Crazy about diving? Chances are you have a bucket list in your head of all the places you would like to visit, and to help you add to that I have compiled a list of the best dive sites in the world, as decided by travel and dive writers from around the globe!
At Thingvellir National Park, in the south of Iceland, the land of fire and ice flexes its muscle and shows off its strength. Here by tearing the country in two at what’s known as the Silfra fissure. Diving in Iceland isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the small island nation, but its home to more than a few excellent dives. As the North American and Eurasian plates drift apart (speedily at ~2cm/year) the gap created is filled with glacial runoff water from a subterranean aquifer. This water, filtered pure deep underground throughout the porous lava rock is immaculately clean & clear. Swimming between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates is easily the most unique place I’ve gone diving. Visibility in the fissure is reported to be over 100m nearly continuously making the 40M deep chasm easy to explore. With negligible currents and a year round water temperature of only 2C Silfra is—quite literally—breathtaking. While people do dive Silfra in wetsuits, due to the temperature, a dry suit and decent insulation layer is something I’d highly recommend. If you’re not down for the full underwater experience multiple tour operators run a dry-suit snorkel tour of the fissure which ranks a near second!
Richelieu Rock, Thailand
Thailand boasts many dive sites, but one of them stands above all others. Richelieu Rock is located about 200 km northwest of Phuket, and is typically accessed by live aboard from Phuket. The dive location is best known for the chance to see whale sharks and manta rays. However, even without a visit from the larger pelagic sea life, the area still makes for some beautiful diving! Richelieu Rock is a horse shoe shaped coral formation – the rocks are covered in purple corals, anemones (with all types of clown fish), eels hidden in rocks, almost anything imaginable. Depths can reach up to 30m or even deeper, however there is plenty to see shallower, giving options for all level of diver when planning your trip here. The area is blessed with the typical crystal-clear waters generally found around South East Asia. Dive routes will vary as the currents are changeable – on one dive you may go around one side of the rock formation, another dive you may have to go the other direction to avoid the current. During my two dives there, I encountered two different whale sharks. The whale sharks were especially curious about the divers and enjoyed swimming through the divers’ bubbles. No dive at Richelieu rock is the same – and that is what makes it one of the best dive sites in the world!
Amy from Oceans to Alpines
Molnar Janos, Hungary
Protected since 1992, Molnar Janos is a destination for divers who want to experience true Budapest cave diving without having to go through the many advanced certifications you need to do it on your own. First explored by divers in the 1950’s, the cave is now known to stretch at least 6 km, however it is thought that the uncharted areas are much larger. Normally, you need a special certification to dive in a cave, but Molar Janos Cave in Budapest offers an introduction to Cave Diving class that will allow you to dive, supervised, with very experienced divers. The caves are pitch black, of course, but with proper lighting, you’ll find see-through fossils, interesting rock formations, and a species of blind shrimp that are endemic to the cave system here in Budapest. At times, you’ll even hear the subway, rattling above! Molnar Janos is a true adventure experience in Budapest that you won’t soon forget. If you are a diver with at least Advanced Open Water, it’s something that you just have to try. Seeing Budapest from above is incredible. Seeing it from beneath the surface is a truly unique experience.
SS Yongala, Australia
The SS Yongala wreck is one of my favourite sites for scuba diving in Australia. Before making my way up there, I heard a lot about it. My expectations were high, and it didn’t disappoint. The SS Yongala cruise ship sunk after a cyclone in 1911, not too far from Townsville and the Great Barrier Reef. It took more than 40 years to finally locate it, and what caused the boat to sink remains a mystery. You will usually learn more about the history of the boat during the surface interval from your divemaster.Fish and other marine life have made the place their home. I had never seen such a high number of fish before, and their size was also impressive. When you are usually happy to see a single Maori wrasse, you can see schools of them hanging around the SS Yongala wreck. My favourite sight was a big school of beautiful barracuda, but I also loved watching the olive sea snakes playing in and out of the wreck. Although the top of he wreck sits at only 14 metres deep, you will need an advanced certification to go down to 30 metres to see the SS Yongala wreck in full. Alternatively, you can take a course with an instructor if you have already completed a few dives. Apart from the depth, I found the SS Yongala was an easy site to navigate. There was a small current on one side of the boat that would take you back to the start effortlessly. Wreck penetration is not allowed, however there is plenty of life on the outside to make this a memorable dive. If you are in Australia, don’t forget to check out the stunning East Coast above water too!
