THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FREEDIVING ON XIAO LIUQIU ISLAND
Xiao Liuqiu (小琉球), also known as Lambai or Lamay, is the perfect place to learn freediving in Taiwan while experiencing traditional Taiwanese culture.
XIAO LIUQIU, TAIWAN’S FREEDIVING GEM
Xiao Liuqiu island is a small coral island located about 14k from the Taiwanese mainland in the south of Taiwan. I first began freediving on Xiao Liuqiu more than five years ago now. Pretty soon I was making weekly trips here to train, then I opened Freedive Taiwan freediving school to teach weekly courses, eventually moving to the island to live full time.
A lot has changed in the past five years! Back then, there were only a handful of freedivers and no real freediving ‘schools’. The island was very sleepy and quiet, especially on the weekdays it was like a ghost town! At that time the population of the island was in decline with the young folks heading to mainland Taiwan to follow their educations and careers and leaving the elders on the island to continue their traditional culture, mainly in the areas of fishing and tourism.
Tourism mainly centred around snorkelling tours and scuba diving. The diving here was excellent and the reefs that surrounded the island were still, in many places, in very good condition. In essence it was something of an undiscovered gem!
Popular Dafu is the epicentre of Xiao Liuqiu’s watersports activities.
The explosion in popularity of freediving in Taiwan led to a huge uptick in visitors to the island. At the same time, many Taiwanese were discovering Xiao Liuqiu as a great place to holiday for the weekend with many other water-sports activities on the rise as well, such as stand up paddle-boarding and kayaking.
The most dramatic changes have taken place over the last two years, during the COVID pandemic. With the Taiwanese unable to travel abroad, they have been travelling extensively inside their own country. Xiao Liuqiu has become a popular tourism hotspot. In some ways this has had a negative impact on the environment and the local’s lives, but there have also been some welcome improvements to the liveability of the island and it has become a more vibrant and exciting place to spend time.
One thing is for sure, Xiao Liuqiu is a great place for freediving, especially if you want to take a course, or train and fundive in waters 10 – 40 metres deep. For the aspiring deep divers, depths of up to 55 metres can be had from the shore on a good day, and unlimited depth is available from a boat.
As we move forward and the popularity of Taiwan increases as an international tourist destination I can see many freedivers attracted to this place, so here is my guide to the island’s freediving world!
The iconic Vase Rock structure.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Donny is the founder of Taiwan’s first English language freediving centre, Freedive Taiwan, and host of the Freedive Cafe Podcast. He has lived in Taiwan for 8 years, much of that time on Xiao Liuqiu Island.
FREEDIVING COURSES AT FREEDIVE TAIWAN
Visit the HOME PAGE to find out more about our freediving courses and experiences.
ENVIRONMENT & SEA LIFE
Before we get into the freediving information, I must direct your attention for a moment to the environmental issues we face here. I am sure you are all aware of the enormous pressure the human species is putting on the ecosystems of the oceans of the world. You have all heard about plastics, coral reef bleaching and environmental degradation, and Xiao Liuqiu has not escaped these pressures.
Having spent much of the last five years on the island and in its waters I must tell you how shocked I am by how much things have changed here. It is hard to express this to someone who comes for the first time and is still excited by the reef and the turtles.
I have witnessed two major bleaching events after which huge areas of reef became barren. Almost all the soft corals are completely gone, as are the huge table corals. Once rich stretches of coral have become grey and lifeless or covered in smothering seaweed. It is a much changed and less vibrant world! As is the case with coral reefs all over the world.
In the five year period since I first came here one study found that biodiversity in one part of the reef declined by more than 75%! Naturally, plastic waste is also a huge problem.
On every freediving course we do a beach clean up, but that small gesture is never enough to fight the rising tide of plastic. When you come to Xiao Liuqiu to enjoy its underwater environment please be conscious of the fragility of the ecosystem and act responsibly. Carry all your trash off the island with you or make sure it is processed properly. Bring your own reusable cup for coffee and other drinks. Kindly refuse unnecessary plastic bags. Don’t leave anything in the water and don’t take anything out, unless it’s human trash.
Liuqiu’s trash centre is in a constant state of over-flowing chaos!
Scientists estimate that 70% – 90% of the world’s coral reefs will be gone within the next 20 years. Think about that for a moment and enjoy them while you can, in a responsible and mindful fashion.
