There are some spots around the world with some of the most beautiful scuba diving destinations. So whether you want to see marine life, stunning shipwrecks or mammoth (and slightly terrifying) trenches, there’s a scuba diving spot out there for you. The Great Blue Hole of Belize, the Great Barrier Reef, the SS Yongala shipwreck off Australia — they’re all top picks.
But what about when you can’t jet off to Australia, or you don’t have enough time off from work to travel to the far reaches of the Asian archipelagos to find that secret scuba diving cove? To help you find some of the best of the best places to scuba dive around the world, we’re breaking down the top-rated spots (recommended by avid scuba divers) by geography.
So, if you’re located in the southern United States, you can head to easily accessible spots in the Caribbean. If you’re already planning a European holiday for the upcoming summer, you can maybe make a quick stop by the Mediterranean for an unforgettable dive. Wherever you live or wherever you’re headed, one of these best places to scuba dive is sure to thrill.
Best Places to Scuba Dive in North America
First up, where should you go for the best diving without even leaving North America?
You can’t miss Mexico and, as it’s already pretty popular with American vacationers, whether you’re traveling from the West Coast to hang out on the Pacific or traveling from the East Coast to popular destinations like Cancun, it’s a pretty convenient place to go scuba diving.
The top Mexican scuba diving spot in the Pacific is the Revillagigedo Islands, an archipelago off Mexico’s Pacific coast. There, you can dive alongside dolphins, sharks, rays and even whales.
For those headed to the Caribbean side, try the Yucatan Peninsula, where you can dive in the Caribbean; however, try cenote diving (where you take to deep waters inside picturesque caves) for a unique experience.
Okay, so Hawaii could technically be considered part of Asia Pacific. Still, for this list, we’re keeping it bunched in with the North American dive spots simply because it’s so easy to access for those travelers coming from the United States. You don’t even need a passport, and there’s no need to learn a new language; just book your flight plus hotel and go.
Hawaii offers extraordinary dive destinations with lots of sea life, including whales if you travel during the late winter or spring. And, of course, you can also go snorkeling at many of these spots if diving isn’t your thing.
Stay continental when you go for a dive off the coast of California. Point Lobos is a good pick near Monterey. Reefs, kelp forests and marine life abound in this spot, suitable for both experts and beginners. You’ll want to plan your trip to Point Lobos carefully, though — the reserve limits the number of divers per day to protect the underwater ecosystem and coral reefs.
Yes, you can even get in a quick dive while in Florida. The Florida Keys is the spot that offers many of the same diving experiences you might find in the Caribbean or Latin America, with aquamarine waters and wreck sites. However, if you don’t plan on traveling that far south, you can also find diving further north, around Riviera Beach, Florida, where the dive sites are shallow, but the marine life is plentiful.
Best Places to Scuba Dive in Latin America
Headed to the Caribbean, Central America or South America for a beach resort vacay or jungle excursion? Make a stop off in one of these top scuba diving locales.
5. Costa Rica
Costa Rica offers excellent scuba diving on both sides of the country. When you head to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, you’ll be treated to both heavy marine life and stellar underwater wonders, such as pinnacles. Cocos Island is a popular spot, as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Costa Rican national park. Keep your eyes peeled for sharks.
On Costa Rica’s Carribean side, you’ll be treated to even more sea life, especially if you go to Isla Uvita, off Puerto Limon. Look out for turtles, sharks, seahorses and more.
Brazil is growing in popularity with American travelers, and for good reasons. The country offers a wealth of exciting things to do and see, no matter if you’re a luxury traveler, budget traveler or adventure traveler. One of Brazil’s top spots for diving is Fernando de Noronha, a series of islands that feature abundant sea life and a wreck site.
Every diver, or even every traveler, knows the popular Belize dive site that is the Great Blue Hole. The massive sinkhole with its dramatic drop-off is both spectacular and scary. Check this must-see dive site off your bucket list, but then also try some of Belize’s other dive sites, such as the barracuda, manatee and sea turtle-filled waters right off the beaches of Belize City.
8. The Galapagos
Darwin’s Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, are growing in popularity for travelers seeking experiential travel. However, getting to the Galapagos is easier said than done, which is why many travelers choose to visit on a small ship cruise or liveaboard. Whichever method you decide to get there, you’ll be treated to fantastic diving, with the marine life ranging from sharks to sea lions to marine iguanas.
9. The Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands is home to two excellent scuba dive sites that you really can’t miss if you’re visiting the destination: Bloody Bay Wall Marine Park and Stingray City. The former isn’t as harrowing as it sounds; it’s the site of an underwater cliff wall filled with sea life. The latter is probably precisely what you’d expect — a sandbar home to tons of stingrays that have become acclimated to humans, so much so that they’ll happily play with you or approach for a quick pet.
Best Places to Scuba Dive in the Asia Pacific
If you’re lucky enough to travel to the Asia Pacific, you’ll be treated to a wealth of gorgeous, world-class scuba diving spots.
10. French Polynesia
French Polynesia is a large region that encompasses a ton of different scuba sites. You might even want to plan an entire French Polynesia trip around scuba diving so that you can hit them all at once (after all, this is a somewhat remote part of the world; you never know when you’ll have a chance to make it back).
Spots to add to your French Polynesia diving itinerary? Tahiti and Bora Bora are probably the most well-known destinations within French Polynesia, but other top diving sites in the area include Tetiaroa and Moorea.
