Posts Tagged ‘Florida Keys’

The World’s Best Scuba Diving Locations

Friday, January 22nd, 2016
Sand Tiger Shark Swimming in North Carolina

Marc Montocchio

Top 100 Best Overall Diving 2016

Get ready for the No. 1 winning destinations of our annual Top 100 Readers Choice Awards.

Why do the Top 100 Readers Choice Awards, now in their 23rd year, still matter to divers? Because these are your picks, based on thousands of votes from the most experienced dive travelers on the planet. Why do they matter to us? Because every month you hear from our editors on what we think matters in the world of dive travel. For the January/February issue of Scuba Diving we get to listen to you, and we’re taking notes.

Here, we proudly present the No. 1 ranking destinations in the Best Overall Diving category of the awards. The full list of winning destinations is below.

Best Overall Diving in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

A jellyfish underwater in Indonesia

Eric Madeja

1. Indonesia

Best Overall Diving in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

If the host of accolades from this year’s Top 100 alone don’t convince you of Indonesia’s greatness — Best Macro, Healthy Marine Environment, Best Underwater Photography, not to mention Best Overall Diving — we’re not sure what will. But we’ll keep piling on until we prove this archipelago of more than 17,000 islands has something for everyone. For metalheads, Bali is home to the most photogenic wreck on the planet — and perhaps most accessible — a U.S. Liberty-class ship lying 25 yards off Tulamben’s rocky shore. Healthy reefs and fish overload more your style? Eastern Indonesia’s Raja Ampat has hundreds of sites with colorful reefs where schools of fish are so thick you won’t be able to see your buddy. Macro divers will go gaga for the nudibranchs and weird critters in Lembeh; big-fish aficionados will love Komodo’s manta trains; and wall divers will get vertigo in Wakatobi. One trip to Indonesia and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Just remember to tell your friends. — David Espinosa

Diver at Misool's Boo Rocks Indonesia

Brandon Cole

1. Indonesia

Best Overall Diving in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

A diver swims through the famed opening at Misool’s Boo Rocks, a favorite site for photographers.

Micronesia Underwater Best Dive Destinations

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2. Micronesia

Best Overall Diving in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

Aerial View Palau Scuba Diving

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3. Palau

Best Overall Diving in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

School of Hammerheads in Galapagos Underwater Photo

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4. Galapagos

Best Overall Diving in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

Thistlegorm Wreck Red Sea Egypt Trucks Underwater

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5. Red Sea

Best Overall Diving in the Pacific and Indian Oceans


Best Overall Diving in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Scuba Divers on Bonaire Shore Dive Salt Pier

Allison Vitsky Sallmon

1. Bonaire

Best Overall Diving in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Diving is such an integral part of this spunky desert island not far from South America that it’s hard to separate the underwater and topside experience. Luckily, you don’t have to, because 24/7 access to its vibrant near-shore reefs is what sets Bonaire apart. If there’s a place you can have more fun than piloting your rental truck around Bonaire’s cactus-lined ring road, pulling off to submerge almost anywhere — slowing down just long enough to admire the flamingos or grab a burger at the kiteboarders beach — we haven’t heard of it. — Mary Frances Emmons

Underwater Photo Diver in Devil's Grotto Cayman Islands

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2. Cayman Islands

Best Overall Diving in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Underwater Photo Diver in Cenote in Mexico

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3. Mexico

Best Overall Diving in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Pier Beach Bay Islands Honduras Scuba Diving

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4. Bay Islands

Best Overall Diving in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Sharks Underwater Photo in the Bahamas

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5. Bahamas

Best Overall Diving in the Caribbean and Atlantic


Best Overall Diving in North America

Underwater Photo of Seal and Kelp in British Columbia

Brandon Cole

1. British Columbia

Best Overall Diving in North America

Your first B.C. dive will likely take your breath away, and not just because of the refreshing 50-degree water. Novice and expert divers alike regularly rate Vancouver Island the planet’s finest coldwater diving. The mix of engaging critters, hot invertebrate colors, artificial reefs extraordinaire, rugged scenic beauty and warm Canadian hospitality ensure your return. — Brandon Cole

Underwater Photo Diver with Plumose Anemone British Columbia

Brandon Cole

British Columbia

Best Overall Diving in North America

Bountiful marine life awaits divers in British Columbia, including giant plumose anemones and sunflower sea stars.

