The Top 25 Scuba Diving Destinations as Nominated by DIVE Readers
During the annual DIVE Travel Awards, the Top 25 scuba diving destinations nominated by DIVE Magazine's readers get sent through to a final vote from which the Top 10 will be decided. Here's a short preview of each...
Australia • Azores • Bahamas • Bonaire • Cayman Islands • Chuuk Lagoon • Cocos Island / Costa Rica • Curaçao • Dominican Republic • Egypt • Fiji • Galapagos • Indonesia • Malaysia • Maldives • Malta / Gozo • Mexico • Palau • Papua New Guinea • Philippines • Solomon Islands • Spain • Thailand • UK • USA
HOT SPOTS The Great Barrier Reef – 2,253km (1,400 miles) in length and made up of more than 2,000 individual reefs, it covers more than 343,700 sq km (132,700 sq miles). Despite recent coral bleaching and increasing environmental pressures, it is still one of the richest and most stunning dive destinations on the planet. Coral Sea – A string of fabulous reefs beyond the Great Barrier Reef which are perfect for liveaboard exploration. Surrounded by deep water these mountain tops offer exceptional diving. Ningaloo Reef – this is one of the high points of the great coral diving to be found on the fringing reefs on the west coast of Australia which stretch1,200 km (745 miles) north of Perth. The Neptune Islands - Strict conservation measures mean great white sharks are returning in numbers making a cage diving trip from Port Lincoln worth the effort. Also, South Australia is the best places to see leafy sea dragons!
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS From minke whales to manta rays on The Great Barrier Reef, whales sharks and yet more mantas at Ningaloo and great whites and sea lions in South Australia - you are spoilt for choice with the big beasts. And the reefs are brimming with all sorts of critters.
WRECKS Many claim the Yongala is the greatest wreck dive in the world - okay most of those people are Australian, but nevertheless, this is one gobsmacking dive brimming with marine life. The 109m (350 ft) hull of this cargo ship which sank in 1911 is covered in a stunning variety of coral.
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These volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean are surrounded by deep water which is bursting with life – more cetaceans than can be believed (we once saw 27 different species on one day) from sperm whales to Risso's; blue sharks; oceanic manta rays; devil rays and much more. Dramatic drop-offs, caves and plenty of wrecks.
HOT SPOTS Santa Maria - A beautiful island which makes a great base for pelagic adventures and sea mount diving. São Miguel – Known as the 'Green Island' for its verdant topside scenery, it is equally picturesque underwater. Pico – the place to see blue sharks and a great spot for whale watching.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Besides the surfeit of whales and dolphins which are more likely to be experienced from the surface, the star attractions underwater are the blue sharks and the oceanic manta rays.
WRECKS The SS Dori off the island of São Miguel is the most popular wreck in the Azores The relatively intact stern sits at a depth 9m (28ft), the bow at a 20m (60ft). As you swim through causeways and corridors, you are surrounded by clouds of colourful reef fish.
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The Bahamas comprise 2,000 islands and cays which stretch across 470,000 sq km (181,500 sq miles) between Florida and Cuba. From exhilarating shark encounters and thrilling drift dives to beautiful coral gardens in the shallows and maze-like cave systems - The Bahamas tick all boxes on a diver's wishlist.
HOT SPOTS Andros - Being by far the largest island of The Bahamas, Andros offers also the greatest variety of dive sites. Parallel to Andros runs the world's third largest barrier reef that stretches for 225 km (140 miles) along the west coast of the island. The reef is littered with blue holes, caverns and swim-throughs and is home to some of the most spectacular wall dives in the Caribbean. Bimini - Reefs, walls, wrecks, shark feeds and wild dolphin encounters. Year-round guaranteed encounters with lemon sharks and bull sharks plus the chance to get close to great hammerheads during the late winter months. Eleuthera & Harbour Island - Offer some of the most exhilarating underwater experiences. Current Cut at the north tip of the island is said to be one of the best drift dives in the world, with currents as fast as 10 nautical knots. Wreckies will be delighted to hear that the Devil's Backbone Reef has some treacherous wreck sites.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Liveaboard trips around Bimini are one of the few places where you can regularly see great hammerhead sharks - the largest hammerhead which can be more than 6m (19 ft) in length.
