The Best Scuba Diving Dive Centres or Resorts for 2021
Almost 1,100 different dive centres and resorts were nominated for the 2020 DIVE Travel Awards - but in the end, only 25 of them make it through to the final vote. Here are the best dive centres and resorts as voted for by DIVE's readers
We're not quite sure exactly how many dive centres there are in the world, but we are very certain that a substantial number of them were nominated for our Travel Awards this year! Some received many hundreds of nominations, others only a single entry - but that still means that each and every one of them is somebody's favourite place to dive.
In the end, there can only be a handful of winners - a slightly larger handful than in previous years due to the way we combined some outfits - and it's worth remembering that bottom of the Travel Awards table isn't 'last place' - it's 25th Best Dive Centre or Resort in the whole wide world.
Scuba Junkie Sipadan, Malaysia / Komodo, Nusa Penida, Indonesia
Scuba Junkie first opened its doors in Sipadan, Malaysia in 2004, and now has centres in Koto Kinabalu (also Malaysia) and Sangalaki, Komodo and its newest centre in Nusa Penida, which opened in 2018. All five of Scuba Junkie's individual centres received nominations, but Sipadan, Komodo and Penida each made it through to the Top 25, but we combined them under one name to ensure that as many different dive centres as possible were featured in this year's travel awards.
Each location has its own unique flavour of diving, but each is also pretty epic, with a good chance of running into some big stuff as you drift across spectacular reefs and sheer walls. Strong, nutrient-rich currents are present in each location bringing a wide array of species and their predators with them. Sharks are almost guaranteed in Sipadan, manta rays are sighted almost daily in Penida and pretty much everything turns up in Komodo at some point or other!
Barracuda Point (Sipadan): As the name suggests, barracuda gather here in their thousands at the end of a channel through which strong currents prevail and in which grey reef sharks like to gather to wait for their lunch to come to them. Plenty of macro life can be found amongst the vibrant coral, and turtles are often seen in numbers - as they are almost everywhere around Sipadan
Batu Bolong (Komodo): Also called 'fish soup' by local divers, Batu Bolong ('hollow rock') is very typical of Komodo diving: an exposed pinnacle, home to a staggering amount of schooling fish life and subject to very strong currents, but deeply satisfying to dive, just in case you needed to experience something other than regular manta ray sightings.
Toyapakeh (Nusa Penida): Often overlooked in favour of Crystal Bay (molas) and Manta Point (guess!), Toyapakeh is one of the best sites of the Nusa Islands, by turns wall, sloping reef, coral bommies with sandy patches and a fairly steep drop-off. Currents can be exciting and changeable but so is the array of critters. Mola alexandrini (southern molas, not mola molas) turn up in season and there's always a chance that something bigger will pass by the corner.
Blue Corner Dive Nusa Lembongan / Nusa Penida, Indonesia
Blue Corner Dive first opened on Nusa Lembongan - approximately 30 mins by speedboat from the southeast coast of Bali - in 2011, its main centre overlooking the dive site known as Blue Corner, one of the most spectacular of the trio of Nusa Islands. Blue Corner now has dive centres on Menjangan off the north coast of Bali and also on Nusa Penida, the larger neighbour of Lembongan around which the famous dive sites of Manta Point and Crystal Bay are located. Blue Corner Lembongan is the only PADI CDC (Career Development Centre) in the Nusas, with 10 Instructor Development Courses planned for 2021. Both dive centres visit the same dive sites, and there is some spectacular surface-based exploration to be had, especially hiking through the wilderness of Nusa Penida.
TOP DIVES: Blue Corner is spectacular, but often demanding, and can only be dived at certain times around slack tide, although its easily accessible from both Lembonan and Penida. A long sloping reef drops off into the depths where molas sometimes appear between June - September, and giant marble rays hang out in the ledges near the corner. Sharks of different varieties are often spotted, and once the excitement around the corner has been passed, a gentle drift into beautiful shallows is an exceedingly pleasant way to end the dive. For those less experienced, anywhere along the sloping reef of Penida's North Shore (SD, PED, Sental) is sure to delight, and of course, there's the famous Manta Point and (in)famous Crystal Bay.
