Divers looking for challenging conditions — and the big payoffs they bring — will be delighted with of these destinations, selected at the healthiest marinescapes by nearly 6,000 Scuba Diving magazine readers.Mexico
The island of Cozumel, off of Mexico’s Riviera Maya coast, could be considered advanced diving for its currents alone. Every dive off the 34-mile-long island is a drift where boats drop guests into the water at one spot and pick them up at the end of the dive, down-flow.
It could also be considered a challenging destination for its wall dives, which are the majority of sites. But the most intriguing reasons why Cozumel hails as a paradise for experienced divers are reefs at each end of the island—Barracuda to the north, and Maracaibo at the southern end.
Both have strong currents, and their topography can appear to play tricks. “These sites are bottomless,” says Henry Schultz, owner of Salty Endeavors, a dive shop based on island. “By that I mean you will never see the bottom—or if you do, it’s not a good thing.” At 115 feet deep, the Maracaibo wall cuts inward and becomes an overhead environment for divers below that depth. “What makes Maracaibo interesting is that the wall is concave,” Schultz says. This is where you get the bigger animal sightings, including hammerheads, mantas and eagle rays.
These are the sorts of dives that Schultz likes to vet divers for beforehand. Neither is a first-day option for any of his guests.Readers Picks
OperatorsAldora Divers, Cozumel, MexicoCave Training Mexico, Riviera MayaCozumel Marine World, MexicoDive with Martin, Cozumel, MexicoPro Dive International—Mexico, Riviera MayaScuba Club CozumelDive Center, MexicoScuba Du, Cozumel, Mexico
ResortsAllegro Cozumel of Barcelo Hotel Group, MexicoCasa Del Mar, Cozumel, MexicoCozumel Hotel & Resort by Wyndham, MexicoOccidental Cozumel of Barcelo Hotel Group, Cozumel, MexicoPalace Resort, Cozumel, MexicoMelia, Cozumel, MexicoPresidente Intercontinental, Cozumel, MexicoScuba Club Cozumel, Mexico
Liveaboards:Nautilus Explorer, MexicoRocio Del Mar, Baja, MexicoIndonesia
Depending on how one defines advanced diving, much of Indonesia could qualify. But if areas that demand strong buoyancy skills are taken into account, then the destination most demanding is Komodo and its surrounding islands, where pinnacles point toward and break the surface. These underwater seamounts are dramatic structures that jut out from deeper water. While they are breathtaking, they can present unique diving challenges.
“The water creates a Venturi effect when it comes around the sides of the pinnacles, speeding up,” says Wayne Brown, owner of Aggressor Adventures, the parent company of the Indo Aggressor liveaboard boat. “If you’re in the front of it, you can get pushed into things, but you can also just ride it and enjoy it.”
That fast-flowing water is a challenge for sure, but it is a big reason advanced divers find the destination so rewarding. Not only is drift diving its own kind of fun, it invites in nutrients, and with that, animals higher up the food chain as well.
“You’ll get the animals that stay in the current to feed,” says Brown.
Chief among them: mantas—both reef and oceanic varieties. At Manta Point, reef mantas swoop, swim in trains and circle the site, typically for the duration of the dive.
With this much action, most people forget about the currents, especially because it’s common to tuck down behind a rock, out of the flow. “Everybody is so worried about currents until they experience them,” Brown says.