WRECKS The Hesperus near Bimini, or as it is often called the Turtle Wreck due to the number of loggerhead turtles seen during night dives, is relatively shallow (max depth 11m, 35ft) and is overflowing with wildlife.
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Bonaire along with its sister islands of Aruba and Curaçao (see below) sits just off the coast of Venezuela in the far south of the Caribbean and well below the hurricane belt - meaning great diving all year round.
HOTSPOTS This is one of the best places for shore diving with stunning reefs literally on the doorstep of most hotels – perfect for the macro-photographer wanting to perfect their art.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS The island has been a marine park since 1979 and has some of the best biodiversity in the Caribbean with nearly 500 species of fish and a plethora of invertebrate life.
WRECKS The island is also renowned for its wrecks. The Hilma Hooker was a Korean freighter caught smuggling marijuana – she was sunk as an artificial reef in 1984 and now sits on her starboard side with the highest point at 18m.
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The three islands that make up this archipelago are the tops of an undersea mountain range. It means steep walls, rich upwellings and plenty of fish.
HOTSPOTS Grand Cayman - the 200 sq km main island (77 sq miles) has little direct run-off, as rainwater leaches through the limestone rather than flows into the sea by rivers, giving the island exceptional viz. Highly developed and well run dive service industry. Cayman Brac – the slightly more developed of the two small islands. Excellent Caribbean diving. Little Cayman - Bloody Bay wall is one of the best dives in the Cayman Islands – dramatic walls, stepping down to abyssal depths.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Stingray City on Grand Cayman is a phenomenon – for decades southern stingrays have been fed by hand and now congregate in vast numbers. It can get a bit crowded with tourists as well as stingrays!
WRECKS The MV Captain Keith Tibbetts off Cayman Brac is a 105m-long (330 ft) Soviet-built frigate that was the property of the Cuba Navy until they gave it to the Cayman Islands to use as an artificial reef.
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In the vast outer lagoon of the coral islands which make up Chuuk in Micronesia lies the remains of a Japanese battle fleet destroyed by US planes during the Second World War. Unforgettable diving!
HOTSPOTS - They are all WRECKS and here is just a few of them. The Fujikawa Maru - A 133m (437ft) giant, the former cargo vessel sits upright with her bow at 12m (40ft) and her stern gun at 18m (60ft), Covered in hard and soft corals. The Shinkoku Maru – The even bigger (165m, 541 ft) fleet oil carrier has remarkable coral cover from her bow back to the bridge. Great swim through in the wheelhouse. Betty Bomber - this twin-engined Mitsubishi attack bomber sits upright in 15m of water. The San Francisco Maru - The most exciting deep dive in Chuuk. The bridge is at 40m and the deck 50m. Lots of fascinating military cargo such as tanks and staff cars still intact.
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COCOS ISLAND COSTA RICA
This is one of the most exciting dive destinations - 550km (342 miles) from the mainland port of Puntarenas, this extremely isolated dot in the middle of the Eastern Tropical Pacific is only accessible by liveaboard. Expect exceptional encounters with the big animals of the sea – scalloped hammerhead sharks, tiger sharks, yellowfin tuna and bottlenose dolphins. And at the other end of the scale, look out for the bottom-dwelling rosy-lipped batfish.
HOTSPOTS Dirty Rock –one of the best sites for the big schools of scalloped hammerheads, but also a magnet for all kinds of sharks (including mating whitetips), dolphins, eagle rays and so many jacks they can block out the sun. Alcyone - the other world-renowned site for school hammerheads. Slightly deeper and a bit more challenging than Dirty Rock, but equally rewarding. Lobster Rock – near this finger-like rock, divers can easily approach large whitetips lying on the bottom in great numbers. The deep sandy area surrounding is the place to find the rosy-lipped batfish.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS - It remains a mystery why the predominantly female hammerheads gather in such number and swim together in hypnotic tight formations around these seamounts. But whatever the reason it is one of the most glorious spectacles found in the natural world.
