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This is the forty-forth in a series that introduces and describes the various dive services and sites for worldwide liveaboard dive safaris. This one focuses on the best liveaboard destinations for beginners. For other “Best” reviews of liveaboards and destinations, go to “Best Liveaboards & Destinations Lists” on the top menu.
Have you ever been diving on any of the locations described below? If so, I’d love to know about your experience. What liveaboard did you use? How was the diving? Were the services and accommodations good? Please post your response in the comments section at the bottom and we’ll all learn something we can use.
What sort of liveaboard is suitable for beginners?
Divers recently certified without much experience should stick to some basic guidelines to ensure safety and enjoyment.
- A PADI Open Water Diver has only been trained to depths of 60 feet (18 meters). Each training organization has the depth specified for the beginning level of certification. A beginner should not go on dives significantly deeper than that without additional supervision by an instructor.
- A new diver should not be placed in circumstances where a lack of buoyancy control can lead to dire safety concerns. For that reason, the steep “bottomless” drop-offs are to be avoided until practice has given the diver firm control of buoyancy. Additional coursework from PADI (Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty) and most training organizations to specifically address improving buoyancy is available.
- A strong drift can be difficult for a new diver to negotiate safely. Practice with an instructor or the PADI Drift Diving Specialty are ways to initiate the skills necessary.
Best Liveaboard Destinations For Beginners
- Red Sea Egypt
- Great Barrier Reef Australia
- Roatan & the Bay Islands Honduras
- Similan Islands Thailand
- Jardines de la Reina Cuba
- Turks & Caicos
- Cayman Islands
- The Maldives
Sitting just off the eastern coast of Belize is the longest unbroken barrier reef in the western hemisphere with more than 400 islands. In addition, there are 3 of the 4 coral atolls in the western hemisphere just outside the barrier reef that have fringing reefs and drop-offs to more than 3,000 feet. Conditions have been created for rich coral gardens with diverse marine life that includes schooling fish, reef sharks, turtles, eagle rays, dolphins, and the occasional whale shark. Outstanding dive sites are Turneffe Atoll, Lighthouse Atoll, and the famous Blue Hole. There are great shallow sites with minimal current excellent for beginners and other steep walls with a more substantial drift that will challenge advanced divers. Visibility is usually great making it excellent for photography enthusiasts.
- The air temperature is warm all year with water temperature ranging from 77°F (25°C) in winter to 86°F (30°C) in summer. Most divers will never need more than 3mm of protection.
- The rainiest time is from June to November when there is a chance for hurricanes.
- Visibility ranges from 50-130 feet (15-40 meters) and there is usually little surface chop on the sites closest to shore.
- The current is mild on most sites.
- There are sites suitable for beginners and for advanced level divers. Both liveaboards that dive Belize cater to both, provide access to the more remote sites, and the opportunity to advance skills through diving courses including for nitrox.
For a review of the two liveaboards and another popular Belize diving destination, check out these posts:
Widely dispersed to the east of Florida, the 700 islands of the Bahamas offer a range of subsea terrain best accessed on a liveaboard, with caves, wrecks, walls, a blue hole, sandy areas, mangroves, and colorful coral reefs ranging from shallow to deep. There is an intriguing array of macro critters and reef tropicals along with a range of sharks including hammerhead, nurse, lemon, bull, Caribbean reef, tiger, and black nose sharks, as well as eagle rays, stingrays, groupers, and dolphins.
- It’s warm all year in the Bahamas with water temperatures hitting lows of 72°F (22°C) in January and highs of 82°F (28°C) in August. A 3mm wetsuit will provide suitable protection much of the time, and 5mm for some divers when it is coolest.
- There is a significant rainy season during the summer months than may include hurricanes like the devastating one in 2019.
- Visibility is always pretty good at 50-100 feet (15-30 meters).
- Currents range from mild to moderate. Divers should consult with divemasters and boat staff to determine if the conditions are suitable for the less experienced. Surface conditions are usually pretty smooth except during storms.
- There are sites suitable for beginners and for advanced level divers. The seven liveaboards that dive the Bahamas can take care of both and provide access to the variety of more distant locations. Scuba diving courses including for nitrox are offered on most of them.
