Scuba Diving is becoming a more popular and accessible sport, with thousands of people taking up the hobby every year. Many people know that they want to learn to dive, but have trouble deciding where! I asked some fellow travel bloggers about their experiences, places and centres they would recommend, and also threw in some of my own! Everyone has different experiences with learning to dive, but hopefully this list will help you decide where some of the best places to learn to dive in the world are!
Best destinations for learning to dive on a budget!
Prices of dive courses vary greatly, and some people feel they can’t afford the price tag. You can however find cheaper courses in several destinations around the world, and with a bit of research you won’t be sacrificing quality.
Much like Koh Tao in Thailand, Utila is a small island that is full of dive shops. Tourists flock here for everything from Open Water courses, to becoming professionals. The island has a bit of a party atmosphere, and plenty of people around for you to make friends with. For those on a serious budget, you will be hard pressed to find somewhere in the world where you can learn to dive for cheaper. Open Water courses are usually under the $300 USD mark, and also include accommodation.
Utila, like Koh Tao, sometimes gets a bad reputation for the amount of divers churned out everyday. However, many of the shops, such as Utila Dive Centre, have an excellent reputation. Perhaps the best advice would be to get to the island, ask around, check TripAdvisor and pick a shop that seems to be reputable. The diving here may not be spectacular, but it is pleasant. March/April is the bug season for Whale Sharks, so many people flock here for a chance to dive with these beautiful creatures.
The slightly less crowded and more grown up sister island to Utila, travel writer Lizzie explains why she finds Roatan a great place to learn to dive:
Roatan, the largest island in the Bay Islands archipelago, sits in the Caribbean and is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. I spent 4 years there while working as a chef aboard a private yacht and did hundreds of dives all around the island. It’s easily one of my favorite places to dive, and I can vouch for it being a terrific place to learn to scuba dive.
Over 300 species have been identified in these waters. Divers may see seahorses, lobsters, dolphins, whale sharks, hawksbill turtles, spotted eagle rays, huge groupers, longlure frogfish, porcupine fish, octopus, queen angelfish, and the spotted trunkfish. I’ve snorkelled with a pod of pilot whales and we even saw an orca. The reef itself is amazing with a colorful variety of hard and soft corals at 15-40’ dropping off in sheer walls of coral and sponges so big you could hide inside them!
With this kind of diversity, an average of 100’ visibility, mild currents, and 80°F temperatures year round, the reef and walls are popular among divers of every skill level, but are perfect for beginner divers. Most of your diving will likely be in the approximately 40 sites protected by the Roatan Marine Park, and your training will take place in shallow, crystal clear lagoons protected by the reef. You can dive in Roatan all year long, but keep in mind the rainy season October to January which can affect the visibility due to muddy runoff from the island.
It is a fairly well known fact that Koh Tao is one of the cheapest places in the world to dive. With a similar vibe to Utila, this Thai island is full of Dive Centres. You can take any course imaginable in almost any language here, which sees the island flooded with international tourist permanently. Years ago, I took my Open Water course here at Big Blue, and I never would have imagined I would have ended up as an Instructor 5 years later! I really enjoyed my Open Water Course, and made some great friends on the island, as everyone has something in common – diving!
Ben from Horizon Unknown, took his Advanced Open Water in Koh Tao. He says of his experience:
Koh Tao is an island in Thailand that has made a name for itself with cheap diving. In fact, it’s said to be the cheapest place to get dive certified in the world. Even though the price is so affordable, that doesn’t mean there are corners cut on safety, or that there’s nothing to see. The water is crystal clear and the marine life is everywhere.
While there are plenty of sandy beaches to get acquainted with your first breathe underwater, once you gain some confidence, exploring the more advanced sites of Koh Tao is a perfect next step up.
To dive Koh Tao’s submerged wreck, HMAS Sattakut requires advanced diving certification as it lies just above 30 meters deep. I had no intention of doing the advanced diving course while I was there, but the deeper sites that were now accessible are well worth the effort.Sail Rock is one of Koh Tao’s most renowned sites to dive. Weather conditions can make this site inaccessible, but worth waiting out the storm for.
Experiencing a night time dive is also a possibility at Koh Tao. The underwater world is completely different as the water turns black and fish become dormant. It’s an unforgettable time to dive! During my trip on Koh Tao, I only have great things to say about New Wave Diving. A fairly small company, I got to know my instructor well, and if I had any issues, help was never far away.