Never put your fins on and then enter the water. Walk out on your feet, until you are in water up to your chin then put your first fin on while floating in the water, the other fin tucked under your arm.
Always avoiding touch the bottom with your fins, both to protect whatever is under your feet and to protect your fins.
Always moor your tethering line to bare rock or a man-made mooring and keep your bottom weights at least 2 metres from the sea bottom.
It is becoming less and less possible to see large fish in the waters around the island, however recently I have seen a 2 metre wide eagle ray, and a huge school of very large (1m+) barracuda. Smaller reef fish, lionfish, moray eels, mantis shrimp and the like are quite common.
If you like sea turtles, Xiao Liuqiu is THE place to visit!
Xiao Liuqiu is above all else, famous for its abundant sea turtles, in fact these days there is not much else apart from sea turtles! There are hundreds of turtles around the island and it is almost guaranteed that you will see one or more every time you enter the water, especially on the west side of the island.
If you have always wanted to swim with turtles I am sure that Liuqiu may be one of the best, if not THE best place in the world to do it. When interacting with sea turtles please follow the common sense guidance to be practiced with all wildlife. Do not touch a turtle (there are huge fines for this if you are caught), do not get too close to turtles, chase them or harass them in any other way. Just enjoy their graceful slow-motion swimming.
Xiao Liuqiu is famous for its snorkelling tours. You can see hundreds of people taking these tours on a busy day.
Consider very carefully if you want to take one of these tours. You will be tied together in a large group of people and literally dragged around the reef harassing turtles to get that picture.
The local ‘guides’ usually smoke and chew binlang, throwing both straight into the ocean while trampling around on the reef with their heavy boots.
It is an inevitable characteristic of the industry but I highly recommend taking charge of your own snorkelling or request a private tour from an environmentally responsible guide.
HOW TO GET TO XIAO LIUQIU?
I have written an extensive guide to getting to the island! You can read it here:
HOW TO GET TO XIAO LIUQIU ISLAND (小琉球, LAMAY, LAMBAI) from ANYWHERE!
XIAO LIUQIU’S WEATHER & CLIMATE
One of the things I love most about living in the south of Taiwan is the year-round sun!
According to the Köppen system of climate classification, Xiao Liuqiu lies in an area of tropical savanah climate, very close to a tropical monsoon climate.
The summers are extremely hot and humid with a pronounced rainy season beginning in April or May. The rainy season at the start of summer gives way to typhoon season as summer progresses. The best times to visit for freediving are March to early June and mid-September to early December. You are almost guaranteed hot, tropical, sunny weather and excellent diving conditions.
The cool season, from December to March is very dry and also very pleasant unless a cold front descends on the island. It is normal to have sunny 23c – 26c days through the winter. In short, Xiao Liuqiu is a great year-round destination, however, if you are sensitive to the heat and humidity, the summer months might be a bit too much for you. Also, as summer is typhoon season, if a typhoon comes along it can derail holiday plans and make the water conditions unstable for a few days.
Xiao Liuqiu experiences year-round clear skies and high temperatures.
Water temperature around the island is warm all year round and we are blessed to not have to pack our freediving gear up for the cool season. Between March and November the water temperature tends to be very warm, from 26c to 30c, so a 2 – 3mm wetsuit will more than suffice for depth training, and it is very pleasant without a wetsuit for more than half of the year, for swimming, snorkelling and fundiving.
The cool season between December and early March can see water temperatures drop to a cool 21c or so, but depending on the year it may stay above 23c! On February 12th 2022 the water temperature was still 24c in the open ocean and I dived very comfortably in a 3mm wetsuit! For the coldest days, depending on your personal tolerance to the cold, a 5mm wetsuit or a 3mm wetsuit with additional neoprene vest is usually enough. Fortunately, this cooler season lasts less than three months and then the water is heating up to properly tropical temperatures again!
Water visibility is terrific around Xiao Liuqiu!
Eight days out of 10 you can generally expect 10m visibility or more. 10 – 20m is normal here and it is not unusual to see days with 30m+ visibility. Visibility tends to be affected heavily by whatever rainfall is happening on the Taiwanese mainland. Rainfall over or around the island itself makes little difference to the visibility as there are no significant rivers or streams here to cause run-off.
Rain over Liuqiu will only affect the visibility during sustained periods of heavy, torrential rain in the rainy season.