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Largest of the ABC (including Aruba and Bonaire) Islands, Curaçao is as steeped in history as it is excellent diving. Home to some of the most biodiverse reefs in the Caribbean, the sheltered southern coast is rich in coral, and suitable for divers of all levels, with little in the way of adverse conditions at any of the popular dive sites.
HOTSPOTS Mushroom Forest - years ago the hard coral formations on this reef were attacked by disease leaving them deformed and looking like giant mushrooms. The disease died out and now this is one of the most vibrant and striking reefs on the island. Westpunt - the dive sites around the north-west tip of the island such as Alice in Wonderland and Playa Piscardó are some of the best. Tugboat – this small wreck near the southern end of the island is overshadowed by the dramatic drop-offs nearby, lots of coral and fish.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS - The island is a great spot to witness the wonder of coral and sponge spawning. It normally occurs for a few nights each year in September or October the week after a full moon. Millions upon millions of eggs are released by corals, brittle stars, sea urchins, sponges and worms.
WRECKS One of the best wrecks in the Caribbean, the Superior Producer sits upright at 30m (100 ft ) with a penetrable wheelhouse and cargo holds - it had been off-limits to divers while a new cruise ship jetty was being built, but is now open.
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Located in the Greater Antilles of the outer reaches of the Caribbean Sea, the Dominican Republic is popular with a variety of different adventure tourists, thanks to its extensive cave system as well as great diving.
HOT SPOTS Catalina Island and its national park contain some of the most popular dive spots, including the aptly-named 'Aquarium'. The unusually named Airport Wall of Sosúa is highly regarded, extending from 10-30m with an array of small pinnacles and swim-throughs.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Every year between January and April, almost the entire population of North Atlantic humpback whales gathers at the nearby Silver Banks, and there is a small number of well-regulated operators that run whale snorkelling trips.
WRECKS There are a number of wrecks around the islands, one of most popular being the 30m-long Atlantic Princess in Bayahibe, a former passenger liner sunk as an artificial reef. At just 12m deep it's suitable for all levels of divers, although storms have damaged the wreck in recent years making parts of it unsuitable for penetration. Historical wreck enthusiasts may enjoy diving the remains of sunken Spanish galleons at Montichristi on the north coast.
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The Egyptian Red Sea has more than 400 recorded species of coral, several hundred species of fish (20 per cent of which are endemic), stunning reefs, dramatic walls and a very established dive industry.
HOTSPOTS Ras Mohammed - This dramatic point is where the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba and is undoubtedly one of the finest dive sites on the planet. Big schools of jacks and batfish hang in the blue water at the height of summer. The Brothers - One of the top destinations for liveaboards, these offshore islands offer high-energy diving. St John's Reef - a remote jumble of seamounts, coral gardens and drop-offs in the Deep South.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS The oceanic whitetip shark is a solitary wanderer of the open seas - inquisitive and always on the look-out for food they often approach liveaboard on isolated moorings. Treat with caution but marvel at their beauty.
WRECKS The Thistlegorm is probably the most popular and loved shipwreck for divers and it deserves all the plaudits.
Stunning reefs, dramatic walls, soaring pinnacles, acres of soft corals and lots of wildlife. The island archipelago of Fiji is home to some world-class diving. Many say it has the planet's best shark dive with seven different species regularly making an appearance. Most agree its abundance of brightly coloured soft corals is unsurpassed.
HOTSPOTS Bligh Water - The vast, deep stretch of water between Fiji's two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, has a sprinkling of small islands, reefs and submerged seamounts. The strong currents, great visibility and nutrient-rich seas add up to world-class diving. Tavenui - The Somosomo Strait is a tight squeeze point between the islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni and vast amounts of water are pushed through the gap bringing nutrients to sustain the most amazing soft corals. This is some of the best diving in Fiji.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Beqa Lagoon - The Cathedral site in Beqa Lagoon has got to be near the top of every diver's bucket list of dream dives. Eight species of shark - bull, tiger, grey reef, nurse, silvertip, lemon, blacktip reef, and whitetip reef sharks - all gather for a spectacular feeding session.
