The Top Ten Scuba Diving Destinations as Voted For by DIVE Readers
Curaçao • Egypt • Galápagos • Indonesia • Maldives • Mexico • Palau • Papua New Guinea • Philippines • Solomon Islands
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 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 best-loved shipwreck for divers and it deserves all the plaudits, but divers who like a bit of steel with their coral will enjoy the historic Dunraven, little-known Kormoran and the massive Million Hope.
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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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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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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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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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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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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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.
For more information on each of the destinations, dive centres/resorts and liveaboards, check out the previews below:
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