DIVE's Top 20 Diving Destinations
Here's DIVE readers' ultimate bucket list - the diving destinations which have topped our polls and surveys over the years.
Some, such as the Maldives and Galápagos, have been firm favourites through the past two decades of publishing DIVE. Other, such as Raja Ampat, have arrived with a bang.
Diving, like most things, is prone to fashions and fads. Ten years ago you weren't a serious underwater photographer unless you had mungled down in the muck of Lembeh Strait. There was a time when every serious wreck diver dreamt of diving deep into Bikini Atoll.
Checkout out which destinations have been the most popular with DIVE readers over the 20 years we have been publishing and see which ones are still top of your wish list…
1) THE RED SEA
Despite the political upheavals of recent years, the Egyptian Red Sea is still one of your firm favourites. The Thistlegorm is the wreck every diver wants to explore and a liveaboard trip to the deep south has consistently been the best dive experience available judged by thrills per tourist dollar.
2) Raja Ampat
For the last few years this isolated region of Indonesia has been the top of every diver’s wish list. Biodiversity at boiling point, beautiful corals, a conservation programme that has kicked in before the damage got beyond the tipping point and plenty of pelagic bruisers. Reef diving at its very best.
3) Cocos Island
The inspiration for Jurassic Park is famous for its prehistoric monsters - sharks, and lots of them. But the constant pressure of illegal long-line fishing has over the years depleted the once vast schools of scalloped hammerheads. Now they number more in the hundreds rather than the thousands, but they are still one of the planet’s grandest sights and topped up with all the other pelagic action and the wonderful Undersea Hunter fleet of liveaboards (including their extremely expensive but extremely awesome submersible trips) makes this a top destination.
4) Sardine Run, South Africa
When the BBC’s Blue Planet showed a Bryde’s whale exploding a school of sardines back in 2001, every self respecting diver wanted to get themselves their very own bait ball. Every year billions of the pilchard Sardinops sagax spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northward along the east coast of South Africa. Measured by biomass alone this is probably the largest migration on the planet. The resulting feeding frenzy makes for some of the most exciting diving.
5) Hanifaru, Maldives
The first videos started being circulated of mantas feeding in vast numbers at this isolated reef more than 10 years ago. They were gobsmacking. Hundred of mantas circulating like squadrons of stealth bombers. Sadly the site was soon over exploited with crowds of liveaboards and day boats. In 2011 - the same year UNESCO declared the site protected – the mantas stopped cooperating and only a handful turned up. Today it is strictly controlled – diving is prohibited and a controlled number of snorkellers are allowed in for a maximum of 45 minutes a session. Hopefully the mantas might start coming back in the same numbers.
Rising fast up the popularity charts in recent years is the Philippines with its vast array of diving – great wrecks, thresher sharks, fab reefs, whale sharks and the chance to experience the weird and wonderful delights of fluo diving. Using special torches you can turn a night dive into a psychedelic disco, a trip into James Cameron’s Avatar.
7) Gladden Spit, Belize
We all love whale sharks and the chance to see them feasting on the clouds of eggs generated by thousands of cubera snapper that gather to spawn each year on this isolated reef in Belize, is one of the best ways to enjoy the ocean’s biggest fish. The snapper are pretty impressive too!
8) Lembeh Strait, Indonesia
In the late 90s muck diving became all the rage. The bizarre lifeforms that strut their stuff in the grungy, silt sea beds away from reefs had previously been ignored by divers. Now they became the top trumps of diving. Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, ghost pipefish, weedy scorpionfish, frogfish – a cornucopia of critters. And the dive guides in Lembeh have an uncanny ability to find them whatever the visibility.
9) Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands
In 1946 an impressive selection of World War Two ships were sunk by the US in this isolated atoll in the middle of the Pacific to discover the impact of a nuclear bomb on a fleet of battleships. Not surprisingly they sank. In 1996 it was opened to diving and you could explore such wonders as the only diveable US aircraft carrier, the USS Saratoga and the flagship of Japanese Imperial Navy, the HIJMS Nagato. But the dives are deep and only for qualified technical divers. And from the UK it takes five or six flights and a couple of days to anywhere near and this is now followed by a 25-hour crossing on a not too frequent liveaboard. And the island is still radioactive. But it is the most awesome wreck diving on the planet.
