Taiwan is a small country that straddles the Tropic of Cancer and measures only 450 kilometres in length and 200 kilometres in width. Taiwan is an undiscovered gem amongst the well-known and ever-popular Asian diving destinations such as Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. The diving in this up-and-coming destination is certainly on par with these highly popular places and offers a number of different regions for diving.
To the south of Taiwan is Kenting Marine Park, a recognized and protected area well-served by dive and tour operators, and for good reason. Kenting offers absolutely magnificent diving, from well-preserved corals to an abundance of marine life in every shape, size and colour imaginable. To the east are the islands known as Green Island and Orchid Island, currently two of the more popular locations boasting volcanic reefs teaming with pelagic life. Both Green Island and Orchid Island are also the ideal locations to spot a number of shark species. Off the west coast are the Penghu Islands, famous for challenging drift dives and finally, Xiao Liu Chiu is located on the south-west coast of Taiwan and is known for regular sea turtle sightings.
In recent times, Taiwan has faced the challenge of illegal fishing and although efforts are being made to rectify the impact of these illegal fishermen as well as the damage caused by over 4 million tourists every year, many fear that it may be a case of ‘too little too late’. Regardless of what happens in the future, divers interested in diving in Taiwan are advised to visit sooner rather than later to get the best experience of these beautiful sites.
Best Diving Destinations in Taiwan
Although much of the diving in Taiwan is better suited for the more experienced diver due to difficult conditions and strong currents, there is still plenty to experience for beginners, especially at the shallower sites and shore dives at Kenting’s Marine Park. The Marine Park covers over 15 000 hectares of ocean with incredible diversity in corals in particular. In fact, Kenting Marine Park boasts almost 60% of the world’s corals in just one location, with over 80 soft and stony coral species to look out for. Kenting is home to many steep cliffs situated right at the water’s edge and provides easy access to a number of sites that are simply phenomenal, especially when you consider that Kenting is home to over 1100 species of fish. A number of shore dives are available at Kenting, where divers are likely to see lionfish, sweetlips, angelfish and vibrant parrotfish swimming through caves and swim-throughs and other exciting underwater landscapes. The underwater life here is nothing short of spectacular, with beautiful soft and hard corals adding to the underwater paradise and the entire environment being fully supported by the rich nutrients that stem from the warm Kuroshio Current or Black Tide. The shore dive at Kenting’s main beach is particularly interesting as it is home to a resident Maori wrasse as well as large catfish and surgeonfish. Pelagics are also fairly common sightings, with reports of white, black and even umbrella swordfish sightings as well as mahi mahi, trevallies, tuna and even whales at certain times of the year.
Green Island is one of Taiwan’s most famous diving locations, and it’s easy to understand why locals and foreigners flock to this stunning volcanic island. An abundance of marine species can be found at the often-busy Green Island including the endangered Coconut Crab, big spotted rays, sharks and batfish too. Divers with over 100 or more logged dives can try their luck at finding the large shoals of hammerhead sharks at Shark Point, otherwise known as Gun Swei B. This great and challenging site is home to strong currents and swells, but the reward is well-worth the effort for experienced divers.
Penghu is both famous and infamous and is one of the lesser developed dive spots in Taiwan, although that does not mean that divers should give it a miss. In fact, Penghu is likely to be less crowded than more popular areas such as Green Island and Orchid Island and offers diving that is just as good. The drift diving in Penghu is fantastic, however it is well-known for having some of the strongest currents around and again is best suited for more experienced divers.
Orchid Island is a one-stop dive destination that has it all: wall dives, stunning reef dives at varying depths, a wide variety of fish species on display everywhere you look, an abundance of healthy corals and even a wreck site to explore. It is a good idea to visit the west coast of the island in winter, whilst the better diving around the north and eastern coasts of the island occurs during the summer months. Divers are regularly treated to shark, manta ray, sea turtle and dogtooth tuna sightings as well as puffer fish, lion fish and sea snakes.
Getting to Taiwan
Taiwan is well connected with efficient rail, ferry, road and air connections, making travelling around fairly easy, especially since most of the popular diving areas can be accessed a number of ways using various modes of reliable transport. The only major concern for travellers is some of the lesser-known but somewhat familiar-sounding airlines. It is safest to stick with well-known international airlines that you trust, or better yet, make use of a travel agent to assist you.
Once in Taiwan, it is relatively easy and cost-effective to travel around using Taiwan’s reliable network of fast trains, whilst other travellers make use of the cheap, hassle-free car hire options from airports and major cities. Domestic flights are also relatively inexpensive and easy to arrange, however when making arrangements to travel to the islands it is best to use an experienced tour operator. Many experienced operators will offer package deals including domestic flights to the islands, and for many visitors this is the easiest option as arranging flights to the islands can be rather tricky without an experienced travel operator.
From Taiwan’s International Airport, an hour’s bus ride will get you to Songshan Airport in Taipei, which is the main entry point for divers as it is where many of the domestic flights to the islands depart from. There are four major domestic airlines departing from the airport in Taipei, and these will allow visitors to travel to areas such as Taichung, Penghu, Hualien, Kaohsiung (for Kenting), Kinmen, Tainan and Taitung (for Green Island and Orchid Island).
It is also possible to reach Kenting and its Marine Park region by rail, as there is a train station and airport in Kaohsiung. From there, take one of the many frequent busses to Hengshung.
Travelling by ferry is a good option when looking to get to Green Island, although the 1-hour ride is renowned for being choppy so visitors may want to bring seasickness tablets along just in case. The ferry departs from Taitung town on the east coast or from Fugang Harbour further north. In order to avoid the rough ferry ride, it is possible to fly from Taitung, however tickets for this 15 minute flight are usually booked well in advance.
The easiest way to reach the Penghu Islands is by air, with regular flights from Taipei and Kaohsiung. It is also possible to take a 3.5 hour ferry from Kaohsiung or a shorter 1.5 hour ferry from the port of Budai near Chiayi.
It is also possible to reach Orchid Island by a short connecting flight from Taipei, or via ferry from Fugang.
Where to Stay in Taiwan
Thanks to an increase in visiting divers from abroad, dive shops are now scattered all over the more popular diving destinations and can assist divers with equipment rental, servicing, transport to and from the dive sites as well as additional dive training. In fact, Taiwan is one of the cheapest places to advance your diving qualification, and is a good test of your skills due to the strong currents and often difficult conditions.
Accommodation options are endless and suitable for a wide range of budgets. Options include dive resorts, hotels, hostels and even boutique hotels.
When to Visit Taiwan
Although Taiwan is a small country, it sure packs a punch when you consider the weather. Its sub-tropical climate offers visitors the choice of extremely hot and humid summers or cool, often wet winters with typhoons prevalent between the end summer months and the middle of autumn. Typhoons are more likely to affect the east coast of Taiwan, however, so if choosing to visit during these months it is highly recommended to opt for dive sites on the southern or western coasts to avoid the typhoon season.
The best time to travel to Taiwan, especially if you are keen to get the best diving experience possible, is likely to be in the autumn or spring, although the autumn months tend to be more reliable than the spring months. Spring weather tends to be rather sporadic, with plenty of unpredictable rain which will undoubtedly have an effect on underwater visibility. Many people choose to visit in the height of summer, which brings with it high levels of humidity and an increase in prices, especially around the islands.
The water temperature remains fairly constant between 22-29°C, and most divers find a 3mm wetsuit to be more than enough to keep warm and comfortable whilst underwater.