The Ten Best Scuba Diving Destinations from the 2021 DIVE Travel Awards
More than 105 different scuba diving destinations were voted for by readers in the 2021 DIVE Travel Awards. Here's a closer look at the Top 10, together with some of the best comments made by divers during the vote.
Indonesia has been voted as the world's best scuba diving destination every year the DIVE Travel Awards has been held - and by a clear margin each time. not onl does it dominate the vote for best destination but its dive centres, resorts and liveaboards fill many places on their respective category leaderboards. A tropical island nation with the world's third-longest amount of coastline, Indonesia's vast archipelago offers an awesome array of excellent diving.
HOTSPOTS Raja Ampat is the most biodiverse region on the planet, which is why it is also the most named individual destination in the DIVE Travel Awards. Stunning reefs, prolific marine life and steadily improving marine conservation, topping only the big currents and liveaboard lover's special destination of Komodo. The vast 'K'-shaped island of Sulawesi has two remarkable dive destinations at either end - the Bunaken National Marine Park and Lembeh Strait in the north of the island and Wakatobi National Park with in the southeast. Bali and the nearby Nusa Islands offer some excellent reef diving with resident manta rays and seasonal southern mola visits, and the Gili Islands offer some of the most chilled out recreational diving and training in Indonesia, with Gili Trawangan in particular becoming something of a tech diving mecca in recent years.
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. Head off on a Komodo liveaboard for frequent pelagic encounters; the mantas and molas of the Nusa Islands; and the Gili Island's turtles.
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.
Top Voter Comments
Bali to Komodo clear water dives and magnificent reefs. Mantas and macro. Raja Ampat for its biodiversity. Nusa Lembongan for Mantas and Mola Mola
- JK, Melbourne, Australia
A vast amazingly beautiful country, under and above water, with kind and friendly people.
- BS, Hong Kong
Epicenter for the wondrously mystical, colouful, diverse underwater world
- HS, USA
Clean and healthy ecosystem under the sea, various of the marine life can see during the diving. Marine life paradise.
- LCM, Singapore
Indonesia is ideal for all types of diving and photography, from novice to advanced divers. The best dive destination in the world!
- DN Shelbyville, USA
Indonesia has such wonderful and diverse Marine wildlife, fantastic all year diving and the people there are amazing
- RJ, Columbus, USA
Indonesia is large and therefore has more types of environments to explore. Raja Ampat, in far eastern Indonesia, is the epi-center of marine biodiversity with a successful conservation initiative that is a model for the planet.
- BJ, USA
Indonesia has so much beautiful coral which seems to be more resistant to bleaching than other locations. The range of marine life is fantastic. Dive after dive is thrilling; always something new to see.
- LW, UK
One of the most spectacular and diverse places in the world as Raja Ampat, but also as challenging or amazing as Komodo or incredible as Nusa Penida.
- JEG, Madrid, Spain
Highest biodiversity, variety of destinations and ecosystems, beautiful reefs, pelagics, enormous number of species
- OC Budapest, Hungary
Diving in Bali is like being in a giant aquarium, with wonderful warm water flowing around you and completely surrounded by so many species of marine and coral.
- DM, Munich, Germany
The entire athmophere, the people, culture, the environment, biodiversity, water and weather conditions, arrangement off shop and staff; it truly is a total package.
- NVS, Utrecht, Netherlands
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. Just a short hop from most of Europe, it is the birthplace of many a love-affair with the underwater world, aided by almost permanent year-round blue skies and sunshine.
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 SS Thistlegorm is widely regarded as the most popular and best-loved shipwreck in the Red Sea, if not the world. The Giannis D, Chrisoula K, Dunraven and Salem Express are also highly recommened among Egypt's large collection of shipwrecks, and mostly accessible to recreational divers.
Top Voter Comments
I've lost count of my divetrips to Egypt and the Red Sea, since 1998 and the raw experience of 5 tents on a beach, 1 speedboat, 1 pick-up truck, 2 diveguides, 1 cook, and a few outdoor cold showers. As facilities grow and have more comfortability for divers, still every dive is a magical experience when something happens that you could never have imagined.
- AM, Sweden
World class reefs and wrecks a short(ish) flight away, lots of good cheap accomodation and liveaboards, what's not to like?
- MK, Isle of Man
I have been diving the red sea in Egypt for the last 20 years and i have never had a bad or disopointed dive there yet
- AS, Wales
Everything in Egypt is amazing land and sea I love to do both it’s affordable warm and beautiful
- DW, USA
Egypt has something for everyone, sharks, wrecks, reefs, tec. I wish the Government would stop penalising this amazing country and let us travel there.
