If you want to dive with mantas, Yap is your spot. More than 100 mantas call Yap home year-round, with more joining in December to April for mating season. The mantas cruise into protected channels and practically line up like a car wash for a cleaning at one of the many cleaning stations.
This island located in the Caroline Island chain of Micronesia has earned the nickname “Land of Stone Money” due to its historical and cultural practice of using huge, immovable stone disks as currency. Villagers knew who “owned” the stones as ownership was passed back and forth for land purchases or dowry payments.
Yap is a very traditional Micronesian island. The people are generally friendly, if a little shy, and still continue to dress in traditional grass skirts and loincloths in the small towns. Dance is an art form here.
With only 1,000 or so visitors willing to make the long flight, the reward becomes even sweeter when you arrive to an unspoiled, uncrowded plethora of some of the best dives you’ve ever seen. Yap offers more than mantas and is an underwater photographer’s paradise when you combine the rays with a multitude of sharks, turtles, tropical fish, invertebrates and corals.
Of course, mantas but beyond that, these coral-formed islands offer lagoons and wrecks, currents and caverns. All of it is spectacular. Reef fish, pelagic biggies, rays and sharks are all easy to find and incredibly unspoiled. Here are five of the most popular dive sites in Yap:
Corals, chimneys and a network of caverns meet 100’ visibility in this turquoise-tinged wonder. Best of all, it maxes out at around 60’, so even beginners get to see a lot here. This cavern is roofed, with many holes allowing sunlight to penetrate. Outside, tuna and amberjack await their next meal, while inside, large prey fish like parrothead humpbackfish mingle with sleeping reef sharks.
These channels, Mi’l on the northwestern and Goognuw on the northeastern side of Yap, are where the manta action is. They congregate in Goofnuw in summer and fall, then move to Mi’l the rest of the year. Just settle in and watch the show and try not to kick up sediment and lower the visibility!
Once you grow tired of watching the mantas, expect to see coral topped plateaus and an abundance of other wildlife. At slack tide, Mi’l is a great location for everyone. During the tidal exchange, the 3-4 mph currents offer an exciting ride, but are not for beginners.
Another great corner dive offering a nice combo of pelagic and reef fish, Yap corner is not to be missed. It is always highly populated with fish, and bedecked with a vibrant rainbow of corals. Visibility is often more than 100’, and since the reef starts at around 18’ and currents can be avoided, it’s a great dive for any skill level.
This wall drops sharply beginning at 15’ into a ledge at around 150’, before it dips into the abyss. Daisy coral and crinoids carpet the surface, making a great hunting ground for the wall’s namesake, the lionfish. These beautifully finned fish are everywhere here, and a spectacular sight to watch. And unlike in the Atlantic and Caribbean, they are not considered an invasive species as this is their natural habitat.
A vast collection of cracks and coral offers a lot of fun discoveries if you look close while hanging in the water column. Lots of pelagic species may make an appearance behind you, so be sure to turn around often to see mantas, turtles, barracudas, rays, and large schools of other fish.
Ever wonder how a reef heals itself? This is an excellent example of natural regeneration. This reef site was hit by a typhoon in 1992, and the surface corals were damaged, but not the underlying structure. New regrowth offers a slightly different combination of corals and fish, providing some beautiful and refreshing variety.
United Airlines offers flights here from the west coast of the U.S. You’ll go through Guam, Honolulu or Palau. There is some flexibility available if you call the airline to do a Palau layover week on the way to Yap and double your diving opportunity. Dive resorts will pick you up with reservation, just provide them with your arrival info.
Yap has two main dive resorts that offer packages, both located in the same bay on the island’s east side. Manta Bay is the larger of the two, and offers incentives like free diving if you don’t see a manta ray on any of your dives.
Yap Pacific Dive Resort caters more to the elite, calling themselves a boutique resort, and offering slightly higher-end amenities and prices. Both are friendly, comfortable, and professionally run, and will provide a great experience for anyone seeking to dive Yap.
When to Go: Micronesia’s equatorial position in the calm Pacific makes it impossible to pick a bad time to go. Temps average 75°-90°F. Many divers combine a trip to Yap with a trip to Palau.
The water is slightly colder in February and March, but 79°F vs. 81-82°F is not really a reason to avoid it. Diving and weather are truly beautiful year-round.
Average Surface Water Temps: High 80 – 86°F year-round.
Visibility: It can be somewhat low at 40’ in the channels but reaches 100’ or more on the fringing slopes and other sites.