While channeling your inner Robinson Crusoe to explore the mini caves and tunnels of The Baths might be riotous, there’s more to the BVIs than exploring this dense tuft of boulders. Or drinking ice-cold beer on a beach lounger in Cane Garden Bay, for that matter.
Heads up! This British archipelago of 50-something volcanic islands (aka Nature’s Little Secrets) is a remote Caribbean outpost for aquatic explorers and seekers of go-slow island life. In the spring, top sailors gather in its shores for an annual regatta. Throughout the year, diving enthusiasts explore its wrecks and coral reefs. And when the moon is full, revelers head for the beaches.
Whether or not you know how to sail is hardly a factor. Charter a sailboat (there are many companies in Tortola) and hire a crew if you must. Then trick that boat out with paddleboards, unicorn floats, snorkeling gear, loads of fresh seafood, and a massive cooler of beer. Finally, sail the islands where moorings abound. You can hardly visit the Sailing Capital of the World without actually stepping foot on a sailboat, can you?
Don’t know how to sail? Learn it.
Of course, if you don’t know how to sail, there’s no better place to learn the sport than the BVIs. Set course for the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda. It’s one of the best resorts in the islands, and home to a fantastic sailing school. You can learn basic sailing theories in the classroom and test your skills out in the bay and even past the reef in open waters, if you’re brave enough.
Is it a sin to cast yourself away on an island resort when there’s so much of the destination to explore? At Bitter End, a few days or so is more than forgivable. Here, the vibe is unaffected, the ship cabin-esque, open air-inspired suites are comforting, its food is to die for, and there are a lot of things to occupy your time—kiteboarding a la Branson and Obama, wind surfing, and even paddleboard yoga.
Stay at an eco resort.
Drop anchor at Cooper Island where top diving site, Wreck Alley, lies close to the coast and popular snorkeling site, Cistern Point, is a quick swim away from Cooper Island Beach Club, which has 30 moorings.
If you’re missing solid ground, the non-air conditioned beach house suites at this eco-friendly resort are a breath of fresh air. A stay here means a slumber in a canopy bed, complimentary continental breakfast, and free use of stand-up paddleboards. Dine at the onsite restaurant where the hearty helpings of lunch and dinner fare are elevating. Stop by the café for the resort’s own blend of coffee and a homemade pastry. And cap the night off at the Rum Bar, which boasts one of the biggest collections of rum in the islands.
Sailing may be the way of life in the BVIs, but diving is its favorite pastime. The archipelago is the venue for 77 diving sites, both reefs and wrecks, for novices and advanced divers. The best ones include RMS Rhone, Chikuzen, Coral Gardens, Painted Walls, and The Blinders. Carve out some diving time and enlist the services of Sail Caribbean Divers to take you to some of them.
No SCUBA certification? Go snorkeling instead.
You don’t have to be SCUBA certified to enjoy some underwater exploring, however. Don on a snorkel mask and a pair of flippers; there are many snorkeling spots to marvel at in its teal waters. Cistern Point is just one, though it is one of the best. There is also The Aquarium near the Baths where nurse sharks may be spotted. The water at Oil Nut Bay is teeming with sea turtles and stingrays, if you prefer to see those.
Drive around Tortola.
The serpentine road that snakes around the island of Tortola, BVIs’ largest, is a drive worth ticking off your list. The island is small so it shouldn’t take more than a few hours even with all the stops you must pull over for. Start on Frenchmans Cay where locally-owned D’Best Cup Coffee Shop at Soper’s Hole offers delicious fuel for the day ahead. Then make your way around the island, taking in the colorful villages and the charming little discoveries.
Important stops include Cane Garden Bay; Good Moon Farm to meet Dominica-hailing Drake and chat about their organic farming practices; Carrot Bay; and Jenesis Studios to discover the islands’ beautiful history and even witness how locals traditionally baked cassava bread in an outdoor brick oven.
Stay on the island for a couple of days, but escape the tourist bustle at Frenchmans, a quiet, verdant, nine-villa oasis where the Caribbean Sea sparkles in a near distance everywhere you look.
Go rum tasting.
While ruins of other rum factories pepper the island of Tortola, one has remained standing, still practicing the traditional way of rum making. The historic Callwood Rum Distillery, not far from Cane Garden Bay, is one of the oldest continuous rum distillery in the Caribbean islands and another Tortola must-stop, if only for their $1 rum tastings.
Stay a little bit longer if you can; it’s worth exploring the grounds and learning about how they use a traditional sugar cane press and how they store their rum. Their rum is excellent too, so you might want to bring home a bottle or two.
Driving around Tortola, you might see denizens picking mangoes off the trees and feasting on them on the side of the road. It’s hard not to; the islands are simply teeming with them, and the mangoes are sweet, juicy and gigantic—just the ticket for a fruity respite on a sweltering day. So enjoy one, or two, or how ever many you can get your hands on. Peel off the skin with your own hands, and eat them right off the seed. It’s the best kind of messy.
Hang out with the locals.
While in Tortola, don’t just stop by the North Shore Shell Museum in Carrot Bay, pick out a shell for purchase and leave. Egberth, former chef and owner of this quirky establishment, is a funny, effervescing dude with cool stories to tell and funny songs he’s more than happy to share with his guests. So hang out and be merry. There are conch shells to be enjoyed, graffiti to read and anecdotes to laugh over.
Attend a full moon party.
When the night sets in and that moon is full, there’s no better place to be in the BVIs than at a full moon party, a fiercely vibrant brand of revelry that’s uniquely BVI. This epic party, held in many spots all over the archipelago, involves music, face paint, poi shows, glow sticks, and at times, even hallucinogenic mushroom tea.
The colorful Bomba Shack is, of course, the most popular full moon party joint, but there are others that give it a good run for its money: Paradise Club in Cane Garden Bay and CocoMaya in Virgin Gorda, to name a couple.
Michelle Rae Uy is a freelance travel writer, editor and photographer based in Los Angeles. Follow her on her adventures onAnother Spur.
Despite cutting edge tech and defense systems, one diver can still cause lots of damage.
