Best Budget Dive Destinations
Divers love to travel; some because their home waters are chilly and murky, others simply want to try something new. There are plenty of fantastic places to dive in the world that won’t drain your bank account — here are a few of our favorites that allow divers to get the most dive time for their money.
Egypt’s unrest in recent years has given the country a somewhat mixed reputation, but overall, the Red Sea coast has seen little or no trouble, and tourist resorts remain safe. The diving here is some of the world’s best; Jacques Yves-Cousteau counted the Red Sea among his favorite locations. Warm, clear waters, a huge diversity of sites, a good number of fantastic wrecks, and a greater marine biodiversity than just about anywhere else awaits divers here, and costs are more than reasonable. Many travel agencies offer package deals, and with the recent drop in tourism, deals have rarely been better. Liveaboards are also very reasonable, and will take transport you to sites that few, if any, shore-based divers get to go.
Europe’s next hot destination is still one of the cheapest nations along the Adriatic coast. Croatia has yet to be discovered by mass tourism, which helps keep prices in check, and the country maintains a good deal of northern Mediterranean charm, which has been lost somewhat in many of the region’s traditional tourist hot spots. The country is well served by airlines; local transport can be a bit patchy, but is still manageable. Best of all is one of the most amazing coastlines in the world, with bays and coves, as well as hundreds of islands — plenty to keep divers busy for days. As more and more dive centers spring up, there’s never been a better time to go than right now.
It’s cheap and easy to get here from the U.S., with direct flights from multiple destinations. Once you’re here, you can choose from a wide variety of accommodations, from all-inclusive hotels to small, scuba-centric guesthouses. You’ll also have a wide choice when it comes to diving, from deep walls to swim-throughs, all covered in healthy coral. The one thing that’s constant is the island’s renowned current, so come prepared with a DSMB.
Getting here may not be cheap (depending on where you are), but once you’ve arrived, your vacation budget goes a long way. Mid-level hotels are about the same price as budget hotels elsewhere in Asia; food and transportation are extremely reasonable, too. With 17,000 islands, and some of the world’s most famous dive spots, Indonesia is the backpacking diver’s dream. Some of the more exotic locations, such as Komodo Strait, are quite costly, but shore-based diving can be done on the cheap.
One of the off-the-beaten-track Caribbean islands, Bonaire is part of the Dutch Antilles, also known as the “ABC Islands,” along with Aruba and Curacao. Bonaire is fairly easily accessible from both Europe and the United States, and is quite affordable compared to other Caribbean destinations. The entire island is set up for divers, and most sites can be accessed by shore. Rent a pick-up truck at the airport; throw your tanks in the back, and set off, stopping along the road at yellow painted stones that mark each shore dive. If you tire of that, join some boat dives to tiny, uninhabited Klein Bonaire or take a trip to almost 600 meters/ 2,000 feet in a 3-man scientific submersible.
Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras
Although the island can feel a little bit like a Divemaster factory, there’s a reason so many backpackers visit: good diving plus an affordable island add up to great budget destination. There are over 15 dive centers on an island only 6 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, and over 60 different dive sites circle the island. You won’t need transportation either; Thai-style tuk tuks cruise the (one) main street and can get you anywhere on the island for less than $5. From March to April and August to September you also stand a good chance of spotting whale sharks, which migrate through the area in search of plankton.
Thailand is known for its relatively low cost of travel, especially for backpackers, but the diving can be pricey, especially in the more touristy areas. So forego the land-based dive centers and head to sea. Liveaboards trips can be found at very reasonable prices, especially in the off-season, and these will take you to dive sites that few other budget divers go to.
By taking just a few easy steps, you can help stretch your budget even further in these already affordable destinations. First, consider going in the off-season. Because of the varying climates around the world, one spot’s prime season may be another spot’s off-season. Second, if possible, try to pre-book a dive package including a certain number of dives. Often, pre-booking 10 dives over the course of a week is significantly cheaper than buying 10 individual dives. And third, consider bringing your own gear, if you have it. Some of the more budget-friendly dive centers charge a hefty price for gear rentals, so avoiding that expense will cut costs significantly.