As blizzards, ice storms, freezing temperatures and piles of snow become the seasonal reality for many of the dwellers in the Northern Hemisphere, tropical and Southern Hemisphere scuba diving spots are heating up and coming into their peak time of year. 

In particular, the deep south of the Maldives and the Red Sea in Egypt offer fantastic shark diving, while Chuuk Lagoon in Micronesia and Hawaii in the USA should also be on your list of possible getaways. But not everywhere is warm and balmy. The last month of the year marks the start of the best time to jump into the waters off the coast of Norway in search of one of the ocean’s apex predators

Read on to learn more about the best scuba diving destinations in December.

Norway Cold-Water Freediving | Scuba Diving Destinations

1. Norway

Although it’s part of the Northern Hemisphere, which is freezing over in December, Norway offers noteworthy winter experiences to divers. From October to February each year, pods of orcas patrol the Norwegian coastline. This results in boats full of marine enthusiasts attempting to snorkel with them.

In particular, December is ideal for seeing both orcas and humpbacks. (Take a look at rare video footage of the humpback whales AND the Northern Lights here.) The massive humpback whales follow the herring track along the Kaldfjord, a sheltered area outside of Tromsø. After Christmas, the marine giants will move out into the open sea, making them a tad harder to find.

The long Norwegian coastline, with its thousands of islands, deep fjords, wrecks and abundant marine life, offers some of the best cold water diving in the entire world. Based on any diver’s standards, drift diving in Norway is off the charts. There isn’t much you can do to compete with the sheer exhilaration of “flying” over the sea floor borne only by the current. Saltstraumen, about 10 kilometers/six miles from the town of Bodø, Norway, boasts some of the world’s strongest tidal currents.

Keep in mind that this trip to Norway to spot orcas is best completed by liveaboard. You’re going to want all the time you can get on the water in order to find the orca pod or humpback whales and have your turn in the water with these intelligent animals. The main activity is snorkeling rather than diving. This is because the bubbles from divers’ tanks tend to scare the animals away. Finally, you will want to be prepared to wear a dry suit for this trip.

Editor’s Recommended Liveaboard: M/S Sula

Maldives Whale Shark | Scuba Diving Destinations

2. The Maldives

With tons of shark action, December is the best month for diving in the far southern atolls of the Maldives. While diving at these remote islands, you’ll see pelagic species making their way through channels and around pinnacles. The region is famous for drift dives to see silkies, hammerheads and tiger sharks. Mantas and whale sharks are often present, too. As an added bonus, coral reefs in the far south are some of the healthiest in the country due to a lack of tourism pressure.

The atolls of the Maldives act as cleaning stations for the bigger fish, with mantas frequently seen hovering over the reef waiting for cleaner wrasse to come. Hammerheads and whale sharks are also found in the Maldives, but these are more likely to be spotted just out from the atoll in deeper waters. There are smaller pelagics around as well. Tuna and eagle rays can be seen on many of the reefs looking for food.

December starts the northeastern monsoon season in the Maldives. This time of year offers the best visibility, and plankton-rich currents draw in various marine life. Be warned, however, that currents can be the strongest during this monsoon season. Experience in drift diving is a definite bonus, or why not sign up for the PADI Drift Diver Specialty course while you’re there?

Due to the remote nature of the Maldivian Deep South, liveaboards may be the best option for you in this area. Most boats travel to Vaavu, Meemu, Thaa and Laamu Atolls, while a few touch Huvadhu and Addu Atolls. You’ll love the fact that these are some of the least-dived destinations in the Maldives, and you will often have sites to yourself.

Editor’s Recommended Liveaboard: Maldives Blue Force One

Micronesia | Scuba Diving Destinations

3. Chuuk Lagoon, Federated States of Micronesia

Possibly the best wreck diving destination in the entire world, Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon in the Federated States of Micronesia is at its peak in December. Chuuk Lagoon is relatively easy to dive, as the surrounding reef protects the lagoon from strong currents. Some wrecks lie in deeper waters, making Chuuk Lagoon a perfect playground for technical divers.

During World War II, more than 200 aircraft and 60 ships were sunk during an Allied attack on the island’s Japanese naval base. Today, this represents a Japanese memorial but is open to scuba divers with more than 50 dive sites to respectfully explore.

December is within the peak months of October to April. During this season, you can expect dry conditions and warm water temperatures. You’ll only need a 3mm wetsuit. However, it’s important to note that diving is possible in Chuuk Lagoon all year round. Marine life and wreck conditions change very little from month to month.

While you’ll find dive resorts scattered around Chuuk, traveling by liveaboard is highly recommended for divers wishing to visit all the best wrecks in a single week – especially technical divers wanting to venture further out. Remember that December is peak season, so book your trip to Chuuk Lagoon as early as possible. There are limited operators and plenty of divers with it on their wish lists!

Editor’s Recommended Liveaboard: Truk Master

Hawksbill Turtle on a coral reef in the Red Sea

4. The Red Sea, Egypt

Although the water and weather have turned cooler in the Northern Hemisphere during the month of December, it’s a great time for shark action in the Egyptian Red Sea. Oceanic whitetips and hammerheads love the cooler temperatures, so be sure to keep your eyes looking into the blue.