Jayme Pastoric / U.S. Navy
Navies around the globe have been spooked lately by the specter of unauthorized scuba divers lurking near military bases. China claims divers approaches one of its ships, while the United States recently scrambled to chase a ghost in the water, too.
The fear of these divers, or frogmen, is a subtle indicator of global tension. And with growing concerns of major conflicts erupting in Asia, Africa, and beyond, such reports indicate a rise in Special Operations missions near seaports or the heightened paranoia of the globe’s biggest militaries. Or both.
The South China Posthas a good summary of Chinese state media’s reports about that incident. The Chinese claim “a Japanese naval ship sent frogmen to approach a Chinese warship” while docked at Djibouti. (It’s telling that this drama unfolded in eastern Africa, where China is projecting its power much to Japan and India’s dismay.)
The Japanese military did not report the incident. But Jian Jiamin, a legal counselor with China’s PLA navy who served in Africa, reported the encounter to the media. Jiamin, now a prosecutor, says the Chinese ship could take “necessary measures to stop [the divers] or even to exercise its self-defense rights.”
U.S. Navy divers train to protect the Panama Canal, 2011.
Jayme Pastoric / U.S. Navy
That’s a pretty serious response to some guys in scuba gear, but such fears are on the rise. This week the U.S. Navy itself had a frogman scare at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. Sailors on watch spotted what they thought could be a diver in a restricted pier. The Navy scrambled helicopters and ships to scour the area, but the lockdown eventually lifted after no one was found.
Still, the high alert is reasonable considering there are more than 60 ships docked at that station, including the new USS Ford aircraft carrier. These are some prized military assets and are not to be messed with. That’s also why there’s an underwater security gate that encircles the 14 piers at Norfolk, originally built by Halo Maritime Defense, and have been deemed interesting enough to be profiled by the American Galvanizers Association.
Aside from some facts about the Navy’s history with hot-tip galvanizing, the site shares some details about the design. “The fences are constructed with modular units connected together so they can absorb water movements and levels,” the association says. ” Flotation pontoons support the steel structure and nets catch watercraft attempting to jump the pontoons, basically creating a floating fence.”
The USS Gerald Ford returns to Naval Station Norfolk after sea trials, April 14, 2017.
The fence isn’t exactly built to deter frogmen, though. The gate is “capable of stopping even the largest unwanted seaworthy vessel,” and so it’s a good defense against terrorists using small boats, such as the one that attacked the USS Cole in 2000 while it was docked in Yemen. But frogmen pose threats all their own, and there’s a couple good reasons why sophisticated warships are scared of them. Divers do two things really well–collecting intelligence and sabotaging vessels.
But intelligence gathering is a secondary fear when compared to sabotage.
Spying frogmen would certainly be unwelcome in any military port. They could be scouting the defenses for future missions or even leaving equipment that could record the activity inside the port. Microphones could determine what the ships are doing, from the amount of fuel they receive to the noise of the crew and engine. Fiberoptic umbilical lines between the pier and ship could be tapped. Navy piers also use wireless connection systems, and those signals could also be intercepted. (Good luck cracking the NSA encryption, though.)
Intelligence gathering is a secondary fear when compared to sabotage. A lone diver could disable a warship from below the waterline using an explosive charge. The last time a frogman struck an American ship was in 1964, when a single Vietnamese diver sank the USS Card with an explosive attached to the hull. The threat resurfaced almost 40 years later when the military disclosed the schemes of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The mastermind of Al Qaeda’s deadly suicide boat attack on the USS Cole, Nashiri apparently also trained recruits to plant explosives under docked ships in the Persian Gulf. He was captured in 2002.
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The big advantages of using frogmen for such attacks is that they don’t have to be attached to a ship to blow it up. Divers can also leave underwater mines for passing ships. Sophisticated military mines can be delivered with the help of underwater vehicles. These have an array of ways to be triggered. Some use acoustic noise of ships overhead while others are attracted by magnetism. Well trained and funded terrorists could also make improvised underwater mines, or buy older military models them on the black market.
But the final line of defense against frogmen is simple vigilance. Because despite cutting edge missile defense tech, stealthy submarines, and expensive warplanes, a handful of guys in scuba gear can still scare an entire ship.
Hanging with sharks seems like a risky proposition, but those who give it a try have found swimming with sharks to be a thrill like no other. Looking for a real honeymoon adventure? In honor of Shark Week, which kicks off on the Discovery Channel this week with an epic Michael Phelps vs. Shark showdown, we’re rounding up the best honeymoon destinations where you can actually swim with sharks!
For the extreme adventurer, swimming with grey reef sharks in Bikini Atoll is a bucket list experience. “Philippe and I traveled there to research the sharks’ behaviors for a documentary Nuclear Sharks that we co-hosted on Discovery Channel’s SHARK WEEK last year,” says Ashlan Cousteau, co-host of Travel Channel’s “Caribbean Pirate Treasure” series debuting August 20th.
For the unfamiliar, Bikini Atoll is not an easy place to get to. You will need to fly into Majuro, the capitol of the Marshall Islands, and then travel by boat two days north to Bikini. But once there the sharks act like no others. “Only a handful of people have ever been to Bikini so when the boat first were greeted with 12 curious sharks off the stern who were trying to figure out just what we were. Once in the water, 75 to 80 grey reef sharks were our constant companions,” says Cousteau. “To add to the epic adventure stay with Martin Daly on Berna Island. Philippe and I visited the resort while it was under construction with the owner, and surfing legend, Martin Daly and it was remarkable.”
If the Marshall Islands are too remote, there’s also the Great Whites off of Guadeloupe Island, Mexico. “I asked Philippe to take me there for my thirtieth birthday. During seal pupping season, dozens of white sharks come to hunt. It’s an overnight trip out to the island on a live aboard boat where you spend two and a half days diving with the sharks in cages off the back of the boat or, if you are scuba certified, you can see the sharks from a submerged cage (which is where I spent most of my time),” says Cousteau.
