Barbara & Stu's Excellent Vacations Great trips we have taken

Sipadan, Mabul & Kapalai Islands in Malaysian Borneo.  In many ways this was the best diving we every experienced.  We stayed on Mabul Island, minutes away from Sipadan and Kapalai.  The area is best known for its sea turtles which are protected and in abundance on every dive, and for large schools of fish – picture yourself within a helix of hundreds of barracuda.  But even better than that are the small creatures, much like at Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi, Indonesia, listed directly below.  Have a look at our Borneo trip notes and Borneo photos to see what we mean.

Kungkungan Bay at Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi, Indonesia – This is not about big fish, it’s about the weird and wonderful critters you thought you’d never see outside the pages of a David Doubilet photo book.  Keep a grip on your regulator as your jaw continually drops, awestruck by the variety, color and profusion of small vertebrates and invertebrates.  The dive masters seem to be on a first name basis with all the creatures living in these waters, and know exactly when to go to which dive site to avoid any discernable currents.  You want to see a pygmy sea horse?  A Pegasus Sea Moth? Ask your dive master and he’ll show one to you.  To see our Indonesia trip notes click here.  To see our Indonesia photos click here.

Papua New Guinea -- There are tens of thousands of reefs, many not logged as dive sites, and everywhere we went was spectacular.  These are the healthiest reefs we've seen since starting with this sport in 1992, and the reefs are teaming with reef and ocean going fish.  On every dive we saw things new to us, including some species which are exceptionally rare, such as an albino hammerhead shark.  No wonder marine biologists recently found several new species there.  There are shore-based dive resorts that are quite good, but investigate the live-aboard operations for an opportunity to get to really unique places.  No notes yet, but you can see underwater photos by clicking here.

Palau, Micronesia – Springing up in the deep Pacific, the island gems that make up Palau just about have it all.  At the edges of some islands the drop-offs are immense and the current fierce, so virtually anything will shoot by while you latch onto a piece of dead coral and enjoy the show.  We saw six species of shark in Palau, gray, white-tip, black-tip, hammerhead, leopard and thresher.  When you focus on the reef you’ll have trouble perceiving the lush coral through the multitudes of reef fish.  And don’t miss the otherworldly Jellyfish Lake.  If, like us, you prefer small dive groups, try Neco Marine.  The dive operation at the Palau Pacific is just too crowded for our tastes.  However we highly recommend the hotel, the snorkeling right in front of it is almost as good as diving.  To see our Palau photos click here.

Seychelles – The only way to get to the Seychelles’ outer islands is via a live-aboard operation, and the Indian Ocean Explorer, thought not posh, does everything right.  Their technological support is first rate, the crew is ex-navy, the ship is ice rated, the dive staff can’t be beaten (you’ll love part owner David Rowat), and the owners help fund marine research by running dive trips.  The dive sites are seldom visited, and man’s insensitive touch is imperceptible.  You’ll see huge, exciting fish, sharks, rays, turtles, and in aggregation drift dives we swear we even saw Amelia Earhart – well, maybe not.  At certan times of the year, you can also help tag whale sharks from the Inner Islands. To see our Seychelles trip notes click here.  To see our Seychelles photos click here.

Yap, Micronesia – While visiting Palau, spend a couple of days here.  Visibility is not exceptional, but your chance of manta ray encounters is extremely high. Squadrons of these graceful, gentle giants glide by you within touching distant (but don’t touch them, please), while circling a cleaning station at a depth of about 60 feet.  We counted more than 60 on one dive and another 25 or so on the next.  After a couple of days manta diving (and allow a couple of days since wildlife is not 100% predictable) spend a day off-gassing and touring the island, learning about its unusual culture.  to see our Yap photos click here.

Gladden Spit, Placencia, Belize – Whale sharks cruise this area gobbling up snapper spawn during fish mating season.  Diving with these awesome behemoths is the thrill of a lifetime.  There are some nice reefs in the area as well, but the real exhilaration is out in the big blue with the sharks.  To see our Belize notes click here, and to see our Belize photos click here.


Honorable Mention

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia – at 1250 miles long the Great Barrier Reef is a natural wonder, and the largest reef in the world.  The boat ride to the outer reef is rough so it’s best to do a live-aboard rather than day trips from the mainland or offshore islands.  Don’t worry about running into a Great White, they typically cruise the cooler waters in the south, but you will get lots of less intimidating shark action.

Bonaire, Dutch Antilles – We spent our first five days at Captain Don’s Habitat (Capt. Don Stewart set up the reef preservation system in Bonaire in the 1960s) getting certified, and the next eight days diving anytime we wanted to – 25 times in all, including a night dive. Just grab your equipment, swim out 30 yards, and you’re at the wall, starting about 25 feet down and descending.  There is almost no current, the reef is colorful with sponges, soft and hard coral, and there are plenty of vertebrates and invertebrates.  This is an ideal place for beginners, though advanced divers can dive from the shore at various sites around the island.  When in Bonaire don’t expect to do much more than dive, eat and sleep.