A period of sustained torrential rain in the mountains of southern Taiwan can lead, many days later, to dirty, green water arriving around the island, flushed out by the big rivers. During these periods visibility can drop to less than 5m. The water can become very turbid and green. These periods of low visibility are most common in the summer/rainy season months, from June to August. Depending on the ocean currents and weather, it may clear up within a matter of hours, or hang around for days!
I have often heard people say something like.. ‘Yeah, I went to Xiao Liuqiu once but the visibility is bad there.’ In fact, the visibility is changing constantly and is often different at different parts of the island at the same time. I have seen 3m visibility in the morning and 20m is the same spot 6 hours later.
A summer day with incredible 40+ metres visibility at Meiren Dong, Xiao Liuqiu.
Outside of a typhoon it is generally quite calm here. Xiao Liuqiu is brilliantly located, in such a way that it always seems to avoid the worst of the winds. Because wind will usually either be coming from the west or from the east, this means that if one side of the island is windy, there will usually be calm waters on the other side!
For most of the year you can expect the wind to come from the west, and it will be strongest in the afternoons, during the hottest part of the day. This makes the east coast the most consistently calm area, and the mornings the best time to dive, depending on the currents.
The waters around the island can have strong currents depending on a multitude of factors. Currents here are rarely dangerous but can make freediving training sessions challenging and tiring.
Currents are difficult to predict because they are determined by a combination of factors, but there are some general guidelines that can help you understand them better. The current in a particular location can go from non-existent to very strong in a matter of minutes.
One thing to understand is that current strength and direction changes through the day, so if you go out in the morning and the current is pumping, it will often be calm in the afternoon. The main factor determining how strong the currents will be at any one time is the type of tide that day. The tides are affected by the moon phase, and different moon phases result in different tidal profiles.
The three types of tides are diurnal, semi-diurnal and mixed. The strongest currents can be expected during diurnal tide periods, that is when there is one high tide and one low tide each day. Currents are less strong when tides are semi-diurnal, that is when there are two high and two low tides each day.
You can use an app like Windy to see what is happening with the tides. Often you will hear that tides are less strong around high and low tide. That may be true in some places, at some times, but is not a rule that works across the board. Many other factors are working together to create the currents, such as swells and winds far offshore, larger oceanic current systems, variations in depth in different locations and water temperature at various depths, etc.
In short, the currents around Xiao Liuqiu are unpredictable. More detail is given in the information about each diving location below.
Make sure to practice your freediving blackout rescue techniques regularly so they become perfected and automatic!
Before jumping in the waters of Xiao Liuqiu for some freediving make sure to follow the primary guideline of freediving – Always dive with a trained buddy.
If you haven’t done a freediving course yet, do one. It saves lives. Knowing how to prevent your own accidents and rescue someone else who is a victim, is essential knowledge.
There are several freediving schools on Xiao Liuqiu, including this one. If you insist on teaching yourself freediving (a very bad idea), at least visit www.freedivingsafety.com for a free course in the essentials of freediving safety and rescue.
When you meet new friends to dive with them for the first time, make sure they know what they are doing. Not all schools and organisations have the same high standards as Molchanovs or AIDA, and even then not all instructors are motivated towards safety in the same way.
Be aware of cowboy instructors and self-taught divers. Very serious accidents have happened because of poor instructing and safety – something that should never happen with properly trained instructors, because freediving is always a safe sport when the highest standards of safety are followed.
XIAO LIUQIU FREEDIVING LOCATIONS:
I will now give you some information about the main diving spots around the island. We’ll work from the north east of the island in a clockwise direction. These are the dive spots that are easily accessible. There are a few secret spots and attractions, too, but I’ll be keeping those to myself!
The best way to learn the ins and outs of the best spots is to go with someone who knows the ‘lay of the land’, but in general, Xiao Liuqiu is a very safe place to explore the ocean environment.
THE EAST COAST:
WHITE SAND BEACH 白沙
There is a nice sandy beach to the east of the main ferry port. Here you can look out towards mainland Taiwan. Once a great snorkelling spot, not so much any more. When the water conditions are calm it is also a nice place to play safely in the water.
Walk further east along the path beyond the breakwater to find very quiet stretches of beach great for getting a break from the crowds but without water access.
White Sand Beach is the closest beach to the harbour and is good for water-sports activities when the water is calm.
The main ferry port seen from the west side of White Sand Beach.