Underwater Photo Red Irish Lord in British Columbia

David Hall

British Columbia

Best Overall Diving in North America

Red Irish lords are one of the fascinating creatures found when scuba diving in the 50-degree waters of British Columbia.

Sand Tiger Shark Underwater North Carolina

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2. North Carolina

Best Overall Diving in North America

Underwater Kelp Scuba Diving California

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3. California

Best Overall Diving in North America

Manatee Underwater Photo Crystal River, Florida

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4. Florida

Best Overall Diving in North America

Coral Underwater

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5. Washington

Best Overall Diving in North America


How We Got the Numbers Thousands of Scuba Diving subscribers and online users rated their experiences at dive destinations in a variety of categories on a scale from one to five. Final scores are an average of the numerical scores awarded. A minimum number of responses was required for a destination to be included in these ratings.

The World’s Best Destinations for Wreck Diving

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Why do the Top 100 Readers Choice Awards, now in their 23rd year, still matter to divers? Because these are your picks, based on thousands of votes from the most experienced dive travelers on the planet. Why do they matter to us? Because every month you hear from our editors on what we think matters in the world of dive travel. For the January/February issue of Scuba Diving we get to listen to you, and we’re taking notes.

Here, we proudly present the No. 1 ranking destinations in the Best Wreck Diving category of the awards. The full list of winning destinations is below.

Pacific and Indian Oceans

1) CHUUCK

Many places boast a few shipwrecks as gee-whiz alternatives to biological reefs, but there’s only one Chuuk, also known as Truk. More than 50 Japanese ships, planes, subs and all manner of machinery, weaponry and fascinating (and sobering) wartime history are on display, the result of America’s deadly aerial barrage on the Japanese fleet in February 1944. This warm, calm lagoon in Micronesia holds a World War II mari- time museum without equal. The 433-foot-long Fujikawa Maru is superb, both for military and marine-life attractions — Zero fighter planes in the hold, deck guns draped in soft corals — and is shallow enough for novices. Tec divers descend 175 feet onto the phenomenal San Francisco to see tanks, trucks and bombs. Shinkoku offers bright invertebrates and school- ing fish; inside, a soldier’s bones rest in sick bay. Chuuk is also a mass grave, a testament to the tragedy of war. — Brandon Cole

Go Now: visittruk.com

2) Red Sea

3) Palau

4) Thailand

5) Hawaii

North America

1) NORTH CAROLINA

Diving North Carolina’s wrecks doesn’t force you to choose between swimming the top deck alongside sand tiger sharks or penetrating. At a handful of sites, including the USS Indra and the tanker Atlas, drop inside tight quarters to navigate alongside these big fish. — Brooke Morton

Go Now: visitnc.com

2) Florida and Florida Springs

3) Washington

4) California

5) Great Lakes

Caribbean and Atlantic

1) BAHAMAS

You might expect that a nation of 700 islands would boast a massive collection of downed ships — and it does. Your favorite might change to whichever one you dived last, be it the shallow and marine-life-rich SS Sapona cargo steamer off Bimini or Edward Williams off New Providence, where you’ll likely come face to face with Caribbean reef sharks and goliath grouper. — Brooke Morton

Go Now: bahamas.com

2) Cayman Islands

3) Bay Islands

4) Curacao

5) Bonaire

Drive and Dive: Exploring Shipwrecks in the Florida Keys

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

OPERATION DEEP END

During my first year of diving — 17 years ago — my brother and I were gearing up for Key Largo’s USCG Duane, a 327-foot former Coast Guard cutter sitting at 120 feet. We planned to descend through a circle of 10-foot barracuda before hitting the navigation bridge at 70 feet. But the current at the surface was rough — so rough that our guide called the dive before we even had a chance to begin our descent. Canceling the dive turned out to be a smart move; this advanced dive had no place in our crisp new logbooks.

