Taiwan has a sub-tropical climate: stifling hot and humid summers with pleasant enough winters down south and cooler, damper conditions up north. Typhoons hit from late summer to mid-autumn, making conditions along the east coast a lot more challenging. Thankfully there are plenty of dives from the south and west coasts so typhoon season should not materially affect your dive plans.
Overall the best times to travel to and dive in Taiwan are autumn and springtime, although the autumn months are more reliable. Springtime can be a bit more hit-and-miss in terms of rainfall, which, of course, will affect your diving visibility. Summertime is fine if you can stand the humidity, but you will also find travel to the islands a lot more expensive – and this is where some of the best diving takes place.
Average water temperatures range from 22-29C, with 3mm wetsuits easily available for hire.
Taiwan is a compact size: around 450km north to south, 200km west to east. The main entry point is Taipei via Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). There are plenty of connections to Taipei from the usual Asia hubs. Many of the airline names may sound familiar, but not quite right: don’t worry, you are not being scammed, it’s a way for major airlines to get around some Chinese regulations. Your best bet is to stay with the international major airlines in any case, because China Air, Taiwan’s main local airline, doesn’t have much in the way of a safety record.
The main regions for diving are:
· Kenting Marine Park – directly south of the southern tip of Taiwan
· Green Island and Orchid Island – off the east coast
· Penghu Islands – off the west coast
· Xiao Liu Chiu – off the south-west coast
Most popular areas are Kenting and Green Island, both of which are well served by dive operators and organized tours.
A recent challenge has been the damage to the marine life and reefs around Taiwan, due to a combination of illegal fishing and collecting, as well as serious damage by over four million tourists a year. Some work is now being done to rectify this, but it’s wise to see the dive sites of Taiwan before more damage further mars their beauty.
You can travel around quickly and relatively cheaply on Taiwan’s fast and reliable train network. Car hire is relatively cheap and straightforward too, as are domestic flights. Travel to the islands is best arranged via a tour operator, who may provide a package deal for you including flights.
Kenting Marine Park, on the southernmost tip of Taiwan, is a diver’s paradise. Covering over 15,000 hectares of ocean, Kenting boasts over 60% of the world’s corals in one place, as well as over 1,100 fish species and over 80 soft and stony corals. The marine life is sensational due to the warm, nutrient-rich Kuroshio Current or “Black Tide” that runs through the area. However, the strong currents make it a challenging place to dive, and novices should be cautious. But if you do your Open Water or Advanced Open Water training here in Kenting, you are ready for anything.
One of the best features of Kenting is the range of shore dives as well as boat dives that are available. You will be surrounded by lots of pelagic species including swordfish (white and black and even the odd umbrella swordfish), mahi mahi, tuna and trevally. At certain times of the year you may even be rewarded with a sighting of a humpback or sperm whale.
Green Island is one of the most popular dive sites in Taiwan, for locals and overseas visitors alike. Its volcanic waters boast a plethora of marine life including batfish, large spotted rays, the endangered Coconut Crab, and plenty of shark life. A famous but challenging dive site on Green Island is Shark Point (Gun Swei Bi), which is famous for its enormous shoals of hammerhead sharks. However the swells and currents are fairly strong here so local dive operators will usually only take divers with over 100 dives to their name.
Orchid Island, some say, is even better diving than Green Island, which can be fairly crowded at peak dive periods. Another volcanic island with shallow reefs, spectacular walls and plenty of deep dives, the diving is seasonal, with better diving on the west coast in winter and the north and east coasts in summer. Plenty of pelagic life abounds here: shark activity, dogtooth tuna, and even the odd manta ray are spotted in these waters. You will also see lots of soft and stony corals, sea snakes, green turtles, hawksbill turtles, lionfish, and puffer fish. There is one really excellent wreck dive as well.
Penghu is famous for its drift diving, located on one of the strongest ocean currents. Again, novices beware. Nowhere near as developed as the other dive locations in Taiwan, you need to work a little harder to dive here, but the locals say it’s worth it.
Domestic flights originate at Songshan Airport in Taipei, about an hour’s bus transfer from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. From Songshan you can fly to Hualien, Kaohsiung (for Kenting), Kinmen, Penghu, Taichung, Tainan and Taitung (for Green Island and Orchid Island) using any one of the four main domestic airlines.
The Kenting Marine Park region is easily reached as it is on the mainland. The closest airport and railway station are in Kaohsiung, from where you can pick up frequent buses to Hengshung.
Green Island can be reached by ferry from the east coast town of Taitung or Fukang Harbour, a little further north. It takes around an hour, and is known to be a choppy ride. Bring your seasickness tablets. You can also fly - a short 15-minute flight from Taitung – however it’s best to book some way ahead as the small planes get booked up quickly.
The Penghu Islands are normally reached by air, and there are regular connections from Taipei and Kaohsiung. You can also take a 3½-hour ferry from Kaohsiung or a faster 90-minute ferry from the small west coast port of Budai, near Chiayi.
Orchid Island can similarly be reached by air from Taipei, or by ferry from Fugang.
Safety Note- There are six hyperbaric chambers around Taiwan: two in Taipei itself, one on Penghu, one in Kaohsiung (nearest to Kenting), one in Keelung (north-east of Taipei) and one in Changhua on the mid-west coast.
A lot of the diving around Taiwan is great for experienced divers but a challenge for novices due to the strong currents. Having said that, the journey is worth it for the sensational shore dives you can make right from the mainland at Kenting, never mind the delights of the island dives. Kenting’s steep cliffs at the water’s edge mean quite a few cave and swim-through dive spots as well. Marine life abounds at Kenting’s Marine Park.
Many of the Kenting shore dives offer the best of both worlds: beautiful soft and hard corals, colourful parrotfish, angelfish, sweetlips, fusiliers and the spectacular lionfish. You will also see larger species such as surgeonfish and catfish. Kenting’s Main beach shore dive is pretty amazing given its ease of access – expect to see some or all of the above, but keep an eye out for the local gatekeeper, a giant Maori Wrasse!
The islands are no less than spectacular, and efforts to reach Penghu will give you far less crowded dive spots. Green Island is lauded for its fantastic diving, but it can get busy.
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