An atlas can be deceiving. Flat maps usually have political bias. Mine has its key covering French Polynesia. Its an area bigger than western Europe, but it simply isnt there. It has been omitted.

When I look at my globe, I notice that I can revolve it so that, apart from Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, a part of Australia, Japan and the Pacific North-west coast of America, the rest is all blue. This is the Pacific Ocean, its blue punctuated only by a splattering of small dots across its equatorial zone. The other half is nearly as blue.

If you are a Martian visiting this blue planet for a diving vacation, where would you go Equally, what choice do you have if you hail from Margate

Well, there will always be those who prefer the delights of home territory, whether Scotland, Wales, or the English West Country. However, for guidance to current trends around the rest of the world, we asked some holiday booking agents.

Bruce Lyons, of independent travel agency Crusader Travel, said: The Sudan is enjoying a definite swing in its favour, especially since visa formalities have been simplified. Prices have now come down to be only slightly more than a regular southern Egypt liveaboard.

The Egyptian Red Sea remains a firm favourite with British and European divers, but the choice of destination airports grows wider. In addition to Sharm and Hurghada, you can now save time by flying directly to Taba in the extreme north or to Marsa Alam in the far south. Not only that, but if the Sudan promises to be a destination less fraught with difficulty than in the past, there are now dive operations working out of Djibouti, too, and charter flights via Paris for those who want to go to the extreme south of the Red Sea itself.

British holidaymakers have taken over from the Germans as the most numerous visitors to the Maldives, and these tiny islands speckled across the middle of the Indian Ocean offer fantastic ocean diving, whether it be island or liveaboard dive-boat based.

The Maldives now offer very good prices, said Bruce Lyons, and Dan Lion of Harlequin Worldwide Travel agreed.

International terrorism has affected the popular holiday market to Indonesia, which means that there will be far fewer flights available in 2003. As divers tend to stay at locations far away from centres of population, this is proving not to have affected demand in this sector but, ironically, fewer flights means that the price of getting there will inevitably rise.

Thailand is the latest country to be given a thumbs-down travel advisory from the British Foreign Office, although no terrorist outrage had been perpetrated there at the time of writing. We have decided to include Koh Tau in this guide anyway - divers must make their own risk assessment.

Port Moresby, the capital of PNG, has always had a fearsome reputation for lawlessness but this does not stop Papua New Guinea from being high on any divers want-to-visit list. Its a vast country with a huge coastal area and, whether you are interested in wrecks, reefs, pelagics or macro-life, a great deal of diving possibilities.

Kirk Green of Aquatours suggested that the travel advisories regarding the Far East would be revoked soon, but he hastened to point out that places such as Sharm el Sheikh will always be intrinsically safe. Surrounded by sea on three sides and with 13 checkpoints between it and the Suez tunnel, the area is easily controlled. The other access to Sharm for a would-be terrorist is via Israel, an unlikely scenario.

The British diver is by and large better informed than the average traveller, said Kirk. We have seen a distinct growth in the liveaboard market and maybe this is because people feel safer away from shore. For example, we have seen an increased interest for trips on the mv Indian Ocean Explorer.

European breaks have been taken over, somewhat, by the rich and famous. These people dont seem to relish long-haul flights, even if they are sitting in the front section of the plane. However, we ordinary folk can still take advantage of package holidays to long-standing favourite diving destinations that include Malta, Spain and Cyprus.

Dan Lion was enthusiastic for the on-going renaissance of Gozo as a diving destination. Its Maltas little sister island and Kirk Green also reported a big return to Malta by British divers.

The Med offers holidays to people looking for different things, added Bruce Lyons. Turkish dive gulets favour family holidays and the Med is a great destination for families with a diving interest. Further afield, Dubai is being asked for a lot now by general holidaymakers but we have yet to see what the diving is like.

Florida continues to give good value, and My Travel will be offering a cheap way to get to the Dutch Antilles, Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao at long last.

Dan Lion confirmed this and added that Bonaire remained as popular as ever as an all-year-round destination. Kirk also noted that people were turning to the Caribbean for diving holidays, notably the Dutch Antilles.

The islands of the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos are losing their exclusive image, too, and Dan pointed out that the Sea of Cortez, in Mexico, had proved increasingly popular with Brits in the latter half of the year.
Grenada and Tobago will both be big destinations next year, thanks to direct flights with Virgin, and French Polynesia will definitely be put on the map with British divers, considering the spectacular shark-diving it has to offer.

Kirk also reminded us that East Africa was becoming very popular with those who wanted a multi-activity trip - one that included land safaris as well. People seem to want to go scuba-diving, climb Mount Kilimanjaro and visit national parks during the same trip.
Bruce Lyons added that there will always be those who add diving trips to a long-standing once-in-a-lifetime visit to friends or relations in Australia, but his big tip was a bit of a surprise.

The one to watch for the future is Brazil, he told me. Cheap flights are on the way!

We wait with bated breath. Thats what the travel agents say is happening; now find out which holiday destinations Diver has picked out for 2003...


26 tips for surviving your trip
1 Dont assume that because the weather is hot, the water will be. Take the right suit.
2 The brochure might show blue skies but it rains a lot in the tropics. Be prepared.
3 However smart the hotel is, pathogens can walk in through the door with the staff. Be aware of Third World endemic diseases.
4 Take dive kit in working order. If you are going on a liveaboard, there will probably be none for hire. Test yours before leaving.
5 Sunshine can be dangerous. Take sunglasses, a hat, long-sleeved shirts and high-factor sun-tan lotions.
6 You may be unused to heavily spiced food, and unable to get a Big Mac. Items like fruit, salads and ice cream may not be safe.
7 Mosquitoes can carry lethal malaria. Take preventatives, spray and cover up with clothes and repellent at dusk and dawn.
8 Dont drink the water, even if the locals do. Drink and clean your teeth only with bottled water and avoid ice in your drinks.
9 Pack a good-sized flag and strap it to your tank on every dive in case you get lost. A whistle and strobe are worth carrying, too.
10 Besides your passport you need proof of your diving certification and insurance, and your logbook.
11 Take a spare regulator first stage. If you suffer a reg failure, 10 to one thats where the problem will lie.
12 An extra mask is essential if you have prescription lenses, and a spare fin-strap will save heartache if you need it.
13 Check all your underwater photography kit and try with a roll of film in a pool before you leave. Pack spare O-rings.
14 Many animals pack toxic defences both on land and under water. Use your eyes, not your hands.
15 Foreigners dont always understand English, no matter how hard you shout. A dictionary or phrase book can be a godsend.
16 Pick the right trip. If you dont like sharks, dont go to Cocos. If you suffer from seasickness, choose a shore-based trip.
17 Go at the right time of year. During the monsoon, youll get wet. If its the windy season, seas will be rough!
18 Take a book or other diversion. Dont expect sophisticated night life on a desert island. Be ready to make new friends.
19 Make sure any essential item of kit such as your diving computer has a good battery and dont leave home without it.
20 Embrace new experiences as part of the joy of travelling - including some unfamiliar diving procedures.
21 Check the voltage and take the appropriate adaptors, so that you can plug in whatever you need.
22 Take basic medicines: decongestants and anti-diarrhoea, seasickness and indigestion tablets can be a great help.
23 If you go to a country known for its hot climate, you will feel hot. Dont complain about the heat!
24 Behave. Youre a guest in another country so its rules apply. Its no good saying: This wouldnt happen in England.
25 You get what you pay for. Try to resolve complaints at the time. Trying to get a refund later can be soul-destroying.
26 Have a good time, because thats what holidays are for, but remember that diving and alcohol dont go well together.