"GETTING YOUR TRAVEL FEET WET"
OK, Guam diving is good and we have a diversity of reefs, wrecks, and reasonable marine life. BUT, there is much better diving very close to us.
#1. Dive Micronesia first. I still recommend to new divers or those that have NOT traveled much to go to either Palau, Yap, or Chuuk Lagoon (Chuuk is ships with reefs on them) first. HOWEVER, as your diving experiences expand you'll soon realize that there is an amazing variety of marine life that cannot be found in Micronesia anywhere.
#2. Philippines Second: In addition to the diving in Micronesia there are destinations that might seem off the beaten path (Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia) BUT they offer some truly incredible diving and traveling experiences. The Philippines is close, easy to get to, and VERY inexpensive compared to anywhere in Micronesia.
#3. Everywhere else third. Although Micronesia and the Philippines are great diving there are other areas in the western pacific that offer some very specialized (and equally spectacular) diving. Bali and Lembeh Straits in Indonesia, Layang Layang and Sipidan in Malaysia and New Guinea.
I guess what I'm saying is that if you're out here for a while please recognize that you are in the middle of an "arena" of countries and islands that everyone else in the world drools over to visit. Go there if you can cause' you'll never forget it.
OK...If Guam is so good why should you go anywhere else while you are here?
REASON #1: I have previously said Guam is about 80% better than most places. But, and this is huge, quite a few of the very top dive destinations in the world are within easy reach of Guam. We are very spoiled here and have very easy air connections to all of these areas.
-In less than three hours you can be at Palau, Yap, Chuuk . In less than 4 hours you can be in the Philippines.
-In less than 6 hours you can be in Australia, Pohnpei, Kosrae and Malaysia.
REASON #2: You're special and in the <1% club. You're a diver or snorkeler or you wouldn't be looking at this. This means you already have tried something (scuba) that 99.875% of the world wouldn't think of trying. Why not experience the best diving and snorkeling you'll probably ever do? It's all in our backyard.
REASON #3: It's really inexpensive (ok..it's cheap) when compared to what others pay to travel to these same areas. Palau, Yap, Chuuk and the Philippines can be visited for 3 days of diving, hotels and some meals included, for less than $700.
My evaluations: Here's a quick breakdown of each area. I've tried to skip a lot of hype and give you some overall pros and cons of each place. Remember, any of these destinations offer much better diving than we have here. You can click on the links to see instant play videos of each area to give you an idea of what's there.
FIRST TIME TRAVELER TIP: Dive Palau, Chuuk, or Yap first. Everybody loves big animal and pretty reefs. Then dive the Philippines. If you're a wreck/reef diver go to Chuuk. Read on.
Pros: Big animals right in front of you, very good reefs, lot's of diversity in diving. Free dives at the dock. Walls, caverns, tunnels and the stunning rock islands. This is the most popular destination from Guam and it should be. Many land tours and kayaking for kids and your non diving significant other.
Cons: Don't go if you have less than 5 dives after your dive class. Yes, you can still go and dive, but you'll enjoy it much more if you have a little more experience. Make a few drift dives before you go. Sometimes too many dive boats at the same locations. Late November through April can be very busy there. Palau is getting more and more expensive and the impact on the reef from so many divers is obvious.
Pros: World famous for manta diving, particularly during the mating season from Feb-May. All dives are very easy to do there. Good to excellent reefs, lots of sharks, and the culture is unique to Micronesia. The Mnuw schooner / restaurant / bar...one of a kind. Very shallow diving and now even snorkeling with the Mantas. Southern reefs comparable with many other destinations. Many land tours and kayaking for kids and your non diving significant other.
Cons: Flight are very limited there, lower vis on the manta dives most of the time. Yap can be a pricey but there are some very good packages available.
CHUUK (TRUK) LAGOON Pros: The #1 dive destination in the world for wreck divers. Most of the wrecks also have an enormous amount of coral and marine life on them. Easy dives, most are between 25-90ft. WW2 history. No currents.
The myth about Truk is that it's deep and mysterious. Pure nonsense. You don't have to be wreck certified. They now have a couple of good reefs inside the lagoon that have an abundance of sharks, and you can even snorkel with them.
Cons: Don't dive the outer walls. There's better places to do this. Don't walk around town after dark.
