Scuba diving is like flying under the water. Gliding weightlessly and freely in a blue underwater world is unlike any other experience. Add colorful schools of fish, intricate coral and sunken shipwrecks to the scenery, and you get a scuba diver’s paradise.
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While you can dive anywhere there’s water, some spots make exceptional dive destinations and are worth adding to your bucket list. This post explores the best diving sites in the world, from the warm, clear lagoons of French Polynesia to Denmark’s cool, mysterious waters.
13 Top Scuba Diving Locations in the World
The world’s top dive sites often feature clear water, captivating underwater terrains or extraordinary marine life. Some places seem to have everything a scuba diver dreams of. Here are 13 of the world’s most celebrated dive destinations to consider for your next journey:
1. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is known for its biodiversity on its land and in its waters. You’ll find an array of permanent and migratory species off the coast of Costa Rica, from massive humpback whales to gentle manta rays.
On its Pacific side, prepare to discover diving sites known for underwater pinnacles, which provide a habitat for diverse marine life. Here, scuba divers gather at Cocos Island, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, to dance in the water with manta rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks. As a bonus, Cocos Island National Park is the only island in this region of the Pacific with tropical rainforest.
On Costa Rica’s east coast facing the Caribbean Sea, you’ll find shipwrecks and colorful reefs abundant with sea life. For example, to explore a wreck that’s now the home of plentiful sea creatures, head to Isla Uvita — a small, uninhabited island that sits off the coast of Puerto Limón. During your dive, you might encounter turtles, eels, reef sharks, seahorses and various other underwater creatures.
2. French Polynesia
French Polynesia is heaven for scuba divers, and not just because it has warm turquoise waters and unspoiled beaches. No matter where you are in French Polynesia, whether you’re sunbathing in Tahiti or joining a Polynesian feast in Bora Bora, you’ll also be close to an incredible dive site.
In this part of the South Pacific, you’ll find lagoons and narrow channels teeming with marine life, including various shark species, manta rays and barracudas. If you travel there in the fall, you may encounter whales during your dive, especially if you’re in Tahiti or Moorea.
Some of the world’s best diving sites exist in Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, Tetiaroa and other French Polynesian islands and atolls. For example, to go wreck diving in Tahiti, visit the Faa’a Lagoon and witness the ruins of a World War II minesweeper and old seaplane.
In Bora Bora, put on your wetsuit and sail out to Tupitipiti Point, one of the most famous diving sites in the region. Here you’ll find a fascinating coral terrain complete with swim-throughs and overhangs.
If you want to glide weightlessly through coral canyons and caves buzzing with reef fish, plan a dive at Tetiaroa’s “Canyons” site. Overall, you may find it hard to choose a single dive site in French Polynesia, but it’s even more challenging to leave this paradise on Earth.
If you want to glide through the water alongside large pelagic fish and marine mammals, plan a trip to Mexico’s Socorro Island. Socorro is the largest of the Revillagigedo Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean located south of the Baja California peninsula. This remote volcanic island rises out of the water to an elevation of over 3,000 feet. Although the island itself is a sight to behold, it’s the surrounding waters that draw eager scuba divers to its coast.
Socorro Island, particularly the site Punta Tosca, is one of the few places on the planet where scuba divers can swim with humpback whales. Divers may also encounter friendly dolphins, schools of hammerhead sharks and giant manta rays.
While Socorro Island is a must-see for advanced scuba divers, beginners should head to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula for calm, crystal-clear water. One spot worth visiting is the Museo Subacuatico de Arte, located near Cancun, where you can view submerged, life-size sculptures.
On the Yucatán Peninsula, you’ll also find hundreds of cenotes to explore, such as Cenote Dos Ojos. Located in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Cenote Dos Ojos is a popular dive and snorkeling site known for its high visibility and underwater caves.
4. The Philippines
The Philippines consists of over 7,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean, between the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea. A trip to the Philippines provides thousands of diving opportunities for beginners and experienced divers alike. Some of the sites are among the best in the world.
For example, if you’re looking for an unforgettable wreck diving experience, you’ll be pleased with Subic Bay. Located in southwest Luzon, Subic Bay was once a U.S. naval base and is now a popular site for wreck dives. At Subic Bay, you can get close to sunken warships in warm, tropical water.
You’ll also find some of the top wreck diving sites on Coron Island, a limestone utopia surrounded by clear, aquamarine water. The area is known for its WWII shipwrecks bordering coral reefs as well as its dramatic cliffs and lush jungle scenery.
If you enjoy relaxing on the beach after a day of diving, think about journeying to Boracay. This tiny island south of Manila is often regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful islands. Known for its white sandy beaches and shallow, transparent waters, Boracay is a tropical paradise. Here you can dive and swim around colorful reef fish, such as parrotfish, puffers and angelfish. You might also encounter moray eels, blue-spotted stingrays and sea snakes during your adventure. With its easy access to dive sites and shallow waters, Boracay is the ideal diving destination for beginners.