Volivoli Beach Resort / Ra Divers Rakiraki, Fiji
Volivoli Beach Resort and Ra Divers have received regular nominations for the DIVE Travel Awards, and this year it finally paid off with a well-deserved Top Three placing for one of Fiji's longest running dive establishment, previously awarded the accolade of Fiji's Most Outstanding Dive Operator of 2016. Volivoli Beach Resort originally began life as a backpacker-style guest house for the dive centre, but after being severely damaged by Cyclone Winston in 2016, was rebuilt as a luxury boutique eco-resort from which divers can explore the Bligh Water – known locally as the Vatu-I-Ra Passage – a marine protected area famous for the abundance and diversity of its marine life. As a family run business, the dive staff have years of experience with the local dive sites, most of which are no more than 20 minutes by boat from the resort. Topside, Volivoli offers a range of activities including kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, plus guided tours of the local culture.
TOP DIVES: Fiji is known as the 'soft coral capital of the World', one of the best places for shark encounters, and is home to five of the world's seven turtle species - and plenty more besides. The exposed reefs of Black Magic Mountan and E-6. are some of the best, with large schools of pelagic fish, frequent shark encounters and, of course, luxurious soft coral. Several wrecks are located not far from the resort, including the delightful Papuan Explorer, a 30m-long wreck sitting in 26m of water with a deck rising to 15m and teeming with fish life.
Komodo Resort & Diving Club Komodo, Indonesia
Komodo Resort & Diving Club opened in 2012, based on its own private island of Sebayur and designed to be 'in tune' with its local surroundings and as unobtrusive as possible - while at the same time remaining a pristine paradise for visitors. Starting out with 14 huts and a restaurant, the resort now has 16 'Seafront Deluxe Bungalows' and has more recently added 'Grand View' and 'Grand Beach' accommodations, with a restaurant, beach bar, spa and gym. Komodo diving is widely regarded as some of the best in the world, and Komodo Resort & Diving Club is able to offer trips to a large number of them with five dedicated dive boats and a dedicated 12m speedboat for private excursions to the southern reaches of the archipelago. Topside, trips through the national park to spot the famous Komodo dragons, and the Resort has its own dedicated liveaboard, the Komodo Sea Dragon, for exploration further afield.
TOP DIVES: Most of the dives in Komodo are 'top dives' but one of the most popular is The Cauldron, a channel dive between Gili Lawa Laut and Gili Lawa Daratiji, drifting through clouds of large fish towards a huge amphitheatre with coral-covered walls and often filled with pelagic jacks and tuna and circling sharks. Diving at the right time will see divers pushed by the strong 'Shotgun' current through a channel where mantas are often encountered.
Papua Explorers Eco Resort Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Crowned as 2019's best dive centre or resort winner, Papua Explorers is located in the south of Gam islands, on the shores of the Dampier Strait. Many of Raja Ampat's most popular dive sites are less than 30 minutes from the resort, including the world-famous Cape Kri. The resort is constructed on stilts over the water using natural local materials and traditional Papuan building techniques, with 12 'Deluxe Water Bungalows', 2 'Superior Water Bungalows' and one Family Villa available, plus a restaurant and spa all designed to be as eco-friendly as possible. Topside tours and birdwatching excursions are available outside of the diving, and Papua Explorers also has its own liveaboard, Coralia, which won DIVE's Award for Best Liveaboard in 2019.
TOP DIVES: Rather like Komodo, most of the Raja Ampat's dive sites will satisfy even the most demanding of diver. Cape Kri, together with Mike's Point, Mioskon and Blue Magic - amongst others - are among the most biodiverse reefs on the planet. There is very little that can't be found in Raja Ampat, from tiny macro magic to giant oceanic manta rays.
Elite Diving Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Elite Diving was founded in 2005, a family-run 5-Star PADI Resort Centre based in Hadaba, to the south of Na'ama Bay in Sharm El Sheikh. Elite has consistently been the top-ranked Egyptian dive centre in our Travel Awards, having placed third in 2019 and the only centre to have placed in the Top Ten in the last three consecutive years. Elite offers both PADI and BSAC training, and runs daily boat trips through all of Sharm's most popular dive spots including Ras Mohammed National Park, the Straits of Tiran and all the local dive sites in between. Trips to the legendary wreck of the Thistlegorm and also the popular Dunraven are also available. Divers can select from a range of four- and five-star accommodation options depending on budget and requirements, with a pickup and transfer service included.
