Various elements combine to affect the overall quality of a diving experience: particles floating in the water affect visibility, while calm surface and underwater conditions allow for a tranquil dive.
But above all, it’s the hidden natural wonders of the ocean bed that set some locations apart. Taking into account these various factors, leading scuba operators Scuba Chile, Alfabuceo and Punta Pite have compiled a list of the seven best places to dive in Chile.
In the winning spot was the Juan Fernandez Archipelago – a unique series of three crown-shaped islands that rise from the Pacific nearly 700 kilometers from the coast of Chile. The Archipelago’s distance from other land means it is home to more than 120 unique species, and spectacular diving.
The islands were likened to ‘Jurassic Park’ by reconstruction workers, who worked there following a tsunami that battered the island in February 2010. “When the people there are hungry, they go out and drop a line in the water. The fish they pull out is a meter-and-a-half long,” said Oreana Vargas, head of the reconstruction program.
The islands’ steep underwater cliffs boast gigantic schools of fish, colorful sponges, corals and plants.
Visiting the Archipelago is difficult at best – tourists must charter a small plane or make a grueling 39 hour voyage over sea. As debris from the tsunami – which happened nearly 11 months ago – is being cleared from the seabed, diving has been affected. According to Carlos Uribe, director of the technical school and diving expeditions company Punta Pite, activities will not resume until 2012.
Nevertheless, the Chilean government recently announced its plans to ease accessibility and increase tourism to the islands.
The winning locations:
1. Juan Fernandez: The Mecca of diving – hard to get to and challenging conditions, but rewarding.
2. Isla de Pascua: Easter Island boasts 25 degree waters, large coral formations and tropical fish such as the Bugle fish. (n.b. to dive at Easter Island you need a PADI certificate.)
3. Los Molles: The winning spot for tourists on Chile’s mainland – boasts a series of eight different diving spots, beautiful sponges, red, blue and orange sea anemones and sea lions.
4. Isla Santa Maria: Rock fish and rich underwater flora off the coast of this island in northern Chile.
5. Zapallar: Up to 40 metre dives at a small enclosed bay surrounded by hills, located near the popular beach resort of Viña del Mar, under two hours away from Santiago.
6. Las Tacas: Cliffs and underwater tunnels, sponges and starfish surrounded by schools of small fish and marine animals, on the northern coast of Chile.
7. Punta de Choros: Beautiful peninsula located in the Atacama, 80kms North of La Serena.
For more information about diving in Chile, visit www.divechile.cl