Australia is at the top of many divers’ bucket lists, thanks to the Great Barrier Reef. Containing the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see treasure. When you enter this vast world of vibrant colors and shapes, you’ll find an array of coral, fish, mollusks, sponges, anemones and other sea life species. You might also run into whales, dolphins or turtles as you glide through the water.
After your dive, you’ll enjoy equal beauty on Queensland’s tropical shore and a chance to view unique flora and fauna, including dozens of bird species. Due to the region’s warm, crystalline waters, you can dive here any month of the year and have magical memories to take home.
With both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, Spain offers a wide selection of dive options, including some of the world’s top sites. On a voyage to Spain, you might spend time diving in the Atlantic Ocean around the Canary Islands, where you’ll find year-round sun, warm glass-like water and fascinating underwater worlds. Off the coast of Gran Canaria, in particular, you can explore submerged volcanic formations or shipwrecks.
Costa del Sol in sunny southern Spain is another beloved scuba diving area. Situated near the Strait of Gibraltar, this portion of the Mediterranean is home to abundant marine life, including whales, dolphins, octopuses and various fish and plant species. In Marbella, you can dive at the site of a sunken crane tower, which is now an artificial reef and home to eels and other sea creatures. After your day of sea, sun and adventure, relish your memories over a plate of fresh seafood and a bowl of gazpacho.
You’ll find some of Europe’s best dive sites in France, especially if you love investigating shipwrecks. For example, you’ll want to add Corsica to your bucket list if you wish to go diving in underwater canyons or explore sunken ships.
Corsica is a mountainous island in the Mediterranean known for its picturesque coastline, sandy beaches and clear azure waters. Here you can swim around a submerged tanker and sunken aircraft, which are now habitats for eels and sponges. At the Scandola Nature Reserve, you can dive into a canyon and move through tunnels and caves, meeting eyes with various sea creatures along the way.
There are also plenty of islands and dive sites to explore between Cannes and Nice, too, where you can expect clear water and high visibility. After you work up an appetite, you’ll have access to world-class cuisine onshore — what more could you ask for?
It’s no wonder scuba divers are drawn to Italy, with its endless miles of Mediterranean coastline and hundreds of islands dotting the sea. You’ll find notable diving sites all along this boot-shaped peninsula and at its many islands, along with stunning scenery. You’ll discover some of Italy’s best diving sites on its main islands, such as Sicily, Sardinia and Elba.
On Elba, you can shore dive to a sunken ship called the Elviscot, an excellent site for beginners. Due to the shallow water, photographers will also be pleased with the underwater brightness. Another popular dive site is Formiche della Zanca off Elba’s coast, where you can swim to massive rocks that create a labyrinth of trails.
In Sicily, you can enjoy diving to caves, pinnacles and shipwrecks. For example, near Taormina, you can venture to Grotta Azzurra, a beautiful sea cave, or view the remains of a Roman cargo ship, known as Wreck of the Columns.
Sardinia is also one of the best scuba destinations in the Mediterranean, home to caves, shipwrecks, plentiful sea life and various shore dives. When you’re not diving, you can enjoy spectacular vistas overlooking the sea.
Are you heading to the Italian Riviera? Consider diving in the bay at San Fruttuoso to see the original Christ of the Abyss or exploring a pinnacle not far from Portofino, where you’ll find snappers, anthias and gorgonians.
Denmark may be more widely known as a haven for bicycling, but it’s also one of the world’s best places for wreck diving. Shipwrecks fill Danish waters, and many of them are yet to be discovered and explored. For example, a ship called Delmenhorst was only recently discovered in the Baltic Sea not far from the island of Lolland. This warship sank during a 17th-century battle and today remains mostly buried in the seabed.
There’s plenty more to discover in the Baltic Sea, including wrecks from World War I and WWII. Due to the sea’s low salinity, the wooden ships are in excellent condition. When you’re not examining sunken vessels or looking for underwater treasures, you can keep busy in Copenhagen and find out why it’s one of the happiest cities on the planet.
Indonesia needs to be at the top of every scuba diver’s bucket list. Situated between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Indonesia comprises over 17,000 islands, and only about 6,000 of them are inhabited. In addition, Indonesia contains a major portion of the Coral Triangle, holding approximately three-fourths of the world’s coral species and over a third of the planet’s coral reef fish species. As you might imagine, Indonesia is a scuba diver’s dream.
There’s so much to discover no matter where you are in Indonesia, whether you want to see pygmy seahorses up close or shine your dive light on WWII ruins. Still, one of the country’s most famous diving areas is Raja Ampat.
Raja Ampat is an archipelago located in the West Papua province. Scientists have just started exploring this remote region and regularly discover new marine life species. Here, hundreds of pinnacles and small islands dot the peacock-blue water, which buzzes with abundant sea life, including sharks, manta rays, turtles and large schools of fish. Overall, the islands of Raja Ampat are ideal dive sites for people who want to explore pristine reefs and rare biodiversity.
