Where to go diving in Caribbean in December? / Covid Considerations

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Skirnir314

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Hey All,

I'm trying to plan a dive trip to somewhere in the Caribbean for me and my girlfriend in December, looking for tips. We live in Singapore and have done a lot of diving around Southeast Asia (Bali, Komodo, Sipadan, Great Barrier Reef). My main interest is nature/wildlife, but we enjoy drift dives, muck dives, wreck dives, you name it.

Considerations:
1. Covid. We're both vaccinated and would take whatever precautions are recommended/required, but I don't want to go somewhere where covid is raging (even if just to not strain the local healthcare system, in the even we get sick or hurt).
2. Travel restrictions. Relatedly, somewhere with fewer travel requirements would be good.
3. Timing. Would be looking to go for 4-5 days, maybe up to a week.
4. Water temp. The warmer the better for my girlfriend.
5. Resort or liveaboard would be best.
6. Looking for events/features of particular interest. Unique spawning event? Big pelagics? Cool wreck? I'm there.

Where would you go? Based on #1/#2, I'm wondering if the US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico would make sense.

- Mike
 

drrich2

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From what I've read, I don't think Puerto Rico is going to offer the 'all-in-one' dive resort or live-aboard (though the Juliet at times hits Mona Island) 'package' you might prefer. It has diving; you can do a Search on the forum and turn up some discussion threads. It's one of those destinations that requires more research.

Coming that far and having dove places many people here go to for 'something better' after they've dove the Caribbean mainstream places, I tried to think of the 'best,' with your criteria in mind.

The Caymans are pretty much behind a forcefield right now, so Little Cayman Beach Resort and Cayman Brac Beach Resort are out (had them in mind for what some consider about the best coral reef diving in the Caribbean). I thought the Belize outer atolls region via live-aboard were roughly comparable, and maybe that could work for you?
Sun Dancer 2 (Belize) May 2015 - http://www.scubaboard.com/forums/li...ving-belize-via-sun-dancer-2-may-2nd-9th.html
Dive Trip to the Blue Hole & Visit to Half Moon Caye - http://www.scubaboard.com/forums/belize/506647-some-blue-hole-impressions.html

Roatan has some sweet reefs; it's not known for 'big stuff,' but I saw a goliath grouper on one dive, and you can pay for special dives to go see Caribbean reef sharks or dolphins. Or to learn to spear lion fish.
My Research Notes from planning a Roatan Trip - My Research Notes from Planning Roatan Trip
CocoView Trip Report May 2021 - Trip Report - CocoView Resort May 8-15, 2021

Bonaire's shore diving could give you something you may not be used to, and the opportunity to pack in a lot of it. Granted, not many big animals.
My Research Notes for Bonaire - My Research Note For Bonaire

If you want more to do topside, more sandy beach, and some shore diving but more boat diving emphasis, Curacao is quite nice.
Curacao Trip Research Notes
Curacao Trip Report with SB Surge Jan. 2019

People love drift diving Cozumel.
My Research Notes from Planning Cozumel Trip - My Research Notes from Planning Cozumel Trip
Tres Pelicanos & Casa Mexicana, Cozumel Sept. 2018 Report - Tres Pelicanos/Casa Mexican Trip Report Sept. 2018

Jupiter, Florida, in winter is known for the lemon sharks coming in. That could be something special, though it wouldn't be great coral reef diving.
Jupiter 2014 - http://www.scubaboard.com/forums/florida-diving/491927-jupiter-trip-report-9-7-14-9-11-14-a.html
Emerald Charters Trip Report 2017 - Trip Report - Emerald Dive Charters Trip Report

Considering how far you're coming, and with the disclaimer I don't know their pandemic situation right now, have you considered the Galapagos? It's not warm water but the big animal action is fine!
My Research Notes from Planning Galapagos Trip
Humboldt Explorer Jan 13-20, 2020 - Trip Report - Humboldt Explorer Jan 13-20, 2020
 