TOP DIVES: SS Thistlegorm is one of the best wreck dives in the world, filled with Second World War trucks, motorcycles and munitions that have been remarkably well preserved beneath the waves. The twin pinnacles of Shark and Yolanda are probably the most well-known (and most regularly visited) reefs in Sharm, but for very good reasons.
Misool Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Misool is a private island resort fringed with an associated conservation centre based in Raja Ampat, situated among a group of otherwise uninhabited islands - the nearest population to the resort is a 20km distant village, accessible only by boat. The island is fringed with white beaches and Misool caters to a maximum 40 guests with more than 60 dive-sites less than one hour from the resort by boat, many of them under 15 minutes of travel time. Misool established its own 300,000 acre/1220 sq km marine reserve in 2005, an area which falls within the Raja Ampat Shark and Manta Sanctuary, an initiative led by Misool in 2010 and which has proven so successful that blacktip reef sharks are a common sight in the lagoon around which the resort is constructed. Three boat trips are scheduled every day, with night and dusk dives on the house reef available where divers often find a wonderful array of critters including the blue-ringed octopus.
TOP DIVE: Magic Mountain is a busy Manta ray cleaning station approximately 20 minutes from the resort. The submerged pinnacle of the seamount reaches up to around 7m, and there is a good chance of seeing giant oceanic manta rays together with their smaller reef manta cousins. Currents can be quite strong around the 'mountain', bringing with them large schools of pelagic fish and a number species of shark, particularly white-tip reef sharks, for which the seamount is a nursery.
Evolution Malapascua, Philippines
Evolution Diving Resort was founded by two technical divers and is based on the island of Malapascua, renowned for some of the best scuba diving in the Philippines and a great location for spotting thresher sharks. Pelagic threshers are spotted on an almost daily basis throughout the year, and as a technical diving centre, Evolution are able to take people to see the deep-water sharks beyond the limits of recreational diving. Other big fish regularly spotted include oceanic mantas, devil rays, white tip reef sharks and grey reef sharks, sometimes sharing the same cleaning stations. Evolution's resort has its own accommodation not far from the beach, with affordable deluxe rooms and 'garden fan rooms' for travellers on a budget. As a 5-Star PADI Dive Resort, Evolution offers a wide range of recreational scuba courses, and is also a TDI 5 star Instructor Training Facility, the only such available in the south of the Philippines.
TOP DIVE: Monad Shoal is one of the best places to see thresher sharks in the world, and a cleaning station for a number of other species. Evolution runs daily dawn dives for the best chance of sightings, and dives later in the day when there's a good chance of seeing oceanic manta rays stopping by for a clean. Tech divers can experience less busy thresher encounters between 30m and 100m over the side of the Monad shoal plateau.
Dressel Divers Cozumel Cozumel, Mexico
Dressel Divers has several outposts in different locations in Mexico, plus more in Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Spain - but for the second year in succession it is Dressel's Cozumel dive centre that has been nominated into the Top 25 and subsequently voted into the Top Ten.As a PADI Career Development Centre, courses up to instructor level are available, along with the increasingly popular PADI TecRec and Sidemount programmes. Cozumel is renowned for crystal clear water and an exceptional array of marine life, including a gathering of whale sharks between June and September each year around Isla Mujeres and Holbox. Trips to dive the Yucatán cenotes are also available.
TOP DIVES: Cenote diving is a must-do for dive trips to Mexico for the simple reason that there is no other place in the world that so many can be accessed so easily, and Dressel Divers Cozumel run regular excursions upon request. Bull Shark diving in Playa del Carmen is an essential for steely-nerved divers and closer to home, the world famous Santa Rosa with its abyssal drop-off and coral-covered swim-throughs is high on the list.
