Alternatively titled '10 places to scuba dive before you die (in no particular order)'
There are so many beautiful dive sites in the world and really any of them could be called 'the best'. It all depends on your individual desires and tastes as each location is unique and wonderful. But there are some places you should not miss and if you haven't been to any of these places, book your ticket now!
10. Cocos Island National Park: 550 kilometres off the coast of Costa Rica this is a shark spotter's paradise. The location in the middle of the ocean makes it an ideal breeding ground for plankton which attracts large schools of fish like mackerel–which in turn attracts sharks. Many divers come here just to see the hammerhead sharks which often school in their hundreds. Though it takes over a day to get here by boat this only makes it more attractive to divers looking to see endemic species that occur nowhere else. With over 250 species of fish, on a single dive it may be possible to see the Galapagos shark, hammerhead, tiger sharks, manta ray, yellowfin tuna and marlin. It is also possible to see humpback whales, pilot whales, bottle nose dolphins, sea lions, and green, olive and ridley turtles. Currents are strong so it is not recommended for novice divers. The only way to dive Cocos Island National Park is by live-aboard which can make it expensive and is definitely not a luxury holiday.
9. Bonaire: the license plates in Bonaire carry the logo "Diver's Paradise". And it's true. All the waters around Bonaire have been protected as designated marine park since 1979–which means 2,700 hectares of pristine Caribbean waters and unspoiled marine life. Studies have shown Bonaire's fish population to be the most diverse in the Caribbean which puts it very high up on the list of marine biodiversity in the world. Much of the scuba diving here is done from the shore since the reef starts right at the water's edge. There are plenty of dive operators in Bonaire making prices competitive.
8. Belize: One of the most amazing countries in the world, Belize seems to have it all: friendly locals, ancient Mayan ruins, stunning rainforest and the world's second largest barrier reef. The Caribbean waters are warm and crystal clear consistently sitting around 80 degrees fahrenheit (25 degrees C) with visibility ranging between 50-150 feet. Highlights include Hol Chan Marine Park, Shark-Ray Alley, whale-shark spotting in Plancencia and 'The Great Blue Hole' - an underwater sinkhole 70 kilometres from the mainland which is almost 1000 feet in diameter and over 400 feet deep. The coral reef is often only a ten-minute boat ride away so most of your time is spent in the water instead of on a boat. Generally the dive companies are very professional (though not all) and prices are reasonable.
7. Red Sea: probably one of the most often overlooked places for diving is Egypt's Red Sea. But the colour of the water and marine biodiversity here rivals anything around the world. To the north you will find deep walls and wrecks while in the south are beautiful reefs and coral. Along with several species of sharks and dolphin, there are 1200 species of Indo-Pacific fish, over 10% of which are endemic. The 2000km of coral reef in the Red Sea is much hardier than other coral species around the world and parts are protected as national park and do not suffer bleaching as in other parts of the world. The water isn't always warm, ranging between 30°C in August down to 22°C in February, but diving is great all year around. Areas in the south are noted to have the added risk from piracy (as well as current political turmoil in the region) but the Egyptian government has put in very rigorous safety standards for divers and dive companies. There are many hotels and resorts in the area, ranging in value, though many divers prefer to dive from a live-aboard.
6. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia: Located in the Coral sea off the coast of north-eastern Australia, this 2,600 kilometre coral reef is one of the most colourful underwater adventures you'll ever have. Most divers who have been here would agree that there are simply no words to describe the scuba diving here: you simply just have to experience it. The Great Barrier Reef has some of the most stunning tropical reef diving in the world with rich biodiversity including large schools of pelagic fish, cod, manta rays, sharks, Minke Whale, and and seemingly infinite world of macro. Since the reef is so large, there are a number of ways you can visit it, either from the mainland or from any number of beautiful islands off the coast. Safety is usually paramount for most scuba dive operators in Australia and there are hundreds to choose from. Diving here is normally on the pricier side but can be competitive since there is a large number of operators.