- VS, UK
The Red sea is full of the most spectacular marine life, the corals and fauna are stunning, the sea seems clear and there appears to be protection of the sea life there. It really is a jewel of seas in my opinion.
- FW, UK
Egypt is The diving paradise for Europeans. Egypt is close to Europe, it is a natural destination for winter in Europe. You may find here...almost everything you want
- VC, Romania
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 - from the chilled-out backpacker places familiar to travellers of the region, to 5-star luxury for those who prefer their creature comforts.
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.
Top Voter Comments
Too bad I had to limit to 3 dives! So many interesting places to dive! Malaysia with colourful sealife and corals in movement with good visibility for the most part is a pleasure to learn and continue to dive and explore!
- TK - Toronto, Canada
I love the dive sites, it’s not too crowded yet and the locals are super friendly. Mixed up with awesome food makes Malaysia for me the best choice!
- AF, Hamburg, Germany
Tioman is the most beautiful island I’ve had the opportunity to dive in. (That’s about 30 countries so far.)
- BM, USA
SipaDan was one of the best dive trip we got amaizing life sharks turtles extremely nice coral.
- LC, Athens, Greece
Best schools of the magnificent beasts - Barracudas, jacks, bumphead parrotfishes, and the least, at least 50+ turtles for every dive!
- ABU, Philippines
There are well over 100 island resorts dotted over this extensive archipelago of 26 large atolls straddling the equator. Beautiful corals and large schools of fish are found throughout the Maldives, with big-current channel diving a popular way to spot big fish, especially from the Maldives' extensive fleet of luxury liveaboards.
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.
Top Voter Comments
The Maldives is a slice of heaven in the Indian Ocean. Tranquil and so relaxing with amazing diving
-DC, Durham, UK
I love to see the underwater world there. It was a paradise for me.
- CH, Germany
Incredible marine life reached in serene laidback style over calm crystal Indian Ocean. Diving to suite all abilities. Adrenaline or relaxation.
- PM, Dunfermline, UK
Klares Wasser, angenehme Temperaturen, tollste Unterwasserwelt!
- JH&GH, Austria
Maldives has everything from beautiful reefs to large pelagics.
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.
| Top Voter Comments
Always so much to say at different times a year! Recently in September I was able to go to an island off the coast of La Paz called the Holy Spirit Island or Sea Lions lived 850 of them! And then in February it’s whale time! My favorite of all favorites the gentle giants.
- CK, Ocean View, USA
There is so much to see when diving Cozumel. The first few times I went I saw the big stuff.. didn’t even know the little stuff was there. But now my dives are always full of life… turtles, fish, and when those are not around , get close to the reef and sand and spot the little life… slugs, nudibranch, and other small wildlife. Just can’t go wrong with cozumel!
- JW, USA
Mexico has it all from Caribbean reefs, cenotes, Baja variety with sea lion action and the amazing mantas of Socorro backed up by huge numbers of sharks interspered with whales and dolphins.
- JM, UK
Cozumel has the best drift diving with amazing reefs. The dives never disappoint and I always see something new and interesting. I love diving in Cozumel!
- CL, USA
Amazing aquatic wildlife in Mexico. The mezoamerican reef on the Atlantic side is beautiful and there are many wonderful pelagic species on the Pacific side and in the sea of Cortez.
-JLR, Toronto, Canada
I took a liveaboard trip last year to the Socorros. It was fantastic diving - lots of mantas, sharks, and tons of fish on every dive in great, exciting topography.
-CS, Saint Paul, USA
The Philippines is home to some of the most exciting, accessible, varied and good value diving in the Coral Triangle. Stunning reefs, pelagic superstars, historic wrecks and macro wonders can be found throughout the islands; one of the best destinations to encounter all the different joys of diving in a single trip.
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.
|Top Voter Comments
Has such a wide variety of dive sites and marine life, can see sharks, turtles, wrecks, macro, Pelagics. Best choice for ultimate variety.
- AT, UK
I learned to dive here and it set me up for disappointment for the rest of my diving days! Sardines, green turtles, wall dives, we saw the lot!
- RP, NZ
The best of everything - macro, big, reef, drift, sharks
- R, UK
Wonderful muck diving and beautiful people
- SR, Canada
Beautiful reefs and nudibranches. Friendly, welcoming and lovely crew in both countries
- NVO, Netherlands
I have dived at a number of sites across the Philippine Islands, and have been continually amazed by the variety of sea life and corals
- RK, UK
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.