Fans of swimming with sharks maintain that being in the water with these amazing beasts is mind-blowing. Not only is their size incredible, but the way they move in the water reminds you of graceful dancers floating through space. “My favorite experience diving with great whites is that after you spend some time with them you realize they are not mindless monsters. They are mostly curious and watching them as they swim close by to check you out is mind blowing. Let me tell you, when a 20 foot female Great White makes direct eye contact with you, time freezes, you both connect and it’s a moment that stays with you for the rest of your life,” says Cousteau.
Remember, sharks are not the evil killing machines legend makes them out to be. They are beautiful creatures who, as apex predators, keep the ecosystem healthy. But like any apex predator you must treat them with caution and respect.
If you are ready for your own shark adventure, it doesn’t have to be during Shark Week – there’s amazing opportunities to experience and co-exist with sharks (to various degrees!) around all over the world, and we’ve rounded up some of the best.
Western Cape Beach in Cape Town, South Africa
No shark diving experience roundup would be complete without Gansbaai in Cape Town. “My husband and I flew to Cape Town, South Africa to go cage diving with Great white sharks. We awoke at 3 am to drive out to the cape where we submerged ourselves with the most dangerous beasts in the ocean. There is nothing more romantic than getting over your fears together,” says Collette Stohler of Roamaroo.com . “Once we were back on land, we climbed Table Mountain, dined at the V & A waterfront, and went wine tasting in Stellenbosch.”
A great place to do a cage diving experience is just outside of Cape Town. “I recommend Apex Predators, one of the leading shark diving companies in the world, to take our guests out to see the Great Whites! Plus, Cape Town is a city that is as full of life as it is adventure – and even if swimming with the sharks isn’t your thing, you can get cozy with a couple of nights at La Residence in the Winelands, a charming getaway with access to the region’s incredible wineries,” Lindsey Epperly of Epperly Travel.
Whale shark feeding under the surface, Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
If you are planning a trip between June and September, head south of the border to beautiful Mexico where you can get up close and personal with great white sharks, bull sharks, whale sharks, hammerheads or white tip reef sharks.” You can book snorkeling, diving, or cage diving tours around the country,” says Jessica Bisesto, senior editor at TravelPirates.com.
Head to Isla Mujeres to spot whale sharks off the coast of Cancun. “This is a popular tourist destination with plenty of great dining and nightlife options. Prefer to book an overnight tour or adrenalin-filled cage diving experience? Explore stunning Isla Guadalupe for a more intimate aquatic experience,” says Bisesto.
Shark pool at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Getty Images/Lonely Planet
Despite Las Vegas calling the desert home, it has some of the world’s most unique shark experiences. And while Las Vegas offers great Shark Week activities, it also has a surplus of Only-in-Vegas experiences. Cozy up underwater at Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino where guests dive side-by-side with more than 30 sharks, including sandtiger, white tip and sandbar sharks, within the 1.3-million-gallon Shipwreck Exhibit. If you’re craving interaction – at arm’s length – Shark Reef Aquarium also offers its Animal Encounters program where guests have the opportunity to go above the Shipwreck Exhibit and feed sharks.
For those who would prefer to keep a little glass between them and Shark Week’s superstar, visitors can head to the Golden Nugget in Downtown Las Vegas. Once there, cowabunga down a clear waterslide that goes through the 200,000-gallon shark tank aquarium at the pool for a truly memorable experience.
Blacktip Reef Shark Swimming in Bora Bora.
Bora Bora is the ultimate honeymoon destination, and it also boasts amazing opportunities for travelers to swim with sharks. French Polynesia was actually featured on the Shark Week programming series last year, and will be featured once again this year. The newly-opened Conrad Bora Bora Nui, a gorgeous new resort in Bora Bora, offers an array of exciting local experiences for guests, and shark diving is one of them. Guests will dive into the mesmerizing underwater world beneath the turquoise water, where they will swim with the destination’s famed blacktip sharks. Guests will also swim with manta rays, tropical fish and turtles, and can explore the beautiful coral formations of the reef. The hotel rents out snorkeling equipment so that guests have everything they need, and dives can also be arranged for a deeper look at Polynesian marine life.
Beach in San Diego, California.
Julian-Sebastian Gerdes / EyeEm
San Diego is known for stunning beaches and incredible weather, but also offers visitors opportunities to swim, snorkel and dive with sharks. “Head to beautiful La Jolla to snorkel with leopard sharks, then enjoy a candlelit dinner for two at sunset,” says Bisesto. “If you’re looking to get more personal with great white sharks, head to Pacific Beach and book a cage dive experience you and your partner will never forget,” Bisesto says.
Scuba diving in Turks and Caicos.
Turks And Caicos
In Turks and Caicos shark diving is very vibrant, with the island chain being set atop a 3,000 mile plateau above 6,000 ft. sea walls. Because of the warm waters, Turks and Caicos flourishes with Caribbean reef and hammerhead sharks.
“TCI is your best bet for scoring a sighting of a shark because of their environment. Other Caribbean islands will be hit or miss but you’re more than likely to score a sighting on a trip here,” says Kerry Sherin of WhereToStay.com.
Beach in St. Barths.
France in the Caribbean, truly. Mountainous terrain with vistas and beautiful bays, white and golden sand beaches, gourmet French cuisine, many fabulous restaurants, nightclubs, sidewalk cafe’s; picturesque harbor with luxurious yachts, lots of shopping, designer and other. It has a little bit of everything. Chic and glamour with a laid back island vibe. “In St. Barths, find yourself swimming among many types of sea life, from turtles and fish to sharks. However, because the area is considered a Natural Reserve, it is forbidden to attract sharks using any kind of bait or lures. Therefore, it is not guaranteed you will see a shark on your trip but the views are still sure to please,” says Sherin.
As an ever popular honeymoon destination in the Maldives, One&Only Reethi Rah brings a side of adventure to the water with the resort’s whale shark adventure experience. For those not wishing to hear the theme of Jaws playing in their head while diving in the water, they can be assured that Whale Sharks are some of the friendliest creatures in the sea. This gentle giant feeds on plankton, and yet can reach a size of more than 10 meters. The shallow waters off South Ari Atoll are a few favorite spots to snorkel or dive alongside these amazing creatures, a journey just 40 minutes away by seaplane, or two-and-a-half hours by speed boat.
Crystal Coast in North Carolina.