WRECKS Several dive centres around the Mamanuca Group of islands got together to buy the Salamander, a decommissioned cruise liner, to create an artificial reef in 1994. Today it sits upright at 36m (118 ft) and is now well covered with soft corals and anemones. Clouds of silver sweepers infest the cabins.
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Straddling the equator 970km (600 miles) west of Equador are 19 islands scattered over 45,000 sq km (17,375 sq miles) of wild ocean where the giant forces of key global ocean currents clash. Cold rich waters from the south rise up from the abysmal depths creating a rich soup for a staggering array of large marine animals to enjoy – pregnant whale sharks, schools of scalloped hammerheads, giant manta ray and curious sea lions. Challenging but extremely rewarding diving.
HOTSPOTS Darwin & Wolf - these two volcanic tips which loom out of the ocean 160km (100 miles) north of Isabela Island are considered by many to be the two best dive sites on earth. Nowhere else are so many big marine animals gathered in one place- hammerheads, whale sharks, manta rays, silky sharks… the list goes on. Awesome, but challenging. Roca Redonda - a slab of rock that juts out from the relatively shallow seafloor 20km (12.5 miles) northwest of Isabela Island. The sea lions in the shallows are great fun. Gordon Rocks - accessible from Santa Cruz island, these two seamounts are a magnet for marine life with large formations of eagle rays.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS On Isabela Island you can swim with sea lions and penguins and Fernandina Island is the place to see marine iguanas.
Since DIVE launched its Travel Awards the clear winner has been Indonesia – it dominates the vote for best destination and its resorts and liveaboards pepper the other categories. This vast archipelago offers an awesome array of excellent diving.
HOTSPOTS Raja Ampat is the most biodiverse region on the planet. Stunning reefs, prolific marine life and steadily improving marine conservation. Sulawesi - This vast 'K' shaped island has two remarkable dive destinations at either end - Bunaken and Lembeh Strait in the north and Wakatobi Resort with its sister liveaboard the Pelagian in the southeast. Both offer some of the best coral reef diving. Gili Trawangan - This tiny island off Lombok has become a tech diving and general recreational dive training mecca.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS As the high point of biodiversity on the planet this is the place to come for the weird and wonderful. Muck diving and rooting out the most bizarre creatures in our oceans was invented in places such a Lembeh Strait and Ambon.
WRECKS The USAT Liberty was torpedoed in 1942 and managed to beach near Tulamben in Bali. A volcanic eruption in 1963 pushed the wreck back into the sea and it now sits at 30m (100ft) and is swarming with marine life. Many argue it is one of the best wreck dives going.
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The best diving in Malaysia is found in Sabah on the vast island of Borneo - there are also a number of islands off the east coast of the Malaya Penisula which have excellent dive resorts.
HOTSPOTS Sipadan - Lying just off the northeast coast of Borneo is Sipadan, Malaysia’s only oceanic island. This magical isle was made famous by Jacques Cousteau, in his documentary Ghosts of the Sea Turtle in 1989 and has been attracting divers ever since. Layang-Layang is a ring of 13 coral atolls in the middle of the South China Sea and is a world-class dive venue. Between March and July, you have a good chance of spotting schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks. Redang Island is the most popular dive island off Peninsular Malaysia. Lots of soft corals and plenty of fish and turtles.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Mabul, near Sipadan, is a world-class muck diving destination - a macro haven with a stunning diversity of tiny marine life.
WRECKS The Kuantan Wreck, near Tenggol Island off the East Coast mainland, is easily penetrable by divers. It attracts a veritable array of fish life, including batfish, leopard sharks, moray eels and turtles.
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There are 105 dedicated island resorts dotted over this extensive archipelago of 26 large atolls which straddle the equator. Beautiful corals and large schools of fish predominate.