In addition to spotting sharks, you’ll still be able to enjoy the rest of the Red Sea. The wrecks and reefs don’t change much depending on the season. Dive sites in Egypt are as variable as the marine life which calls it home. You’ll see sheer walls, shallow reefs, deep wrecks, pinnacles, and open ocean drifts. There is diving for every level. However, many Egyptian liveaboards require a minimum number of logged dives and the Enriched Air Nitrox Specialty Diver certification.

As an added bonus, winter is the best time for sightseeing above the water. So, if you’d like to combine your trip with an excursion to the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor, or Alexandria, this may be the best option for you.

Egypt does have a well-equipped scuba diving infrastructure, but diving by liveaboard is a good idea. By staying on the dive boat, you’ll have access to more remote scuba diving destinations, which means fewer divers underwater, and you’ll get to spend more time exploring them.

Editor’s Recommended Liveaboard: Red Sea Aggressor II


5. Myanmar

One of Asia’s newest liveaboard destinations, Myanmar offers a glimpse of unspoiled reefs and a chance to feel like an explorer. There’s already a variety of discovered sites, and more are being added each season. Most of the mapped sites are spread throughout the Mergui Archipelago, a chain of 800 islands off the southwest coast. To the west of these islands lie a series of open ocean dive sites that boast larger marine life. Because of the distance between the islands, the coast, and the remoteness of this destination, divers who wish to explore must do so by liveaboard. Intrepid explorers will not be disappointed by the sense of adventure combined with reefs that are bursting with color and teeming with life.

Here you’ll find schools of devil rays, nurse sharks and the occasional whale shark, as well as a bunch of small stuff and critters, like frogfish, lobsters, crabs and colorful shrimp – a joy for macro underwater photographers!

The best time to dive in Myanmar is from November to April. Often, this is the only time to dive in Myanmar as liveaboards don’t travel the route in the offseason. In December, the water is very calm and visibility can reach 92 feet (30 meters). In addition, plankton blooms can pop up, increasing the chance of seeing manta rays, whale sharks and other megafauna.

Because Myanmar hasn’t yet developed a consistent and reliable tourism infrastructure, liveaboards are the only practical way to dive in this country. Most boats depart from nearby parts of Thailand and trips last approximately seven to 10 days.

Editor’s Recommended Liveaboard: Smiling Seahorse

6. Hawaii, USA

America’s 50th state is undoubtedly one of the best year-round scuba diving destinations. However, that doesn’t mean some of the months aren’t better than others. During the twelfth month, Hawaii’s tropical waters offer a good chance of some truly memorable encounters, both above and below the surface.

From December to March, humpback whales visit the Aloha State to breed and give birth. This provides divers with the opportunity to spot one of these magnificent mammals from a boat or hear one during a dive. Hawaii is also one of the best destinations for diving with manta rays. Throughout the year, including the month of December, divers can get in the water with these majestic animals and have them twisting and turning all around during one of the world’s best (night) dives.

While it’s possible to explore Hawaii through land-based resorts and dive shops, Hawaii’s multi-island make-up means exploring it by liveaboard is also a great option if you’re looking to maximize your time and see as much as possible.

So if celebrating the holidays surrounded by sandy beaches, warm temperatures and swaying palm trees sounds like something you can get behind, Hawaii could definitely be the diving destination you’re searching for. 

Trending Scuba Diving Destinations 2019 Turks and Caicos

7. Turks and Caicos

With an average of 350 days of sunshine and average December temperatures that range between 85-90°F (29-32°C), it’s little wonder Turks and Caicos is a popular destination in the final month of the year, both for divers and non-divers alike.

Below the surface in the often crystal-clear, turquoise waters, divers can experience a wide range of diving, from coral-covered reefs to memorable wreck diving. Turks and Caicos also offers plenty for wildlife lovers, too. You’ll have opportunities to see rays, turtles, dolphins and even humpback whales, which start arriving in the area around the turn of the year.

While December is definitely a great time to visit Turks and Caicos, it’s worth remembering that this island-filled destination, which also rarely experiences hurricanes, actually delivers great diving year-round. So, there’s never really a bad time to visit.

Additionally, as the country contains 40 individual islands, opting for a liveaboard could be a smart idea. This helps ensure you get to experience the best of what Turks and Caicos has to offer.

Editor’s Recommended Liveaboard: Turks and Caicos Explorer II

a school of hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos

8. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

There are few dive destinations in the world which conjure up the same level of intrigue and mystery as the Galapagos Islands. Both on land and in the water, these famous islands offer an experience unlike anything else. Divers are all but guaranteed a truly memorable December getaway as you follow in the footsteps of the famous English naturalist, Charles Darwin.

From whale sharks and penguins to marine iguanas and the famous giant tortoises, these far-flung islands are truly a nature lover’s idea of paradise and worthy of a place on anyone’s diving bucket list.

December marks the end of the dry season. At this time, it’s possible to encounter several species of shark, including white tips, black tips and bull sharks, as well as both eagle rays and manta rays. It’s also worth being aware that the Galapagos Islands are a part of the hammerhead triangle. This means it’s one of the best places in the world for diving with hammerhead sharks, with dives often encountering dozens, if not hundreds of sharks.

Given that the Galapagos is an archipelago with dive sites located in several different areas, the easiest way to navigate diving in the Galapagos Islands is by utilizing a diving liveaboard.

Editor’s Recommended Liveaboard: M/Y Galapagos Aqua

Ready to book your December scuba diving getaway? Head over to PADI Travel for more information. Alternatively, send us a message to speak with one of our experienced agents who are available 24/7. We’re here to help you find the best December destination to meet your diving desires!

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