Taiwan might not seem like an avid diver’s first port of call, but in fact, diverse marine life is just an hour’s plane ride away in the southeast of the country. Green Island is a tiny, 16.2 sq. km. volcanic isle just off the southern town of Taitung, seldom visited by non-Taiwanese. While the island is home to a historically significant prison built by the Japanese in 1911 (the local tourism authority strongly urges you pay a visit), what makes it a real gem for us is the spectacular snorkeling and dive sites rich with marine life, relaxing hot springs and excellent seafood. The entire island can be easily navigated by scooter within 30 minutes—or if you’re not much of a biker, a somewhat slower golf cart.
With just one strip of small restaurants and guesthouses, there’s not that much to do if you’re not a fan of the ocean. However, divers and snorkelers will find pristine reefs not yet bleached white by excessive motor oils, as is often found in more widely visited parts of Asia. In addition to a diverse lineup of brightly colored reef fish and corals, you’ll also find stingrays, cuttlefish and—between January and March—schools of migrating hammerhead sharks. Dive centers are safe, experienced and well equipped, and only advanced divers will be permitted to go looking for hammerheads, owing to the stronger currents where they congregate. That said, novices are extremely well catered for, and the sleepy pace of the island means you can practice your diving in peace. Try Green Island Diving (www.greenislanddiving.com) for English-speaking dive masters.
After a day in the sea, warm up by taking a dip in the island’s hot springs. As owners of one of only three saltwater hot springs in the world, Green Islanders take their bathing very seriously—the pools are immaculately maintained and enjoy magnificent views of the ocean. Once you’re done, cook up some fresh seafood and snacks (which can be bought from nearby hawkers) in the hotter springs close by. At almost boiling point, this is water you don’t want to be dipping your toes into, but a delicious hotpot au natural is the local delicacy. Just make sure to bring a good torch after dark, as there’s no street lighting on this part of the island.
Nothing better than fresh seafood for a cheap price. And the seafood here is about as fresh as you can get. Restaurant owners will sometimes pluck abalone straight out of the water and cook them up for just less than a dollar. Taiwanese classics such as stewed minced pork and eggplant on rice are also present and accounted for, and for an extra holiday touch, shaved ice with red bean and other tasty toppings come served in a gigantic shell.
There are several cheap and cheerful guesthouses, mostly on the main strip, and accommodation is easy to find once you arrive. Jack Hotel (www.jack.e089.com.tw) is one clean and friendly option, but be sure to check the Green Island Human Rights Culture Park website (www.gicp.nat.gov.tw) for a directory of hotels and home stays.
There’s no ATM on Green Island, and only a few places take credit card. Make sure to get cash on the mainland.