North Carolina’s Crystal Coast
Known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”, more than 2,000 vessels have made their unlikely final resting place at the Crystal Coast. With average water temperatures reaching 80 degrees F and approximately 75 feet of sparklingly clear visibility, Crystal Coast diving is an experience unlike anything else in the world. From shipwrecks to aquatic life (including an array of species of sharks), the Crystal Coast offers top notch diving. The infamous pirate, Blackbeard, sunk his ship “Queen Anne’s Revenge” two miles off the coast, lending the opportunity to explore the 300 year-old shipwreck. The site is largely popular for two reasons: Divers are almost guaranteed to see between five and 20 sharks — and nothing in the sea lurks like a sand tiger.
Port Lincoln, South Australia, is considered the premier aquatic playground of the state, if not the country. At the very tip of the shark-tooth-shaped Eyre Peninsula that bites into the Southern Ocean, it’s a diverse, rugged, pristine and little-known destination, even among Australians. It’s also home to the actual waters where Jaws was shot!
Specialist tours by Adventure Bay Charters, Calypso Star Charters and Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions will get you face-to-face with great white sharks from the safety of a purpose-built cage. For couples looking to stay dry and cozy together, Adventure Bay Charters offers prime viewing of the underwater action from the safety of a glass “Aqua Sub” equipped with a special glass pod that allows travelers to get up close with great white sharks, all without getting a drop wet. Passengers are welcome aboard the “Shark Warrior”— a charter boat with the specially built 6-seater glass “Aqua Sub” viewing area at the rear of the vessel. The boat operates out of Port Lincoln and takes travelers to the shark-infested waters of Neptune Islands, two and a half hours off the coast of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. Once the boat reaches great white shark territory, the pod is lowered into the ocean and passengers can climb down into the glass-enclosed viewing area that provides spectacular 360 degree underwater views—all while staying free of wetsuit and oxygen equipment. Couples can even enjoy lunch or a glass of wine as they sit back and marvel at the grace and beauty of the Great White Shark.
“I went cage diving with the Great White Sharks in South Australia last year – near the town of Port Lincoln,” says Anthony of The Travel Tart. “It’s slightly different to South Africa as you have air hoses, which mean you can stay down underwater compared to South Africa where you have to hold your breath. You normally go down in groups of 8, and stay down there for about 40-50 minutes,” he says. “You can see great whites at any time of the year!”
Courtesy of Discovery Cove
There’s a new shark interaction that just debuted in honor of Shark Awareness Day. It’s at Discovery Cove, the all-inclusive day resort in Orlando. This place is famous for its dolphin interactions –– but now they are going to introduce guests to sharks in a non-scary environment.
At this spot, you are not in a cage during these experiences, nor do you have to have scuba certification. This is a shark experience that in some ways is less intense than the standard cage dives, but in other ways far more exciting. You also get to be physically in the water, swimming freely with the sharks with no barriers. You’ll interact with five species: Pacific blacktip, reef whitetip, nurse shark, zebra shark, and a spotted wobbegong.
Basking shark in waters around the island of Coll, Scotland, UK.
Alex Mustard/Nature Picture Library
The waters may be chillier in Northern Scotland than some other shark diving destinations, but make no mistake – you won’t regret making the trip. Between April and October, prehistoric basking sharks fill the waters. “Basking sharks have a reputation for being social, oftentimes congregating in schools up to 100. Book a multi-night basking shark tour to enjoy some peace and quiet on your next trip to beautiful Scotland. Once you’ve wrapped up your time in the water, rent a car and explore the stunning highlands or spend a night at a castle for a romantic, royal retreat,” says Bisesto.
Courtesy of Resorts World Bimini
If you prefer shorter flights and warmer weather, head to the Bahamas for year-round tiger shark tours. “The perfect location for underwater photographing enthusiasts, Tiger Beach offers visitors the chance to mingle with friendly sharks from as little as $166 per person. Another fantastic option is Stuart’s Cove where visitors can snorkel with Caribbean Reef Sharks,” says Bisesto.
If you want to experience a true bucket list shark encounter like Michael Phelps himself, who came face-to-face with a hammerhead in Bimini for his Shark Week appearance on July 30th, check Resorts World Bimini on the Bahamian Out Island of Bimini, just 50 miles off the coast of Miami.
The blue waters of Bimini are home to a rich biodiversity of 45+ species of sharks — most notably, the hammerhead shark. Adventurous couples who want to dive with these prehistoric beauties (in their natural habitat, completely free of cages) should plan their escape Bimini from December through mid-April, as peak season is January through March.
For the fainter of heart, Atlantis Paradise Beach in the Bahamas is home to a shark habitat, showcasing Great Hammerhead sharks, Caribbean Reef sharks, Barracuda, and Smalltooth Sawfish. There are daily scheduled feedings open to guests to watch, perfect for those who want to see something majestic – but not get too close.
Since 2012, Kristin Addis has been traveling the world. More often than not, she’s solo.
The former investment banker decided to sell her belongings five years ago and hit the road. She since has lived in silence at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, trekked to see gorillas in Uganda and hiked on glaciers in Patagonia.
For Addis – who blogs about her experiences at bemytravelmuse.com, and wrote a book on traveling solo, “Conquering Mountains: How to Solo Travel the World Fearlessly” – traveling solo is easier than negotiating with a travel companion.
“You make all the decisions,” she says. “You get to just wake up that day and say ‘I want to go somewhere.’ Or ‘I really like it here, I think I’ll stay five more days.’ And you don’t need to ask anyone if it’s okay with them.”
Plus, she says, traveling alone is a great way to learn about yourself and put your skills to the test.
“You’ll become so much better at problem solving, because you learn very quickly that there is absolutely zero point in sitting around crying about it,” she says. “Because no one is going to come fix it.”
Here are her tips for traveling solo.
Start small: If you’ve never traveled by yourself and are considering a lengthy solo trip, it might help to test the waters – and calm anxious friends and family members – by going on a small trip first. “If you’re going to go on a big solo trip, your friends and family might be trying to talk you out of it. [A smaller trip] is a good way to show them, ‘Hey I can do this just fine,’ ” Addis says.