This really must be the one for people who have dived everywhere and certainly not for the feint hearted! Water temperatures plunging down towards zero. Brutal topside winds. But the last true wilderness offers stunning marine life including penguins and more penguins, icebergs and gin clear water. Just watch out for the leopard seals!
11) Guadalupe, Mexico
Cage diving to see great white sharks started in South Australia, got popular in Dyer Island in South Africa and then we found the bright turquoise waters of Mexico’s Isla Guadalupe and its crazy gang of curious Carcharodon carcharias. You can see them close up and you can see them coming. Pure adrenaline.
12) Chuuk, Micronesia
Ferocious bombing in 1944 left more than 60 Japanese war ships – large and small – resting at the bottom of Chuuk Lagoon for divers to enjoy today. Invariable good vis, warm water and a profusion of marine growth on the rusting hulks. Near the top of the list for the well-travelled wreck diver.Get there before the salt water finishes the work of the US Air Force.
13) The Titanic
For 13 years up until 2012 you could dive the most famous wreck on a Russian submersible. More than 150 passengers paid US$60,000 for the privilege and many a wreck diver had earmarked the fare for when they won the lottery. There are only five submersibles in the world that can withstand the immense pressures found at nearly 4,000m and right now they are all busy doing other research.
14) Wakatobi, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Right in the heart of the Coral Triangle, these are are some of the most impressive reefs you can dive. Stunning, pristine, coral cathedrals and a luxury resort on a tiny island just for divers. You could spend all your time on the house reef alone. The dream destination for underwater photographers.
15) Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The world’s largest barrier reef has a reputation to match. Ask most people on the planet the place to dive and they will nominate the Great Barrier Reef. And most divers find a place for it somewhere on their bucket list – it may not have the biodiversity of the Indo-Pacific, but there is so much to explore and, despite the best efforts of Tony Abbott and his coal-shipping chums, it is still a UNESCO listed wonder - just!
The latest marketing campaign for Ecuador is along the theme that it is the country that has all you need. Well in diving terms terms all you really do need are these remote Pacific outcrops which have been part of Ecuador since the country gained independence from the Spanish in 1832. They straddle the equator and offer, many believe, the most exciting diving on the planet. Hammerheads, mantas, whale sharks, vast schools of fish and even marine iguanas. Galápagos has been topping the polls for the scuba cognoscenti for decades.
17) Abaco Caves, Bahamas
The blue holes and crystal caves of the Abaco Islands in the north of the Bahamas have been delighting divers for more than 30 years. A limestone fantasy world of outrageous shape and form.
18) Rangiroa, French Polynesia
For the ultimate drift dive head to Tiputa Pass on an in-coming tide (don’t even think about the out-going tide unless you want a long swim across the Pacific) and join the throng of grays, white tips, silver tips, hammerheads, eagle rays and mantas flying through the narrow bottleneck into the lagoon. Awesome. No fairground ride will ever compete with the sheer adrenaline jolt this dive induces.
19) Bahama Banks
Shark wrangler extraordinaire Jim Abernathy built a loyal and fanatical following for his trips out to the gleaming sands of the Bahama Banks. Time to get up close and personal with giant hammerheads, bull sharks and tiger sharks. Chances are if you have gone Wow! at a photo of one of the aforementioned it was taken on one of Jim’s cruises.
20) Walindi, PNG
There was a time in the 90s when the pinnacle (pun intended as the place is littered with wonderful coral bommies) of coral reef diving was considered to be around PNG. Exotic, remote and crowded with marine life, its reefs were the stuff of legends. The leading underwater photographers formed a fairly disorderly queue. Fashion may have moved on, but this is still the stuff of dreams.
Well that's the nominations of our readers over the years. Where would you add today?