While there are liveaboard itineraries suitable for every experience level, the very concept of liveaboard exploration lends itself to more seasoned divers. Pushing ever deeper into remote and isolated corners of the world, and facilitating a high number of daily dives, liveaboard dive vessels are ideally suited to advanced and adventurous underwater explorers.
But which challenging liveaboard diving itinerary should be next up on your bucket-list? Well, to help you decide, we’ve outlined the world’s very best liveaboard trips for experienced divers.
Komodo National Park
Komodo National Park’s spectacular islands and one-of-a-kind underwater encounters make it one of Indonesia’s must-visit destinations for all types of traveller. But beneath the water, Komodo’s exhilarating, current-fuelled drifts and big fish action provide high-octane experiences that are best-suited to advanced divers. These ripping roller-coaster rides are more common in the northern and the central sections of the park, while the southern area offers different advanced attractions, including cold upwellings and close-up encounters with reef manta rays.
Departing from Labuan Bajo, liveaboards will usually head into the centre of Komodo National Park – an area often known as Current City. The famous manta cleaning station at Karang Makassar is one of the top attractions, along with the islands of Sebayur and Tatawa. Divers can also expect to explore numerous sites a little further north, most of which are known for their beautiful reefs, great visibility, and powerful currents – including Castle Rock and the white-knuckle drift known as The Shotgun.
Heading south, vessels will often stop at the central island of Padar to explore sites such as Secret Garden, Three Sisters, and Pillarsteen. The southern coasts of Komodo and Rinca contrast sizable manta rays with miniature macro creatures, both of which thrive in the area’s cold, nutrient-rich upwellings. While the currents are a little less fierce, the sites in the south still demand a degree of experience, with excellent buoyancy required to hover inches above the reef or to avoid disturbing the rays.
Alor to Ambon crossing, via the Banda Sea
The Banda Sea is a bucket-list destination for advanced divers. This vast open expanse is scattered with small islands and underwater seamounts, many of which deliver once-in-a-lifetime underwater experiences. Both the southern Forgotten Islands and central Spice Islands are incredibly isolated and almost entirely untouched, creating a true sense of adventure and requiring some advanced scuba skills to explore. Amongst the mind-blowing opportunities on offer, visitors have a chance to dive amongst hundreds of sea snakes and spot schools of hammerhead sharks.
Enroute to the Banda Sea, Alor’s cool water and powerful currents attract large schools of pelagic fish, along with a few heavy-hitters such as hammerheads, thresher sharks, and even mola mola. Kalabahi Bay and Pantar’s Beangabang Bay are also home to some genuine muck diving, where precision buoyancy is essential to avoid disturbing the silty substrate. Keen critter hunters will be able to identify an array of interesting subjects here, including Rhinopias, seahorses, frogfish, mandarinfish, and cephalopods of all kinds.
At the end of the trip, Ambon Bay, is equally well-known for its muck diving, with some of the ocean’s most sought after critters hiding amongst the sub-par conditions.
Lying over 500-kilometres from the Costa Rican mainland, the sheer isolation of Cocos Island is enough to pique the interest of adventurous divers. And, nicknames like ‘little Galapagos' only elevate the intrigue. The advanced nature of these trips means operators require guests to have at least 50 logged dives under their belt before departure. There are currently around 20 individual dive sites dotted around the island of Cocos, with a variety of environments such as sheer walls, towering pinnacles, exciting drifts, and beautiful blue-water. Thankfully, once they’ve made the 36-hour crossing, most vessels simply circumnavigate the island, visiting each site at least once, if not more.
Bajo Alcyone is one of the most famous dive sites at Cocos, and for good reason. Requiring a quick descent to advanced depths, this seamount is a bonafide pelagic playground, attracting colossal schools of fish, as well as dolphins, sailfish, and walls of hammerhead sharks in their hundreds. Other incredible encounters on offer at Cocos include megafauna such as whale sharks, silkies, Galapagos sharks, tiger sharks, and manta rays. Interactions with such formidable marine life only get better with experience, as calm and controlled divers help to put the animals at ease.
Having found fame for providing the inspiration behind Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the significance of the Galapagos Islands and its wildlife is certainly no secret - and it’s no surprise that scuba divers from around the world dream of descending into these biodiverse waters. While some sites are suitable for beginners, this is largely an advanced diving destination thanks to cool water temperatures and strong currents. But, as is often the case, these conditions help to attract plenty of interesting marine life, including manta rays, sea lions, sharks, and more.
Departing from Baltra or San Cristobal, all Galapagos diving itineraries will include some exploration of the main islands, such as Isabela and Santa Cruz. But, without a doubt, the highlight for most intrepid scuba divers visiting the Galapagos are the isolated islets of Darwin and Wolf. Lying over 100-kilometres north of the main archipelago, these remote outposts are strictly reserved for experienced underwater explorers. Believed to harbour the largest reef fish biomass in the world, Darwin and Wolf consistently deliver some of the planet’s most exceptional dives.
