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With oceans covering more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, it’s no surprise that the deeps contain innumerable places to explore. But to find some of the best scuba diving in the world at accessible limits for recreational fun, you have to know where to look (you’ll also need to be certified to dive, and PADI can help with that).
From vibrant coral reefs teeming with fish to spooky shipwrecks in the Pacific, follow our lead to some of the best scuba diving in the world.
Related: The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2023
1. Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia
Honeymooners tend to stick to snorkeling the shallows with rays and reef sharks near their overwater bungalows in spots like Bora Bora and Moorea. But adventurous certified divers know the Tuamotu Archipelago is the place to go for the biggest underwater thrills in French Polynesia. Here, in atoll passages in spots like Fakarava, Rangiroa, and Tikehau, some of the best scuba diving in the world awaits. What might you see? Walls of hundreds of gray reef sharks with O2 Fakarava, huge manta rays with Tikehau Ocean Tour, and wild dolphins with Rangiroa Diving Center, for starters. Epic doesn’t even begin to describe diving here.
Snorkelers know Palau for its famous Jellyfish Lake. But divers trek to this remote outpost of the postcard-perfect islands in Micronesia for scuba diving within a shark sanctuary. Famous dive sites like the German Channel (a magnet for manta rays) and Ulong Channel, one of the most exciting drift dives on the planet, are among the highlights. Paddling Palau can take you into the Rock Islands to explore less-visited sites. Sam’s Tours and Fish ’n Fins are two of the longest-running dive shops in Palau that can speed you out to the most iconic dive site, Blue Corner, where the sheer abundance of marine life (sharks, huge schools of fish, rays, and more) has been likened to an underwater Serengeti.
3. Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
From Bali and Lombok to Sulawesi and Komodo, Indonesia is an epicenter of the world’s best scuba diving, and there is no place on the planet like Raja Ampat in West Papua. The remote region’s dive sites come with pristine coral gardens, teeming fish life, and majestic karst landscapes surrounded by turquoise seas. Misool Resort is a spectacular place to stay, surrounded by coral reefs right at your bungalow’s doorstep. And Meridian Adventure has incredible homestay and boutique hotel accommodations that cater to divers. If you’re looking to dive Raja Ampat’s wonders via a liveaboard dive boat (where you sleep onboard, dive, eat, and repeat) to get in as much underwater time as possible, Damai and Arenui, both classic Indonesian pinisi boats, are the best options. Aqua Expeditions is a great choice for something more yacht-like to dive and explore the area.
Whether you stay in an overwater villa at a luxury resort like Hilton Maldives Amingiri Resort & Spa or Jumeirah Maldives Olhahali Island or prefer a luxe stay at sea aboard the incredible liveaboard dive boat, Scubaspa, the Maldives dishes up some of the best scuba diving in the world at spots around North Male Atoll, Baa Atoll, Hanifaru Bay, Ari Atoll, and beyond. Manta rays, whale sharks, and reef sharks (oh my!) are all in the diving mix here.
5. Azores, Portugal
The Azores is a magnificent volcanic archipelago — which belongs to Portugal and lies about 850 miles offshore from the mainland — surrounded by ocean, and not a whole lot else. So it’s no surprise that some seriously awesome diving awaits here. Portugal Dive can arrange land-based expeditions from islands like Terceira, Pico, and São Miguel and send you off aboard the beautiful catamaran Water & Wind to dive among whale sharks, rays, and other ocean wonders.
When it comes to Caribbean diving, few islands can offer up the excitement of Tobago, known for its drift dives and prolific marine life that includes a mix of Caribbean and South American species. In-the-know scuba divers have the tropical island in the southeastern Caribbean on their radar to see one of the largest brain corals in the world at the dive site called Coral Garden. Head out with the local Tobagonian dive team from Tobago Dive Experience to peek underwater at sites like Japanese Gardens, full of huge healthy corals and fans, and more remote sites around Saint Giles, where you might see scalloped hammerheads.
7. Galapagos Islands
Even though the famous rock arch, Darwin’s Arch, collapsed in 2021, some of the best scuba diving in the world still awaits in the waters right beneath the iconic locale when you head to Ecuador’s incredible Galapagos Islands. Scuba divers who love being in the water with big animals and don’t mind brisk water temperatures that can drop into the 60s board liveaboard dive boats like the Galapagos Sky and Calipso yacht to dive with marine life that includes endemic marine iguanas, penguins, sunfish, Galapagos sharks, whale sharks, silky sharks, schooling hammerheads, manta rays, and so much more.
8. Cocos Islands, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s Cocos Islands lie more than 340 miles off the country’s Pacific coast, and they’re worth the trek for some of the most thrilling diving on Earth. The only way for divers to get to this remote locale is on a liveaboard scuba diving boat like Okeanos Aggressor I or Okeanos Aggressor II which depart from the mainland city of Puntarenas for the 36-hour trip. Once you arrive, the chance to see schooling hammerheads, manta rays, whale sharks, and other pelagic fish in large numbers makes the long journey worth it.
9. Socorro and Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico
It’s another long trip by liveaboard diving vessel to reach these remote islands that belong to Mexico. The neighboring volcanic islands of Socorro and Revillagigedo Islands lie some 240 miles off the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, with plankton-rich waters all around that attract large ocean-going animals like manta rays, silky sharks, humpbacks, and bottlenose dolphins. Top liveaboard operators that regularly visit the region include Pacific Fleet and Nautilus Dive Adventures.