It is very easy to get in here. It is easiest and safest on the left (west) side of the beach. On the right (east) side the sand drops off sharply and if there are big waves you can easily get tumbled there! Only strong swimmers should ever enter the ocean without flotation gear or fins.
Around 5 – 15m.
None available / Moor to clean rock on the bottom.
This spot used to be one of my favourite snorkelling and fundiving areas.
The white sandy bottom was interspersed with healthy and vibrant sections of reef. There were a few huge table coral sructures here but they were all badly damaged by the bleaching events. After bleaching events seaweed moves in a covers the rocks, very little of the coral recovers, only the hardier, drab corals remain. As with Houshi, the reef is now in very poor health here.
The currents can be very strong here. Only head out from the beach if you have freediving or snorkelling fins on. Gauge the conditions of the day based on who else is in the water and how comfortable everyone looks.
YUFU PORT (漁福) / LOBSTER CAVE
Located on the north-east side of the island. Go down into the harbour and look to the right. There is a little path over the harbour wall that takes you to the beach. Technically the ‘Lobster Cave’ is somewhere else nearby, but it is not a convenient or safe place to enter the water.
Yufu Beach is becoming an ever more popular place to practice water-sports and diving. The reef is dense here, once you get out a bit (further than is safe for most snorkellers).
The beach next to Yufu Fishing Port is quickly increasing in popularity for water activities.
Yufu Fishing Port seen from the north side of the beach.
This is easier at high tide, but low tide is fine too if you walk out carefully. When the swell is up on this side a wave may make it difficult to comfortably access the water, especially at low tide.
About 20 – 30m. The depth drops off quite quickly here. The issue here is that currents can be very strong as this part of the island juts out into the ocean. Also, boat traffic comes very close as it leaves and enters the harbour.
The last time I checked there were no moorings here, but recently there has been an increase in the number of freediving buoys out in the water, so maybe there are now.
Deep snorkelling, exploring, fundiving
The last time I explored the reef here it was actually quite dense and healthy, especially once you’re out in 15-20m of water.
Beware of strong currents, especially out beyond 150-200m from the shore. Avoid when the swell is up. Not super safe for ‘regular’ non-freediving snorkellers as you’ll need to go out quite far to enjoy the best of the reef.
DAFU PORT (大福)
Dafu is probably the epicentre of freediving education in Taiwan!
Just after the gas station, heading South, turn left down to the beach. You can’t miss it. If you come on the weekend you may be greeted with a scene of pandemonium. In recent years this small beach with easy access to the ocean has become crammed with SUPs, kayaks, blue trucks, etc. On a busy day I suggest you park up closer to the main road so it’s easy to get out after your session.
To the right of the beach is a small harbour/outdoor swimming pool area. This area is often crammed with scuba and freediving instructors with students on their first lesson.
One sad development here is that a couple of years ago there actually was no beach at Dafu. At some point someone started bringing in sand and dumping it there to make a beach, which was very nice at first but led to an unfortunate development; As the tides came in and out over the weeks and months, the sand migrated into the ‘pool’ area and is now slowly filling it up. As a result, this outdoor pool is no longer as suitable for swimming as the water is much shallower and often becomes stagnant and gross in the summer months.
Dafu beach, where most of Xiao Liuqiu’s freedivers enter the water. Easy access in most water conditions.
The ‘swimming pool’ at Dafu used for water recreation activities.
It is very easy to access the ocean at Dafu, just walk down into the little bay and then proceed. Be aware, there are rocks just under the water in the north side of the opening to the sea. When the swell is up or the water is very wavy be cautious and stick to the southern part when entering or exiting the sea. I have very often seen scuba divers and freedivers washed up onto the jagged rocks on the north side, and kayaks and SUPs often get stuck there. Otherwise, it is a very safe entry.
Up to 40m+, but this requires a VERY long swim from the shore, about 500m!
Depths of 10 – 20m are very easily available within 250m of the shore, making it the perfect place for beginner freediving courses.
There is one mooring for boats here, a polystyrene buoy known locally as the Dangao 蛋糕 (cake). It is often used as a mooring for freediving buoys, and is considered public use, but be aware that if a sailboat/motorboat comes along here and wants to park, you may need to move. The depth here is a safe 15m.
You may notice as you swim out that there are many mooring buoys in the water already, hiding just under the surface at various depths. They have mostly been placed there by freediving instructors and schools.