Top Voter Comments
Fiji has incredible diving. And wonderful Dive Experts that will take you to wonderful spots that are filled with incredible undersea life.
- KS, Brisbane, Australia
Stunning soft coral, amazing macro life, plenty of big critters and a culture of kindness making visiting easy fun and memorable.
- AW, LA, USA
Fiji is an amazing dive destination and has some of the best resorts that specialise in diving.
- LS, Australia
Amazing coloured corals and crystal clear water, plus warm all year round
- KH, NZ
Fiji is one of the best diving destinations in the world, it has beautiful reefs and wonderful marine life.
- Z, Brisbane, Australia
Fiji has some of the purest and clearest water in the world, with amazing visibility and incredible coral and marine life.
- OL, UK
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.
Top Voter Comments
The Solomon Islands is uncrowded with hardly anyone diving there, it is easy to get to and has some of the most amazingly diverse tropical diving in the world.
- KO, Sydney, Australia
Pristine conditions, warm water, abundant and unique sea life. Magical destination.
- AT, Wellington, NZ
The Solomon Islands has a virtually unlimited number of spieces of fish and coral, all for the taking of spectacular photos.
- DW, USA
Just out of this world - both above and below water! So many varied dice sites from WWII wrecks, muck dives and big wall dives. Great variety of sealife.
- ACS, London, UK
Huge variety of sea life, wrecks, clear water, colourful coral and exciting drop offs. A unique diving destination.
- LH, UK
Solomon Islands have an amazing variety of diving for everyone! The sea life and coral is beautiful - the most colourful and abundant I have ever dived, And history can be felt diving WWII sites!
- MW, Sydney, Australia
The Solomons has a wide choice of superb dive spots in the heart of a tropical paradise. Whether you dive north or south of the Sols you have wrecks and natural beauty.
-RT, Adelaide, Australia
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 sea floor 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.
Top Voter Comments
With all of the pelagic animals migrating through year round, there's always something exciting to see!
- JO - Chicago, USA
Awesome. Out of this world. The best ever.
- LP, UK
Hammerhead schools in Galapagos!
- RK, Nijkerk, Netherlands
Amazing ocean life.
- TW, Belgium
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, particularly around popular destinations such as Koh Tao, one of the most widely named islands during the Travel Awards vote. Thailand also has a very strong tech-diving community, many of whom lent their services to the epic 2018 rescue of the Wild Boars youth football team.
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.
Top Voter Comments
My first whale shark, my first manta, my first TRUE love of the sea, koh tao may not be perfect to most, but to me it is my first TRUE love and thats all i need in perfection!!!
- RBT, UK
A liveaboard to the Similans is an amazing experience - whale sharks, manta rays and tons of reef life, plus good for the budget
- MS, UK
The diving may be better in other destinations, but above the water they don't compare with 'the land of smiles!'
- TE, London, UK
It's a great place to visit - the people are friendly, food and accommodation costs are very reasonable, the food is fantastic and of course the diving is amazing!
The Rest of the Top 25 Dive Centres and Resorts:
Papua New Guinea
Costa Rica/Cocos Island
The complete list of entries to the 2021 DIVE Travel Awards (in alphabetical order):
Antigua and Bardbuda ● Argentina ● Aruba ● Ascension ● Azores ● Barbados ● Bermuda ● Brazil ● British Virgin Islands ● Canada ● Cape Verde ● Caribbean ● Colombia ● Comoros ● Cook Islands ● Croatia ● Cuba ● Curaçao ● Cyprus ● Djibouti ● Dominica ● Dominican Republic ● Ecuador ● Estonia ● Florida ● France ● Germany ● Greece ● Grenada ● Hungary ● Iceland ● India ● Ireland ● Isle of Man ● Italy ● Jamaica ● Japan ● Jordan ● Kenya ● Lebanon ● Madagascar ● Malta ● Marshall Islands ● Martinique ● Mauritius ● Micronesia ● Mozambique ● Myanmar ● Netherlands ● New Caledonia ● New Zealand ● Niue ● Norway ● Oman ● Panama ● Polynesia ● Romania ● Russia ● Saba ● Saint Lucia ● Samoa ● São Tomé and Príncipe ● Sardinia ● Scotland ● Seychelles ● Spain ● Sri Lanka ● St Lucia ● Sudan ● Switzerland ● Tahiti ● Tanzania ● Timor Leste ● Tonga ● Trinidad and Tobago ● Turkey ● Turks and Caicos ● UAE ● Uganda ● US Virgin Islands ● Vanuatu ● Vietnam ● Zanzibar