For a review of the Bahamas liveaboards, check out this post:
Covering a broad area from north to south the Red Sea has a rich variety of dive sites that include some of the best historic wrecks, diverse colorful coral reefs, and a variety of undersea topography. All of this is offered by many of the liveaboards at ridiculously low pricing, especially considering services and facilities are still quite good. Fantastic seasonal pelagics include whale sharks, manta rays, hammerheads, and shoals of barracuda, to go with the array of reef tropicals and macro critters, other sharks, rays, dolphins, and dugongs in some areas.
- Air temperature varies significantly throughout the year with daily average highs of 36°C (97°F) in July and August which fall to 21°C (70°F) in January. There is some variation in temperature from north to south in the Red Sea. Water temperature follows the air temperature fairly closely with highs in July-September of 28°C (82°F) and lows in February of 21°C (70°F). The rest of the year it is somewhere between the two extremes. A 7mm wetsuit with hood and gloves will suit many divers when the water is at its coolest.
- This is a desert area that is dry all year with no rain at all from May through September in many areas.
- Currents are often mild but can be strong on some sites for some exhilarating drift diving. Coordinate with the diving guides for current suitable for your experience
- Visibility is usually in the 21-30 meter (70-100 foot) range all year. It is possible to find it as good as 60 meters (200 feet) on some sites.
- There are sites suitable for beginners and for advanced level divers that include shallow sites, and deeper wreck and wall dives. The 73 liveaboards that dive the Red Sea can take care of both and provide broad coverage to this huge area. Many offer very low pricing. Scuba diving courses including for nitrox are offered on many of them.
For reviews of the Red Sea Egypt liveaboards and locations, check out these posts:
- Best Red Sea Liveaboards Reviewed and Compared
- Best Red Sea Marsa Alam Diving
- Best Diving Sharm el Sheikh Egypt
- Best Diving in Hurghada Red Sea
Great Barrier Reef Australia
The huge ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef can be seen from space and is one of the richest, most diverse, and healthiest in the world. There is a fantastic array of marine life includes pelagics, a variety of sharks and rays, 7 species of sea turtle, pelagics like dogfish tuna, barracuda, and giant trevallies, and seasonal visits from minke and humpback whales, to go along with the main attraction, the reef itself. There is something for all levels of diver with short itineraries of 2-3 days and longer ones especially for sites further from Cairns to the north like Cod Hole and the ribbon reefs.
- Diving is good all year with air temperature average daily highs that reach 89°F (32°C) in December and January and dip to 79°F (26°C) in July.
- The rainy season runs from November through May with a possibility of cyclones. The heaviest rains are from January through March. Rains generally come early in the morning or in the late afternoon. From June through September is the dry season.
- The water temperature reaches highs of 84°F (29°C) from June through October and lows from January through March of 81°F (27°C). During the coolest times, a 3mm wetsuit is probably sufficient.
- Currents are usually mild with smooth surface conditions when it isn’t storming.
- Visibility is usually excellent in the 100-foot (30-meter) range.
- There are sites suitable for all levels of diver from beginner to advanced levels. Only 1 or 2 vessels serve the Bay Islands with low to mid-range pricing, offering from 2-12 day safaris. Scuba diving courses including for nitrox are offered on many of them.
For reviews of Great Barrier Reef liveaboards and a location, check out these posts:
Roatan & the Bay Islands Honduras
Roatan and the nearby islands of Utila, Cayos Cochinos, and Guanaja have clear water and generally mild conditions suitable for beginners. There are lots of fish and macro critters on a healthy fringe reef and subsea terrain with walls, canyons, swim-throughs, and several wrecks. Highlights are sharks, rays, turtles and whale sharks that appear in spring and summer around Utila Island. There is service from shore on Roatan and Utila Islands but to take in all the islands a liveaboard is the only solution. The sites are not crowded.
- Diving is possible all year with air temperature average daily highs ranging from highs of 90°F (32°C) in September and dipping to 82°F (28°C) in January.
- The rainiest time is from October through June with the greatest possibility of hurricanes in September and November, and March and April.
- The water temperature reaches highs of 84°F (29°C) from June through October with the lows from January through March of 81°F (27°C). During the coolest times, a 3mm wetsuit is probably sufficient.