Lorenzoid

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Hi Mike,

In your point 1 you said you prefer "fewer travel restrictions," but that seems somewhat at odds with the interest in covid considerations you expressed in point 2. Travel restrictions are the reason why covid is "not raging" and very much under control in some dive destinations. I'm similarly confused about your preference for a resort or liveaboard, though I have heard that some liveaboards have more rigorous covid precautions than others, such as requiring pre-departure testing and limiting the number of people in the main salon area. Personally, although I'm fully vaccinated, I'm not comfortable with being inside an enclosed space like that with people whose vaccination/test result status I can't be certain of. So, I suppose it depends on the liveaboard/resort's policies. I may have completely misunderstood your point when you mentioned "covid considerations" in the title of your thread, and it's possible you're looking for a destination where entry requirements are actually lax (and consequently, one might expect covid to be rampant). Nevertheless, assuming I understood your points, including an apparent interest in the Lesser Antilles (the sub-forum in which you posted), allow me to recommend Bonaire. Among the islands of the Lesser Antilles, Bonaire is enthusiastically discussed far more here on SB than other islands. It's just great diving. Not Indo-Pacific great, but great by Caribbean standards.

I was recently in Bonaire, and I was impressed with the covid precautions and (at least at the time) low infection rate there. It's part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and I feel somewhat reassured that there may be some oversight by Dutch health authorities, and the local government is not just hiding the data. Some factors I felt contributed to covid safety: (1) a PCR test is required of essentially all visitors for entry; (2) visitors are required to undergo extra testing if not vaccinated; (3) like many Caribbean destinations, it is an outdoor lifestyle, where you needn't spend time indoors with strangers; and (4) Bonaire's famous shore diving allows one to avoid much contact with the local population (though shore diving seems contrary to your preference for a resort or liveaboard). The entry requirements sound rigorous, but in reality they are not onerous at all--testing is easy and goes smoothly. Bonaire is a relatively sparsely populated place, with room for everyone to spread out. I don't mean to sound unfair, and I generally enjoy mingling with locals wherever I travel, but reports have suggested that it is not visitors who are contributing to Bonaire's covid case rate but rather locals. In summary, the covid considerations are as good as I think it gets in the major Caribbean dive destinations.
 

Outbound

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Hi Mike,

In your point 1 you said you prefer "fewer travel restrictions," but that seems somewhat at odds with the interest in covid considerations you expressed in point 2. Travel restrictions are the reason why covid is "not raging" and very much under control in some dive destinations. I'm similarly confused about your preference for a resort or liveaboard, though I have heard that some liveaboards have more rigorous covid precautions than others, such as requiring pre-departure testing and limiting the number of people in the main salon area. Personally, although I'm fully vaccinated, I'm not comfortable with being inside an enclosed space like that with people whose vaccination/test result status I can't be certain of. So, I suppose it depends on the liveaboard/resort's policies. I may have completely misunderstood your point when you mentioned "covid considerations" in the title of your thread, and it's possible you're looking for a destination where entry requirements are actually lax (and consequently, one might expect covid to be rampant). Nevertheless, assuming I understood your points, including an apparent interest in the Lesser Antilles (the sub-forum in which you posted), allow me to recommend Bonaire. Among the islands of the Lesser Antilles, Bonaire is enthusiastically discussed far more here on SB than other islands. It's just great diving. Not Indo-Pacific great, but great by Caribbean standards.

I was recently in Bonaire, and I was impressed with the covid precautions and (at least at the time) low infection rate there. It's part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and I feel somewhat reassured that there may be some oversight by Dutch health authorities, and the local government is not just hiding the data. Some factors I felt contributed to covid safety: (1) a PCR test is required of essentially all visitors for entry; (2) visitors are required to undergo extra testing if not vaccinated; (3) like many Caribbean destinations, it is an outdoor lifestyle, where you needn't spend time indoors with strangers; and (4) Bonaire's famous shore diving allows one to avoid much contact with the local population (though shore diving seems contrary to your preference for a resort or liveaboard). The entry requirements sound rigorous, but in reality they are not onerous at all--testing is easy and goes smoothly. Bonaire is a relatively sparsely populated place, with room for everyone to spread out. I don't mean to sound unfair, and I generally enjoy mingling with locals wherever I travel, but reports have suggested that it is not visitors who are contributing to Bonaire's covid case rate but rather locals. In summary, the covid considerations are as good as I think it gets in the major Caribbean dive destinations.
All of this. It is why we booked a trip to Bonaire from which we just returned, and it's why we'll be going back in January.
 

flyboy08

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CZM if you've never been. Water temps should be 80*...plenty of great restaurants to enjoy on land.
 

