Would you like to see some of the world’s largest creatures inches above your head, and then later in the day see some of the world’s smallest creatures go through an elaborate mating ritual? If you said, “Yes,” then you need to get yourself to Yap.
Yap lies in the western Pacific, a little over an hour (by plane) south of Guam. It’s truly an “undiscovered” gem. I’ve been going there since 2002 and I give you the disclaimer that it’s one of my favorite places in the world to dive because it’s got so much to offer.
Yap’s a place where you have a morning dive where Giant Pacific Manta Rays glide over your head to be cleaned while you watch from a few feet away, and then you be mesmerized that evening by parking yourself on a shallow reef and watching the intricate dance and nightly mating rituals of the usually elusive Mandarinfish.
But Yap’s got a lot more to offer beyond Mantas and Mandarinfish. There are some really nice reef dives, with the southern reefs of Gilman Wall, Lionfish Wall, and Yap Caverns rivaling the best sites in Palau. In fact, the last time I was there, our dive guide– John Pekailug–said he could find SIX Frogfish just outside of Yap Caverns and sure enough . . . he did.
If macro diving is your thing, there are two excellent macro/muck sites known as “1 to 2” and “Slow & Easy.” Here you’ll find nudibranchs of all colors and hues, mantis shrimp, lionfish, various juvies, and all sorts of elusive creatures. And because the dive is fairly shallow, bottom times of 90 minutes are not uncommon.
Of course, if you want something to get your heart racing, Yap’s got that too. How about a dozen to 50 sharks hitting frozen bait to get your heart pumping? (And I forgot to mention . . . it’s a cageless dive and you can get, if you’d like, close enough to the sharks to almost touch them.)
While Yap is getting better known as a diving haven, it’s also known for Stone Money, which was the legal currency of Yap hundreds of years ago. Its value is still so great that it’s used for major purchases like houses or even dowries. Stone Money is too big and heavy to be transported so it’s generally displayed in Stone Money “banks” that you’ll find at various villages around the island.
There are six dive operations on Yap, but my choice has always been Manta Ray Bay, also the home of Yap Divers, the oldest (and best IMHO) diving operation available. MRB has recently undergone a massive renovation and is hands-down the nicest dive resort you’ll ever stay in. Each room is individually decorated (and named after a local marine denizen), doors are hand-carved out of local wood, and each bed has a unique hand-crafted quilt that matches the name of the room.
The resort has Wi-Fi, a pool, a spa, their own micro-brewery (The Stone Money Brewing Co.), and the Mnuw, a huge wooden Indonesian sailing vessel which houses the restaurant, the bar, and serves as a social hub. There’s even a large (8 x 16 feet) screen hanging on the Mnuw to facilitate movies or slide shows for everyone.
The whole place is owned and run by a gregarious Texan transplant, Bill Acker. Bill first came to Yap in 1976 as a Peace Corps volunteer, fell in love with the place, and stayed (and married a local woman as well).
Bill’s well known as “The Manta Man” and probably knows more about the Yap Mantas than any other single person. In fact, a project of his for 2012 (and I’ll be leading a trip to participate in this) is trying to catalogue and photo-document all the mantas that visit Yap during the year. What Bill’s hoping to do is get photos of the unique belly markings at any given sighting and then, by tracking the time-of-day and dive site in a database, get a better idea of how many mantas there are, where (and when) they tend to appear, and to determine whether they’re resident, nomadic, or a little of both. The more data, the better, so Bill will be encouraging all visitors to log their mantas.
Many people visit Yap for only a few days, frequently on their way to either Truk or Palau. But I’ve lately found that spending a full week on Yap is the best way to get all that Yap has to offer (and you can still head off to Truk or Palau once your week is up). But regardless for how long you visit, Yap is a place that will get into your blood and once you’ve been, you’ll want to come back again.