Scuba Seekers Dahab, Egypt
Another new entry into the DIVE Travel Awards this year, Scuba Seekers offers a very broad range of both recreational and technical diving programmes in one of the best places in the world to learn both disciplines. Scuba Seekers is a PADI Instructor Development Centre offering training from introductory dives to Instructor level, and as a TDI Instructor Training centre offers the same system of training for technical diving - from tech intro to tech Instructor, plus CCR diving along the way. On top of that, Scuba Seekers is a certified GUE (Global Underwater Explorers) centre, from GUE 'fundies' to GUE CCR Tech. While there is no on-site accommodation, arrangements can be made with a number of local hotels through the dive centre, and Dahab, a super-chilled location 80km north of Sharm El Sheikh, has plenty of options for travellers wanting 5-star luxury or those on a tighter budget.
TOP DIVES: The Blue Hole is a perfect tech diving arena but also makes a great recreational dive, especially if approached along the outside of the reef wall from El Bells. The Canyon is another Dahab favourite and exploring the seagrass meadows around the Lighthouse can be extremely rewarding.
THE VERY BEST OF THE REST
There are no losers in the 2020 DIVE Travel Awards. There are three winners from those voted into the Top Ten, and then there is a collection of other winners that just didn't place quite as highly. With a surge in votes compared to previous years, the dive centre that placed in 25th this year would have fallen just outside the Top Ten in 2019, receiving more than three times the votes of 25th place last year. Here's a run-down of the final 15 dive centres from this year's awards, listed in the positions they finished.
Raja Ampat Biodiversity Eco Resort Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Located on Gam Island in West Papua, Raja Ampat Biodiversity Resort prides itself on being an eco resort, rather than a luxury resort. It caters to a maximum of 18 guests with accommodation that is 'integrated into nature' and built with natural materials sourced entirely in Raja Ampat. Diving-wise, the Raja Ampat - 'Four Kings' - archipelago needs little introduction. It is the most biodiverse region of the planet's oceans with more coral species found on a single reef than in the entirety of the Caribbean. From sheltered lagoons to ripping channel currents, there's plenty for everyone to see.
Walindi Plantation Resort Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea
Walindi Plantation Resort has featured regularly in the DIVE Travel Awards, having been nominated into the Top 25 in 2018 and taking a Top Ten place in 2019. The resort began life in 1983 with just two bungalows and 37 years later has 12 beachfront bungalows and 8 Plantation House rooms catering to up to 40 guests. PNG is situated in the heart of the Coral Triangle and home to an incredible amount of biodiversity, with whales as well as whale sharks known to pass through the area. Since 1991, Walindi has operated its own liveaboard, the MV FeBrina, also a regular feature in our Travel Awards.
Uepi Dive Resort Solomon Islands
Uepi Island Resort is the sole inhabitant of a a small tropical island situated on the edge of the longest lagoon in the world, in what is widely regarded as one of the last true wildernesses for scuba divers. Most of the dive sites are only a few minutes from the resort and there are sites to suit all experience levels, from sheltered and shallow lagoons to epic drop-offs and Second World War wrecks. The resort contains six bungalows and two dual units with a maximum capacity of 26 guests. Uepi has been another regular in the DIVE Travel Awards, having placed in the Top Ten in 2018 and Top 25 last year.
Pure Dive Resort Nusa Penida, Indonesia
Pure Dive Resort is a new addition to our Travel Awards, and the third dive centre on Nusa Penida to be nominated this year. Founded by a couple who have been diving the area since 2006, the centre is situated on the island's north shore between the dive sites of SD and Pura Ped. The dive site does not (yet) have it's own accommodation, but will arrange rooms at local hotels and homestays on visitors' behalf. Diving-wise, the Nusa Islands are famous for their resident population of manta rays, and seasonal visits by southern molas, but are home to a vast array of critters from macro to massive, and some occasionally very exciting currents!