Altamira

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If you are considering Cozumel, you should research the number of dive days lost due to port closures caused by strong northern winds in December through February. I would hate to fly from your location to Cozumel, only to possibly have to sit out a couple of dive days due to high northern winds. I love diving in Cozumel, but rarely plan to go there in the winter months.
 

Skirnir314

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Thanks all! For some more context...

We're both from the US and back to see family in November/December. So, not traveling for diving specifically, but we wanted to get some diving in since we've been in lockdown in Singapore for past ~2 years.

On travel restrictions, I was mostly thinking about entry/exit requirements. With the world still upside down, I worry a bit about getting stuck outside the US or being unable to enter a country at the last minute. My thought was that countries where the outlook was better (high vaccination rate, low case counts) would be likelier to have fewer entry/exit restrictions come December. Either way, the real priority is just not going somewhere where covid is raging, which just seems inadvisable.

Neither of us can drive at the moment (US licenses expired in Singapore and we never got Singapore licenses), hence the preference for resort/liveaboard. Just makes things easier. I'm not personally all that worried about being on a liveaboard if they require vaccination/testing beforehand.

Anyway, sounds like Bonaire is a potential option (although, I can't seem to find much info on vaccination rates or case counts).

Or, maybe we should keep it simpler and do Jupiter FL + Blue Heron Bridge.

I was also thinking about the Dry Tortugas, but it seems like there aren't many operators.

- Mike
 

drrich2

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Anyway, sounds like Bonaire is a potential option (although, I can't seem to find much info on vaccination rates or case counts).
You may find it here - Covid Surging in Bonaire. It's possible to boat dive in Bonaire...but the 'glory' of the destination tends to be the freedom of shore diving, which usually means driving a rental truck with tanks and gear around, which means...a driver's license.

If you want an A.I. resort on Bonaire, The Plaza is known for this; I think I read Divi Flamingo has an option for it (to me A.I. means food; I don't pay attention to alcohol offerings). Of course, you can 'make' a given resort with an on-site restaurant functional A.I. but eating there (and paying as you go).

Jupiter has good big animal diving, but you need to get from your accommodation to the dive boat.

You mentioned the U.S. Virgin Islands; it could work. While getting the full benefit of St. Croix would make me want a car, you could get around Christiansted on foot and do boat dives. There've been changes since I wrote this, but for an overview - St. Croix Research Report Aug. 2017 - Trip Report - St. Croix Research Report Aug. 2017
 

Outbound

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I'll put in a plug for the Plaza and for its dive op, Toucan Diving. It's AI (or at least it can be; I think you can opt-out if you like), which I typically don't like, but if doing a lot of diving it's very convenient to eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, etc. No time wasted on going to an off-site restaurant. The food is pretty good. It's certainly not 5-star dining, but there is a lot of variety for most meals and definitely good if not great.

Toucan Diving is a great op with awesome guides/captains. Water temp in Bonaire in Dec. will be around 80-81 or so. Comfy for most in a 3mm full, a shorty for many, a rashguard and shorts for some, and 5mm for a few. If you rent a car you can pick up tanks at Toucan and just hit the shore diving sites of your choice. If you don't feel like a car rental, you can sign up for boat diving the mornings and then shore dive at the house reef (18th Palm) the rest of the time. Like most dive ops, they do a 2-tank morning dive, and will do a Thursday boat night dive off of Klein if they get 6 or more people to sign up. They'll also do afternoon boat dives if they get enough people.

As Lorenzoid said, the health restrictions Bonaire has in place are not onerous but are stringent enough to ensure some level of safety and help to mitigate risk as much as possible. The only difficult part might be finding a place that offers the Abbott ID Now test near where you live. That test satisfies Bonaire's NAAT test requirement and will fit the requisite 48 hour timeline before departure. Regular PCR tests that need to be sent out to a lab may or may not return in time. By me, my local Walgreens stores don't offer them; I have to drive about an hour away. Easy enough to do. But depending on your location, it might mean a pretty long drive to get your test.

Good luck in your travel research and I hope you two have a great dive trip wherever you decide to go!
 

Altamira

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