are the stuff of legends. These far-flung islands have been discussed in science classes around the world for decades, making them one of the highest-ranking bucket list destinations ever. And it’s easy to see why.
Whale sharks, penguins, marine iguanas, hammerhead sharks and mola mola are just a few of the animals you might log during a trip to the Galapagos. Topside, you’ll enjoy the stunning scenery and epic expeditions, following in the footsteps of Darwin himself.
June to December brings the dry season to this part of Ecuador. With that comes colder temperatures above and below the surface, but that’s great news for animal activity. The holidays are really one of the best times of the year to dive into this archipelago.
Help this year go out with a bang, and book your trip to the Galapagos Islands today.
9. Hawaii, USA
“Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas day. That’s the island greeting that we send to you from the land where palm trees sway.” Bing Crosby transports us to Hawaii in his song “Mele Kalikimaka.” It might seem a far off reality, but this year, you can make those musings a reality with a scuba diving vacation to the Aloha State.
Hawaii is a fantastic diving destination year-round, and celebrating the holidays in a tropical climate just sounds right. Warm temperatures, sandy beaches and swaying palm trees will greet you above the surface. Underwater, you’ll find manta rays, tropical fish and even the chance of spotting a passing humpback whale.
Accessible by liveaboard or from land, Hawaii is a wonderful choice for your next scuba diving destination. Check out Hawaii liveaboard options on the button below!
10. Turks and Caicos
When discussing the best scuba diving destinations for the holidays, then the clear, turquoise waters of Turks and Caicos are a scuba diver’s dream. This area features a vast, thriving coral reef ecosystem and lots of underwater walls to explore. Whether you are looking for breathtaking underwater scenes or wrecks, Turks and Caicos is a great option. It’s impressive and accessible to every level of diver.
Plus, diving in Turks and Caicos is a year-round affair as the islands boast approximately 350 days of sunshine each year. In December, temperatures will average 29-32°C/85-90°F, and there is practically no chance of hurricanes.
For a super romantic or all-levels scuba holiday, join a liveaboard trip around these sparsely populated islands.
From Shark Ray Alley to the Blue Hole, Belize is home to any number of famous dive sites. Diving from this coastal country gives you access to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest such reef in the world. Thanks to this wonder, Belize is home to a healthy population of stingrays, nurse sharks and reef life. It also hosts whale sharks from April to June.
In December, Belize enjoys a balmy climate that’s ideal for relaxing on the beach and warm water diving. There’s little to no rain during the last month of the year and visibility tends to be very good.
If you’re looking for well-equipped dive resorts or great liveaboards and an easy diving trip, Belize would make a quality destination for your trip this December.
12. Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico (Socorro)
Situated 240 miles (390 kilometres) off the coast of the Baja Peninsula, the Revillagigedo Archipelago (often referred to as simply the Socorro Islands) offers some of the best diving in Mexico. This outcropping of islands in the Pacific Ocean attracts huge numbers of pelagic species, from oceanic manta rays to humpback whales. On any given dive trip, you might also have the chance to dive with hammerhead sharks, dolphins and whale sharks.
December falls at the beginning of the Socorro Islands diving season, which runs from November to May. During these months, divers enjoy calm sea conditions and sunny weather. Whale sharks and manta rays tend to be easier to spot during this season, especially around the full moon.
If you’re an advanced diver who wants to visit an epic, liveaboard-only destination over the holiday season, the Socorro Islands in Mexico should be at the top of your list.
Book your trip with PADI travel
Are you considering an underwater adventure over the holidays? Visit PADI Travel to find and book the perfect scuba diving vacation for you. We have some epic deals to save you money on your end-of-the-year trip.