Our readers' favourite scuba destinations…
Planning a vacation? Think you’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and you’re looking for somewhere fresh, new and exciting to go diving? Look no further! DIVE magazine asked its readers where they think the best diving in the world is to be found, and why!
Top Ten Places to Dive
Raja Ampat, Alor, Komodo – Indonesia
The Indonesian Republic consists of more than 13,000 islands, each having their own distinct identity both above and below the water. As part of the Coral Triangle – regarded by marine experts as the most biodiverse habitat in the world’s oceans – Indonesia could easily lay claim to the top-ten best dives all by itself, but Raja Ampat, Alor and Komodo National Park rank among the best. Raja Ampat, located off the coast of New Guinea, is home to more than 75 per cent of all known coral species and more than 1,500 species of fish, often congregating in massive numbers with sharks and other pelagics regularly sighted among them. The island of Alor is famous for schools of hammerheads, along with a plethora of critters from the monstrous to the minute, a place for both wide-angle lenses and macro in the muck. Komodo National Park, which one respondent described as making 'Malaysia, Hawaii, Egypt [and] Thailand look dead', also provides an excellent opportunity to discover the best of both worlds. Although there are sheltered spots for novices, the islands are all prone to very strong currents, so a little bit of experience under the weight-belt is essential for enjoying everything these three particular locations have to offer.
Malapascua - Philippines
Palawan, Cebu, Boracay, Puerta Galera and more, all part of the Philippines which, like Indonesia, lies in the Coral Triangle. Malapascua, a tiny little island just off the shores of Cebu, is world famous for regular sightings of thresher sharks, but even if these magnificent fish don’t make an appearance, the Philippines as a whole have plenty to offer. More than 500 different species of hard and soft coral are found in the region and other large creatures such as manta and hammerheads are often spotted, along with jackfish and barracuda schooling by the thousand. Dugong are resident in the area and there’s plenty of wrecks to explore, as much for the prolific fish life as for the wrecks themselves. Diving is year round, in water that rarely requires anything more than a 3mm shorty.
To the south of the Phillippines, Palau is regularly described as 'an underwater paradise' in diving destination reviews. The waters are known for their strong currents, so it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you’re not afraid of the ocean trying to remove your mask, and are competent enough to use a reef hook without touching anything you shouldn’t, then Palau is a place where you can spot pretty much everything, from macro to pelagic, in a single dive. The stronger the current, the better the action. Dolphins, manta cleaning stations and so many different species of nudibranch that half of them aren’t even classified, all contained within an amazingly diverse and vibrant coral reef.
The Riviera Maya – Mexico
Located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, The Riviera Maya is Mexico’s top holiday resort destination and very highly regarded by divers. The deep sinkholes known as Cenotes are one of the area’s most famous features, and the extensive underwater cave system to which they grant access is easily classed as the best in the world. While technical diving experience is required to explore the cave system in full, there are easier caverns more suited to the recreational diver. Out to sea, bull sharks and sailfish are commonly encountered during the winter months, and the summer brings nesting turtles and a host of whale sharks – visitors to the nearby Isla Mujeres have reported sighting groups of up to 20 adults gathered together.
Famous as the inspiration behind Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, the Galápagos Islands, some 900km off the Pacific coast of Ecuador, are home to a vast collection of endemic species. The remote location and protected status of the islands provide what many people regard as the most complete diving experience on the planet; a place where you can find whale sharks and schooling hammerheads along with sea lions, penguins and marine iguanas. Getting there might not be easy, and exploration is best done from a liveaboard, but all reports about diving there suggest it is more than worth the effort.
Malta, Gozo and Comino
With some of the most excellent wrecks and some of the most stunning underwater topography in the northern hemisphere, underwater arches, caves, superlative visibility and an array of interesting aquatic life in a very relaxed environment make the Maltese islands a must-dive location for recreational divers and techies alike. Only a short hop from most major European airports, Malta’s agreeable climate allows for year-round diving, although it’s chilly in the winter. The smaller island of Gozo is a quiet and picturesque retreat for those that aren’t in need a boisterous nightlife, and Comino’s caves are perfectly suitable for the inexperienced but inquisitive novice.
