The best places under the sea
For some, snorkelling around a shallow reef is gratifying enough; but for those who have experienced the exhilaration of being submerged at the bottom of an endless ocean – the feeling is euphoric. We’ve selected ten of the best dive sites around the world from the Caribbean Sea all the way to the Indian Ocean.
When you think of Cuba, cigars and salsa often spring to mind not diving. But like most islands in the Caribbean the diving here is exceptional. Just off Cuba’s coast are untouched coral reefs, wrecks and ocean walls waiting to be discovered. Two of the best dive sites are Maria la Gorda in the Pinar Del Rio province just west of Havana and the Jardines de la Reina islands in the south.
Boasting the second-longest barrier reef in the world and three open-ocean coral atolls off its coast, Belize is a diver’s paradise. In the north, Shark-Ray Alley guarantees encounters with large stingrays and nurse sharks while Hol Chan Marine Reserve is recommended for novice divers or snorkellers who can skim the shallow coral reef. The dive sites in the south are less crowded and equally as spectacular as the atolls in the north. Glover’s Reef Atoll and Gladden Spit are both great dive spots and the latter is renowned for whale shark sightings.
The island of Cozumel on the eastern tip of Mexico came into the limelight after Jacques Cousteau shot his documentary here in the 1960s and has become a firm favourite among divers. Advanced divers can explore the 20-mile Maya Reef, the second longest barrier reef on the planet extending all the way to Honduras while Yucab and Palancar are shallow spots for beginners or snorkellers.
Turks and Caicos
Named one of the top ten best diving sites in the world by Scuba Divingmagazine, Turks and Caicos, once a playground for pirates, today attract celebrities, honeymooners and serious divers to its idyllic shores. Those looking for an exhilarating vertical wall dive should head to the west coast of Grand Turk, while in Salt Cay it’s possible to dive with the whales.
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Probably the most famous dive site in the world: The Great Barrier Reef. Located in northeast Australia off the coast of Queensland, the reef is so large it can be seen from outer space. In this gargantuan underwater world lives 400 coral species, 1,500 varieties of fish, dolphins, sea turtles, rays, whales, sea snakes, just to mention a few. But diving takes planning and time so it’s best to consult a professional dive centre before you strap on your BCD.
One of the best dive spots in North America is in Maui. Sea turtles, eagle rays, and small reef sharks swim along the ancient lava formations. Molokini Crater, the marine-life park, is the most popular dive site on the island and has a vertical wall that goes down all the way to 250 feet. La Pérouse is another great spot right in the middle of La Pérouse Bay where Haleakala’s most recent lava flow took place. The scenery here ranges from damselfish and porcupine puffers to fields of elegant finger coral. And during whale season divers have been known to hear whales singing underwater.
If your one quest as a diver is to find the most exquisite coral on the planet then head to the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula – Sharm El Sheikh. Here at the protected Ras Mohammed National Park coral reefs of every shade and shape adorn its underwater world as do clownfish, sea eels and blacktip reef sharks.
Not a destination you read about every day, Malaysian Borneo is slowly becoming recognised as a dive spot for more advanced and adventurous divers. In the northern part of Borneo lies a tiny island in the middle of the Celebes Sea – Sipadan Island which was formed by living corals atop an extinct undersea volcano. Famous for its hawksbill and green turtles the island is visited by schools of barracuda and mackerel, and hammerhead and whale sharks.
St Croix, US Virgin Islands
St Croix – the largest of the US Virgin Islands is also the island with the largest living reef in the Caribbean including the finest black coral in the region. Buck Island has the highest concentration of reefs and is a good spot for divers as well as snorkellers. Advanced divers should head to the deep water gorgonians and submerged canyon walls of Salt River Canyon or the wall dive at Northstar Reef located at the east end of Davis Bay.
The warm and calm waters of the Indian Ocean make diving all the more enjoyable. But diving in the Maldives is one experience that’s more than just enjoyable – it’s sublime. Most divers don’t come here for the coral reefs alone; they come to see the graceful manta rays. The 14ft creatures are elusive in most waters however in the Maldives you’re almost always guaranteed to see one. There are ten different dive sites, ranging from thila (flat reef) dives in Kuda Haa Girifushi Thila to deep dives in Rasfari in the North Male Atoll. Adventurous divers can try a wall drift dive among the strong currents at Banana Reef.