PHILIPPINES This statement is absolutely true: After you've been to another destination in Micronesia, the Philippines will show you what you missed!
Pros: There are so many dive areas here that it would take the rest of the page to list them. Easy to get to, flights every day, no visa required. Prices are very low compared to other areas for the same # of days diving, etc. , more bang for your buck. Abundant marine life, many more species not found in Micronesia, superb reefs, great macro and little critter photography, different cultures and people. Go here after you've been to Palau or Yap.
Cons: Few big animals (except Malapascua, Tubataha) Different currency, airport taxes are irritating but not expensive.
AUSTRALIA Pros: Good diving for those relatively new to diving that haven't been to other destinations in Micronesia or Philippines. A great variety of fun land tours. Aussies.
Cons: No matter what the hype (and it's very good) you hear about the barrier reef, diving can be disappointing for experienced divers. There are better places to go if you're just going for the diving. Long boat trips. Expensive diving.
POHNPEI Pros: Relatively few people dive here but they can experience some very good diving. Mantas, big animals, Nan Madol village, Pohnpeian culture, waterfalls. Beautiful island to explore. A great get away alternative for a quiet vacation.
KOSRAE Pros: Very, very few divers go there. Superb hard coral reefs. Easy diving. Mangrove kayaking, waterfalls, culture. Beautiful island to explore. Great for a family trip.
Cons: Don't do more than 2 days of diving, the reefs tend to look the same. Three flights to get there. Bring a raincoat. It rains almost every day.
Don't be a "that's not the way WE do it where I come from" traveler! In other words, keep a low and smiling profile and don't draw attention to yourself. You are traveling to experience other islands, countries, culture and traditions. Coping an attitude is the fastest way to make your life miserable and very possibly all the others that are traveling with you.
Q: What should you generally plan on bringing? Remember that you're going to a warm climate.
-Raincoat for sure. When it rains and you're on an open boat you'll get cold.
-A light weight jacket. If you get sun burned you'll appreciate this on the boat or at night.
-If you're a coffee, tea, or soup drinker, bring along a heater coil (you can get em on Ebay) or a small coffee pot/water heater along with a packet or two of your favorite thing to heat up. Make sure it can handle the the voltage in the location you are going.
-A small first aid kit. Nothing fancy but make sure you have sun screen. A small can of powder. Tylenol and motrin. If you have a tender stomach bring something to keep it calm and peaceful. Nuff said
-Lots of T-shirts and shorts. A hat. Sun glasses.
-mask defogger and sudafed.
-A blow up travel pillow. Dirt cheap on Ebay.
-A few large and small trash bags. Very useful for packing clothes in dive bags and storing smelly things when returning. These also make emergency rain jackets (island style rain coats) by making holes for your head and arms.
Q: Do you have to have a passport? Absolutely. There are NO other options and they must be valid for 180 days after your trip return. Make sure, REPEAT, make sure that the name on your travel tickets exactly matches your passport and you're picture looks like you now. Some have been sent back because their names didn't match.
Q: What happens when you get to your destination? In Micronesia there will be a representative from the dive company and / or the hotel to meet you at the airport. If it's a hotel rep make sure that you call the dive company when you get there even if you have a travel voucher.
If it's to any other area it will depend upon who is booking your trip to get you this info. If you are doing it on line send them an email asking if there's airport service or not. Remember to get the local phone number of the hotel/dive operator and the name of the driver or transportation company that will pick up up.
Q: Can you use Frequent Flyer Miles? You may be able to use your frequent flyer miles IF you book far in advance. This is something you have to do personally. Check with the airline.
Q: What about weight restrictions? This totally depends upon what airline you are using, what class your flying in and what their luggage policies are. Most airlines now charge for an additional bag and they also have a weight restriction on bags.
Cebu Pacific and Philippine airlines also have sports programs. If you're booking on line DON'T book the cheapest fares. These are non refundable if you want to cancel. Go one level up.
NOTE: Make sure your bags are clearly marked with your name and address with something else beside the luggage tag. A lot of bags look alike so make your's distinctive.
Q: Should you take your gear or rent it at the destination? If you have your own gear I'd take it cause you're comfortable with it and know that it works. A dive vacation is not the place to be familiarizing yourself with rental gear. However, most of the rental gear I've seen has been pretty good.