10. Baja California Sur, Mexico
For spectacular land-based diving in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean off the Baja California Peninsula, head to Baja California Sur. Here, you can dive with sea lions and go whale watching around Cabo San Lucas with Dive Ninja Expeditions, get in the water with whale sharks in La Paz with Red Travel Mexico, and perhaps even spot blue whales in the waters around Loreto with Blue Nation, another top dive shop in the region. There’s a reason Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez “the world’s aquarium,” and until you head underwater to see why for yourself, you’ll never know.
11. The Bahamas
It’s hard to find waters more gin-clear than those around the beautiful Bahamas. From wreck dives around New Providence Island and shark encounters at Grand Bahama’s famous Tiger Beach to the spectacular reefs of the Exumas, there are so many reasons why you’ll find some of the best scuba diving in the world here. The best part? Diving in the Bahamas can be as much of a splurge as you like. For the ultimate in luxury, the private charter Motor Yacht Loon has top-notch onboard diving facilities and a luxury tender to carry you and your entourage from the mothership to the best dive sites in the Exumas and beyond. For something more shoestring, Blackbeard’s Cruises is a low-frills liveaboard that promises lots of camaraderie and tons of time diving, too.
12. The Florida Keys, United States
To dive along North America’s only coral barrier reef, all you have to do is drive south of Miami to the Florida Keys and get in the water. Pop into one of the many dive shops along the Overseas Highway and set out to explore nine shipwrecks along the Florida Keys Wreck Trek (don’t miss the wrecks of Spiegel Grove, Eagle, and Vandenberg). Miles and miles of glorious coral reefs are home to everything from parrot fish, nurse sharks, and sea turtles to tarpon and barracuda. There are many experienced dive shops in these parts, but among the best are Horizon Divers, Islamorada Dive Center, and Captain Hook’s.
13. Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand
Scuba diving might not be what first comes to mind when you think of New Zealand. But a few hours north of Auckland on the North Island, some of the Southern Hemisphere’s best subtropical diving awaits just offshore from the town of Tutukaka in the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve. Head out on day trips by boat with Dive! Tutukaka to sites like Blue Maomao Arch, which Jacques Cousteau once named among the top 10 dive sites in the world. You’ll dive among the eponymous schooling blue maomao fish, moray eels, and countless other creatures, including tiny colorful sea slugs called nudibranchs that dazzle like sunken treasure. January brings migratory whales to these waters, too.
The sublime colors of Fiji’s prolific soft corals range from pinks, yellows, and blues to oranges and pale purples. And when you add incredible marine life to that beautiful backdrop at dive sites around Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Taveuni, and the Yasawa Islands, you have all the makings of some of the best scuba diving in the world. Fiji is a great place for a family vacation with incredible resorts offering great dining and spas as well as their own onsite dive shops like Vomo Island Fiji, Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji, and Six Senses Fiji on Malolo Island. Seahorses, triggerfish, turtles, and clownfish are among Fiji’s usual coral reef suspects. And if you want to dive with sharks, you can head out for one of the most famous shark dives in the world with Beqa Lagoon Resort, where you might see up to nine different species, including lemons, white tips, blacktips, and bulls.
15. Heron Island, Australia
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the obvious pick when it comes to scuba diving Down Under. And most travelers gravitate to Cairns for day trips to dive on the most famous coral reef in the world. But for something truly spectacular, put the coral reefs of Heron Island on your radar. Located in a more remote stretch of the Great Barrier Reef, you can reach the island via boat trips or a helicopter ride from the town of Gladstone, north of Brisbane. There are more than 20 dive sites around Heron Island, where you’re likely to see three of the six sea turtle species that exist on the Great Barrier Reef as well as white-spotted eagle rays, lemon sharks, and, from June to September, perhaps even migrating humpback whales.
16. Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
For wreck divers, there is perhaps no more storied place for World War II-era wrecks than in the tropical, fish-filled waters of Chuuk Lagoon in Micronesia. The best way to see it all over the course of a dive vacation here is to book a berth aboard the Odyssey liveaboard, which takes up to 16 guests down to Japanese wrecks like the Shinkoku Maru and San Francisco Maru. Many lives were lost in these war wrecks, and you can feel the human tragedy underwater when spotting things like utensils and even clothing used by the crew. Marine life, however, proliferates on the rusting wrecks, which are completely carpeted in hard and soft corals and vibrate with tropical fish.
17. Red Sea, Egypt
From desert outposts like Dahab and Sharm el Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula to the waters off Hurghada on mainland Egypt, this country offers some truly incredible scuba diving sites. Awesome Adventures makes it easy to combine the famous sites in Cairo (including pyramids and temples) with shore-based scuba diving adventures from the mainland and liveaboard diving in the Red Sea. Shipwrecks like the legendary British cargo steamship, the SS Thistlegorm, as well as abundant shark life and colorful coral reefs all make diving in the Red Sea worth the trip.
18. Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, Philippines
At the center of the Coral Triangle, the waters of the Philippines harbor some of the best scuba diving in the world. To see more turtles, rays, and sharks than you ever imagined all in one place on incredible reef and drift dives, Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, in the Sulu Sea near the Philippines’ westernmost province of Palawan, makes for an extraordinary adventure. Visit the region by liveaboard on a dive trip on All Star Infiniti that departs from Puerto Princesa on the Palawan Islands, a pretty spectacular destination of its own.
19. The Cayman Islands
A Caribbean favorite for easy, fish-filled diving, the Cayman Islands delight divers with accessible wrecks that lie close to shore (like the USS Kittiwake, which snorkelers can explore, too) and colorful coral reefs. You can dive the Caymans on a liveaboard like the Cayman Aggressor IV or base on land at a dive-focused resort like Sunset House or Cobalt Coast Resort. During the summer months, schools of thousands of silversides (two-inch-long fish that amass to dazzling effect) appear on the islands’ walls and shallow reefs, making for a remarkable underwater sight.