HOTSPOTS Lhaviyana Atoll which lies about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the international airport has less tourist development than other atolls. The diving in the atoll is excellent and includes the Shipyard site with two very diveable wrecks and Madivaru Kandu (channel) is a high-energy channel pulsing with pelagics. South Ari Atoll has a number of excellent dive resorts and is a favourite for liveaboards. Plenty of manta cleaning stations and feeding points. The remote Baa Atoll has some of the best luxury resorts and is attracting more and more liveaboards.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll is home to one of the most remarkable events in the natural world - from May to November manta rays in vast numbers come to feast on an explosion of copepods.
WRECKS The British Loyalty was used for target practice by the Royal Navy and now sits at 16 to 33m near the island of Hitadhoo in Addu Atoll in the far south of the Maldives. Remarkable coral growth in an area barely affected by recent bleaching events.
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Malta and its islands of Gozo and Comino offer some of the best diving in the Med - stacks of wrecks, great viz, exciting marine topography and a well established and friendly dive scene.
HOTSPOTS MALTA - The largest island in the archipelago, has a large number of dive centres (approximately 60) scattered all over its landscape. Most of the diving is done from shore, but many of the large dive operators offer boat dives to some of the top wreck and reef sites. What strikes you most – whether diving a wreck, cave or reef – is the colour of the water, a range of different blues created by the penetrating light and outstanding visibility. GOZO - This small friendly island offers great reef and cavern dives. COMINO - Just one square mile in size but with some stunning caves and lots of fish.
WRECKS You are spoilt for choice in Malta. Here is just one of the many wonderful wrecks you can explore around these islands: the Blenheim Bomber, a Second World War aircraft, makes for an absolutely stunning dive for the more experienced. The plane was ditched into the sea in 1941 and today lies upright on a sandy bottom at 42m, with the wings and fuselage still intact and the starboard engine’s propellers still in place, if a little bent.
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The diving in Mexico is rich and diverse – from dramatic pinnacles surrounded by large pelagics in the Revillagigedos to gentle drifts dives over the coral gardens of Cozumel, from cage diving with great white sharks to exploring mysterious and beautiful freshwater caves hidden in dense jungle.
HOTSPOTS Revillagigedos - this isolated archipelago is one of the best places to dive with giant manta rays and much more. Humpback whales from February to April. Exciting sea mount diving. Cenotes - Explore the magical freshwater caves the Mayans thought were the door to the underworld. Sea of Cortez - curious sea lions, scalloped hammerheads and protected reefs.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Head to Guadalupe Island to see great white sharks from the safety of a submerged cage - great viz and more sharks than you can believe.
WRECKS Originally a Second World War minesweeper, the USS Diploma was sold to the Mexican navy and renamed as the C59. The ship was deliberately scuttled as an artificial reef near La Paz in the Sea of Cortez in 2004. The wreck now sits on its starboard side at depths of between 9 and 20m. It’s an impressive wreck with plenty of schooling fish including barracuda. Divers with the appropriate training can penetrate the wreck.
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This remote and beautiful archipelago of 307 islands in Micronesia ticks all the boxes - historic wrecks, high-energy drift dives, blue holes, vast caverns and lots of marine life.
HOTSPOTS Chandelier Cave - You enter this cave system on a few feet beneath the surface of Malakal Harbour and it extends hundreds of metres under the island with enormous spaces for divers to surface. Stunning stalactites and plenty of marine life. Don't miss a snorkel dive in Jellyfish Lake - you are immersed in a mass of gently drifting jellyfish which, happily, have no stinging cells.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS - Every night the planet's greatest migrations takes place when the marine life from the abyss rises to the surface to feed and mate. And Palau is one of the best places to see this strange phenomenon. Known as Black Water Diving, it is the ultimate night dive.
WRECKS Second World War wrecks litter the seabed around the Palau islands - one of the finest is the Bichu Maru a 110m (360ft) Japanese army cargo ship. You can explore the galley just aft of the engine room and the superstructure is covered with marine life.
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PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Steep walls, historic wrecks, unexplored reefs and magnificent marine life - PNG is one of the last diving frontiers.