Don't take your weights unless you have some weird sized ones that fit your super customized private weight belt.
Q: Are there any extra costs that you should expect? Yes, but these will vary between destinations. Some charge dive permit fees, a specific activity fee (like whale shark expeditions) and some airport fees. If you're going to the Philippines you'll be hit up for domestic departure fees, airport use fees, and intl departure fees. All together, that's about $50. Bring enough green cash to cover these. And shopping. Almost everyone shops.
Q: What's the water temperature? Each island has its own special features that make it unique. Diving in the west pacific region is known for its abundance of marine life and the diversity of species, cultural appeal and usually have warm tropical temperatures ranging from 79 to 85 degrees. BUT you can also encounter lower temperatures down to 72 degrees.
At every island the water temps are lower from Dec-March (except Australia) so make sure you ask the dive operator that you're booking with what they are.
A skin (.5mm wet suit) or rash guard will usually do the trick for water temps above 80 degrees. For any temps between 76-80 a 2-3mm suit will keep you warm, but I'd also bring alone a slip over rash guard or something similar. Below that think 5mm. You DON'T want to get cold diving. Consider that you'll be making multiple dives in a very short time frame so KEEP WARM! Most dive operators also rent wet suits.
Q: What are "no seeums"? Diving in plankton rich waters has it's side effects. "No seeums" are very tiny, almost invisible, stinging organisms that you'll occasionally run into. If you are diving with only a swim suit your exposed skin areas are very susceptible. I highly recommend at least a skin suit or rash guard even if you don't get cold.
Q. What is the policy for "tipping" the guides and hotel staff? Tipping is up to each person and your personal experience at the location. No destinations in Micronesia or the Philippines require that you tip anyone. Some hotels or dive operators already have a built in gratuity in their price, particularly food, so it's best to ask the hotel manager or their rep what the policies are.
I recommend $7-10 per day for your boat crew and this includes the dive guide. It's customary to put your tip into an envelope and give to their supervisor prior to leaving the resort. You can get envelopes at the front desk.
At most places hotel staff tips are divided equally. Feel free to ask the front desk if you have any questions.
Q. How much cash money should you bring? It's best to assume that you are going somewhere very remote and access to ATM's and banks will be difficult. We recommend that you bring a minimum of $300 cash with you. Dive permits and entry or departure taxes are always paid in cash.
Not all restaurants / hotels accept credit cards, so please be prepared. Yap has NO ATM's. Pohnpei has ONE. So it is better to have cash with you. Do not rely on the hotel / resort for a cash advance, there is no guarantee that they can provide this service for you. Major credit cards accepted are Master Card and Visa, and sometimes American Express.
If you're going to the Philippines, you can convert dollars to pesos right in the airport.
Q. What about bringing prescription medicines or alcohol into a country or island? For medicines there is usually no problems. A good tip is to label everything you have and what it's for on a separate piece of paper to show customs if they have any questions. Some areas ban bringing in alcohol or cigarettes, however dive bags are rarely checked if you are going to a primary dive destination.
Q. What about bringing camera gear into a country or island? Again, there is usually no problem with this if you are not a professional photographer or videographer. If you are a professional at some areas you can expect to pay a "duty" or "photographers permit fee". It will be high.
Specifically in Asian countries, don't look like a photographer. A point and shoot is fine, but anything bigger could draw attention to you. Don't walk around any airport and take a lot of "general" pictures. Hi mom and dad shots are fine. Make a list of all cameras and lenses that you have along with their serial numbers. Put rechargeable batteries in your checked luggage, not in your hand carried bags. Wrap them in a zip lock bag.
Bring back up batteries as most smaller islands do not have everything you may need. Come prepared.
Q. What about the voltage and chargers? All of the Micronesian islands have standard 120vac 60 hz just as we do on Guam. In other countries they usually have 220-240vAC 50hz outlets. The Philippines uses the same wall outlets that we have here, but there is no 3rd ground plug so if you have a 3 prong cord then you can easily buy an adapter at any hardware store.
Almost all electronics will operate on 220-240 but look at the label on them to verify this. NOTE: A 120v charger strip will last about 2 seconds if you plug it into a 240v wall plug. You'll smell it when it happens! Most resorts in the Philippines have special adapters or charging areas that you can use at no charge.
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