SS President Coolidge, Vanuatu
The SS President Coolidge wreck on Santo Island always makes it to the list of the best things to do in Vanuatu and even in the South Pacific. I knew its reputation, but I didn’t have high expectations as the videos and photos I watched online didn’t impress me. I was wrong. I ended up loving the dives there. It feels extraordinary to dive a wreck with such a unique history. It was initially a luxurious cruise ship that was rehabilitated to transport troops during WWII. It hit a mine and sunk with all the equipment on board that you can still find inside the wreck (vehicles, medicines, helmets, and many other artefacts). Although marine life is not impressive by its amount, I was impressed by the species we saw there. The flashlight fish and the electric clams are not to be missed. The night dive on the SS President Coolidge was like nowhere else in the world. The SS President Coolidge is enormous and there are many sites to explore. We met people who did more than ten dives there and still hadn’t seen it all. It is not a site for beginners. You will need at least an advanced certification to go down to 30 metres, but the best is to have a deep diver certification as many sites require to do a decompression dive. You can penetrate the wreck in some large areas, but there are also very narrow passages that are fun to explore if you have an excellent buoyancy and air consumption. You won’t use light for a part of the night dive, so you will be a lot more at ease if you have done a few before.
Aliwal Shoal, South Africa
Aliwal Shoal is a triple threat dive destination: reef, wreck, and shark. Situated 5 kilometres out from the sleepy little town of Umkomaas in Eastern South Africa, this fossilized sand dune reef is magic year-round. It is home to at least 1200 species of tropical and sub-tropical fish, as well as rays, eels, turtles, dolphins, and sharks. All dives out to the shoal are reached via zodiac, and are drift dives. Diving between May and July is arguably the best time, although it is spectacular all year. During this Winter period, Ragged Tooth Sharks call the reef home for their mating period. This is where I completed my very first diving course, and seeing the Raggies was a life changing experience for me as a young diver. This period also sees the migration of Humpback Whales, and their route runs past the reef. During the busier Summer months of November through to January, you will see both Tiger sharks and Hammerheads around the reef. This dive site is beginner friendly, with depths ranging from 6 to 32 metres. Vis is between 5 and 40 metres, and the temperatures range from 18-26℃. Nearby there are two wrecks, the Nebo and the Produce, both providing exciting diving opportunities. If you find yourself in South Africa you would seriously be missing out if you didn’t take a trip out to the shoal. It was my very first dive experience, and it cemented my love for the ocean and our beautiful natural world. Umkomaas is just South of the city of Durban, which has an international airport. Stay in Durban and rent a car out to Umkomaas, or choose to stay in any of the fantastic dive resorts in Umkomaas itself, and really enjoy the laid-back seaside life.
Malapascua Island, located just 7km north of Cebu in the Philippines, attracts divers from all over the world for a very specific reason: the thresher sharks. One dive site, in particular, Monad Shoal, has a few cleaning stations where these majestic thresher sharks grace the divers with their presence every morning at sunrise, around 06:00 am. Yes, that’s right, 6 in the morning! But once you encounter these beautiful creatures underwater, you will forget that you hit snooze five times to get out of bed, or that you hadn’t even had your first coffee yet. The cleaning stations at Monad Shoal are located between 25m to 35m deep, so either an Advanced Open Water license or a Deep Adventure Diver license is required to book a thresher shark dive. If you only have your Open Water license, worry not! There are plenty of dive shops on Malapascua where you can book a course so that you too, can experience this once-in-a-lifetime encounter with the threshers. While it is not necessary, I recommend that you dive with Nitrox so that you can extend your bottom time and increase your chances of seeing the sharks. Even though Malapascua is a world-known destination among scuba diving enthusiasts, it remains under the radar among non-divers. But this small, quaint island is not to be missed on your next trip to the Philippines. Not only does this island host some of the most picturesque beaches with stunning white sand and clear turquoise blue waters, but it also has an incredible, low-key, tropical island vibes like no other.
