Planing your dive holidays for 2024, and figuring out which dive destinations you’ll cross off your bucket list? Trying to figure out dive seasons around the world - when and where are the best places to scuba dive - is an important, but time-consuming part of the holiday planning process. So, to help narrow down your choices, we’ve put together a guide to the very best dive destinations to visit for every month of the year.
While South Ari in the Maldives offers fantastic year-round diving, travellers visiting in January will benefit from the best weather whilst avoiding the busy holiday period in December. The same could be said for destinations such as Malapascua in the Philippines and the African nation of Djibouti. For both countries, January is right in the middle of the best season, but you’ll see fewer crowds. If you fancy kicking off the year with some incredible whale encounters, humpback whales migrate through the Turks and Caicos at this time of year, while humpback sightings also increase around the Hallaniyat Islands in southern Oman.
Finally, January also marks the start of the wet season in the Galapagos Islands. Divers can expect lots of manta rays at this time – particularly off the coast of Isabela Island – and larger schools of hammerhead are spotted at Darwin and Wolf Islands.
By February, the thousands of humpback whales migrating through the Turks and Caicos Islands have reached the Silver Bank, Dominican Republic, where they will spend several months mating and nurturing calves. On the opposite side of the Caribbean Sea, the year-round dive destination of Roatan, Honduras, really comes into its own, offering consistently-fair weather, good diving conditions, and peak whale shark activity. If you prefer your sharks a little toothier, February is a great month to combine Grand Bahamas’ year-round tiger shark encounters with the possibility of passing hammerheads. Likewise, February lies at the height of a three-month great hammerhead season in Rangiroa, French Polynesia.
For something a little different, this time of year provides the best diving conditions and diversity of critters in Papua New Guinea’s Milne Bay, widely considered the birthplace of muck diving. Or, for something totally out there, how about an expedition to the island of South Georgia? In February, visitors can expect plenty of penguin chicks, seal pups, and exceptional whale watching in the Scotia Sea.
It’s always a great time for a Caribbean getaway, but March is a particularly solid choice for countries inclduing the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands. The drier, milder weather at this time is perfect for beachfront relaxation, diving conditions are optimal, and the peak season crowds have largely gone home. Similarly, March is dry and pleasant in the Maldivian atoll of Huvadhoo and Thailand’s Similan Islands. But the biggest attraction at this time of year are the whale sharks, encounters with which peak between January to April and February to May in each destination.
Many divers know Palau as an exceptional year-round destination, but visiting during the dry season ensures calm seas and superb visibility. Throughout the months of March and April, it is also possible to witness thousands of sailfin snapper gathering in the shallows to mate. And, if that’s not epic enough for you, March also makes for extraordinary adventures in Antarctica, as vessels are able to push further south along the Antarctic Peninsula and into the Polar Circle as the sea ice recedes.
Several noteworthy seasonal aggregations take place in April, including oceanic manta rays gathering in the waters around Fuvahmulah. In the Caribbean Sea, cubera snapper spawn between March and June at Gladden Spit, off the coast of southern Belize. The nutrient-rich gametes attract whale sharks, with the days around the full moon in April offering the best chances of an encounter. Lastly, Cat Island, in the Bahamas, sees a seasonal influx of tuna, wahoo, and mahi-mahi at this time of year, followed closely by hungry oceanic whitetips. Sightings take place from March to June, with a peak during April and May.
If you’d rather not set your sights on one particular species, a liveaboard trip to the phenomenal all-round dive destination of Tubbataha might be the best bet. The season runs from mid-March to mid-June, with April offering clear skies, calm seas, and over 30-metres of visibility. Liveaboards not your thing? Bonaire’s legendary shore diving is also exceptional around this time of year.
While the northern region of Komodo can be dived year-round, May is a great time of year to visit as the weather and conditions are fantastic but the dive sites are quieter compafed to during the busy summer months. The same could be said for Sipadan, with the shoulder seasons of April to May and September to October offering ideal conditions but fewer crowds. May is also a great time to see mating sea turtles around Sipadan.
In Papua New Guinea’s Kimbe Bay and the islands of Viti Levu and Beqa in Fiji, May marks the dry season, promising pleasant weather and excellent visibility – perfect conditions for witnessing the healthy reefs and powerful fish in all their glory. May is also when Arctic expedition trips begin again, as the sun dominates once again and the sea ice slowly begins to recede. At this time, polar bears emerge with their cubs around Svalbard and can often be seen on the ice.
June is a great option for travellers looking to dive with the bull sharks and sea lions of Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, outside of peak season. And with strict limits on the number of divers visiting each day, avoiding the crowds is never a bad idea. Conveniently, June also falls within Baja California’s mobula ray migration, which runs from around May through July, and again between November and January.
