The World’s Best Dive Sites
Diving is truly an experience like no other. In the still of the underwater world, where all you can hear is the sound of your own breathing, it’s possible to find a sense of tranquility and wonder that few other pursuits provide.
From World War shipwrecks to places with a greater concentration of marine life than the Great Barrier Reef, we've rounded up the 20 most spectacular dive sites to add to your bucket list.
20. Darwin Island — The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Tucked away in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, the Galapagos Islands are strikingly remote; the nearest mainland, Ecuador, is more than 850 miles away.
Diving is excellent across the islands, but particularly superb at Darwin Island, where a mix of cold waters from the Humboldt Current and the warmer waters of the Panama Current draw an extraordinary array of wildlife. Watch for turtles, rays and eels, as well as two species of shark that (don’t worry!) are totally harmless to humans: hammerheads and whale sharks.
The best time to see whale sharks is between May and November, but since waters are on the colder side, be sure to bring a drysuit or a hooded wetsuit with gloves.
19. Great White Wall — Taveuni, Fiji
The Somosomo Strait separating Taveuni Island and Vanua Levu in Fiji is home to the renowned and aptly named Rainbow Reef, one of the world’s most colorful expanses of soft coral. But that’s not the only spectacular feature it boasts: The Great White Wall, a steep drop-off that gets its name from its collection of white corals, is starkly beautiful.
Against this striking backdrop, expect to see tons of tropical fish, including clown fish, parrot fish, batfish, sharks and barracudas. The currents here are strong, but the breathtaking scenery makes the maneuvering well worth the effort.
18. Bloody Bay Wall — Little Cayman, Cayman Islands
Bloody Bay Wall in Little Cayman offers a dramatic, sheer drop-off into the deep blue, where soft and hard corals support a fabulous array of wildlife. Throngs of sharks, lobsters and turtles make their home here, as do the colorful Nassau groupers the Caribbean Sea is known for.
Though the water is mostly warm in these parts, at a consistent temp of 75-80 degrees Farhenheit, the best time to visit is in April or May, before hurricane season brings in rougher seas.
17. RMS Rhone — Salt Island, British Virgin Islands
In 1867, a UK Royal Mail Ship called the RMS Rhone was shipwrecked in a hurricane, killing 123 crew. Today, the wrecked ship supports a robust ecosystem that draws divers from around the world.
In one of the Caribbean's most eminent wreck-dive sites, surrounded by a national park, you can swim through the remains of the ship’s bow and take in an abundance of corals encrusting the iron hull.
Look for lobsters, eels, octopuses and barracudas swimming among the ghostly remains. And make sure to visit the ship’s “lucky porthole” — a brass porthole in the stern that survived the hurricane, preserved for those who wish to rub it clean for good luck.
16. Osprey Reef — Coral Sea, Australia
Everyone knows about Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral-reef system in the world. Fewer are aware that, just 80 miles from the northern fringes of GBR, another fantastic diving site awaits: Osprey Reef.
This seamount surrounded by the Coral Sea is a protected marine reserve teeming with sharks, including whitetip reef sharks, grey reef sharks and silvertip reef sharks. Also on view is the ancient chambered nautilus, which has been around an astonishing 500 million years.
15. Otugi Pass — To’au Atoll, French Polynesia
Now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, To’au Atoll in French Polynesia promises a fulfilling dive in the robin-egg blue, warm waters of the South Pacific Ocean. As you ease your way down an 80-foot drop, you’ll see a lagoon where bigeye scad fish murmurate and encounter the standout Otugi Pass, where silvertip sharks hunt for fish. Also keep an eye out for manta rays and juvenile sharks.
14. Richelieu Rock — Mu Koh Surin, Thailand
Located within Surin Marine National Park, just north of Similan and a few miles from the Myanmar border, Richelieu Rock is one of Thailand’s most popular dive sites.
The horseshoe-shaped reef is home to many smaller creatures, including seahorses, ghost pipefish, harlequin shrimp, frogfish and the odd tomato clownfish and octopus. But the real showstoppers are its ocean giants — 40-foot-long whale sharks and 20-foot-long manta rays.
13. Sodwana Bay — KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
An evergreen diving destination, Sodwana Bay is populated with a vast array of coral reefs. The bay hosts 83 percent of the world’s marine fish families as well as several shipwrecks — so while the immense Great Barrier Reef hosts 1,800 species of fish, Sodwana Bay, one-tenth of its size, is home to a whopping 1,200.
Expect to see everything from dolphins, whale sharks and large manta rays to moray eels, snappers and turtles in these parts.
12. Sha’ab Rumi — South Sudan
In the warm waters of the Red Sea, Sha’ab Rumi is one of the world’s most picture-perfect destinations for diving — so much so that it’s the site where French naval officer-turned-explorer Jacques Cousteau filmed his award-winning underwater documentary “World Without Sun.”
Just 30 miles from Port Sudan, Sha’ab Rumi is particularly beloved by shark-divers, with whitetips, gray sharks, silkies and hammerheads taking to the area’s strong currents. Barracudas, tuna, groupers and parrotfish are a fixed attraction in the south part of the reef, where the plateau is surrounded by steep walls encrusted in soft coral.
