Thrill seekers in South America tend to head inland. There are mountains to be climbed, slopes to be skied, jungles to be explored, and ancient cities to be visited. But the sea isn’t to be ignored. Though Central America and the Caribbean contain the dominate scuba spots in the Americas, South America isn’t completely lacking in underwater attractions. Scuba diving in South America varies drastically country to country, and typically the closer you are to the equator, the better chance you have of seeing sea life. Here are some of the best places to dive in South America.
When it comes to the Galapagos, the wildlife underwater is just as remarkable as what is above. This Ecuadorian archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is 97 percent contained within a national park. Located 600 miles from mainland, diving in the Galapagos can be difficult. Currents can be strong, surges are common, and the water is cooler than would be expected thanks to the upwelling Humboldt Current. However, these factors also contribute to the area’s large and abundant marine wildlife.
There are numerous dive sites in the Galapagos, just as there are numerous islands. A favorite is Gordon’s Rocks near the North and South Plaza Islands. Advanced scuba divers head here to see schools of hammerhead sharks. Another popular spot is at Darwin & Wolf Island. Land visits are not allowed on these tiny isles; the only visitors are there for the underwater attractions. The area is known for attracting various types of sharks, as well as turtles, dolphins, and rays.
Brazil has some decent diving along its Atlantic coast, but the best is found at Fernando de Noronha, an exquisite archipelago 220 miles from Brazilian mainland. It was Brazil’s first marine park and 70 percent of its meager landmass is protected. Like the Galapagos, it was visited by Charles Darwin, who apparently wasn’t too impressed by the islands. UNESCO disagreed and in 2010 it became a World Heritage site. Though there are some hiking opportunities, the majority of activities revolve around the water, especially scuba diving. The water surrounding Fernando de Noronha is warm with good visibility. Marine life is abundant and common at the 17 dive sites, which are regulated by the national park to ensure sites aren’t over dived. Sea turtles and spinner dolphins are diving highlights.
The Juan Fernandez Archipelago is the least visited part of Chile. It is 400 miles from the mainland and home to less than 1,000 year-round residents. The archipelago consists of three volcanic islands, the most famous being Robinson Crusoe Island. It was here marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk spent four years before being rescued by a passing boat. It’s believed he was the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's famous novel, Robinson Crusoe. Most of the diving is around this famous island where warm and cool currents mix, attracting a diverse population of marine life. Divers may see the endemic Juan Fernandez fur seal along with various fish species.
A more commonly visited Chilean outpost is Easter Island. Though it’s still a trek to get there, the tourism infrastructure is much more developed and scuba is popular. The waters surrounding the islands have remarkable visibility, up to 120 feet. Marine wildlife isn’t abundant, though 30 percent of what is there is endemic.
More than 400 miles off Colombia’s northern shore, closer to Nicaragua than South America, is San Andres Island, the largest landmass in the archipelago. It’s surrounded by 35 dive sites where scuba divers can admire over 50 types of coral. The sponge coral is particularly impressive. Water temperatures and currents are mild and in addition to colorful marine wildlife, divers can explore sunken ships and sudden dramatic drop-offs.
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