Choose a social (but not romantic) destination: If you’re concerned about getting lonely, Addis suggests visiting a place that’s popular for solo travelers, such as Southeast Asia, Central America or South Africa. There, you can meet people of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom are also looking to connect with others. Whatever you do, Addis says, avoid places that are known for being particularly romantic. “I would pick a part of the world where it’s not going to be all honeymooners,” she says. “As a first-time solo traveler, that can be kind of tough.”
Talk to the locals: Want to know the must-see/must-eat spots in a town? Ask someone who lives there. If you’re shy about striking up a conversation with a stranger, Addis suggests heading to a local pub or getting involved in an endeavor where you might meet others, such as rock climbing, scuba diving, surfing or hiking.
Connect using technology: Addis says that she knows many people who use the app Tinder when they travel and specify that they’re a tourist and looking for people to hang out with (rather than looking for a date). Accommodation options such as Airbnb.com and Couchsurfing.com can also be a good way to meet locals (and save money), and sites such as mealsharing.com and eatwith.com offer the chance to break bread in a local’s home. Meetup.com is a site that connects like-minded people in cities around the world for an array of interests – including biking, spirituality, art, yoga, games and drinks.
Get psyched for dinner: Even after five years of traveling the world on her own, dining solo still gets to Addis. “That never gets easier,” she says. Sometimes, she’ll head to the bar at the local hostel and see if there are other travelers interested in going out to eat together. Other times, she’ll feast on street food or grab something on the go. Or there’s always the bar option within a restaurant, where it can be easier to strike up conversations with other diners and the bartender. A number of times, she says, as she was reading a book in a restaurant, other solo travelers spotted her and asked if they could join. “The cool thing is if you’re traveling in a place that attracts a lot of other travelers, there will be other people also by themselves. That’s what really surprised me, how many other solo travelers there are out there,” she says.
Choose places where the dollar is strong: Since you’re not splitting costs with another traveler, solo travel can get expensive. Opt for places where the dollar is strong. It’s a good time to book a trip to Canada, for example, where a U.S. dollar equals about $1.32. The Singapore dollar has fallen in recent years, and your dollar will exchange for about $1.38 in Singapore. Addis adds that by traveling to economically developing areas, such as Costa Rica, Cambodia, Bali and others, you can really stretch your cash. “It’s amazing how your money doubles or triples in value,” she says.
Use common sense when it comes to safety: Addis is asked about safety a lot. Her advice: “The things that you do at home to stay alive make a lot of sense abroad.” Don’t drink too much, don’t walk by yourself at night if it’s not safe, don’t be afraid to splurge on Uber (on which information is recorded and your journey will be tracked, unlike in a cab), and trust your intuition. She says that when traveling solo she sometimes feels safer than when she’s with others. “The great thing about traveling alone is that you’re hyperaware. Nobody is distracting you,” Addis says. “A lot of people think this makes you a target. I find I’m able to say yes more. When locals notice me by myself, they tend to want to take me under their wing or invite me to a meal with their families.”
Give yourself permission to take a trip: Addis says that she encounters a lot of misconceptions about solo travel. She says that people assume solo travelers don’t have friends, or that they can’t travel alone if they have a partner and/or kids. She says that traveling alone is an empowering and enlightening experience, and encourages everyone to do it: “It’s all right to go off and do your own thing even if no one around you understands or agrees with it. You really just get one chance at life. You don’t need to wait for somebody to come with you.”
Silver is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twitter at @K8Silver.
Just as we’re getting a rash of shark sightings off the coasts of California, “47 Meters Down” is hitting theaters.
It almost didn’t. The thriller about two sisters, Mandy Moore’s Lisa and Claire Holt’s Kate, whose Mexican vacation turns nightmarish when the shark cage they’re diving in slips its cable and hits the ocean floor some 150 feet below, was originally called “In the Deep.” It was just about to go straight to home video when its original distributor, The Weinstein Company’s genre division Dimension Films, sold it to Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios (literally; trucks carrying the DVDs and Blu-rays to Walmarts all over the country had to be recalled).Claire Holt and Mandy Moore on set making “47 Meters Down” (Courtesy photo)
Which was a nice surprise for Moore, who currently stars on the beloved new NBC series “This Is Us,” and Holt, the Australian actress best known for portraying the less-than-lovable Rebekah on the CW’s “Originals” and “Vampire Diaries.” Deserved, too; they literally put their lives on the line to make this movie, so the results should be seen on a big screen.
“The thing we were a little apprehensive about but also excited about the challenge of was, we were doing everything you’re not supposed to do,” notes Holt who, like Moore, had never scuba dived before getting a few quick lessons for the “47” production. “Even though we were acting, we were doing really quite dangerous stuff and no one had really done that before. We spent eight weeks hyperventilating, no one really knew what that would do or how that would affect us. It was certainly nerve-wracking, but I think we found our rhythm and managed to survive it.”
“There was a lot to take into consideration in terms of physicality, like how we were overextending ourselves and acting underwater,” adds Moore, the former teen singing sensation who additionally notes that they had to pass a two-hour insurance physical before being permitted to make the movie. “When I read the script I went, Wow, I’ve never seen a movie like this before that takes place primarily underwater. In that sense, we were kind of guinea pigs. No one knew what effects eight weeks every day, under water, would have on our eardrums and lungs.”
Most of that business was conducted at The Underwater Studio in Basildon, England, the director Johannes Roberts’ (“The Other Side of the Door”) native land. He’d stay above the tank the actresses and their rusty cage were submerged 20 feet deep in, giving directions via large underwater speaker. Holt and Moore wore big diving masks with radio connections they could speak their lines through, but that could only be heard topside and by each other. The crew in the tank filming them had to communicate by other means.
“We developed this sort of underwater sign language with the camera crew, It was almost unspoken by the end; we could just read where they were going and kind of what they needed,” Moore explains. “It became easier as we went along. Because so much of it was when we were in close-up and it was just our eyes, it was pretty easy for them to say you’re gonna look over here or over there.”