5. Sipadan Island, Borneo: Jacques Cousteau said it best, "I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art." Here you will probably see more green and hawksbill turtles than anywhere else along with various species of reef shark (and sometimes a hammerhead), eagle, devil and manta rays, whale sharks, parrot fish, scorpion fish, lion fish and thousands of other cute, colourful and wonderful species of marine life. Sipadan island is an extinct volcanic island where strong currents merge, making it a meeting point for the entire marine food chain. With twelve dive sites around the island and hundreds of coral species it is no wonder the island has become so popular for divers around the world. Prices are generally high for this part of the world but are usually all-inclusive and worked out with your accommodation and food etc. There really is no price you could put on visiting what many consider to be one of the most beautiful locations in the world.
4. Palau: With over 350 islands to choose from, this archipelago in Micronesia is a Mecca for scuba divers. The islands are covered by lush tropical rainforest and the water populated by more than 1300 species of fish and 700 species of coral. Palau is one of the best places to see sharks such as the hammerhead and slivertip as well as other large pelagic fish. It's also one of the few places in the world where you see dolphins daily. There is enough diving here to suit all levels of scuba divers and there's so much more to do outside of the ocean that one could spend a lifetime here. There's drift diving, sheltered coral gardens, underwater caves and drop-offs teaming with marine life. It also has a number of well preserved WWII wreck sites. Most dive sites are not a long trip away by boat and surface intervals can be spent in the sandy coves either snorkelling, sunbathing or exploring the beach. Probably the most famous underwater experience in Palau is Jellyfish lake where divers (and snorkelers) can swim amongst schools of millions of stingless jellyfish–making this one of the most unique places to dive in the world. Palau has very high quality accommodation, getting around is easy and the dive masters are experienced and knowledgable (some are marine biologists). However, diving tends to be on the more expensive side since this is such a popular location.
3. Maldives: The Maldives has some of the clearest waters in the world, over 3000 coral reefs and more than 1000 species of fish. There is definitely a lifetime's worth of diving here with most dive spots no more than 30 minutes by boat–though many divers prefer to base themselves on a live-aboard. It is said that diving in the Maldives is like being inside an aquarium but it's actually much better than that. In dive sites like Ari Atoll you will find some of the largest schools of fish anywhere as well as reef sharks, zebra sharks, whale sharks, dolphins, mantas, batfish and schools of black-tail barracuda. Since the Maldives has become such a popular destination for divers, there are many dive shops to choose from and they cater for beginners as well as advanced. The Maldives can become quite pricey but there are options for those who want to travel more economically.
2. Coron Islands, Philippines: For some of the most amazing wreck dives in the world head to the Coron Islands where you can see Japanese boats from WWII as shallow as 20 feet. With calm, warm water the visibility is great and the diving not too strenuous. Coron also has some beautiful reefs with hundreds of different fish species. Apart from the abundant underwater life, divers are blown away by the stunning limestone rock formations such as "Cathedral Cave" which, when the sun is in the right position, throws a beam of light through a hole in the roof of the cave which illuminates the water below. There are beautiful stalactite/stalagmite formations as well as many coral species. Though you can't stay on the island itself there are plenty of nearby resorts and hotels with varying rates. The actual cost of scuba diving is very reasonable and well worth making the trip here.
1. Hawaii: Hawaii has long been known for having some of the best dive sites in the world with seemingly infinite dive spots to choose from amongst some of the most beautiful islands on earth. Since Hawaii is geographically isolated divers experience marine life like nowhere else on earth. Scuba divers could happily spend a lifetime of diving only in Hawaii and be fully satiated (and some divers do!). The night dives in Hawaii are a true highlight where you will see jellyfish put on colourful light displays and all sorts of amazing marine life that you would never see during the day. You will be almost guaranteed to see manta ray and reef sharks (and possibly larger sharks), turtle cleaning stations and millions of colours. Beginners might want to start in the shallow reefs and protected bays of Oahu while more adventurous divers should head out to Molokini crater, 20 minutes boat ride from Maui, for a drift dive. Hawaii is safe, has year round warm waters, great visibility and caters to a all types of tourists–from those who want to travel in luxury, or those who wish to go off the beaten track. Most dive companies are very professional here and have great equipment and though Hawaii is one of the more expensive locations for diving it is possible to do it on the cheap.