Hundreds of schooling hammerheads are high on the agenda when booking a liveaboard to these isolated islets, though whale sharks, silkies, and Galapagos sharks can also be seen, as well as dolphins, sea lions and more. Darwin’s Arch, now sometimes known as Darwin’s Pillars, is one of the more iconic sites located here, but more or less any descent around these islets has potential to deliver the goods
Reached after an open-ocean boat crossing of more than 24-hours, Socorro and the Revillagigedo Islands form a remote archipelago that requires a little determination to reach. But, divers who know what’s waiting beneath the water here certainly won’t let the distance deter them. Put simply, the diving at this far-flug island group is simply world-class, with frequent once-in-a-lifetime encounters and unique experiences.
Located hundreds of miles of Mexico’s Pacific coast, Socorro and the Revillagigedo Islands are prone to challenging and ever-changing conditions. Surge and swell can sometimes make things difficult on the surface, while water temperatures can drop to the low 20s and powerful currents can require advanced techniques such as negative entry and confident drift diving. And that's not all, as most dives end out in the blue, as dive groups hover in the water column waiting for the more elusive open-ocean species, meaning perfect neutral buoyancy is a must.
Liveaboard itineraries to the Revillagigedo Islands tend to circle around the archipelago, making dives at each island along the way. Forming part of the Hammerhead Triangle, this destination is well-known for its resident hammerhead schools, as well as some of the world’s most friendly oceanic mantas. At well-known dive sites such as Roca Partida and The Boiler, divers can also spot curious pods of bottlenose dolphins and the occasional whale shark, while silkies, silvertips, Galapagos sharks, and tiger sharks are also on the cards.
Maldives Deep South
A trip to the Maldives’ far southern reaches is sure to excite even the most seasoned of divers. The entire country is well-known for its unparalleled encounters, with whale sharks and manta rays appearing at different sites throughout the archipelago. But, it's safe to say the deep southern atolls of Huvadhoo and Fuvahmulah take things to new levels. There are a couple of ways to explore these extraordinary destinations via liveaboard. One option is to catch a domestic flight to Addu or Huvadhu, and spend the entire trip in the south. The other possibility is to join a one-way liveaboard trip between Male and the deep south, visiting other highlights such as the current-swept channels of Vaavu along the way.
Generally speaking, the sites that offer the best chances of exciting encounters in the deep south are deeper, and with stronger currents, hence the requirement for more experience. Conditions, Also, one of the biggest draws is the small atoll of Fuvahmulah which has reached legendary status among seasoned divers for its guaranteed daily tiger shark encounters. And, understandably, an advanced level of composure is essential to enjoying safe and ethical dives with these seriously formidable fish. Aside from tiger sharks, Fuvahmulah also offers a chance to thresher sharks, whale sharks, and oceanic manta rays at certain times of the year. The large southern atoll of Huvadhoo is also well-known for encounters with bigger species, including silkies, silvertips, and nurse sharks.
Experienced divers will certainly have heard of Palau, though many would struggle to locate it on a map! This tiny Micronesian nation is ideal for liveaboard diving and delivers some of the best underwater experiences imaginable. Thankfully, those that do make it to this legendary dive destination are in for a real treat as they explore one of the most biodiverse and exciting marine ecosystems on the planet.
Boasting world-renowned drift dives such as Blue Corner and Peleliu Express, it’s no secret that Palau requires a minimum level of experience so that divers can cope with the challenging underwater conditions. Reef hooks were largely popularised in Palau, providing an insight into the intensity of the currents, which can also be unpredictable, sometimes changing without warning or drawing divers down into the depths. But, given the right experience, scuba divers can easily conquer these heart-pounding conditions, and experience some unforgettable adventures.
Palau’s top sites attract thousands of schooling fish, including snapper, jacks, and barracuda. Sightings of packs of grey reef sharks are also a regular occurance, with possible appearances from other pelagics species such as manta rays, sailfish, and hammerheads. Interestingly, it’s not just the currents which make Palau a dream destination for advanced scuba divers. This archipelago features a fascinating history and is littered with sunken wartime relics – many of which are best suited to experienced and suitably-qualified divers. Two of the country’s most famous wrecks – Iro Maru and Choyu Maru – for example, lie at depths of 30-metres or more, well beyond the reach of open-water divers.
Egypt’s southern Red Sea
The warm waters of the Red Sea are a favourite among divers of all experience levels. But, the remote, offshore islands and shoals of central and southern Egypt are better suited to those with experience. Popular liveaboard itineraries include routes around the Brothers Islands, Daedalus and Elphinstone, sometimes referred to as BDE, as well as trips linking Fury Shoals with the southern sites of St. Johns. Or, for the ultimate adventure, extended trips can be found that visit all of these exciting dive destinations.