A lesser known destination, but equally deserving of a place on this budget diving list! Situated on the northern coast of Colombia, Taganga is a gateway to the Caribbean without the price tag! I worked here for a few months and I think this place should be a lot busier than it is. That being said, there are many backpackers that come to do their Open Water Course here, and the number is growing as word gets out about the beautiful marine life and cheap prices.
Taganga is right on the edge of the Tayrona National Park, where most centres make daily trips for divers. Expect to see huge brain coral, fan coral and other interested underwater topography, as well as colorful fish, squid, lobster, seahorses, Eels and more. Easily the best dive centre in town, Ocean Lovers offers the Open Water course for $290 USD. The town itself is laid back, and popular with Colombian tourists and backpackers. Often used as a gateway for those who want to explore Tayrona, if you are in the area you would be crazy not to take advantage of these prices. Read my guide to diving in Tayrona Park for more detailed information!
Iconic locations for learning to dive
Some destinations around the world are infamous for their amazing diving. Whilst some locations are too advanced to learn to dive for the first time, there are several that offer amazing dives suitable for new divers too.
Great Barrier Reef
Travel blogger Eloise learned to dive on the iconic Great barrier Reef and says:
The Great Barrier Reef is on any divers’ bucket list. More than two million visitors check out this natural wonder of the world each year. It’s not cheap to get certified for scuba diving in Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Therefore, some people choose to get certified for scuba diving before their trip. But if you are short in time at home, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the best places in the world to learn to scuba dive. The water doesn’t get too cold (24°c in winter; 30°C in summer), which is very comfortable and removes some of the stress of learning scuba diving. The water visibility is good, and there are no particular difficulties. Plus, there are plenty of things to see after you finish your exercises: you’re exploring the largest living thing on Earth!
A liveaboard option from Cairns or Port Douglas is one of the most popular ways to explore the Great Barrier Reef. The boat has time to travel to several sites on the outer reef, which are a lot more beautiful than the reefs closer to shore.
You have three options to learn to scuba dive on a liveaboard from Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef:
– do the classroom training and pool sessions in Cairns and join the liveaboard for the Open Water sessions
– do the training online and join the liveaboard to do all the training sessions and Open Water sessions on the Great Barrier Reef
– complete all academic and confined water parts of the certification at home, and complete the Open Water sessions on the liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef with a referral course.
Once you are certified, you will have the opportunity to log your first certified dives almost straight away on the liveaboard and maybe a chance for a night dive. It’s one of the best parts of the trip! If you’re going south afterwards, there will be a few other opportunities to dive in Australia.
There are many trusted dive shops in Cairns. Plus, Australia is known to be a very safety conscious country. My friend learnt to scuba dive in Cairns with Prodive, an Ecotourism Australia certified operator, and was highly satisfied (he even returned for another trip a few years later!). I dived with Reef Encounter and had a great experience too, but regretted picking a cruise without any eco-certification.
With the Caribbean on the doorstep, and also an array of cenotes to explore, Cozumel is a diving paradise. Not too expensive either, there is plenty for new and certified divers to keep themselves occupied with.
Thea describes her Open Water Course in Cozumel:
Last year my husband and I both completed our PADI Open Water SCUBA diving certification in Cozumel, Mexico. The small island is off the Caribbean coast of Playa Del Carmen in the Quintana Roo state and it is part of a large marine protected area. The chilled out island is a wonderful place to cut your teeth on SCUBA diving as it’s reefs are expansive, healthy, and there is a wide variety of interesting wildlife that can be seen there including turtles, eagle rays, nurse sharks, angelfish and if you’re very lucky, you can even see whale sharks.
We dove with Alex SCUBA which is owned by Master Instructor, Alex Oliver and both he and his team were excellent. My instructor was endlessly patient when I struggled with my mask skills and helped me complete the course in the end. Alex even has a pool at his house where you can practice your skills before trying them in the ocean. He offers very competitive pricing that includes discounts the more often you dive, so we ended up doing several dives after the course and became more confident each time. The water there is clear, relatively warm, and every dive was interesting in its own way. After a lovely day in the ocean, there are plenty of places to enjoy some delicious Mexican food and margaritas too.
Egypt offers the chance to dive in the beautiful Red Sea, and explosion of color and full of sea life. An excellent choice for those based in Europe as it is not too far to travel.
