Diving in Yap is all about, crystal clear waters, a wide variety of dive sites, great coral, Manta Rays and other great marine life. If you are looking for a dive destination that is not invaded by tourists, with no spring breakers acting like fools, where the local culture still comes first, and diving is the main attraction, then diving in Yap should be on top of your bucket list.
Yap is the westernmost state of the four states that make up the Federated States of Micronesia. This area of Micronesia includes the Caroline Islands, which make up for Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia.
The main islands lie close together and are made up of four separate islands:
- Yap Island proper (Marbaq)
- Maap (or Maap′)
- and Rumung.
The state of Yap covers a distance 600+ miles (1,000 km) east to west. However, the majority of the community lives on the Yap Main Islands. The Yap Main Islands lie about 300 miles from Palau, 500 miles from Guam and 800 miles from the Philippines.
If you took the entire land mass of the Federated States of Micronesia, it would be about the same size as Los Angeles county, however, if you compare the full size including the surrounding waters it is larger than the United States.
Yap's history extends back before recorded history.
Yap's civilization has been set as far back as 1500 B.C. While others argue that it is maybe 2,000 years older. Portuguese explorer Diego Da Rocha arrived in October 1525 and stayed for about four months and therefore he can be considered as being the first European "tourist."
In the 1700s, Spain established some churches in Yap.
Back in the days, the islands of Yap were claimed by Spain, Portugal, and Germany, however, they did not put too much effort into "ruling" the islands.
As such, the Yap culture is less eroded than other Asian countries. The people of Yap have adopted modern ways while still maintaining aspects of their culture in their lifestyles. Many Yapese still wear traditional clothing at least a portion of the time, and cultural dances are passed on from generation to generation.
80 to 90% of people who visit Yap are scuba divers.
Yap has a small tourism industry which is concentrated in Colonia, which is the state's capital and located on Marbaq the largest island. The tourism bureau of Yap states that 80 to 90% of tourist visiting the islands will do a Manta Ray dive. While at first glance this might scare you off thinking diving in Yap will be an overcrowded cattle boat experience, but you should take into account, that there are only about 100 Hotel Rooms, yes rooms, not hotels, in Yap.
How is the diving in Yap?
Diving in Yap is in one word, excellent! The Caroline Islands cover a vast stretch of the Western Pacific, with the remote and isolated Yap Main Islands as the most western of them. Theses islands are sparsely populated with no heavy industry, so the waters remain unpolluted.
The visibility is usually over 100 feet / 30 meters and at times, it is twice that. A reef surrounds the four islands with a very broad and shallow lagoon which unfortunately is too shallow for shore dives.
The reefs slope deeper as they move away from the shore, and they flatten out at around 30 to 60 feet and then drop off to great depths offering amazing wall dives. There are also some dive sites in the channels between the islands.
You can explore about 50 different dive sites in Yap
The northern dive sites in Yap are where the best Manta dives are. At the southern dive sites, you will find the best wall dives. All of the sites have pristine coral cover and a large variety of marine life.
There are five dive operators on the main islands, and they use dive boats with four to six divers. Except for the dive sites where the Manta ray cleaning stations are, you generally will not have another dive boat on the same site as you are.
Did you ever forget to bring an piece of gear on scuba trip? Download the ultimate scuba trip checklist today just like 5.000+ other divers already did and never miss a dive again.
What can you expect to see when diving in Yap?
In 2008, Yap became the first government to create a sanctuary to protect its Manta Rays. The protected area is 8,243 square-miles, comprising of 16 main islands and atolls as well as 145 islets and a known breeding site.
A large number of Manta Rays are found here year round and are the anchor that built the Yap dive industry with a little help from Mr. Bill Acker from Manta Ray Bay Dive Resort.
The rays are not the only marine life that attracts divers all these divers, though, the dives sites around the main islands of Yap are also becoming known as the best destination for macro photographers. Here are some of the marine life you may expect to encounter while diving in Yap.
Manta Rays: Mi'il Channel and the area at the mouth of the channel called Manta Ridge is what made Yap famous. It is here where you can find manta rays year round. From May to October, the Manta rays can be found in large numbers in the Valley of the Rays near Goofnuw channel and the channel itself.
Eagle Rays: Eagle Rays and smaller rays are also found around Yap and found on most dive sites.
Sharks: The most common sharks seen on the Yap dive sites are the Black, Grey and White tip reef sharks. These sharks are found on most dive sites and seen on most dives.
There are 12 other shark species that are seen in Yap often but not as regularly, these include:
- Nurse sharks
- Lemon sharks
- Oceanic Whitetips
- Oceanic Silver tips
- Leopard sharks
- Tiger sharks
- Scalloped Hammerheads
- Silky sharks and Whale sharks are occasional seen on some of the southern wall dive sites.
Dolphins: Pods of dolphins are often seen while traveling to the dive sites and the lucky one will encounter these pods while diving.
Mandarinfish: While the mantas are the star of the day, when sunset comes the mandarin fish reigns king (and queen) as the males start a mating dance to attract a female.
Anemones: Anemones and their clown fish are always nice to see but do not get star billing. However, in the coral gardens around Yap, many of the anemones grow to over 3 feet/ 1 meter in size.
When is the best time to go diving in Yap?
The Trade Winds control the seasons. November to May brings the wind from the northeast causing rough sea conditions. The dive sites on the east coast are not dived in this season. While the trip to the dive sites might be rough, The dive sites on the west side of the islands and those to the south will have calm waters.
Manta dives are done in Mi'il Channel and Manta Ridge dive site. The trade winds stop in June and dive sites on the east coast are also become available. Sea conditions are calm all around the islands.
Manta dives can be done in both Mi'il and Goofnuw Channels. Diving is available year round with the water temperature staying around 82 F degrees (28 C degrees) year-round.
How to get to Yap for your next dive trip?
When you want to travel to Yap, you only need a valid passport and an onward ticket. Depending on your nationality you will be allowed to stay for 14 to 30 days. American citizens with a valid passport do not have a limit on how long they can stay.
Keep in mind that Yap has limited air access
United Airlines flies into and out of Yap three times a week. Twice a week flights will be via Guam. Guam has connections to some major Asian Cities as well as Hawaii and Australia. Once a week, United flies to/from Palau with connections to Manila.
The diving in Yap is very special, and only a small number of divers visit the islands each year. The culture of Yap is still there to see. You will have a chance to see cultural dances and other traditional activities. Unlike most tourist destinations that have "cultural" shows, these shows are not put on for the tourist. They are activities for the local people to participate in and to pass their culture to their children.
If you are an underwater photographer or a Manta Ray lover, mark your calendar for the 9th Annual Manta Fest Photo Festival being held in Yap, Micronesia from August 27th - September 11th, 2016.
Article written by Rutger Thole who is an avid scuba diver and loves to travel, dive and write about scuba diving. Based in Amsterdam he runs bookyourdive.com and at least twice a year he plans a dive trip of the beaten track.