The concept of scuba diving for leisure has been around since that clever Frenchman Jacques Cousteau perfected the aqualung, but it’s only really of late that luxury diving holidays – where the diving on offer is as outstanding as the accommodation – have come to the fore. Here are my favourite luxury diving hotels across the continents, all of which work very nicely thank you for non-divers too.
Reached via Bali, so perfect for a cultural combination, Wakatobi is a lovely and laidback lodge on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in the Banda Sea. The region is renowned for having some of the most pristine reefs in the world, home to some 400 types of coral and 700 species of fish. And while most divers dig the big stuff such as sharks, Wakatobi also has world-class macro life such as the rare pygmy seahorse. Non-diving other halfs should note that Wakatobi has a wonderful house reef that’s great for snorkellers, and the beautiful fine white sand beaches are pretty appealing too.
With so many outstanding dive destinations spread across the atolls of the Maldives, no single hotel could have access to them all, unless, that is, the hotel happens to be a boat. Take a bow the Four Seasons Explorer, the best luxury liveaboard boat in the Maldives, or possibly anywhere else, for that matter. This floating Four Seasons resort caters for a (very lucky) 22 guests in total, with an expert dive team who take divers by traditional dhoni boat to spectacular isolated dive spots safe in the knowledge there won’t be another soul there. Above the waves the service is predictably slick, with the crew arranging everything from massages and swimming trips to beach barbecues or evening cocktails on remote sandbars.
The islands off the coast of Mozambique are prime dive territory, and Azura Quilalea is a gem of a barefoot luxury island retreat in the Quirimbas Archipelago. There are just nine comfortable and romantic coral stone and thatch villas dotted along the shoreline, and a restaurant serving delicious Portuguese and Goan cuisine. Needless to say there are stunning dives within easy reach of the island, but one of the best is the amazing house reef, just 20 yards offshore and home to turtles and the rare oscillated lion fish. Other activities on offer include sunset dhow cruises, kayaking and visits to nearby Ibo Island, once a key Portuguese port.
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to superb beaches and some of Mexico’s finest Mayan ruins, but offshore the Great Mayan Reef (the world’s second longest after the Great Barrier Reef) also makes this an excellent dive destination. Stay at Belmond Maroma for its sophisticated Mayan/Moorish design and hammocks for a lazy post lunch siesta. The diving is predictably good, with an impressive 15 dives within ten minutes’ boat ride of the hotel, but there’s also the chance to experience cenote diving in the Yucatan’s underground sinkholes (collapsed cave), famed for their extraordinary aquatic visibility.
And so to the Great Barrier Reef itself, and Lizard Island, a newly revamped (at a cost of a cool $50 million) luxury resort on its own island that’s part of the reef system and with a mere 24 beaches to cater for the fortunate inhabitants of the 40 super-swish suites. The diving is on the doorstep, and exceptional, particularly at Cod Hole, where enormous (and enormously greedy) potato cod swim around you waiting to be fed by the dive guide. Keep an eye out for clownfish, Napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrotfish as well.
Question: what do you do when you make a billion selling sugary water? Answer: in the case of Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz you buy a picture perfect private island in Fiji. The resulting island resort, Laucala (pronounce Lau-V-ala), might just be the most luxurious hotel in the world, with only 25 villas dotted around the island and an ‘anything goes’ attitude that sees the staff bending over backwards to accommodate guests’ every need. A case in point is the dive on demand programme, which means you can ring the dive centre with ten minute’s notice if you feel like diving one of the superb local dive sites, including wall dives and known haunts of hammerheads and mantas.
Tom Barber is Co-Founder of Original Travel.