If you can’t make the trek to Raja Ampat, there’s plenty to enjoy in Bali. Bali is known for its natural beauty and fascinating culture, which will enhance any diving trip. Offshore you can explore an underwater temple, a sunken cargo ship and coral-coated pinnacles where crowds of sea critters live.
Belize is worth visiting at least once for many different reasons. While exploring this Caribbean treasure, you can wander Maya ruins, visit a black howler monkey sanctuary or find a secret spot on one of its cays. Belize is also home to the second-largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and remarkable diving sites, such as the Great Blue Hole located at the Lighthouse Reef Atoll.
The Great Blue Hole is a massive marine sinkhole, stretching about 1,000 feet across and reaching a depth of over 400 feet. Divers dream of descending into the Great Blue Hole to view underwater stalagmites and stalactites. When not investigating the rock formations in the mysterious sinkhole, you can explore the surrounding reef teeming with sea life.
If you’re not ready to plunge into a giant sinkhole, you have endless diving options elsewhere in Belize’s bath-like water. For example, you can easily access reefs and canyons off the shore of Belize City. Beginner scuba divers can enjoy applying their new skills at most cays, where the water is calm and clear. You might pass a manatee suspended in the water during an adventure or encounter endangered sea turtles nesting on the coast.
12. Cayman Islands
The warm Caribbean Sea surrounding the Cayman Islands is a magnet for scuba divers due to its astonishing visibility. You can see underwater wonders, such as colorful coral and tropical fish, crystal-clear as you dive. You’ll find plenty of unique diving attractions in the Cayman Islands, and some of them are considered must-sees.
One popular diving spot is the Bloody Bay Wall Marine Park, located in Little Cayman. Bloody Bay Wall is a steep underwater cliff that drops thousands of feet into the sea. Along the wall, you’ll find colorful coral formations, sponges and sea fans. In the wall’s nooks, you might discover crabs, lobsters and moray eels.
For more wildlife viewing opportunities, head to Grand Cayman, where you can take a diving trip at Stingray City. Stingray City is a large sandbar and home to various fish species and friendly stingrays. Here, the stingrays are so used to human interaction you can play with them or pet them and make lifelong memories.
To scuba divers, Fiji is more than a South Pacific paradise. It’s also known as the best place in the world to see soft coral and sharks. Divers of all abilities can enjoy Fiji’s underwater caves, walls, canyons, reefs and diverse marine life.
One recommended diving area is the Beqa Lagoon, located off Pacific Harbor. Here, divers can view pinnacles covered in colorful soft coral, swim around tropical fish or come close to various shark species.
Another top diving location is the Namena Marine Reserve in Savusavu. The reserve holds a horseshoe-shaped barrier reef that’s alive with coral and hundreds of fish species. Its sheltered water is also a haven for migratory animals, including dolphins and whales. Onshore, the reserve is a vital nesting area for green and hawksbill sea turtles and various birds, including red-footed boobies.
Reasons to Scuba Dive on Your Next Adventure
If you’ve never gone scuba diving before, you may be wondering if it’s right for you. While there’s certainly plenty to see on land, diving gives you a chance to see an alien side of this world. Considering that about 71% of the Earth is covered in water, you would never run out of things to do if you learn how to scuba dive.
The act of scuba diving itself is enjoyable and unlike any other experience. So, if you’re questioning whether to stay land-bound or take the plunge, here are reasons to give scuba diving a chance:
- It’s peaceful and relaxing: When you journey into the deep, you leave the noise, worries and busy schedules far behind. All you’ll hear is the sound of the bubbles you exhale as you slowly glide through the water.
- You’ll get to explore areas few people see: Learning how to scuba dive allows you to explore parts of the world very few people have seen before. If you’re an explorer at heart and love to roam off the beaten path, it’s time to give scuba diving a try.
- You’ll have an unforgettable experience: It’s hard to forget an underwater encounter with a friendly sea turtle or a giant whale shark. After diving, you’ll have stories to tell and memories to cherish for life.
- You can make new friends: Scuba diving is a great way to meet like-minded adventurers. So, if you’re a solo traveler looking to join a fun group of people, scuba diving can be your ticket.
- It’s the closest thing to flying: When you’re underwater with your scuba diving gear on, you can freely glide as if you were flying. The weightlessness is exhilarating and stress-relieving.
Discover Your Best Dive Site With Windstar Cruises
If you’re ready to dive and experience a new part of the world, Windstar Cruises is prepared to take you there. At Windstar Cruises, we sail to scuba diving destinations worldwide, including ports in the Mediterranean, Caribbean and South Pacific. As a guest, you can take a diving excursion once we dock or find a piece of underwater paradise on your own. We have diving instructors on board many of our voyages to help you plan your dive or teach you the basics.
Ready to set sail? Browse our cruise destinations or contact a Windstar Vacation Planner to learn more about our small, intimate cruise ships.