Nearly two decades later, and with an instructor’s worth of dives under my weight belt, I’m back. The current is just as I remember. One of 10 wrecks along the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Shipwreck Trail, the Duane almost guarantees a strong current because of its location just outside of the protection of the reef. The upside is that the visibility is almost always spot on. (Another bonus: Critters love current.)

“The current can make the Duane a more challenging dive, but it’s that flow of nutrients that makes the sea life on the ship so phenomenal,” says Kell Levendorf, lead instructor at Divers Direct/Ocean Divers/Emocean Sports.

At the surface, the current looks doable. Emocean Sports has its 45-foot Corinthian positioned near the bow of the wreck; from the mooring line I can see the Duane’s silhouette at 120 feet. From there, I head for the bow and into the direction of the current. I am not the only one with this plan: Nestled at the tip of the wreck is an 800-pound goliath grouper basking in the down-flow.

Penetration on the upright wreck is easy. An American flag waves from the top platform as if it’s in slow motion, with an underwater anthem of bubbles. Within minutes, the current has already pushed me farther from the bow. I’m short of breath and can sense the hesitation in my regulator as it threatens to self-purge from the rushing current. This is quite a workout. After an air check, I take one last look around and make the decision to work my way back to the mooring line.

Near the crow’s nest, silver clouds of baitfish work the flow with ease and barracuda lurk in the distance. I embrace the few minutes of bottom time I have left. Levendorf is right. The marine life is booming here. This wreck was well worth the wait.

DOUBLE FEATURE

Although I’m still reeling from the rush of the Duane, the next day’s dive is a double dip on the nearby USS Spiegel Grove. Because the wreck measures 510 feet in length, it can take six dives to circle it in its entirety. After the first dive, it’s understandable why many divers want another chance to explore the gorgeous giant. A double-dip dive is the local dive operators’ answer to packing in as much bottom time as possible by offering back-to-back dives on the wreck in one outing.

And there is a lot to see. Instead of the scheduled sinking that was planned for the Spiegel Grove in 2002, the wreck had other plans and sank several hours earlier on its own, and on its side. Back in 2005, Hurricane Dennis did divers a favor by placing the Spiegel Grove back on its keel.

Today, the helipad has fallen to the wayside, but the remaining architecture still stands strong with dynamic lines and walls of healthy corals. Making the wreck easily accessible for multiple boats, the structure itself has roughly six mooring balls and sits at 134 feet, with the highest point starting between 60 and 65 feet. Prior to sinking, several areas of the ship were opened for penetration, but some of the most breathtaking views are on the ship’s exterior, including a crane area that attracts a wealth of marine life and a coral-covered gun mount. And, as with many dives along Florida’s Shipwreck Trail, an American flag waves loyally in the current.

GRAND FINALE

Post-dive I’m bound for Key West and the next day’s dive on the newest member of the Shipwreck Trail, the USAF Vandenberg, located about 7 miles south of Key West in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Listed as the second-largest purpose-sunk wreck in the world, this is the last stop on my journey down U.S. Route 1.

Based on my predive briefing from CeCe Roycraft, co-owner of Dive Key West, it seems the underwater patriotism continues along dive sites throughout the Shipwreck Trail. “We wanted to respect the Vandenberg’s former life as an integral part of American history, so you’ll notice a flag positioned as one of the first things you see on the dive,” Roycraft says.

The 520-foot-long ship rests at 140 feet, with the key points starting at about 40 feet. The current is almost nonexistent, so we head for the crow’s nest, a 20-foot smokestack, bridges covered in thriving corals and a weather-balloon hangar. Dish antennae provide a complex weave of metal and the perfect hiding place for bashful grouper and barracuda. As we make our way to the line, the supersize American flag bids us goodbye.

“On a clear day, the light becomes red, white and blue because the threads are so thin,” says Joe Weatherby, president of Artificial Reefs International. “It creates a mood that gives it an almost theatrical look.”

And it’s with that theatrical look that my journey down the Shipwreck Trail comes to a poetic close.

