Got the winter blues? Colorado may not be the best place to go diving during the cold season, but it is an ideal place to get certified. In fact, Colorado has the second most certified scuba divers of any state that doesn’t touch the ocean, and it ranks sixth in the number of divers overall. That adds up to a lot of underwater experience in the Centennial State, making it a great place for those of us who are normally more focused on rocks, summits and trails to try a new sport.
There are certainly some fine (and surprising) dives in Colorado —think lakes with cold water and low visibility—but most of them serve more as training spots or the kind of places diving junkies can get a little inland fix. When it comes down to it, the best thing about diving is seeking out warm water. Head to the tropics for swarms of marine life and water that’s usually clear enough that you can see the wonderful ballet under the waves.
First things first though, take a Colorado dive class. Start at Denver Divers (denverdivers.com), where you can just try out scuba, go full-on and get certified or up your certification level. They also help book trips. Don’t care to learn scuba certification? No worries. The following destinations are places where you can explore the water by snorkel, swimming, SUP or even just by lying on the beach. Book that winter getaway now.
There is no other experience in the natural world that compares to swimming with a whale shark. And the Yucatan is one of the best places on the planet to get the chance to share the ocean with these gentle giants. Don’t be frightened by the name: Whale sharks are actually fish. In fact, they are the lagest fish on Earth and much of their life cycle is still a mystery to scientists. One thing is certain, they allow humans to swim alongside them—not to touch them, however, that is illegal and disrespectful. You don’t need to be dive-certified to swim with whale sharks, either. Simply don a snorkel, mask and a pair of fins. You hop off a well captained boat as the 30-foot-long fish cruises by, sucking up nutritious plankton. You then have a brief moment with it on its own terms in the sea. Several outfitters will take you to swim with whale sharks, but be sure to book a company with strong ethics and respect for the animal. Barna Takats at Encounters (encounters.com.mx) can take you out to see the whale sharks or point you towards responsible outfitters. Takats can also help with scuba diving adventures–and few places rival the warm blue of this peninsula and the island of Cozumel when it comes to scuba. That’s because this is the location of the Great Mayan Reef, the second-largest barrier reef on the planet, stretching for 600 miles and harboring a stunning variety of aquatic life. Isla Mujeres, just east of Cancun, is the easiest spot to get underwater. Plus, there’s one incredible treat in the Yucatan that only requies a snorkel. Casa Cenote (casacenote.com) is a long, thin freshwater lake just off the beach in the jungle. Swimming through it is an otherworldly experience.
Tobago doesn’t get as much press (or tourists) as many other Caribbean escapes. That makes it an island vacation spot that should appeal to the Elevation Outdoors reader—it’s heavy on adventure with a good dose of downtime and low on annoying package tours. It’s famed for goat races and being the supposed location of the classic pirate yarn Treasure Island. Tobago is also famed for its scuba diving, with attractions for beginners as well as accomplished divers. The most famous dive on the island is the Maverick Wreck, which attracts a wide variety of marine life including fantastically colored angel fish. Tobago’s waters are also home to the world’s largest brain coral, a truck-sized living colony that looks like it’s straight out of Dr. Who. The Mount Irvine Wall is a sort of underwater playground, rife with canyons and situated in shallow water near shore. It’s a perfect spot to see turtles and a dive that satisifies both beginners and vets. Book a stay at the Grafton Beach Resort (graftontobago.com), a laid-back, family friendly spot right on the beach with fresh water swiming pools. If you want to splurge, try Le Grand Courlan Spa & Resort (legrandtobago.com). Owned by the same company as Grafton, it’s more of a four-star resort, ideal for romance and complete with a spa. Both properites can set you up with dive excursions: They have an in-house dive shop. They also make ideal bases to explore more of the island. Be sure to take some time to explore the interior of the island, too. Tobago claims the oldest protected rainforest in the Western Hemisphere, older than the U.S.A., in fact, since it was dedicated on April 17, 1776. The Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is where you might be lucky enought to catch a glimpse of the the endemic White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird.
Hawai’i is a perfect place to lose yourself. The pace here is slower and still more authentically Hawaiian (as well as hippy) compared to more popular islands, and, although surfing is king everywhere in the Aloha State, you will also find some outstanding diving here. Know this first, however: The name of the island is not Hawaii; the name of the island is Hawai’i. Don’t refer to it as The Big Island. On to the water. If you want to get out and just have a good time, book a trip with Ocean Sports (hawaiioceansports.com). The company runs tours on catamarans that include snorkeling excursions that take in the reef on the Kona-Kohala Coast. They also run whale watching trips, the perfect way to get up close to a humpback. Or combine the two. For more serious diving, contact Kohala Divers (kohaladivers.com), also operating on the Kona-Kohala Coast.They specailize in getting divers out to see big underwater critters like those humpback whales, manta rays, white-tip reef sharks and Hawaiian spinner dolphins. Deep below the waves, you meet the marine animals in their own world with a feeling of connection and respect that’s part of the Hawaiian experience. Again, you will also want to take the time to wander inland and see the forces that created these islands still at work in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.