Located off the coast of Marsa Alam, the highlight of the central region are the offshore reefs of Daedalus and the Brothers Islands. These advanced dive sites are renowned for their currents and close encounters with hammerheads and thresher sharks. As a result, the majority of liveaboard operators visiting this region require guests to hold a minimum of advanced open water certification and 30 or more logged dives. While Elphinstone Reef is less affected by currents, the presence of oceanic whitetips also makes it more suitable for experienced divers.
Further south, Fury Shoal and St. John’s Reef both offer incredibly healthy coral gardens, along with a few current-swept drop offs, and stunning tunnel networks that cut through the reef. Due to the isolation of these destinations – at times only a stone’s throw from the border of Sudan – liveaboard itineraries this far south also promise unique and challenging experiences.
The remote atoll of Fakarava in French Polynesia is a dream liveaboard diving destination thanks to its isolation and incredible marine life. Cast out in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve feels about as close to the ‘edge of the world’ as you can get. Despite the size of its lagoon, Fakarava atoll has just two channels, meaning liveaboard trips usually explore sites at some of the neighbouring atolls as well. But, while few in number, Fakarava’s channels are still the main attraction for liveaboards in the region, promising some unprecedented underwater experiences.
Located in the north, Garuae Pass is the wider of the two channels, funnelling large volumes of water in and out of the lagoon which supports some incredible coral growth. Currents can be particularly strong and divers need plenty of experience under their belts. In fact, for safety reasons, this channel is only dived during a slack or incoming tide. In contrast, the narrower southern pass of Tumakohua offers milder conditions. But, the presence of powerful predators in both channels means this atoll is best reserved for advanced and adventurous divers. Among the marine life on offer here, divers can witness rowdy packs of grey reef sharks, as well as lemon sharks, hammerheads, and oceanic whitetips.
The Arctic or Antarctica
While these two destinations couldn’t be further apart, the Arctic and Antartica both offer similarly challenging scuba diving in icy water - which is inherently advanced simply because of the conditions and equipment required. Even if you’re not venturing under the ice itself, the low temperatures and shifting ice-bergs can still present plenty of challenges. Operators offering polar diving rightly require their guests to have an adequate level of experience and be able to show 30-50 logged dry suit dives in cold-water environments. Additional equipment is also necessary when diving in such frigid conditions – including drysuits and environmentally sealed regulators – and divers must be confident in their use.
Additional challenges aside, scuba diving in the Arctic or Antarctica promises unparalleled adventure and some serious bragging rights. The surreal shapes, patterns and colours produced by currents and sunlight hitting the ice are utterly awe-inspiring, while the unique and remarkable wildlife is sure to delight even the most experienced underwater explorers – offering everything from penguins and seals to starfish and sea angels.
The Coral Sea
The Coral Sea is not Australia’s most famous dive destination, but it is one of the most advanced. Liveaboard itineraries that explore this region venture out beyond the protection of the Great Barrier Reef towards a series of isolated reef systems located hundreds of kilometres from the coast. As you can imagine, these dive destinations remain almost entirely untouched, boasting large and diverse coral specimens alongside rare species and sizeable shark populations. Operators visiting the Coral Sea’s more remote reefs generally require a minimum certification level of advanced open water and 30 logged dives or more.
Separated from the continental shelf by a deep trough, Osprey Reef is one of the largest and better-known reefs in the Coral Sea. Its outer walls drop to depths of 1,000-metres and are swept by strong currents which create crystal-clear water and fuel astonishing coral growth. Holmes Reef is another popular stop for liveaboards, offering the potential for heart-pounding pelagic action with silvertips and grey reef sharks. Finally, the remote Bougainville Reef is so rarely visited, a stop here is guaranteed to make even the guides feel giddy. This is exploratory diving at its finest, with steep walls sloping into the inky darkness, dazzling coral reefs, and unbelievable biodiversity.
There are few destinations in the world as revered by wreck diving enthusiasts as Bikini Atoll. The remote nature of this atoll was a defining factor in its selection as a nuclear testing site, and residual radiation has so far prevented permanent resettlement of the islands. As a result, liveaboards are the only viable way of visiting Bikini Atoll, with vessels embarking and disembarking in Kwajalein Atoll, located a few hundred kilometres southeast. This destination's legendary reputation has long captivated the world’s most adventurous divers, though the considerable isolation and advanced technical diving requirements mean very few have ever made the trip.
In 1946, the United States placed a fleet of 95 military vessels in Bikini Atoll and pounded them with two atomic bombs – creating one of the most mind-blowing ship graveyards imaginable. Nicknamed the ‘nuclear ghost fleet’, there are now 20 or so military wrecks to be dived here, including warships, transport vessels, and submarines. One of the signature sites is that of the USS Saratoga, one of only several diveable aircraft carriers in the world. At 270-metres long, this wreck is an absolute behemoth, featuring an array of interesting cargo such as planes, bombs, and military equipment. Other noteworthy wrecks here include the HIJMS Nagato, USS Arkansas, USS Pilotfish, and many, many more.
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