Silfra Gap - Iceland
Diving in Iceland? Yes, really! Drysuits are a year-round essential, but Iceland‘s most famous dive site, Silfra – or the Silfra Fissure – has some of the clearest water to be found on the planet, unpolluted by run-off, silt and – well – fish. In fact, the only impediment to the perfect visibility is the continent on the other side of the dive site. Widely regarded as one of the most spectacular dives in the world, Silfra itself is relatively unpopulated by marine life, but there are plenty of other places in Iceland to discover the aquatic denizens of the North Atlantic. Of particular note are Arnarnesstrýtur andStrýtan, geothermal chimneys pumping volcanically heated, mineral-rich water directly into the cold ocean – the only places in the world where recreational scuba divers can encounter such a feature.
Great Barrier Reef - Australia
It’s all spectacular, but head north away from touristy places like Cairns to the Ribbon reefs around Lizard Island and you are in for a treat. Gloriously unspoiled reefs, far away from human activity and only dive-able from a liveaboard, fish of all shapes and sizes congregate en masse. Sharks of various different species are so plentiful that after a couple of dives, you start looking for other things – such as humpback whales, for example, along with potato groupers at the famous Cod Hole that are so large they would be terrifying if they weren’t so friendly. Expect to be nudged in the hope of a treat. There are a very limited number of boats allowed to visit, and they operate on schedules that avoid each other, meaning you get to enjoy the spectacular underwater scenery without too much interruption from other dive teams.
Curaçao, Bonaire, Saba
Although the Netherlands Antilles was officially dissolved in 2010, the islands that had previously been administered as Dutch colonies are still collectively known as such, comprising Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao just off the Venezuelan coast, and St Maarten, Saba and St Eustatius not far from Puerto Rico. Of these, Bonaire, Curaçao and Saba rank high on the list of places to dive in the Caribbean, a little less touristy and a lot less expensive than some of the better known Caribbean destinations. It’s not the place to go if you want to find lots of big stuff, but the rich and relatively unspoiled coral reef system, from shallow and level with minimal current, to spectacular walls and pristine drifts, is colourful and vibrant, with year-round excellent visibility, all on small islands with a combined Caribbean and European vibe.
The Red Sea – Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Sudan
No article about the best places in the world to go diving would be complete without mentioning the Red Sea. Which bit of the Red Sea? Well – all of it, obviously. Highlights most definitely include Ras Mohamed and Tiran (Sharm El Sheikh), St Johns, Daedelus, Elphinstone and the Brothers (mostly from Hurghada or Port Ghalib) but don’t forget Dahab’s (in)famous Blue Hole, or Aqaba’s wreck of the Cedar Pride, not to mention some of the best and most accessible wrecks in the world – the Giannis D, Carnatic, Dunraven and, of course, the SS Thistlegorm. From brightly coloured nudibranchs and long-nosed hawkfish to oceanic whitetips, hammerheads and whale sharks; novice to technical expert, the Red Sea has something for everybody.
And Five You Can't Ignore
Similans National Park - Thailand
Best dived from a liveaboard out of Phuket / Khao Lak, although some of the closer islands can be visited on a daily boat trip particularly from Koh Lanta. Spectacular in every respect and the sea mount of Richelieu Rock should be in every diver’s want-to-go places. Best diving is from October to May.
Sipadan / Mabul - Malaysia
Two islands of extreme contrast, Sipadan is all about the big stuff, and the turtle graveyard a haunting experience. Mabul claims to be the island where the term 'muck divin'” was invented, a delight for the macro photographer.
A popular and tranquil island paradise, the Maldives have a good mixture of the large and the little, with year round diving in mostly calm conditions.
Blue holes, caves, sunken Spanish galleons, dolphins, and top of the list on many divers’ itineraries, the wetsuit-fillingly awesome close encounters with Tiger Sharks.
Lembongan (Bali) and Lembeh (Sulawesi) – Indonesia.
Lembongan for the resident population of manta meaning sightings are almost guaranteed; Lembeh for the weird and wonderful muck diving critters.