- Currents are mostly mild but variable based on location.
- Visibility is usually in the 100-foot range when the weather is clear.
- There are sites suitable for all levels of diver from beginner to advanced levels. 1 or 2 liveaboards serve the Bay Islands with mid-range pricing, offering 8-day safaris. Scuba diving courses including for nitrox are offered. The photography specialty would be a great choice.
For a review of Roatan liveaboards, check out this post:
Similan Islands Thailand
This group of islands off the northwest coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea has been a protected marine park since 1982. This has helped maintain the surrounding reef in excellent condition with relatively calm conditions and great visibility during the dive season from mid-October through April. The chance to see turtles, mantas and whale sharks are good on a subsea terrain of varied topography, diverse corals, lots of reef fish, pelagics, and macro critters. Up to 28 liveaboards dive the Similans with a range in pricing and duration of the cruise.
- Please note that the Similans National Park is closed from May to mid-October due to rough seas.
- Air temperature is always warm with average daily highs from 88-95°F (31-35°F) with the warmest time in February and March and the coolest in August and September outside the diving season.
- The range for water temperature is 80-86°F (27-30°C) with the warmest in June and the coolest in January.
- Currents are often mild but there are sites where they can get strong.
- The rainy season is from April through November when it rains 15-24 days a month roughly corresponding to the southwest monsoon. The dry season from November to March corresponds with the northeast monsoon.
- Visibility is variable based on the site, season, and plankton bloom. The best visibility is during the dry season. For most sites, the range is from 33-100 feet (10-30 meters). There are some locations where it may get as poor as 5 meters (16 feet) at times, especially when there is rain or wind. The plankton bloom in January through March will also cause a decrease in visibility but has the benefit of drawing whale sharks and manta rays at that time.
- There are sites suitable for all levels of diver from beginner to advanced levels. The dozens of liveaboard yachts cruising the Similans range from budget to luxury with many able to offer scuba diving courses including nitrox. The duration ranges from 3-11 days with many toward the bottom end of the range.
For a review of Similan Islands liveaboards, check out this post:
50 miles (80 kilometers) off the south coast of Cuba, Jardines de la Reina is a protected marine park only reachable by liveaboard. It is known for rich unspoiled shallow coral reefs as well as having interesting topography with walls and canyons. Highlighted marine life includes lots of sharks, rays, turtles, groupers, pelagics like jacks and barracuda, tarpon, and even the possibility of a saltwater croc. The liveaboards aren’t luxurious but that is made up for by the uncrowded high-quality diving.
- Diving is good all year in Jardines de la Reina where it is always warm.
- The range for water temperature is 79-84°F (26-29°C) which means divers are unlikely to ever need more than a 3mm wetsuit.
- Currents are usually mild to non-existent but some are possible in channels.
- The hurricane season is from May to October but the south side location provides some protection to keep the surface smoother and visibility better.
- Visibility, by the way, is usually around 50-130 feet (15-40 meters)
- There are sites suitable for beginner to intermediate levels. The 3 liveaboards (one is actually a floating hotel) cruising the Jardines de la Reina are at the top end of the middle range price-wise. Only one of the three offers nitrox. Check with the operators in advance to discuss interest in doing a scuba diving course.
For reviews of Jardines de la Reina Liveaboards and Cuban dive sites, check out these posts:
Turks & Caicos
Turks and Caicos is located just south of the Bahamas but doesn’t have nearly the diving traffic. That could change when word gets out about the rich reefs, interesting terrain which includes walls, and intriguing shipwrecks. Highlights are humpback whales that come in the spring and numerous Caribbean reef and nurse sharks, squadrons of eagle rays, turtles, and schools of big-eye jacks and barracuda. There are fringing reefs suitable for beginners and more challenging conditions in the Columbus Channel between the two major islands. Most of the shoreline is protected by the National Park Ordinance which hopefully ensures that the reefs remain untouched for the long run.
- It’s warm all year in Turks and Caicos with water temperatures hitting lows of 75°F (24°C) from December through March and highs of 90°F (32°C) in August. A 3-5mm wetsuit will provide suitable protection when the water is at its coolest.