11. Manta Reef — Guinjata Bay, Mozambique
With warm waters on offer year-round, Manta Reef is a great winter diving destination. Packed with manta rays of all sizes (from which the reef derives its name), some as big as nearly 20 feet, the reef has drop-offs with trenches as deep as 90 feet. These areas offer plentiful shelter for smaller species such as barracudas, snappers and fusiliers.
One important note: Visibility in these parts ranges from 130 feet to just 60 feet when the plankton bloom.
10. Gordon Rocks — The Galapagos, Ecuador
Sometimes called “The Washing Machine” due to its strong currents and challenging upwellings, Gordon Rocks is located just north of the island of Santa Cruz. Apart from seeing hammerhead sharks, divers can greet kaleidoscope marine life including sea turtles, Galapagos eels, barracudas and the mola mola, or oceanic sunfish.
Since the currents prove challenging, Gordon Rocks is best suited to intermediate or advanced divers, or those who have logged at least 25 dives.
9. USAT Liberty — Bali, Indonesia
The USAT Liberty, U.S. Army Cargo ship that was torpedoed by the Japanese in World War II, beached itself on Bali’s velvet-sand beaches in January 1942. In 1963, a volcanic eruption quaked the ship into the sea, where it became the site of a popular wreck dive.
After 56 years underwater, the ship is today home to a deluge of vibrant reef fish, including sweetlips, parrotfish and lionfish.
8. Tubbataha Reef — Palawan, Philippines
The calm (and indeed, calming) waters of the Sulu Sea is home to the Tubbataha Reef National Park, where one of the best marine ecosystems in the world regularly dazzles divers. After a scenic boat ride from Puerto Princesa, the dive reveals 100 species of sharks and over 400 species of fish, including whale sharks, hammerheads, silky sharks, barracudas and turtles.
Pro tip: Since the national park is closed to tourists for the rest of the year, aim to visit between mid-Feb and mid-June.
7. SS President Coolidge — Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
If ever there was a dive site to showcase the tragedy of war, the SS President Coolidge is it. Originally a luxury liner, the ship was repurposed to serve as a troop vessel during World War II, between December 1941 and October 1942.
When the ship was sunk by mines, it went down with everything — guns, wartime Jeeps, chandeliers, and a statue of a woman and a unicorn called “The Lady.” Divers can explore these decomposing artifacts as flashy reef fish swim by.
6. Garden Eel Cove — Kona, Hawai’i
As indicated by its name, this site is indeed home to garden eels. But come sunset, these eels turn in for the night, and out come the manta rays instead. After you’ve taken in a Hawaiian sunset, dive down to the black-sand ocean floor, take a seat and watch as a symphony of these majestic rays swoosh past.
Explore in the daytime hours instead and, if you’re lucky, you may encounter a troop of spinner dolphins.
5. Great Blue Hole — Belize City, Belize
Part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO site, the Great Blue Hole is located within a small coral atoll off the coast of Belize City. At a depth of 400 feet, with a width of 1,000 feet, the Great Blue Hole is a geologic wonder: More than 150,000 years ago, before being submerged with rising waters, this was an above-ground cave where stalactites precipitated. Today, you can enjoy the same stalactites via a deep-water dive.
The largest sea hole in the world, this was deemed one of the top 10 dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau himself.
4. SS Yongala — Great Barrier Reef, Australia
It goes without saying that the world’s largest reef system touts many natural wonders. But what might surprise you are the few man-made wonders the reef is home to as well — and, one, in particular, is well worth exploring: the wreck of SS Yongala.
After she sank in a cyclone in 1911, killing all 122 people onboard (as well as a racehorse named Moonshine and a Lincolnshire bull), the SS Yongala became enshrined with coral. Today, the wrecked ship is home to rays, sea snakes, octopuses, turtles, bull sharks, tiger sharks and hundreds of species of fish.
Per law, you are forbidden from entering the ship, so be sure to enjoy the sights from the outside — the penalty for entering is a fine and arrest.
3. Blue Corner — Palau, Malaysia
A dive at Blue Corner guarantees an incredible concentration of marine life. The warm waters afford a relaxing dive with sightings of everything from reef sharks and dogtooth tuna to Napoleon wrasses, turtles and cuttlefish. If you’re lucky, you may even see orcas swim by.
The plummeting reef wall is dense with beautiful coral formations. And just beyond its fringe, up to 13 species of shark circle the area. Since currents are strong in Blue Corner, make sure to bring a reef hook. Then keep your camera ready and let nature do the rest.
2. Barracuda Point — Sipadan, Malaysia
A small island off the town of Semporna on the island of Borneo, Sipadan is a limestone column that rises up 2,000 feet from the seabed. Sipadan’s tens of thousands of acres of coral reefs are part of a national park, where one can expect to see hawkbill and green turtles along with endless schools of barracudas, as hammerhead and whale sharks go nonchalantly about their day.
One note before you go: Visiting Sipadan requires a government permit. Since there are a limited number of 120 permits available each day, book well in advance or expect a longer stay in the area.
1. Ras Mohammed — Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Any compilation of the world’s best dive sites will undoubtedly feature Sharm El Sheikh, and for good reason: Egypt invested in the environmental protection of its waters back in the early 1980s, and has been reaping the rewards of this commitment ever since.
The Ras Mohammed National Park is located at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, overlooking the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. Start at Anemone City and head to the Shark and Yolanda Reefs before ending your dive on a high with the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm, a 1940s British Merchant Navy Ship.