All the Great Whites seen in the movie were computer generated. However, as any modern movie actor will tell you, they as well as the digital artists need something on the set for eyelines to follow and animated creatures to be properly placed within the frame. There was a bright idea for doing that in the Basildon tank, but like many a bright idea . . .
“We had a shark surrogate for a moment, then quickly realized it was a mistake,” Holt reports. “I guess it was a plastic shark head that a lovely fellow called Brian would swim around attached to. They used it sometimes for the CG, just so they could have a reference, but at other times they thought it would help our performance. It didn’t. We’d just laugh. So most of it was done with our imaginations.
“Sometimes we’d look at a rock,” Holt helpfully adds.
“I think under water, it’s easier,” Moore muses about acting against elements that aren’t physically onset. “When you’re above ground and someone is like, ‘Godzilla right now is outside that window,’ it might be a little more difficult to conjure up than when your underwater with the constant movement and the amplified sound of you’re breathing. It wasn’t hard to imagine yourself under water; you were actually there.”
And boy, were they in it. Cinematographer Mark Silk, who directed the underwater photography for “Captain Phillips,” had the effectively bright idea of filling the tank with ground-up broccoli to approximate the look of a tropical sea. And of course, it was a major effort for actresses and crewmembers to surface, doff and reattach all of their diving gear whenever nature called, so one just did what one does when out in the open ocean.
“Listen, we aren’t ashamed of that!” Holt insists. “When you gotta go, you gotta go. There was chlorine, broccoli, a lot of crewmembers’ pee in there. It’s good for your immune system!”
“The weekends, I would take multiple showers and still not be able to rinse the broccoli smell out of my hair,” Moore reveals. “We really committed for this film.”
She’s joking, but they really did.
“I don’t think either of us realized how physically taxing it was going to be,” Moore admits. “Just all that time under water, even just the littlest movements or seemingly simple days . . . we would get out at lunchtime and I’m usually not a napper, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. You just expend so much energy, and there was so much screaming and hyperventilating and fast movements. It was exhausting physically, and emotionally too, in a way that I didn’t expect.”
However, it was also crucial for the actresses to remember they were artists and not just performing sea mammals.
“We were conscious of making sure the film had levels, that it didn’t just live in a space that was heightened and fearful,” Holt points out. “There had to be moments of calm and connection. We wanted to give those heightened performances in the moments that required it, but also give these characters time to just be. It’s natural that humans go through a roller coaster of emotion when faced with a crisis.”
“And her character really pointed out that, in order to survive, we’d have to calm down and have these shallow breaths to not go through our air as quickly as we might,” Moore adds.
Both women say the effort was more than worth it, though neither has put a regulator in her mouth since. And they’re more than pleased that, in the shark tank known as the entertainment industry, their movie is getting a theatrical release.
“You never know,” Moore laments. “It’s such a crapshoot in this business, whether or not movies are going to get released. I had three failed pilots in a row and was reconsidering what I was going to do with my life when ‘This Is Us’ came my way.”
“I just shot a pilot that didn’t get picked up,” Holt chimes in. “That’s the nature of the business.”
As to whether our increased local shark consciousness will help sell tickets, Holt’s philosophical.
“I just think it’s a very real concern of a lot of people,” she says. “Anything that people respond to or connect with or are fearful of, hopefully they’re interested in engaging in. We’d never want shark attacks, but it’s a real thing, it’s frightening, and people respond to that.”
Fijian dive sites still teem with beautiful fish and coral.
Yesterday, Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement. Donald Trump — not all Americans. In fact, the majority of the U.S. wanted to remain in the accord. Politics aside, while nobody yet knows the true impact of this potentially fateful decision, scientists have already modeled a variety of detrimental repercussions from preventing a global temperature increase of 2 degrees. In some areas of the world, the effects of climate change are real and evident. Consider our ocean reef systems.
As a 17-year open water diver certified by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), I’ve witnessed the rapid degradation of our coral reefs. Gray, broken, and dead. Dwindling schools of colorful fish. Increasingly, that description fits a large number of dive sites around the world. Last month, I dove in the Bahamas. Not long after, Nevis. After we surfaced near St. Kitts, the dive master admitted nearly 80% of the surrounding coral was declared lifeless. Confirming these anecdotal impressions was the recent news about the Great Barrier Reef: In the last two decades, the 25 million-year-old ecosystem has bleached to the point of fear for its total and complete extinction.
While the ramifications of a dying ocean far outweigh the interests of a sport, the question should still be asked: what will happen to SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) diving if our coral reefs are dead?
I posed a few questions in the interview, touching on dive community responsibility, science and innovation, and great places to still experience the beauty of our underwater world. Fortunately, the answers aren’t as gloomy as you’d expect. I’ve published the interview in its entirety, below.
Climate change, ocean warming, acidification, and bleaching events are killing our reefs. Given the current pace of decline, what do you think is the future of the sport?
Unquestionably, there are serious and formidable issues threating the world’s coral reefs. That said, I’m a firm believer in engagement, problem identification and mitigation. My life philosophy is to remain optimistic and focused on a “future hope”. In my mind, there is no other option. Hope is the anchor to the soul. The danger is that we lose hope, or we feel like there’s nothing to be done.
In the wake of our 50th anniversary at PADI, we have deepened our commitment to ocean health and conservation. Our 25 million divers across the planet are becoming active as a force for good and driving towards a healthier planet and healthier reefs on local, national and international levels.
The PADI organization is committed to being a global force for good. We are passionate about creating a preferred view of the future in healthier oceans.
As for the future of the sport of scuba diving, I feel there are strong tailwinds which will drive future growth in scuba diving. These include a growing middle class, a strong interest in adventure/action sports, strong global tourism trends, and environmentally conscious millennials to name a few. We are all about a future of engaging millions of new divers, training them well to be confident and comfortable divers, encouraging and enabling them to seek diving adventure and exploration of the planet’s underwater realm and paying it forward as good stewards of ocean and marine life health.
Baselines on coral reef communities may shift due to a variety of drivers, but there will be a strong and growing interest in underwater exploration and immersion- it’s a transformational and life-changing personal journey that we look forward to offering up to the planet for decades to come.
Diving the Blue Lagoon in Fiji.
What can divers do to help, whether in their personal lives or within the framework of the sport?