- There is a significant rainy season from September through December with the possibility of hurricanes greatest from September through December.
- Visibility is always pretty good at 60-100 feet (15-30 meters).
- Currents are often mild on many sites. In Columbus Channel, they can become strong. Surface conditions are usually pretty smooth except during storms.
- There are sites suitable for beginners and for advanced level divers. The two liveaboards that dive Turks and Caicos make hitting a great variety of sites much more convenient. Both offer diving courses including for nitrox. There are good sites for the Deep and Wreck Specialties, as well.
For reviews of Turks & Caicos Liveaboards and dive sites, check out these posts:
With its warm climate, mild conditions, and a large number of sites, many shallow, the Caymans are a great location for beginner divers. There are beautiful coral gardens on fringing reefs and some steep walls with beautiful corals, reef tropicals and macro critters along with an array of megafauna that includes tarpon, mantas, stingrays, Caribbean reef sharks, and pelagics. In addition, there are a number of wrecks from shallow to moderately deep that provide exciting exploration and educational opportunities for all levels of diver.
- It’s warm all year in the Caymans with water temperatures in an annual range of 78-82°F (26-28°C). In the coolest time from December through March a 3mm wetsuit will be suitable protection.
- The rainy season is from May to October when it usually only rains for a few hours a day. Hurricanes are more likely from June to November but with its geographical position in the Caribbean, the Caymans are usually shielded from major storms.
- Visibility is always pretty good at 50-100 feet (15-30 meters).
- Currents are usually mild and outside of during storms, the surface remains relatively smooth.
- There are sites suitable for beginners and for advanced level divers. The single liveaboard diving the Caymans makes it much more convenient to reach many of the widely spread sites. Scuba diving courses are offered including for nitrox. It is also a good spot for the Wreck and Photography Specialty courses.
For reviews of Cayman Islands Liveaboards and dive sites, check out these posts:
The Maldives is made up of 1,190 coral atolls and islands that cover a broad area. It is notable for pristine coral reefs and a large number of spectacular megafauna with numerous species of shark including hammerhead and whale sharks, eagle rays, mantas, and pelagics like tuna, trevallies, and barracuda. The liveaboards are known for luxurious accommodations and service and usually focus on a particular region, though some will travel more widely. In spite of the luxury, reasonable prices are easy to find.
- It’s warm all year in the Maldives with water temperatures in an annual range of 80-86°F (26-30°C). A 3mm wetsuit will be adequate protection for most.
- The rainy season is from May to December which doesn’t often interfere with diving. The monsoon winds don’t often create much surface chop.
- Visibility is always pretty good at 50-100 feet (15-30 meters).
- Currents can be strong in channels and around the southern atolls. It is important for beginners to select a liveaboard that dives primarily in shallow coves and more protected reef sites.
- There are sites suitable for beginners and for advanced level divers. At least 39 liveaboards from budget to luxury level cruise the Maldives. Most use a large dedicated support boat called a dhoni to go to the sites. Scuba diving courses are offered. The Advanced Open Water Course and Drift Specialty would be good choices for a beginner.
For reviews of Maldives Liveaboards and dive sites, check out these posts:
Liveaboard Dive Boat Comparisons
If you have the interest in further information about liveaboard dive safaris that focus on short trips, low budget, and luxury versions, please check out these three posts:
- Best Liveaboard Destinations For Underwater Photography
- Best Liveaboard Destinations for Whale Sharks
- Best Liveaboard Destinations For Manta Rays
- Best Liveaboard Destinations For Wreck Diving
- Best Liveaboard Destinations For Diving With Sharks
- Best Liveaboard Destinations for Advanced Divers
- Best Liveaboard Dive Boats (Short Trips)
- Best Liveaboard Dive Boats (Low Budget)
- Best Liveaboard Dive Boats (Luxury)
Last Minute Liveaboard Deals & Special Offers
For greatly reduced pricing on special offers for a broad range of liveaboards in 17 countries around the world, please check out this post:
A cushion for emergencies provides peace of mind when on vacation. I recommend this diving insurance as they have worldwide coverage and give scuba divers a quality insurance and medical assistance service.
Feedback and Comments
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