Please exercise common courtesy when using someone else’s mooring. You will most likely be welcomed to join a mooring if you are there to train for fun. If you are there to teach students, especially in a larger group, be aware that the moorings were placed by someone else who paid for and did the work to set the mooring.
Moorings are easily broken when too many buoys and people connect to them in stronger currents. Always ask for permission to use someone else’s mooring and don’t overcrowd a mooring.
Dafu gets busy! It is not uncommon to come down here on a busy day and see 30 or more freediving buoys in the water.
Freediving courses, easy training, less confident divers and swimmers. Static apnea. Learning scuba, kayak, SUP, etc.
Dafu is a very safe location, it is the most protected from the wind, most of the year and thanks to its bay-like shape it is protected from the worst of the currents until you get out beyond 200m from the shore. It can be accessed even in big swells, if you so desire! There are usually lots of people around who can help you in an emergency if needed.
Dafu is great for basic fundiving and getting used to the water but frankly, it is the most boring and lifeless part of the reef. There are fewer turtles here than anywhere else.
The southern area of Dafu away from the main clump of divers, where the SUPs tend to hang out, has a much healthier reef. We saw a huge eagle ray there not long ago!
HOUSHI (SECRET BEACH) 厚石魚澳
The confusingly named Secret Beach (it is not secret at all and very easy to find, and busy), is located a bit further south than Dafu. It is famous for its little horseshoe-shaped bay, and was once an amazing snorkelling spot.
Extremely popular with regular beachgoers, the small bay provides a safe place for the kids to play and for non-swimmers to splash about in the water. It is a nice fundiving spot with some white sandy bottom that’s great for taking pictures.
Find the 100 Year Banyan to find this amazing view looking down over Houshi / Secret Beach!
The entrance to Houshi, one of Xiao Liuqiu’s prettiest seaside locations.
Very easy on any day, at any time, thanks to the beach. Beware the narrow opening and rocks underwater on either side as you enter the ocean. Can be strong currents in the bay when the swell is up.
Generally around 5 – 10m. Requires quite a long swim out to get much more than this.
You are probably just going to be snorkelling and fundiving around here but if you need or want to moor a buoy it is best to dive down and find a clean piece of rock to moor to.
When mooring to reef, please be careful not to attach to a part with corals or other life growing on it. Make sure the chosen rock is sturdy and fixed. I’ve seen big chunks of limestone ripped off the reef and dragged around over corals because the mooring was hastily chosen by the divers.
Deep snorkelling, exploring, fundiving. A great place to get in for stand up paddle boarding.
There was a time when jumping in at Secret Beach was a pure delight. Turtles all over the place and lots of lovely fish activity, as well as the best coral zone on the east coast. In the space of pretty much one season this all changed and the reef is a shadow of its former self here. Will still be nice for first timers but very disheartening for those of us who have seen it die off so much so quickly over the years.
This is the only place I’ve seen schools of jackfish around the island, and once last year we saw a school of the largest barracuda I’ve ever seen, with hundreds of fish up to 1.5m long!
Beware of strong currents, especially out beyond 150-200m from the shore. During periods of big swell the water can be treacherous here as the shallow depths allow the water to move more powerfully.
SHANFU 杉福漁港 / THE SHIPWRECK
Shanfu is the Freedive Taiwan ‘local spot’, located just a few hundred metres from the school. After Dafu, it’s probably the most active of water-sport areas on the island.
There are a few options for snorkellers and freedivers here. The main bay is a semi-natural area, protected by the harbour walls. Inside the shallow bay you can safely snorkel and swim. Surprisingly, it is common to find big sea turtles in here. Stand up on the steps overlooking the bay and you will probably see one in the water!
It’s a great place to bring kids, too.
YOU MAY NOT enter the ocean proper through the harbour entrance. To do that you must go from the pretty little beach on the south side (see picture below)
After entering the ocean you will see a dense reef on the left and a white sandy bottom on the right.
Out to the right about 400m from the shore is a small shipwreck. It’s small, but quite good fun. The top of the wreck is at about 16m, the bottom is about 20m, so this trip is for proficient freedivers only. Due to the long distance from the shore we suggest you find a guide to show you where the shipwreck is. It would be dangerous to try and find it yourself.
If you take a left instead you can enjoy the reef. The reef is a bit healthier here than in many other places. The further south you go here the better the reef is.
