A relaxing liveaboard trip to the Maldives, the remote Similan Islands or the vast marine landscapes of Raja Ampat and Komodo would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many scuba divers. But you don't have to break the bank to book one of these extraordinary trips!
In fact, there are plenty of affordable liveaboards cruising some of the world’s greatest dive destinations and offering first-class service, incredible experiences and amazing value for money.
The ultimate guide to liveaboard diving in 2023
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Reasons to book an affordable liveaboard
- Same amazing dive destinations aboard a value-for-money boat
- Highly-sociable cruises with like-minded guests
- Reduces costs and turns a once-in-a-lifetime holiday into multiple trips
- Smaller boats can mean fewer divers
- Action-packed diving itineraries without unnecessary 'frills'
- Friendly, intimate and personalised experience
Why dive from liveaboards?
Liveaboards offer a completely immersive scuba diving experience and are considered by many to be the perfect way to enjoy a dive holiday. In truth, certain destinations are actually better dived from a liveaboard, allowing guests to explore larger geographical areas and visit many dive sites in just one trip. Boats often travel from one destination to another over-night or during mealtimes, providing relaxing and hassle-free holidays with action-packed diving itineraries. Although liveaboards are seen as luxurious and expensive, it's worth remembering that accommodation, meals and diving are usually covered in the price, keeping costs to a minimum once on board. And don’t forget, there are also many affordable liveaboards offering high levels of comfort and service, meaning no diver should have to miss out on that trip of a lifetime.
What does an affordable liveaboard do differently?
Affordable liveaboards keep costs low by removing some of the ‘frills’ associated with more luxurious boats and focussing on the fundamentals. Vessels might be slightly smaller, offering less private spaces and encouraging the use of communal areas such as lounges and sundecks. Accommodation can include double, twin or even shared bunk cabins which are likely to be fan-cooled and use shared bathrooms. And, while dormitory cabins may not immediately appeal to everyone, they are great for socialising with other guests and expanding your network of world-wide dive buddies. Simple but tasty meals are often served buffet-style for guests to enjoy around communal tables or on the sundeck, and affordable liveaboards also tend to remove a lot of the free perks available on more luxury boats - so you might need to pay extra for nitrox, photography facilities, airport transfers, beer and wine.
So what is the same?
Most importantly, affordable liveaboards visit the same destinations and offer the same action-packed diving itineraries as any other liveaboard - after all, diving is what it’s all about! With this in mind, they provide exceptional value for money, bringing the cost of a once-in-a-lifetime trip down to a budget-friendly level. Affordable liveaboards also offer the same great atmosphere as you and a group of like-minded diving enthusiasts explore some of the most incredible destinations nature has to offer. In fact, as the boats are often slightly smaller, guests tend to spend more time in the communal areas, forming strong bonds as they dive, eat and relax together. Smaller boats can also mean fewer people and some affordable liveaboards are guaranteed to depart with just three divers on board, providing truly intimate experiences with dedicated personal service.
Southeast Asia’s best budget-friendly liveaboards
2. Ratu Laut, Indonesia
Ratu Laut, meaning ‘Queen of the Sea’, is a recently refurbished traditional phinisi boat offering great service with a personal touch. All profits from the trips exploring Raja Ampat help fund conservation and community projects operated by Barefoot Conservation, making Ratu Laut the perfect option for those wanting an eco-friendly liveaboard experience. During the trip, guests can view presentations and hear talks from resident marine biologists on topics such as marine megafauna research, reef checks, climate change surveys and manta ray identification. Ratu Laut accommodates ten divers in four cabins which are equipped with both air-con, ceiling fans, fresh towels and linen.
- Best for - Citizen Science and all-round conservation
This perfectly-appointed traditional sailing phinisi offers bespoke adventures for up to six guests in Indonesia’s exciting and exotic Komodo National Park. Spend your days exploring dynamic, current-swept sites famous for diverse wildlife ranging from macro critters to manta rays with local experts guiding the way. Then, enjoy delicious dining and a relaxed atmosphere on board, complete with a comfortable shared outdoor sleeping deck under the stars. This vessel focuses on off the beaten path exploration and escape from the region’s crowds, making it ideal for adventurous guests who want to explore the real Komodo - complete with the region’s namesake Komodo dragons, spectacular sunsets, and lesser-seen sites.
- Best for - Intimate and highly-social experiences
With exciting expedition-style itineraries lasting up to 14 days at sea, a nearly 1:1 crew to guest ratio, and accommodations for just eight divers, this is easily one of Indonesia’s top picks for an intimate and exciting liveaboard adventure. Cruise far-flung biodiverse destinations like Halmahera, the Togian or Sangihe Islands, and Sulawesi or Bangka - or take the adventure even further, visiting previously unknown areas like Dongala, Toli Toli, and Kwandang where you’ll likely be the only boat in sight. In addition to fantastic diving, this vessel offers land-based excursions and flexible trips that allow you to spend up to two days on board before and after you set sail.
- Best for - Adventurous explorers
The Junk, Similan and Surin Islands
Easily one of Southeast Asia’s most stylish liveaboard vessels, The Junk adds a touch of glamour to its multi-day dive safaris, boasting a unique aesthetic that has been featured in Hollywood films. Touring the Similan and Surin Islands, this boat also caters to a wide variety of skill and comfort levels, stopping at scuba sites known for thriving coral and marine megafauna like whale sharks and offering PADI courses and certifications on board. Comfortable two and four-person cabins, social al-fresco style meals, complimentary kayaks, and island excursions make The Junk a top pick for adventurous and outgoing dive buddies and groups travelling together!
- Best for - Backpackers and friendship groups
Smiling Seahorse, Andaman Sea
This recently constructed dive safari boat offers dynamic expedition-style adventures to the best diving areas in Thailand and Myanmar’s Andaman Sea, and specialised safaris focused on blackwater diving, marine megafauna, and underwater photography. With a large shaded dive deck, custom tenders, support for tech and sidemount equipment, small dive groups with no more than four clients per guide, and a dedicated camera room, this is also one of the region’s most diver-friendly vessels. The Smiling Seahorse also prides itself on warm Thai hospitality, with delicious dining and drinking, spacious and sparkling clean cabins, and a nearly 1:1 crew to guest ratio.
- Best for - Underwater photographers
How else can you get a great price?
While the affordable liveaboards listed above offer exceptional value for money, there are other ways to get a great price on your next liveaboard trip. For all-round lower rates, consider diving ‘off season’, such as Raja Ampat in the summer months or Komodo over winter. While the conditions might be a little different from the prime season, in some spots they barely change at all and prices are likely to be lower. Remember some destinations, such as the Similan Islands, are closed to divers during the ‘off season’. Many liveaboards also offer great deals on last-minute availability as well as reduced rates for early bird bookings - so be sure to sign up for the ZuBlu mailing list.
Ready to start planning your liveaboard holiday?
Contact one of our dive travel experts today.