Loads. Start with the “man in the mirror”, stay informed and do what you can to make the world a better place and become a more powerful catalyst for change. We already are seeing this in thousands of individuals on a local level and we are helping to get their messages out. All of us who care about these issues can amplify engagement efforts to support life below the waters of this world and support initiatives which promote the sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. We encourage divers to align with like-minded business and organizations. The diving community will become powerful change agents who share a like-minded love, mission and passion to be a force for good and tackle and mitigate the problems which threaten our ocean planet.
Local fishing practices and pollution are other contributors to reef decline. What can divers do to positively impact those practices?
Stay informed, get engaged, initiate conversations and educate others about the issues. We all can make informed choices about how we live our lives, what we eat who we do business with etc. We can support set asides, marine protected areas and hope spots and support sustainable development and life practices. Support the development of social norms and institutions that allow the responsible management of reefs. Policy-makers might help local communities and people live with reefs sustainably, and encourage people to be more invested in their local reefs. We don’t get to live in an ideal world, we live in this one.
You’ve likely read about 3-D reefs. What’s your thought on how quickly those can be created to contribute to reef health and regeneration? What else may help, if anything?
I love the innovation and hope that is driving this initiative. Artificial reefs have been around a long time with mixed success. Time will tell if 3-D reefs can help restore on any longer-term or mass scale.
What dive areas are still in good shape for viewing colorful fish and a lively reef?
There are hundreds across the planet. As for tropical marine ecosystems-places like Palau, Sipadan, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Indonesia and the Philippines. In the Caribbean Bonaire, Saba, much of the Bahamas, Las Rocas, and many areas in the Red Sea and the Maldives. There remains much beauty to be seen.
When she’s not in a vineyard or the ocean, Lauren Mowery covers drinks, food & adventure/luxury travel. Follow her around the world onInstagramandTwitter.
We wish this product and its producers the best of luck! How cool!
For those with a penchant for underwater exploring, taking the plunge to go deep sea diving means either buying or renting a whole lot of expensive equipment. that’s the predicament the ‘scorkl’ sets out to solve, arriving from melbourne to make easy underwater breathing accessible to anyone trained to try it. manufactured to the same specifications and standards as a normal SCUBA cylinder, all you need do is pump up the appealing yellow canister with its specially designed hand pump and the pint-sized device will enable you to breath underwater for up to ten minutes. scoring one up on the standard snorkel, the ‘scorkl’ lets you dissappear beneath the surface of the ocean with no need to surface to take a breath.
just pump up scorkl using the portable hand pump and you’re ready to go
all images courtesy of david hallamore
the device uses a mouthpiece just like a regular snorkel, yet replaces the air tube that requires you to constantly be at the surface of the water with a mini, water-bottle like air canister, freeing you up dive wherever you like. the scorkl uses an always-on, breathe-on-demand, balanced single stage regulator, relying on proven technology found in regulators used by SCUBA divers around the world. each scorkl also comes with a pressure gauge which tells you how much air is left at any time. once the mini canister is empty, it can easily be refilled on the go via the portble pump.
the pint-sized air canister allows for 10 minutes of underwater breathing
the pump works by filling the scorkl with air at a very high pressure of up to 3,000psi+, which allows for a full ten minutes underwater. each scorkl also comes with a scuba tank refill adapter, meaning that you can refill it from a larger SCUBA air canister instead should you prefer.
each scorkl has a built-in pressure gauge to tell you how much air is left
scorkl creator david hallamore explains that his idea was just to create a simpler way for everyone to be able to enjoy exploring under water, without the need for pricey kit.‘scorkl opens up a whole new world of underwater adventures at a fraction of the cost and hassle of traditional diving equipment’ he explains. ‘I think that it’s a real game changer for anyone who loves the water.’ as tempting as the device may look, it’s certainly one for those with some scuba training under their belt.
the scorkl uses a mouthpiece just like a regular snorkel
the device comes in a with a hand pump, a regulator, and an adapter for filling up from bigger SCUBA cannisters
scorkl aims to open up underwater exploration to everyone
the breathing device uses an always-on, breath-on-demand regulator
the device means that anyone can swim underwater
the scorkl is meant for both professional divers and recreational snorklers
when the mini canister is empty, just pump it up to refill
the device is manufactured to the same specifications and standards as a normal SCUBA cylinder
The H20 Voyager full face snorkel mask takes some of the anxiety out of snorkeling. Instead of having two pieces of equipment, you just have one. When I’ve snorkeled, scuba’d, or snuba’d in the past, I would bite down hard on my mouthpiece out of fear that I’d lose it and I’d drown.
The 180 in the name means you have 180-degree vision, something you don’t have when using a traditional snorkel mask. I couldn’t believe the difference when I put it on myself.
At first, the mask can feel a bit claustrophobic. My husband is the least claustrophobic person I know and even he had a moment of panic when he first started to use it.
Before taking this mask out into the open sea for some serious snorkeling, do what my family did and test it out in a pool first.
If you’re ready to see the mask in action check out the video below. Make sure to have your sound on at the 0:12 mark so you can hear my husband talk while swimming with the mask on.
After playing with the mask in the pool for a bit, my husband and son gave me a few important notes worth mentioning.
Make sure you have a good seal around your face before getting in the water. If you don’t then the mask will leak on you.
If you get overzealous and the snorkel goes under the water, stop breathing. Trying to continue to breathe after the snorkel went under caused my husband a near panic attack (and he never freaks out).
We went to the bottom of a six-foot deep pool and the mask held up just fine. Just remember you are not a fish and you can’t breathe underwater, even with this mask on. The manufacturer recommends you keep this to a minimum because it’s not what the mask is designed for.
Straps are easy to adjust if you decide to share it with someone else.
If water does get into the mask, it’s designed to go away from your face and out the bottom vent.
As you can tell from the video, you can hear my husband really well when he’s got his face in the water, which is a major bonus over a traditional snorkel set up.
The mask can be broken down into two parts for easy packing.
As the name implies, this mask has the ability to hold your GoPro camera so you can capture all your adventures without any additional equipment.