Siladen Resort & Spa North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Siladen Resort & Spa is the most successful dive centre of all time in DIVE Travel Awards, winning in 2017 and 2018, and placing second last year. Located on Pulau Siladen, a lush tropical island in the heart of the Bunaken National Marine Park, the eco-friendly 5 Star PADI Dive Resort opened in 2003, with an emphasis on protecting the Marine Park and the local environment. A variety of luxury accommodations are available and over 50 dive and snorkel sites are available just a short distance from the resort. Bunaken's extensive National Park is home to 390 different species of corals, and famous for its spectacular wall dives. The park is also known for its rich macro life, and muck diving trips can be arranged to Manado Bay and Bangka Island.
Mafia Island Diving Mafia Island, Tanzania
Another new entry this year, Mafia Island Diving (nothing to do with mobsters of the same name) is located in Tanzania, approximately 150km south of the better-known Zanzibar and home to the country's oldest and largest marine protected area. Much of the diving is along the sheltered, pristine reefs in Chole Bay, less than 30m deep and home to many different corals and reef critters, with a number of sites outside the bay reserved for advanced divers due to their unpredictable currents. Seasonal sightings include turtle hatchings between June and September, humpback whales migrating during August and September, and every year between October and Februrary brings to chance to snorkel with whale sharks. A range of natural, cultural and historical topside excursions are available.
Gangga Divers/Lotus Hotels Bunaken, Raja Ampat, Bali
Lotus Hotels and Gangga Divers run a number of dive resorts across Indonesia, and have been well represented in the DIVE Travel Awards. Both Papua Paradise Eco Resort and Gangga Island Resort & Spa placed in the 2019 Top Ten and also featured in the Top 25 in previous years. This year, each of the three centres listed received enough nominations to make the Top 25 and, in keeping with our wish to add as many names to the list of winners as possible, were combined under one banner. There is a great deal of variety between the three locations, with the famous wall dives of Bunaken, the pristine reefs of Raja Ampat and the diversity of Bali, but all are equally spectacular diving locations in resorts which provide a 5-star service both above and below the water.
You can read more about Lotus Hotels and Gangga Divers 'The Four Pearls of Indonesia' in our special DIVE Guide.
Ceningan Divers Nusa Ceningan, Indonesia
Placing third in our 2018 Travel Awards, Ceningan Divers is an eco-oriented PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Dive Resort based on Nusa Ceningan, the smallest of the Nusa Islands, located between Lembongan and the larger Nusa Penida. The award-winning Green Fins resort is close to the edge of the islands' mangrove forest, not far from the iconic yellow bridge between Ceningan and Lembongan. Courses are available from intro dives to Instructor, and marine conservation workshops are also on offer. Accommodation is available in eight traditional thatched-roof bungalows, with all the local dive sites easily accessible with just a short boat journey including Crystal Bay, Manta Point, Toyapakeh and - when conditions are good - the amazing drift dive that is Ceningan Wall.
Reef Oasis Blue Bay Resort & Spa Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Reef Oasis Blue Bay Resort & Spa is a 5-star hotel situated on the northern reaches of 'Garden Bay', adjacent to Na'ama Bay in Sharm El Sheikh, overlooking the Red Sea towards the island of Tiran. The hotel is packed with a variety of facilities and activities typical of an Egyptian 5-star resort, including both indoor and outdoor pools and a water park to spas, massage facilities, tennis courts, a fitness centre, and - of course - scuba diving. The onsite dive centre runs daily trips to Ras Mohammed and Tiran, plus a range of dive courses, visiting all of the best reefs that the northern Red Sea has to offer.
Kalimaya Dive Resort Komodo, Indonesia
Another new entry into our Travel Awards this year, Kalimaya is a PADI 5-Star Dive Resort in East Sumbwana – in fact, it is the only dive resort in East Sumbwana – one of the most remote areas of Komodo National Park. Kalimaya Dive Resort is, according to its website, the only dive centre in the region offering day trips to West Komodo Island, Gili Banta, and Sangean Volcano, with no other boats or divers found on any of the sites it visits. The resort is built in a traditional style with local materials along a 400m stretch of sandy beach in the resort's private bay, with each of its spacious bungalows built with a direct view of the ocean. Muck, macro, currents, critters, large pelagics and wrecks are all available in a location way off the beaten track.