HOTSPOTS Eastern Fields - a 190km (120 miles) liveaboard trip out of Port Moresby, these remote reefs are a part of an atoll rising up from deep ocean. Currents tend to be big, but so does the marine life. Kimbe Bay on the island of New Britain is a huge expanse of water dotted with seamounts - lots of sharks and wonderful coral. Milne Bay on the easternmost tip of the main island has plenty of wrecks, great coral and biodiversity.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: Observation Point in Milne Bay is a busy manta ray cleaning station.
WRECKS Rabaul on the northeast tip of New Britain is the place for Second World War wrecks.
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The most exciting, accessible, varied and good value diving in the Coral Triangle. The Philippines has it all - stunning reefs, pelagic superstars, historic wrecks, macro wonders.
HOT SPOTS Tubbataha National Marine Park - Out in the middle of the Sulu Sea these isolated reefs and World Heritage site are a 12-hour sail from Puerto Princesa. Dramatic walls with lots of pelagic action including whitetip reef sharks, mantas and the occasional whale shark. Anilao - the world’s ‘nudibranch capital’ has good muck diving spots and lots of weird critters. Apo Island is a tiny marine sanctuary that is teeming with fish and beautiful corals. There are ten dive sites around the island and each has something different to offer from exhilarating drift dives to gentle shallow dives over hard and soft corals often with vast schools of jacks.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Malapascua, is a tiny, picturesque island you can walk around in less than an hour and is one of the few places in the world where there are regular sightings of thresher sharks.
WRECKS Coron Bay offers some of the best Second World War wreck diving on the planet in the sheltered and shallow bay where the American airforce caught a Japanese support fleet napping. The constant flow of plankton and nutrient dripping waters may make the viz a tad murky, but this is more than compensated by the impact it has had on the wrecks themselves. They are festooned with life - corals and invertebrates clinging to every surface and this lush growth attracts hordes of fish. Highlights include the wrecks of the Kogyo Maru and the Taiei Maru.
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Located at the far extremes of the southeastern corner of the Coral Triangle, the Solomon Islands enjoy a dynamic biodiversity that attracts divers from around the globe in search of everything from tiny hermit crabs that make their homes in the corals, to swirling schools of fish. The flowing currents of nutrient-rich waters deliver sharks, rays and turtles to the characteristically steep walls, while colourful anthias dance in unison above the still pristine reefs.
HOTSPOTS Guadalcanal - the setting off point for most liveaboards is also well worth diving - some excellent Second World War wrecks. Marova Lagoon - the extremely remote Uepi Island has some excellent dives. Gizo - this scattering of tiny island, reefs and seamounts is a great spot for large pelagics.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS At Grand Central Station in Gizo two ocean currents collide creating a drift dive to savour – possibly the busiest reef in the archipelago. Sharks, eagle rays, mantas, vast groupers and lots more.
WRECKS Don't miss the Tao Maru a Japanese merchant ship which rests on her starboard side from 8 to 40m - one of the best-preserved wrecks in the Solomons
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Spain has several different areas of interest for scuba divers, split between the Mediterranean coastline and the Canary Islands - which lie in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of northern Africa. Of these, Tenerife and Gran Canaria are popular package-holiday destinations, with a variety of dive sites available from easy Open Water to more advanced tech. Back on the mainland, the Catalan coast is home to some of the best scuba diving in the Mediterranean Sea.
HOTSPOTS Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Tenerife are popular all-inclusive type holiday destinations - permanent sun, little rain, and year-round warm water surround the chain of Atlantic volcanic islands. There's little in the way of coral reef, but plenty of marine life in what are mostly easy conditions. For Mediterranean divers, the reefs of the Costa Brava such as the Illes Medes are rich in soft coral and marine life, with caves and pinnacles surrounded by schooling fish. The Balearic Islands are also a popular getaway destination, with Majorca and Menorca proving popular with divers, and home to a number of wrecks
WRECKS The 142m-long Don Pedro lies of the coast of Ibiza, the largest known shipwreck in the Mediterranean, suitable for advanced divers and techies with a depth ranging from 26-47m. El Carbonero - also known as the Lilla, a steamship sunk in 1917 - is popular with techies, and there are plenty of shallower, easy wreck dives located along the Spanish coast.