After we were done playing testing, my family agreed that we will be getting two more so we don’t have to share. And when we take our next Disney cruise, this puppy will be coming with me and hopefully, I’ll see that elusive hidden Mickey out at Castaway Cay.
The Voyager 180 by H20 is available on Amazon for $80 and comes in a variety of color choices and sizes so you get the right fit.
Dakster Sullivan is a network administrator by day and a cosplayer by night. She loves discovering new books to read, tech to play with, and ways to express her herself. She has anxiety and depression and strives to educate others about these invisible illnesses.
I would never buy another one of these pieces of shit. Too many people getting hurt that are using ‘new snorkeling masks’.
Diving at Jade Mountain. (Photo credit: Jade Mountain)
Surrounded by clear, warm water and coral reefs teeming with aquatic life, the Caribbean has long enjoyed a reputation as a diver’s paradise.
But just how well does it stack up on the world stage in terms of pairing professional dive facilities with luxury lodges dishing out the royal treatment to guests?
Pretty well, according to Fred Garth, a 30-year journalist and editor of adventure travel magazines, who has served as editor of Fathoms, Scuba Times, Skin Diver, and Guy Harvey magazines.
In a recent article penned for CNN, Garth picked 10 of the most exclusive scuba hideaways on the planet, and the Caribbean scored twice with St Lucia’s Jade Mountain and St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Petit St Vincent Resort.
Here’s what he had to say about each:
Jade Mountain (St Lucia)
Jade Mountain (Photo credit: Jade Mountain)
The extreme vertical architecture of this resort mirrors St Lucia’s famously steep Gros and Petit Piton mountains.
Architect-owner Nick Troubetzkoy employed bridges, towering columns and balconies to blend into the natural surroundings. The results are sprawling views of the Caribbean Sea and the sky-scraping green Pitons that rise proudly out of Soufriere Bay.
At Jade Mountain, living areas have just three walls. The fourth has been replaced with a private infinity pool and an expansive view that gives “open air” a whole new meaning.
The resort looks down over St Lucia’s Marine Park, where both beach and boat dives are easily accessible. The island’s marine ecosystem is home to more than 100 species of fish and most diving is in the 20- to 130-foot range.
The rocky underwater terrain is full of multi-coloured sponges and corals and a favourite hangout of peacock flounders, octopus, needlefish, lobsters, moray eels and other typical Caribbean fish.
Turtle sightings are frequent when diving at Jade Mountain. (Photo credit: Jade Mountain)
Petit St Vincent Resort (St Vincent and the Grenadines)
Some of the accommodation at Petit St Vincent Resort (Photo credit: Petit St Vincent Resort)
Anyone with 56 very close friends (Facebook doesn’t count) can book what Petit St Vincent calls a “full island buyout.” That reserves all of this 115-acre island’s 22 one-bedroom cottages and two-bedroom beach villas. The homes are scattered along the bluffs and seven perfect beaches, ensuring privacy even among good friends, just in case anyone needs some alone time.
For diving, Jacques Cousteau’s son, Jean-Michel, has made Petit St Vincent a kind of second home. The dive school bears his name and follows the Cousteau legacy of exploration and conservation. Dozens of excellent dive sites are minutes away or just a few miles north around Union and Mayreau Islands.
Besides Sail Rock, which is reserved for advanced diving when weather conditions allow, most of the diving is easy enough for beginners. Divers will encounter moray eels, lobsters, nurse sharks, sea fans, colourful sponges and corals in typically warm, clear Caribbean water.
Preparing for a dive. (Photo credit: Petit St Vincent Resort)
Jade Mountain and Petit St Vincent Resort are in good company among Garth’s remaining picks: Qamea Resort and Spa (Fiji); Misool Eco Resort (Indonesia); Kia Ora Resort & Spa (Rangiroa, French Polynesia); Lizard Island (Australia); Mnemba Island (Tanzania); Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru (Maldives); Crusoe Island Lodge (Chile); and North Island (Seychelles).
Florida and federal law prohibits “shark-finning at sea” but a March case from the Florida Keys seems to prove the practice continues.
A shrimp boat stopped at sea about 20 miles north of Key West reportedly reportedly carried between 60 and 80 shark fins, but no other product from the oceanic predator. Investigation into the case continues.
Harvesting some shark species is legal. However, catching a shark solely to remove its fins — considered an Asian delicacy — and throwing the rest of the shark off the boat and back into the water is banned under state and federal law. Live sharks returned to the water without their fins have no chance to survive.
“A person may not possess in or on the waters of [Florida] a shark fin that has been separated from a shark or land a separated shark fin,” says Florida law.
Once a shark is landed, the fins may be legally taken and sold.
The Florida Legislature this year passed SB 884 that increases penalties for shark-finning, but lawmakers dropped the main point of North Florida state Sen. Travis Hutson’s sponsored bill: Banning the sale or distribution of shark fins.
The Oceana conservation organization and the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) have launched campaigns to ban the sale of shark fins.
“To protect sharks, we need to end the demand for shark fins,” said Lora Snyder of Oceana. “Shark-finning is cruel and wasteful and it’s putting some shark species at risk of extinction.”
A California congressman, Rep. Ed Royce (R), in March introduced H.R. 1456, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2017. The bill remains alive and is awaiting committee action.
“The United States can set an example for the rest of the world by shutting down its market for shark fins, which are often harvested by leaving these animals to die a slow and painful death at the bottom of the ocean,” Royce said in a statement. “The bipartisan Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act is needed to eradicate shark-finning for good.”
DEMA, which hosts the world’s largest diving trade show this November in Orlando, urged its member businesses to tell congressional representatives to back Royce’s bill.
“Your business and the recreational diving industry are made stronger by divers’ ability to see these creatures in the wild,” DEMA advised.
“Fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global market every year, and more than 70 percent of the most common shark species involved with the fin trade are considered at high or very high risk of extinction,” DEMA says.
“Shark watchers spend an estimated $314 million on shark eco-tourism every year, and researchers expect that to double to $780 million in 20 years,” Oceana said in a report. “According to a recent study, sharks are the top species U.S. scuba divers want to see, and they will pay $35 extra per dive to see a shark.”