Dive Into Lembeh North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Dive into Lembeh is one of several centres hailing from the muck-diving paradise that have featured in the DIVE Travel Awards, and placed just outside the Top Ten in 2018. The resort is located in Kasawari Bay at the northern end of the Lembeh Strait, with nine bungalows all built to overlook the water, with plenty of facilities available for photographers, claiming Lembeh's largest camera room. The resort is also unique in that it is the only one to feature a private Japanese-style hot-tub in each of the bungalows! The most beautiful of the ocean's weirdest creatures are found in Lembeh's black sand - frog fish (with and without 'hair'), mandarin fish, blue-ringed octopus, wonderpus, ornate cuttlefish, leaf scorpionfish and a host of others can be found at famous dive sites such as 'Hairball' and 'Aw Shucks'. Or, as Dive Into Lembeh likes to call them: 'the house reef'.
The Dive Bus Marie Pampoen, Curaçao
The Dive Bus began life as a small hut on Pierbaai Beach, showing off the best of Curaçao's most awesomest shore-diving spots, including its very own 'Carpile' house reef which – yes – has a large pile of cars, and also a very beautiful, coral and critter filled sloping reef and drop-off. The Dive Bus was Curacao’s first 100% Project AWARE and Green Star Dive Centre, and has since grown into a PADI 5-Star Dive Resort, offering a host of fun-diving trips and services, a full range of recreational training courses and – very importantly – The Dive Bus Goody Fridge. Curaçao is one of the best and most biodiverse scuba diving destinations in the Caribbean and home to one of its best-loved wrecks, the Superior Producer. Topside, there is a huge amount of history and culture to explore when you're not diving, plus some amazing sight-seeing. And rum...!
Oceans 5 Gili Air, Indonesia
Oceans 5 is a multi-award winning PADI 5-Star IDC Dive Resort and Career Development Centre (CDC) on the very chilled island of Gili Air, part of the trio that includes Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno just off the shores of Lombok, about 2 hours east of Bali by boat. The centre has two of the largest training pools in the Gilis and offers the full range of PADI courses from Discover Scuba Diving to Instructor and Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT). Oceans 5 is also a DDI (Disabled Divers International) Instructor Training Centre, and is partnered with a number of conservation projects including Shark Conservation, Reef Check and Shark Guardian. Diving around the Gilis is beautiful and usually quite easy, with plenty to see among the rich coral reefs, but the islands' unique atmosphere is what makes a trip there particularly special.
Tofo Scuba Tofo Beach, Mozambique
Tofo Scuba, a PADI 5 Star Gold Palm resort overlooking the Indian Ocean from Tofo Beach, is a new entry to the DIVE Travel Awards, as is Mozambique, which placed18th in the Best Destinations category. Tofo diving is extraordinary and varied, with plenty of macro species but a lot of pelagics also: five species of turtle, reef and oceanic manta rays and at least two species of dolphin are frequently seen as are a variety of shark species, including white tip reef, grey reef and zebra, plus the occasional hammerhead, bull, tiger and great white. Whale sharks are present year-round and humpback whales visit between June and October, when Tofo will run day trips to spot them. Accommodation is offered at Tofo Scuba's Tilak Lodge, which has 4 ensuite rooms and 2 luxury dormitories just a short walk from the dive centre.
Thalassa Dive Resort Lembeh/Manado, Indonesia
Thalassa Dive Centre began life in 2001 as a joint partnership with a luxury resort, where it remained until finding its own place in 2013 and becoming Thalassa Manado, dedicated to exploring the beauty of North Sulawesi and the Bunaken National Marine Park. Thalassa Lembeh followed in 2017, offering divers a base to explore the black muck-diving sands of the famous Lembeh Strait. Both offer a number of different accommodation options, plus on-site restaurants and large, air-conditioned camera rooms for photographers. Thalassa is a 5 Star PADI Dive Resort, and with an onsite course director, is also able to offer Instuctor Development Courses at its Manado centre.
Congratulations to all of our winners and Thank You to everybody who nominated, voted and campaigned on social media for this year's DIVE Travel Awards! Let's make sure that we continue to support ALL of the scuba diving destinations, liveaboards, dive centres and resorts that we can as soon as travel restrictions are lifted.
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