Over in Australia, Queensland’s Cod Hole and the surrounding Ribbon Reefs are the site of an annual congregation of minke whales in June and July, while cool water around New Zealand’s Poor Knights attracts groups of bronze whalers and an abundance of macro. Speaking of cooler water, Greenland is absolutely stunning in June, with Arctic flowers taking blooming in some areas and, as spring turns to summer here, glacial calving increases, flooding the various fjords with fresh icebergs.
With a tropical climate and over 300 days of sunshine every year, Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef is sure to deliver world-class experiences no matter when you visit. But July is peak season for all of Ningaloo’s ‘big three’ megafauna species – whale sharks, manta rays, and humpback whales. Whale sharks can also be seen in the Galapagos at this time as they arrive to feed in the plankton-rich waters surrounding Wolf and Darwin Islands. Interestingly, the majority of individuals encountered in the Galapagos are females, many of which are pregnant.
For several months starting from July, Baa Atoll in the Maldives experiences a period of maximum manta ray activity, as huge congregations of rays descend on Hanifaru Bay to feed. Similarly, in Bali, the month of July offers high chances of encountering both manta rays and mola mola.
In the Azores, August offers a real treat thanks to plenty of pelagic activity with sperm whales, dolphins, mantas, mobulas, blue sharks, and whale sharks all migrating through the region! This is also when the archipelago sees its best weather, with temperatures in the low 20s above and below water. August marks the middle of the dry season in Fiji’s Yasawa Islands, bringing cooler water and great visibility – perfect conditions for interacting with the many manta rays that gather around the islands’ reefs.
Between May and September, migratory whale sharks gather around the islands of Holbox and Contoy, off the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. In fact, sightings are more or less guaranteed in July and August. These whale shark snorkelling experiences can be enjoyed from both Cancun and Isla Mujeres, making August a great time to visit. In contrast, Indonesia’s Cenderawasih Bay offers year-round whale shark encounters. Still, many liveaboards only visit during July and August, when diving conditions are at their best within the bay and Raja Ampat’s southern sites have shut down during the windy season.
While the Lembeh Strait is genuinely exceptional all year-round, September marks the end of the dry season, meaning the water temperature is relatively cool, encouraging even more critters to make appearances. In fact, most of North Sulawesi is fantastic at this time of year, allowing visitors to combine Lembeh with other dive destinations like Bunaken and Bangka. Likewise, the northern Red Sea offers outstanding experiences throughout the year, but September to November deliver superb conditions while simultaneously avoiding the intense summer heat.
Strong currents and cool water in Alor between September and November increase the chances of seeing hammerhead sharks and other bigger animals, including whales and dolphins that migrate through the area. Whale sightings are also on the cards around Tahiti and Moorea at this time of year, with humpbacks gathering close to the outer reefs to search for a mate or nurse their young. Or, if you fancy some adventurous and exploratory diving, September marks the start of the most reliable season for liveaboard trips in the Coral Sea.
If you love big marine life, you’ll certainly enjoy Costa Rica’s Cocos Island in October. The cold upwellings at this time of year lure large groups of hammerheads into the shallows, alongside migratory humpback whales, marble rays, and whale sharks. Between September and November, hammerhead activity also intensifies in the Banda Sea, while visitors to the central Red Sea have a chance of spotting oceanic whitetips and thresher sharks as well.
If smaller subjects are more your thing, Dauin’s cephalopod season won’t disappoint. Starting in October and lasting for a couple of months, this period sees all manner of octopuses and cuttlefish descending on the dive sites of Dauin and Dumaguete. Finally, October also signals the start of Raja Ampat’s main dive season, when this iconic region is accessible in its entirety.
After a brief hiatus from August through October, liveaboards begin visiting Socorro once again in November. Conditions are ideal for the next few months, promising calm surface conditions, incredible visibility, and all of the archipelago's hottest wildlife. South Komodo is another world-famous dive destination offering ideal conditions in November, when cold-water upwellings attract macro life and pelagic species alike.
If you like bull sharks but hate crowds, now is the time to visit Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. The famous bull shark season runs from now until March, and visiting in November means divers can avoid the main holiday period. For an alternative Red Sea experience, Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Banks are fantastic at this time of year, while the most adventurous underwater explorers can find some of the very best conditions around the Seychelles’ Outer Islands.
From December onwards, the monsoons’s shift and the Maldives starts its peak, dry season, with many of the atolls’ exciting eastern channels at their absolute best, particularly the shark-filled passes found in Vaavu. December also marks the start of the dry season for many of the Caribbean’s Leeward Islands including St Kitts and Nevis, Saba, and St Eustatius. This period brings warm temperatures to the region – on land and in the water – and sees an influx of breeding humpback whales around Anguilla, St Maarten, and Saint Barts.
Thanks to cool, nutrient-rich waters, Indonesia’s remote Triton Bay delivers some fantastic diving in December, with phenomenal fish life and a wide array of critters on display. Plus, this time of year is also the peak of Chuuk Lagoon’s dive season - perhaps serious wreck enthusiasts should consider gifting themselves the trip of a lifetime for Christmas.
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