To enter the ocean proper here, stay on the right side as you walk carefully over the ‘cleanest’ parts of the reef.
The beach inside the bay is the best place to take young children if you wish to introduce them safely to the ocean. Sea turtles are easy to spot here, too!
Getting into the water here is very easy on a day with no swell or waves. Please enter the water on the north side of the beach. What makes Shanfu a tricky spot is that even a small swell will generate a tricky little wave that can make it difficult for less confident freedivers to enter the water. If in doubt, request a guide to help you access the water safely.
It is very easy to get 20m here, about 250m from the shore. When the conditions are right it is absolutely my favourite place to teach courses. The white sandy bottom really adds to the beauty here.
There is a man-made structure on which to moor at 20m, but that’s local knowledge 😉 Otherwise follow the guidelines of mooring on the natural bottom.
Deep snorkelling, exploring, fundiving, freediving courses.
Really nice reef, and interesting structures, especially further out.
As mentioned above, be careful when the swell is up and you see a wave braking on the entry. Be especially cautious during low tide. The west coast locations require entry over the rocky reef. If you lose your balance and fall here as a big wave is coming over you could get quite badly scraped up or lose some gear. Happens all the time!
Because Shanfu is in something of a protected bay, it is generally protected from the strongest of the currents.
Just south of Shanfu you will eventually reach Geban Bay / also sometimes called Venice Beach. The beach is absolutely beautiful, like something from Thailand, but it is very difficult to enter/exit the water here. There is one very narrow channel off this beach that looks like a very tempting place to enter or exit the water. Do so at your own peril! The rip current created at this spot is very, very strong. Even when the surface conditions look dead calm, this little current can be ripping. For experienced swimmers and divers only.
Freedive Taiwan Master Student Ian Bands explores the Shanfu shipwreck after a freediving class.
A real ‘secret beach’ can be discovered around here 😉
MEIREN DONG / MRD / BEAUTY CAVE / THE NETS / 美人洞
If Dafu is the current epicentre of freediving education in Taiwan, Meiren Dong is the historic centre of freediving on Xiao Liuqiu. For the first few, quiet years, most of the freediving was done here. It was and still is a kind of magical place for me.
Meiren Dong was famous for it ‘nets’, or ‘the fishery’. That was the fish farm about 300m swim from the beach. Here you could find several large, ring-shaped floatation structures that supported huge nets filled with fish being bred for commercial purposes. The nets are gone now but the rings remain.
When the rings were filled with fish a lot of sea life was attracted to the area. There was always an abundance of fish here, not to mention sharks!
For a couple of years large, blacktip sharks could be found prowling around the nets, even circling around the dive lines! Now, the sharks are gone, along with most of the other big fish, but there is no doubt that Meiren Dong remains the best place around Xiao Liuqiu to train depth, especially for the beginner to intermediate level freediver, with depths up to 55m available from the shore.
The beautiful beach at Meiren Dong, Xiao Liuqiu’s historic freediving centre.
The famous nets / fishery at Meiren Dong, the best place to train deep off the shore of Liuqiu.
Park your scooter up the road to the south in the large scooter park. Do not park in the spaces across from the beach entrance/ticket stall. They will ask you to move. There is a ticket stall here for tourists visiting the beach. Just walk straight past the stall confidently. Especially if you have your freediving gear on you will most likely be ignored.
As with all locations on the west coast the ease of access will depend on the swell height. Be aware of entering the water here if there is a large wave breaking on the reef’s edge, especially at low tide. That can get very dicey. The best place to enter and exit the water is a bit south of the centre of the beach.
Remember that the place where the wave is smallest is not necessarily the best place to enter. Much more important is whatever you have to walk on to get into and out of the water. Go slowly and get your footing right before moving further. Have your mask and snorkel on properly as you enter the water unless you are very proficient without them and can store them in a buoy or float. Many a mask, snorkel and fin has been lost in this part of the reef!
Never try to enter or exit the water with your fins on. Always take your fins off and stick them under your arm for the last few metres going back in to the beach, so you can use your feet balance and walk in over the rocks.
Out on the outside of the nets there is a spot where you can get 55m by mooring to the ropes that hold the nets in place, but you will probably need an experienced guide to show you exactly where, in the interests of safety.
Swimming straight out from the beach it is easy to find 20m or more, but not so easy to find a place to moor a buoy. When the visibility is good you will see several large concrete blocks on the sea floor that are good for mooring to. Again, a guide will best help you find these spots.