Travel bloggers Matt and Heather tell us why they recommend learning to dive in Dahab:
You may imagine dunes and camels when you think of Dahab, but it is also considered one of the best places on earth for diving! It’s a great place to learn to dive because you get an awesome atmosphere while you learn. We experienced great food, fun people, and enjoyed sharing adventures with fellow divers and adventurers.
Dahab is located on the Sinai in Egypt. The closest airport is Sharm El Sheikh and it takes about an hour by car to get to Dahab. Despite the issues you may have seen in the media in the Middle East, we felt safe and comfortable on our two visits to this great town. Check the situation before you go, but don’t let a few isolated incidents deter you from visiting!
Many of the beginner dive sites are shore dives. Imagine putting your gear on at the hotel and walking straight to the ocean to explore the incredible underwater world! You won’t find much current in the area which allows a new diver to focus on all the diving skills they are learning.
The marine life around Dahab is incredible. Corals, anemones, fish and occasionally a turtle inhabiting this amazing place. The clear blue water has excellent visibility (50 m+) and is home to many fish of every colour of the rainbow. We were thrilled with the spectacular vistas on every dive.
Dahab has numerous dive centres. They range from professionally operated to dodgy outfits. You should shop around and find a good combination of quality staff and gear, with the price you want to pay.
A great instructor is a key to a successful course. If you are booking your course once you are in Dahab, you might want to meet your instructor first to make sure they are a good fit. Compared with many other dive spots we have been to, you will find it quite affordable to dive in Dahab. We did not find significant price differences between the reputable dive operations. If you find a price that is too good to be true, it is likely more on the dodgy side.
Some dive centres may only operate when they have a minimum number in the course. Ask the operator to make sure that your course will run if you are the only one that signs up. We booked our course once we were in Dahab and they ran it for the two of us.
Dahab has many types of hotels to choose from, from hostels to expensive dive resorts and everything in between! We liked the Red Sea Relax Resort for its proximity to the ocean and great restaurants. The staff were also pleasant and the pool on site made a great spot to cool down from the heat of the day.
Most dive operators also offer the Advanced Open Water Certificate. When you complete your Open Water course consider continuing your education. Some of Your Advanced course could take place at the famous Blue Hole, about a 45-minute drive from Dahab. We have been fortunate to dive in some of the world’s best dive sites, but Dahab remains one of our favourites!
Often named as the best place to dive in Europe, Malta is a great choice for those wanting to take heir first steps (or fin kicks) into diving! I worked here for a season in 2018, and found the conditions to be great for first time divers.
Most of the diving in Malta is done from the shore, which is great for a slow and steady descent, or some time practicing skills in shallow protected areas. The water surrounding Malta is usually crystal clear, with visibility reaching up to 40m.
There are many dive sites suitable for beginners, and some even have sunken wrecks to explore. There are generally not strong currents, and plenty of shallow and interesting dive sites.
Malta has the added bonus of being one of the most southerly points in Europe, and therefore enjoying year round sunshine. Due to the low cost airlines that frequently fly to Malta, the price of getting there can be very economical. Water temperature can reach a chilly 15°c in January, however in the summer months it can get as warm as 28°c.
Leaning to dive is a beautiful experience, and if you really want to shell out and make the most of it, there is a place that is world renowned for diving and luxury hotels.
Travel blogger Sara describes learning to dive in the Maldives:
A great place to learn how to scuba dive while in paradise is Thulusdhoo, Maldives. Thulusdhoo is a local island in Maldives, so it is very affordable to stay on the island. And the ocean around the island cannot be beat! You’ll want to check out Feenaa Dive for your scuba diving training. They go through everything you need to know at their office, then take you right out on the boat, where you’ll get to dive in the ocean on your first day! We always believe that jumping in and doing something is a better way to learn quick, and Feenaa does an awesome job of this.
You’ll be sticking with your instructor the entire time while in the ocean, so you don’t have to worry about anything. You just concentrate on everything you learned earlier and scuba away. The views are incredible. We swam with a pod of dolphins just ahead of us, which was the highlight of the day! We also saw lots of sea life and tons of colorful fish. The whole day was an awesome experience, as the instructors from Feenaa were very professional, but also a lot of fun to hang out with. They had us laughing and enjoying the ride the whole time.
Where in the world did you learn to dive? Let me know in the comments!
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