RED SEA, EGYPT
Where parched Egyptian sands slide into the Red Sea lies an implausible marine paradise of Technicolor corals and upward of 1,000 fish species. “Many don’t realize how large the Red Sea is and how much marine diversity exists in it,” explains Wayne Brown, CEO of Aggressor Adventures of global liveaboard vessels used by divers and snorkelers. Aboard the Red Sea Aggressor I, the Brothers/Daedalus/Elphinstone itinerary offers proof that pristine coral reefs with over 150 coral species can exist in unimaginable places. “The big standouts are the Brothers reefs—two small islands sitting in the middle of the Red Sea where pinnacle reefs are smothered with extravagant coral surrounded by zillions of colorful reef fish,” says Brown. “Guests are astounded at the florid underwater tapestry seemingly at odds with the region’s arid desert. It’s one of the sunniest places on the planet, so the corals and their tiny guests thrive on an abundance of solar energy.”
Details: Multiple dates throughout 2019–2020; 20 guests; departs from Port Ghalib, Egypt. From $2,400/person; aggressor.com
Isolated in the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha Reef National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by divers who want to experience the best coral reefs of the 7,000-island Philippines archipelago. “Due to the reef’s remote location and limited, three-month window of accessibility, corals there are as undisturbed and as extravagant as you’ll find anywhere,” says Yvette Lee, marketing manager for Discovery Fleet, which specializes in organizing regional dive trips on its two liveaboards, Discovery Palawan and Discovery Adventure. Guarded zealously 24/7 year-round by marine rangers that are the only inhabitants, Tubbataha consists of two massive atolls and a smaller reef totaling 375 square miles, with plunging 300-foot perpendicular walls, extensive lagoons, and two coral islands. Scientists have documented 360 coral species and over 600 fish species. “Every dive you’ll see walls of corals and resident fish that are so colorful it almost doesn’t seem real,” says Lee.
Details: June 12–19/14–21, 2019 (2020 schedule TBD); 26/32 guests; departs from Puerto Princesa (Palawan), Philippines. From $2,325/person, plus $275 transit/park fees; discoveryfleet.com
In the middle of the fabled Coral Triangle, these islands lie in a region of the Western Pacific recognized as the undisputed center of marine biodiversity. That includes enormous coral gardens of every hue, precipitous plunging walls, and seascapes of incredible visibility where sharks, mantas, pilot whales, and tiny pygmy seahorses are as common as they are extraordinary. “The Solomons are still considered remote and don’t see many visitors,” explains Renske Lauterbach, marketing assistant with Master Liveaboards, which owns and operates the Solomons PNG Master. Says Lauterbach of the Diving Solomon Islands itinerary, “The areas we visit are filled with innumerable unspoiled hard and soft corals. Of course, fish large and small—from whale sharks to tiny ghost pipefish—come with the show.”
Details: Multiple dates throughout 2019–2020; 20 guests; departs from Honiara (Guadalcanal), Solomon Islands. From $2,950/person; masterliveaboards.com
RAJA AMPAT, INDONESIA
Off the northwest tip of Indonesia’s West Papua province, the sprawling Raja Ampat archipelago boasts the world’s richest biodiversity. Scattered among 1,500 virtually untouched islands, cays, and shoals, the waters flaunt at least 1,300 fish species, 13 marine mammals, five species of sea turtles, and a whopping 75 percent of all known coral species. “Most marine biology records are established here—the reefs swarm with so many fish that they block the sunlight,” says Luigi Russo, managing director for the boutique liveaboard Arenui. On the Greater Raja Ampat itinerary, passengers of the ship—a luxurious, classic Indonesian wooden sailing vessel—might see up to 465 coral species during 11- and 13-night voyages. “The only problem with Raja Ampat is that guests say they become forever spoiled by near-perfect conditions,” says Russo.
Details: The season begins November 20, 2019 (check for additional dates/availability); 16 guests; departs Sorong (West Papua), Indonesia. From $6,930/person; thearenui.com