Read more about the Phillipines at Travelust101
Komodo national park is home to some of the world’s best diving sites and a fantastic place to explore. Regularly topping lists of the best dive sites in the world, the national park is situated in the “Coral Triangle” and is full of life. The easiest way to reach Komodo is by taking a short flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo, Flores. This will be your starting point to visit Komodo, and you can organize a tour in advance or directly in Labuan Bajo. I recently joined a three days cruise with Flores XP Adventure around the national park, including stops on land to visit the famous Komodo dragons as well as a lot of diving. The water is extremely clear and full of life – I’ve seen plenty of turtles and fish in all colours and sizes. One highlight was the famous Manta point, where I’ve been able to actually swim and dive with huge mantas – an incredible experience! We went down to 18 meters on our dives, and the current was quite strong at some points. However, our dive master was good and took good care. I could use all equipment and didn’t need to bring anything by myself. Generally, I also found that the diving spots weren’t very crowded and therefore great to explore. I probably had the best diving experience I ever had and can only recommend it! Don’t forget to check out my dive trip packing list!
Patrick from germanbackpacker
To dive at Sipadan island from Borneo, Malaysia is on every traveling diver’s bucket list. Praised by famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, Sipadan is recognised by many as one of the best places to dive in the world. Just a couple of metres off-shore an incredible coral wall drops 300m into the deep, the site for one of the most spectacular wall dives in the world. Diving here you can expect to see just about anything, the most common sites are huge green turtles, big schools of massive bumphead parrot fish, thousands of trevally’s and reef sharks hunting in the area. The most popular dive site around the island is Barracuda point, massive schools of barracuda swimming around the island can often be seen here, if you are lucky these fish spiral around you to form a large ‘barracuda tornado’. A popular piece of equipment to take along is a reef hook, a line with a handle on one end and a big, strong hook on the other. You hook it somewhere rocky on the reef, grab on to the handle and hang in the current watching pelagic species swim by! The Malaysian government has put the environment first and relocated all resorts from Sipadan Island in 2004 to nearby islands. There is strict access control to the island and only two hundred divers a day are allowed to dive around the island, therefore it is important to book in time to dive at this incredible dive site. This does however mean that the area is protected, and will hopefully remain on of the best dive sites in the world.
Cape Kri, Indonesia
Raja Ampat is part of the Coral Triangle in Indonesia and world-renowned for its amazing dive sites. A favorite amongst many divers is Cape Kri at the northeast of Kri Island. The dive site is known for its many species and holds the record for most species seen on a single tank dive: 374! As for most dive sites in Raja Ampat, being at least Advanced Certified is recommended, and some dive operators and liveaboards will require a minimum number of dives – currents can be quite something here, and you want to go deep to really get the most out of the area. Cape Kri’s depth ranges from 5 – 40 m and can get strong currents thanks to its channel location between Kri and Koh island. If you ask what there is to see at Cape Kri an easier question would be – what can’t you see? Amongst those 374 species you will find anything from tiny pygmy seahorses to giant groupers, blacktip reef sharks and hawksbill turtles. If you get very lucky you may even find an elusive blue-ringed octopus. Another highlight is the plateau of the coral reef at about 8m depth where you can find huge schools of sweetlips, barracudas, snappers and big-eye trevallies. Whatever you do, don’t forget to bring your camera and come back for a night dive to see this fantastic dive site in a whole new light.
Annika from www.midnightblueelephant.com
Rainbow Reef, Fiji
Located in the Somosomo Strait, a stretch of water between the islands Taveuni and Vanua Levu, the world-famous Rainbow Reef is among the most diverse and intact dive spots in the South Pacific and often referred to as the “Soft Coral Capital of the World”. Due to strong tidal currents, aquatic life here is in a particularly healthy condition. Over 1200 species of reef fish and more than 10,000 invertebrate species can be found in the narrow channel. Divers have the chance to explore the underwater beauty at more than 20 dive sites, suitable for both beginners and advanced divers. One of the most famous dive sites in the area is the Great White Wall, a vertical coral wall located on the southern section of the Rainbow Reef. The wall drops down beyond 30m and is covered in ice colored soft coral, sponges, and patches of hard coral, which are home to colorful reef fish. Also, you will find a cave and several swim throughs often inhabited by moray eels and lionfish.