When out at the nets, moor from the ropes, or even the rings themselves. First check to see which way the current is flowing, then position your buoy so as to avoid your line getting tangled with a ghost line. See below about ghost lines at this location.
Depth training, snorkelling, fun diving, sea turtles.
Despite being badly stressed, there is still some nice reef here and it is very easy to see sea turtles. The reef is especially nice to the north part of the beach. I have seen sharks here and on several occasions eagle rays, which can grow more than 2 metres wide!
Be aware entering the water when the swell is up (generally over 1.5m is considered a bigger swell here) or the wave looks big. At low tide even the small waves can be tricky.
The currents around Meiren Dong can be very strong. It is generally not possible to tell current strength or direction by looking at the water from the shore. Take note of how many other people are in the water and how comfortable they look!
The strongest currents can be found in the hours around high tide. It is usually better here at low tide and in the hours just after. If you are not very comfortable in the water, especially if you have not taken a freediving course, stay very close to the shore and just enjoy the reef.
Every year we hear about groups of people getting pulled up the coast, unable to get back to the beach and needing to be rescued. The problem is less likely the dangerous water conditions and more likely the low fitness level and water comfort of the victims.
I often hear people complain that there are ‘always currents’ at Meiren Dong. For two years I only dived at this spot, and there were just as often no currents as there were currents, as with everywhere else on the island. You just need to get in the water more to find out!
The rings/nets might seem an intimidating swim from the shore, but once you get there, they are a safe place to moor to and you can even get out the water and rest on them. If you find the current is too strong to swim back to the beach from the nets, there is another small, secret beach to the south of the nets you can drift to with the current and then exit. This beach is actually the best place to enter if you are aiming for the deepest diving spot.
Of course, the journey to the nets is a trip to make only with fins and mask, and preferably a freediving safety buoy. Don’t try to swim there unless you are a very proficient and strong open water swimmer.
Under the surface of the water there are many, many lines, connecting and supporting the rings. They are thick and heavy ropes. In low visibility you won’t be able to see what’s down there, so again, an experienced guide is very helpful here. Fortunately the ropes are soft and covered in seaweed so you won’t really do yourself any harm if you bump your head on one, but it can be a little scary for the first-timer if they are unsure of the situation.
Always exercise caution wherever you dive, there can be all sorts of junk: ropes, fishing nets, pieces of metal etc on the sea bed.
Freedive Taiwan graduate Zsombor chills out in front of the famous fish farm nets at Meiren Dong.
VASE ROCK / 花瓶石
Vase Rock is probably the most iconic tourist site on the island. Turn right just after the 7/11 close to the harbour and follow the road past the fishing harbour. There are plenty of parking spaces here in front of the spectacular temples.
As with other locations around the island, its value as a snorkelling site is much diminished in recent years and since it lacks real depth it will not appeal to freedivers who want to train, but there are still some very interesting boulder/rock formations underwater on the west side of the reef.
The iconic Vase Rock!
Fairly easy to get in here. Often quite busy with snorkelling tours.
Around 5 – 15m.
None available / Moor to clean rock on the bottom.
As mentioned above, much reduced reef quality here but the rock formations and boulders on the west side are nice to dive around.
As with White Sand Beach the currents can be strong a little further out from the beach.
BOAT DIVING / UNLIMITED DEPTH
Until recently it has been very difficult to arrange boat dives for serious depth training around the island. The reason for this is mainly the strict regulations and very small recreational boat quotas in the harbours. However, we now have access to a couple of boats for this purpose.
If you are already a fully certified and experienced diver (that means experienced with doing safety dives for intermediate level divers) and would like to know more about deep training around Liuqiu you can get in touch for more information.
If your experience and comfort level is lower but you would still like the chance to dive off the boat, you can join through Freedive Taiwan and do training or coaching sessions with an instructor.
For intermediate level divers who want unlimited depth for training, boat diving is the way to go.
Whether you are just looking for a safe and easy place to snorkel with turtles, want to take a freediving course or continue your education or want to go really deep with serious freediving training, Xiao Liuqiu has excellent options for you.
I believe Xiao Liuqiu truly is something of a hidden gem for the international freediving scene and as the world (hopefully), slowly opens up after the pandemic and international travel returns to normal we sincerely welcome you to the amazingly beautiful, free, democratic, developed and friendly country that is Taiwan!