When divers plan a scuba diving vacation, their thoughts often go to equatorial paradises. There’s no denying the magnetic pull of bathtub-warm waters and the classic underwater scenery of the tropics. However, although palm-shaded resorts attract the majority of world-traveling scuba divers, try to think inside the wetsuit: more temperate water has its own unique appeal.
The South American country of Chile is an excellent example of a non-tropical scuba diving paradise. Most travelers know Chile as the seat of a thriving tourist business trading on the beauty of the Andes Mountains. What many don’t know is that Chile boasts scores of diving operations nationwide that service some very unique and varied diving opportunities. It’s no surprise that this is the case — after all, the country has 6,400 km of coastline.
Chile’s secret status as a scuba diving vacation destination means that fewer people visit these waters. The result? Incredibly healthy, abundant flora and fauna. It’s no wonder this country is called “the land of possibilities.”
The Cauldron of Death
Care for a game of wet Russian Roulette? If you’re an advanced diver, you can pit yourself against the heavy surge of Chile’s Cauldron of Death. This splendid wall/cave combo dive is well worth the effort of its nail-biting entry: visibility is exceptional and marine growth is downright luxuriant.
Although well off the South America coast – almost 2,500 miles offshore – the enigmatic Easter Island rests on an underwater volcanic ridge inhabited by more than 100 species of tropical fish. The island has limited scuba diving; however, those few dive sites’ visibility is some of the best in the world. The offshore dive sites at Easter are a labyrinth of arches and caves, they can be rough and there is limited marine life.
Dive site Hanga Roa provides a chance to be one of a select few to have ever seen an Easter Island statue underwater. The Cathedral, another dive site, is light on current but heavy on interesting rock structures and corals. Many different species of fish display themselves in the Cathedral (including butterfly fish, several varieties of piranha, parrot fish, and tuna).
The islands closer to Chile’s shoreline host warmer water and good diving. The Juan Fernandez archipelago, very popular among regional scuba divers, is home to Robinson Crusoe Island, which hosts a menagerie of marine life and hundreds of dive sites. The underwater visibility is consistently top-notch, so you’ll clearly see the moray, cod-fish, pampanito, breca and corvine you’re hanging out with.
Roca Chungungo, a dive for experienced divers and novices alike, is punctuated with large fish and sea lions. Although the visibility is often poor, the current is very light and the site’s resident otters and sea lions often follow divers around. Roca Chungungo’s depths bottom out at 47 meters.
Valparaiso is the most important Chilean port, located 115 kilometers northwest of Santiago, Chile’s capital city. The Valparaiso area on the central coast is a solid jumping-off point to many good dive sites, but the water can be quite cold. If you’re willing to give it a shot, the waters around Valparaiso offer soft corals, towering sponges, tie-dyed starfish, flower corals and colonies of playful sea-lions.
There are a number of serviceable beach dives from Valparaiso itself. A bit further afield lies the wreck of El Falucho. It’s a good “starter” wreck dive for less-experienced divers. El Falucho is resplendent with colorful marine life, and a gentle current carries the divers along on a pleasant drift dive.