December is an ideal month to go diving somewhere exotic and leave winter far behind. There’s unique marine life on offer around the world, plus big pelagic diving and plenty of sunshine. Here are our picks for four great December dive destinations.
What makes it special? Scuba diving in Belize includes the iconic Blue Hole and Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere. Belize has worked hard to protect its reef, and their stewardship shows. It’s home to numerous species, including manatees, green turtles, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, plus countless pelagic fish.
Why visit in December? Visit in December and you’re likely to see thousands of groupers, including the endangered Nassau groupers as they gather in Belize for their spawning season. This unique gathering offers great photographic and behavioral opportunities for divers to enjoy.
Details: There are plenty of dives for all experience levels, though Belize is best for those with experience drift diving, wall diving and with good buoyancy control, all of which help prevent damage to the delicate corals. There are several liveaboard safaris along the Mesoamerican Reef, most including a visit to the Blue Hole.
When to go: Diving is possible all year. Water temperatures range from 79 to 86 F (26 to 30 C). Keep your eyes peeled for whale sharks if you visit the southern barrier reef from April to June and take your camera for the spawning groupers if you visit in December.
What makes it special? The Cayman Islands are famous for crystal-clear waters and over 350 dive sites. One of the world’s best-known wrecks, the Kittiwake also lies just off Grand Cayman. This 252-foot-long (77 m) U.S. Navy submarine rescue vessel lies at less than 65 feet (20 m) depth and offers multi-level wreck diving in exceptionally clear water. You can explore the huge interior and five decks or dive the exterior as large schools of fish and stingrays pass by. Don’t miss Bloody Bay Wall on Little Cayman for dramatic wall diving with plentiful corals and sponges. North Wall on Grand Cayman offers sheer drops and the chance to see nurse sharks and eagle rays. A visit to the Cayman Islands isn’t complete without also visiting Stingray City and swimming with numerous friendly stingrays.
Why visit in December? The Cayman Islands are an ideal destination for escaping the winter blues to enjoy some relaxation, world-class diving and sunshine. The average water and air temperatures in December are around 81 F (27 C) and the rainfall is low from December onwards.
Details: There are dives suitable for all experience levels in the Cayman Islands and liveaboard operators don’t usually require a minimum number of logged dives. It is also a great destination for those who suffer from motion sickness, as there are always calm waters on one side of an island or another. There are Cayman liveaboard safaris all year.
When to go: Diving is good year-round in the Cayman Islands, though June to October is the hurricane season in the Caribbean. The water temperature is always warm, from 78 to 82 F (26 to 28 C).
What makes it special? The Maldives is on the wish list for many divers and rightly so. This iconic scuba-diving destination offers picture-perfect atolls, whale sharks, hammerheads and luxurious liveaboard diving. Ari Atoll offers the chance to experience current-swept channels and dive with big marine life. The area is most reliable for whale sharks and manta-ray encounters. Felidhu (Vaavu) Atoll offers night diving with huge numbers of nurse sharks, and Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll is the place to go for manta-ray feeding frenzies.
Why visit in December? The Maldives are at their best from December onwards, with flat seas, sunshine-filled days and warm waters averaging 82 F (28 C). It is a great time of year to visit to escape the winter blues and relax into the Maldivian way of life.
Details: Some atolls, such as Ari Atoll, can have strong currents and numerous drift dives. It is best to be an experienced diver to make the most of that atoll but there are plenty of dive sites for less-experienced divers. No longer just a luxury destination, the Maldives has dive options for all budgets and a variety of Maldives liveaboards to choose from.
When to go: The best time to dive Ari Atoll is from December onwards, with February to April featuring the highest chance of manta and whale-shark encounters. That being said, there are many different Maldives atolls to choose from and you can see whale sharks and manta rays somewhere in the Maldives all year.
What makes it special? Panama has a well-kept diving secret: Coiba National Marine Park. This rainforest-covered island off Panama has species found nowhere else on earth and plentiful big marine life. There are around 33 species of sharks here, including scalloped and great hammerheads, whale sharks, Galapagos sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks. Only accessible via liveaboard, this is a great place to dive with sharks, plus manta and mobula rays, whales and dolphins.
Why visit in December? The dry season starts in December on Coiba Island. Whale sharks are common visitors to the area from December to April.
Details: Coiba Island dive sites are subject to strong currents and deep waters, so are best suited to experienced divers. The water temperature varies between around 73 to 82 F (23 to 28 C). However, noticeable thermoclines can take the temperature down to around 61 F (16 C) at depth. It is best to take exposure suits to accommodate a wide range of temperatures.
When to go: Dive conditions can be excellent all year. So, when you visit depends on what you want to see. While December to April is good for whale sharks, July to October sees lots of humpback whales.
Divers and writers at LiveAboard.com contributed this article.