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There are two distinct zones to diving in Thailand - the Andaman Sea off its west coast and the Gulf of Thailand. The clear waters of the Andaman Sea with sites such as Red Rock and the Similan Islands offers world-class diving. The shallow and calm Gulf is a great place to learn and has lots of interesting marine life to check out.
HOT SPOTS Similan Islands - This marine park is about 95km (50 nautical miles) from Phuket is made up of nine islands and is explored by liveaboards. Famous for whale shark sightings. Koh Lanta - ideally situated to access the better dive sites around the over-developed Phi Phi Islands and the even better sites such as Red Rock and Purple Rock to the south.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Large pelagics such as whales sharks and giant mantas can be seen in the Andaman Sea from October to May and a huge variety of reef fish swarm over the coral and crags of the pinnacles in the area. You often come across resting leopard sharks on sandy patches.
WRECKS The Hardeep, originally known as the SS Suddhadib, was sunk by British bombers in the latter part of the Second World War. The 64m wreck lies on its starboard side and the hull is largely intact and there is access to the engine room where you can see the huge crankshaft you can also swim through the cargo hold which is known as the Cathedral because of the shafts of light that pour through the vast interior of this area.
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The UK's rich maritime history lends itself well to scuba diving, with the scuttled German fleet at Scapa Flow in Scotland's Orkney Islands a particular hotspot for visiting scuba divers. But there is a lot more to diving around the UK than old hunks of metal. Sharks, whales, dolphins, seals and even the occasional oceanic sunfish can be found patrolling the shorelines, plus a host of nudibranchs, eels, lobster - and bacon butties!
HOT SPOTS Cornwall, which contains the UK's most southwesterly coastline is one of the most popular fun-diving spots in the country. Falmouth Bay offers everything from easy shore diving to deep wrecks, and seasonal basking shark trips are on offer. On the opposite side of Great Britain are the Farne Islands, where divers can enjoy year-round interactions with the intelligent and inquisitive seal population.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS The second-largest shark in the world, the basking shark, is found along the entire western coast of the UK, and blue sharks are frequently encountered along the southwestern coast and the Isles of Scilly. Grey seals provide some of the most memorable underwater encounters in a variety of UK dive spots.
WRECKS There are plenty of wrecks littering the shores of the British Isles. Scotland's Scapa Flow is probably the UK's most famous dive site, where seven German battleships remain after being scuttled by their crews in 1919. The SS James Eagan Layne is regularly voted one of the best wreck dives in the world, sunk in Cornwall's Whitsand Bay, not far from the also popular HMS Scylla.
With two oceans on either side of the vast North American continent, not to mention the Gulf of Mexico, there's something for pretty much everybody somewhere in the USA. From the coral reefs of Florida to the giant kelp forests of California, Pacific octopus encounters in Alaska and plenty of wrecks littering the shoreline there is much for divers to enjoy. Inland, the great lakes with often crystal clear water are home to some of the best-preserved wrecks in the world - and of course, there's tropical Hawaii.
HOT SPOTS The Florida Reef is the third-largest barrier reef system in the world and great for those who enjoy a typical tropical-type dive holiday based in locations such as Key Largo, also home to the famous wreck of the USS Spiegel Grove. Dive with seals at California's Monterey Bay or among the kelp forests of Catalina Island. If you're heading to Hawaii then night-diving with manta rays from Kona is a must-do, and wreck diving enthusiasts will enjoy 'The Graveyard of the Atlantic' where an estimated 2000 ships came to grief along North Carolina's coastline.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS There's two oceans' worth of critters to find, but shark encounters are some of the most sought-after.
WRECKS The aforementioned USS Spiegel Grove is one of America's most popular wreck dives, as is the Vought F4U Corsair aircraft in Oahu, Hawaii. The Prins Willem V freighter is often described as the best of the Great Lakes, and what some techies consider to be the ultimate wreck dive - the ill-fated cruise liner Andrea Doria - lies off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts,
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