Yap is heaven for divers who love the manta ray with resident mantas frequenting several sites along the Mi’l Channel from November-May and Valley of the Rays from May-November. The best time to dive Yap is during manta ray mating season which occurs over December-April. The only drawback of diving at Mi’l Channel is that the visibility can sometimes be cloudy at less than 33ft (10m) due to tides carrying mud from the mangrove swamps. That said, it is well compensated by the friendly manta rays which like to come within an arm’s length of divers. Dives with mantas are often shallow and suitable for beginners at a depth of less than 33ft (10m).
For more action and to see sharks, divers can head to Vertigo. Vertigo lies at a drop-off along the outer reefs of Yap and is known for its crystal clear water. The dive could be challenging with an occasional strong surge as waves hit the shallow drop-off. Negative descent could also be necessary when the surface gets choppy so this is a dive for more experienced divers.
Other great dives at Yap include swim throughs at Yap Caverns and critter hunting at Rainbow Reef. Yap can be dived year round due to its calm climate and even temperature of 80°F (27°C) throughout the year. Water temperature is also ideal with an average of 82°F (28°C) and a 3mm wetsuit will suffice. There are several reputable dive operators on the island and the best dive guides are locals which know the island intimately.
Manta rays with wingspans of up to 14ft (4.3m) are the highlight of diving at Yap. Some manta rays have been seen in Yap’s waters for many years and experienced dive guides are even able to recognize them by the markings on their underbellies. During mating season, watch males chase the tails of females in an elegant mating dance or gently hovering above cleaning stations in small groups. At Valley of the Rays, mantas can be seen doing barrel rolls as they feed on plankton.
At Vertigo, find yourself surrounded by numerous blacktip, grey reef and whitetip sharks along with black trevally and red snapper. For macro lovers, Yap has a healthy population of mandarin fish which are wonderful to observe during dusk dives.
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Located on the Caroline Islands archipelago in the Western Pacific Ocean, Yap is one of four states amongst the Federated States of Micronesia. The island was sighted by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century, but it was the Spanish that laid claim to it until the late 19th century. Just before World War I, the Spanish sold the island to Germans which eventually gave in to the Japanese in the early 20th century.
Yap was occupied by the Japanese until World War II, after which Americans took over. Fast forward to today, Yap exhibits strong American and Japanese influences and you are likely to find excellent sashimi on the island, as well as burger and fries.
Yap is a highly acclaimed diving destination and is one of the best places in the world to observe manta rays. In 2008, Yap became the world’s first manta ray sanctuary, helping to sustain the healthy ray population in Yap’s waters.
Amongst non-divers, Yap is famous for its stone money. Stone money can be as large as 12ft (3.6m) in diameter and is still used for large transactions like the purchase of land or wedding dowries. The people of Yap, known as Yapese, continue to practice traditional customs and culture. An exciting time to visit Yap is in the first week of March, during Yap Day, where you can immerse yourself in the ancient traditions of the Yapese. As luck would have it, this also coincides with manta ray mating season.
Book yourself on a land tour to explore the island, visiting stone money banks, traditional men’s houses and meeting local Yapese. Rent a kayak or snorkel to explore the shallow reefs or head to the outer reefs for deep sea fishing expeditions. Other great land activities include relaxing on Yap’s pristine and isolated beaches or hiking through wilderness trails.
Get to Yap is via United Airlines which flies from Palau or Guam. From Guam, there are two flights a week and from Palau, only once a week. Most resorts provide ground transport on Yap.