On the inner section of Vanua Reef is another one of the Rainbow Reef’s best-known dive sites: the Fish Factory. As the name suggests, this dive site is home to all kinds of fish. Schools of anthias and damsels are darting around coral bommies, nudibranchs and moray eels at the beginning of your dive. Drifting with the current, you will soon reach a solid wall dropping to 27m and covered in the most colorful soft coral. Along the wall, it’s common to spot travelly, parrotfish, Spanish mackerel, scorpionfish, barracuda as well as turtles and blue spotted rays. Also, keep an eye out for white tip reef sharks and the occasional manta ray. Most dive resorts in and around Taveuni and Vanua Levu offer dive trips to the Rainbow Reef on a daily basis. To get to Taveuni from the main island Viti Levu, you can either take a flight from Nadi or an overnight ferry from both Nadi and Suva.
Lena from www.lenaonthemove.com
Blue Hole, Egypt
Dahab’s Blue Hole is a very popular dive site, a few kilometers north of Dahab. Many divers visit Dahab especially for the Blue Hole, but there are many more reasons to visit Dahab. The Blue Hole is an underwater sinkhole that is 100-120 meters deep. For recreational divers (advanced divers only!), a dive in the Blue Hole itself isn’t very exiting. It’s just a very deep hole with hardly any marine life. A wonderful dive however is a drift dive from El Bells to Blue Hole. You enter via a chimney that goes down to 28 meters (one side is open, you can exit at any depth) with a small arch at 26 meters and continue your dive keeping the gorgeous colorful reef wall on your right. You slowly ascend until you reach Blue Hole’s saddle at 6-7m and finish your dive with a safety stop in the Blue Hole. Maintaining depth in the blue can be a challenge and hovering in the Blue Hole can be disorienting. Please know that the Blue Hole in Dahab isn’t nicknamed ‘the Divers Cemetery’ for nothing. It can be a very dangerous dive site and it’s estimated 150-200 divers and freedivers have died here in recent years. You can see the commemoration plaques on the wall at the dive site. If you dive within your limits, you’ll be fine. But many see ‘The Arch’, a 26 meter long tunnel at 52 meters depth as a challenge. The Arch can be deadly and should not be dived by recreational divers. Diving The Arch is often compared with climbing the Kilimanjaro. Both require a lot of training and expertise and should only be done by technical divers with an experienced local guide.
USAT Liberty, Indonesia
In 1942 during WWII the USAT Liberty, a 125 meter long American cargo ship, was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese. The Americans and the Dutch beached the ship at Tulamben on the eastern shore of Bali to salvage its cargo. The Liberty was left there, until in 1963 the volcano Mount Agung erupted. Mount Agung’s tremors pushed the USAT Liberty back in the water and she now lies between 9 and 30 meters on a slope of black sand. Lucky for us divers, because the USAT Liberty has become a fantastic site, and one of the most popular dive sites in Bali. It’s one of the easiest large WWII wreck dives in the world. The calm water and relatively shallow depth make this a wreck dive that even beginners can do, and gives new divers a chance to experience one of the best dive sites in the world. After over 50 years in the water, the USAT Liberty is covered in colorful corals and home to many species of marine life. I would definitely recommend that you do more than one dive here, there’s a lot to discover and it’s a great dive site for photography. Also, use a dive computer to maximize your bottom time.
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
“The most beautiful island in the world” as declared by the infamous Jacques Cousteau, Cocos Island is a UNESCO world heritage site and frequently declared the best dive site in the world by those who have visited. Situated around 340 miles off the west coast of Costa Rica, it is only accessible by liveaboards. Diving here can be challenging, and shouldn’t be attempted by newbies. Currents can be ripping, and conditions changeable with no notice. However, the deep ocean upwelling attracts an huge array of life. Schooling hammerhead sharks in their hundreds are often seen here, as well as Tiger Sharks, Whale Sharks and occasionally Orcas. Couple this with the huge schools of Tuna and Jacks, and you have yourself world class diving, completely untouched and protected. The island has no inhabitants, and you cannot access the land. the high prices of Liveaboards mean you wont find the hoards of divers blocking your view like at many other world famous sites. For a more affordable option in Costa Rica, check out Bat Islands where Bull Sharks are frequently seen.
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