Wreck diving is prevalent in this area, thanks to the many World War II ship and seaplane ruins.
If you’re headed to Fiji in the South Pacific, you can’t miss diving at the Namena Marine Reserve. The reef features hundreds of fish species, and if you visit during the right season, you may see migratory species such as whales, sea turtles, dolphins and manta rays.
Another popular Fiji dive spot for sea life viewing is Beqa Lagoon.
Thailand is a great spot to go scuba diving in Asia for one crucial reason — it’s incredibly affordable. So, if you think a scuba diving trip to the Asia Pacific is out of the question for you due to budget — think again. Thailand is the place for you to go.
You’ll find affordable outfitters and even affordable instruction. Popular dive sites exist right near the country’s primary travel destination —Phuket. They can also be found among its islands, such as the Surin Islands and Similan Islands (which is considered one of the most pristine spots in the world for swimming with whale sharks).
13. The Philippines
The Philippines is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a suitable diving location for both experienced divers and beginner divers. There’s a wealth of options to choose from here. As in French Polynesia, wreck diving is widespread, and the best wreck diving spots include Subic Bay (a previous U.S. naval base), Boracay and Coron Island.
You can’t have a list of the best places to scuba dive and not include Australia. Australian diving spots rank high on just about every list of top scuba diving spots out there. The Great Barrier Reef is the creme de la creme of diving spots, with its wealth of sea life.
With more than 10,000 different islands, Indonesia is a water-lover’s paradise. There are plenty of breathtaking spots to dive, whether you want to see a wealth of coral and fish species or some beautiful wreck sites.
Thanks to its biodiversity, the remote Raja Ampat archipelago is one of the most popular dive sites in Indonesia. However, if you don’t want to go to such a remote locale, you can always stay in the very busy and bustling Bali, where wreck sites abound.
One of the top-rated dive sites in Malaysia is Sipadan. Frequent divers so highly tout it that it’s not only one of the top dive sites in Malaysia or the Asia Pacific but also globally. This is because it pretty much checks all of the boxes — abundant sea life, caves and crystal-clear waters.
Best Places to Scuba Dive in Europe
Okay, okay. So you don’t really think of Europe and then think of scuba diving. Europe is all museums and great food, castles and culture — but scuba diving? Believe it or not, you can find some excellent diving in Europe.
Spain offers diving both on its Atlantic coast and its Mediterranean coast. The Canary Islands in the Atlantic are a top choice for diving while in Spain, with their underwater volcanoes and wreck diving spots. The Mediterranean waters off Costa del Sol and Marbella offer a range of sea life, such as eels, octopi, whales and dolphins.
Malta might not be as famous a vacation destination like Spain, but it still has a lot to offer divers. The range of underwater features, from caves to arches, makes for an exciting landscape that suits itself well to both beginners and experts.
France also offers a lot of diving opportunities on its Mediterranean coasts. Wreck diving is popular, as is exploring underwater caverns and ridges. For example, the Scandola Nature Reserve is a popular diving spot on the French island of Corsica, and the island’s waters are home to several sunken war vehicles. There are also popular diving spots near favorite French Riviera destinations such as Cannes and Nice.
Iceland has been continually growing in popularity over the last few years. The island is easy to get to from Europe and North America, with just a quick flight, and it offers a wealth of adventure activities and dramatic, breathtaking landscapes. Iceland’s top dive site is the Silfra Fissure, and what it lacks in fish makes up for in some of the cleanest, most transparent dive water on Earth.
Italy’s Mediterranean coasts and its Mediterranean islands of Sicily, Elba and Sardinia, boast a range of diving sites suitable for both experts and beginners. Enjoy diving among pinnacles, caverns and wreck sites. And while your idea of a wreck site might be a World War II naval vessel, Italy’s wreck sites go back a bit further — all the way to the Roman Empire, with its Wreck of the Columns, a Roman cargo shipwreck site off Sicily.
Want even more historic shipwreck sites? Then head to Denmark. Yes, the water’s a bit chillier here, but the descent into the murky, cold depths becomes well worth it when you lay eyes on shipwrecks dating back to the 1600s. The Baltic Sea is home to a range of shipwrecks off the Danish coast from just about every period of history, making it an ideal wreck dive spot.
Best Places to Scuba Dive in Africa
While exploring the African wildlife might be most associated with safaris, Africa also boasts its fair share of dive spots.
European travelers already know that Egypt is the place to go for scuba diving in Africa. The Red Sea offers impressive sea life, and the weather is pristine, with warm water year-round. However, the Red Sea isn’t exactly small, so when picking your diving destination, opt for the resorts near Sharm El Sheikh. There, you’ll find premier diving around wreck sites and two reefs.
24. South Africa
South Africa delivers if you’re particularly interested in diving with sharks. If you specifically want to shark dive with no cage required, South Africa is one of the only places you can make that happen. But don’t worry — if the cage makes you feel a little safer, you can still choose that option when you swim alongside hammerheads and great white sharks in locales such as Simonstown and Mossel Bay.
The Water is Waiting
Wherever you find your perfect dive site, whether it’s a spot on our list of best places to scuba dive around the world or not, what are you waiting for, divers? Get out there and see what’s waiting beneath the waves.
You might also be interested in: The 9 Most Underrated National Parks [And the Best Times to Visit Them]
The 24 Best Places To Scuba Dive Around The World In 2021:
- Costa Rica
- The Galapagos
- The Cayman Islands
- French Polynesia
- The Philippines
- South Africa