From the Duane’s fast-paced current to the dignified aura of the Spiegel Grove and the sense of adventure on the Vandenberg, I’ve only touched down on three of the 10 wrecks that make up the Shipwreck Trail. I can only anticipate what each wreck will deliver, but this time I won’t wait 17 years to find out.


ITINERARY: FLORIDA KEYS

Day One When your trip starts in Key Largo, visit John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, a 70-square-mile area of mangroves and reefs teeming with life. A stay at the Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort means easy access to local dive boats and the perks of a resort with an expansive pool area, two bars and a private sandy beach.

Day Two On your way to Key West, take in the kitschy style the Keys is known for at Robbie’s of Islamorada, where you can hand-feed tarpon, peruse local art and jewelry, or grab a quick cold one. Ignite your inner treasure hunter with a visit to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, where you can get up-close looks at Spanish coins and historic artifacts.

Day Three The best place to watch the sunset in Key West is at the Sunset Festival in Mallory Square. Entertainment includes local musicians, food carts and the sizzling sunset. Within walking distance of it all: the Marker Resort. On your way out of Key West, ditch the tourist traps with a lunch at Hogfish Bar and Grill for its famous hogfish sandwich.

NEED TO KNOW

When To Go Conditions in Florida are divable year-round, but the summer months offer calmer conditions, warmer water and lobster season from August to March; mini lobster season is near the last Wednesday and Thursday of July.

Dive Conditions Current can vary between sites, with water temps ranging from 69 to 88 degrees. Wetsuits (from 3 mm to 7 mm) are ideal throughout the year; drysuits are preferred for the winter months. Hurricane season is from August to October.

Operators Emocean Sports (emocean.com) and Ocean Divers (oceandivers.com) are located in Key Largo; Dive Key West (divekeywest.com) is located in Key West.

Price Tag Two-tank charters from $90.

Top 100 2015: Best Overall Diving

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Our readers weighed in on their most prized dive sites around the world — from North America to the Caribbean and Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans — to bring our 22nd annual 2015 Top 100 Readers Choice Awards to life.

For variety, we have featured one destination in each region (Caribbean and Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and North America). Not all selections are the first-place winners in the Best Overall Diving category. Check out the complete list of Top 100 Readers Choice winners in this category below.

Need help planning a trip to one of the world’s best dive destinations?
The experts at Caradonna Dive Adventures can help you plan vacations to Bonaire’s Buddy Dive Resort and Divi Flamingo Beach Resort, British Virgin Islands’ Scrub Island Resort, Cozumel, Mexico’s Cozumel Palace and Occidental Grand, and scores of daily specials in the hottest dive locales on the planet.

BEST OVERALL DIVING: CARIBBEAN AND ATLANTIC

1. Cayman Islands

2. Bonaire

3. British Virgin Islands

4. Mexico

5. Belize

BEST OVERALL DIVING: NORTH AMERICA

1. Florida

2. British Columbia

3. California

4. North Carolina

5. Great Lakes

BEST OVERALL DIVING: PACIFIC AND INDIAN OCEANS

1. French Polynesia

2. Indonesia

3. Micronesia (Chuuk)

4. Palau

5. Guam

Thousands of subscribers and Web users rated their experiences at dive destinations in a variety of categories on a scale of one to five. Final scores are an average of the numerical scores awarded. A minimum number of responses was required for a destination to be included in these ratings.

More Top 100 Winners:

Best Wall Diving | Best Underwater Photography | Best Advanced Diving

Christ of the Deep in Key Largo Celebrates 50 Year Anniversary

Friday, October 23rd, 2015
Christ of the Deep Statue Key Largo, Florida

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Christ of the Deep celebrates 50 years below the waves.

How long can you hold your arms over your head? How about five decades?

Sunk in 1965, Key Largo‘s beloved Christ of the Deep statue has welcomed daily hordes of snorkelers and divers for 50 years now. The 9-foot statue, which stands in a coral garden at about 25 feet, was a gift of the Cressi family, a replica of Italian sculptor Guido Galletti’s Il Cristo degli Abissi, or Christ of the Abyss, sunk off Portofino, Italy. It took a steamship, the Illinois National Guard and a Navy Reserve plane to get it to Florida, where it’s been signaling a divine touchdown ever since.