Jerry Seinfeld famously joked that the only goal of scuba diving is to “not die.” Despite the risk, however, there are millions of devotees worldwide who believe the access this extreme sport provides to extraordinary underwater landscapes and the interaction it enables with the unusual sea creatures who populate the ocean’s depths make the experience worth the risks.
Certified divers may start small with their explorations, but many chase white whales, so to speak, when it comes to dive destinations worldwide. Below, find some of the best spots in the world for spotting sharks, shipwrecks, and (peacock mantis) shrimps. (Google that last one and you won’t be sorry.) Suffice it to say, when it comes to analog travel experiences, it doesn’t get more unplugged than these.
Deep dive into these 13 unbelievable scuba destinations below.
1. Kona, Hawaii
If you like night diving, and swimming with giant (12-foot) Manta rays, Kona is the spot for you. (Sounds absolutely magical, right?) Every specimen in these waters has its own name, and some are up to 50-years old. What further differentiates this ray-specific spot from others is that it’s located in a feeding zone, which means you get to watch these amazing creatures in action. This dive (or three dive zones, to be specific) is appropriate for all levels and even caters to those who just want to snorkel instead.
2. The Great White Wall, Fiji
The Great White Wall is as advertised, a massive underwater barrier of soft coral that stretches down to depths of nearly 100 feet and is well-populated with sea creatures. Due to the fact that the wall is only accessible via a tubular swim-through—which starts at 66 feet below the surface—this is considered an advanced dive; however, Rainbow Reef, the area in which it’s located, is in itself considered an excellent dive spot. So, there are options for those who prefer open-water experiences.
3. The Great Blue Hole, Belize
The Great Blue Hole is basically a collapsed, underwater cave formation off of the coast of Belize. Back in 1971, dive pioneer Jacques Cousteau named it one of his top 10 deep-sea destinations in the world. Divers flock here to marvel at the giant stalagmites and stalactites (hello, elementary school science class!) and swim with Caribbean reef sharks, the occasional hammerhead, and other wildlife. Different dives are available for all levels of expertise.
4. The Tiputa Pass, French Polynesia
The Tiputa Pass is located at the Rangiroa coral atoll, and here you’ll do what’s known as “shooting the pass.” This means that you’ll be dropped off on the ocean side of the atoll and pulled by the current through to the lagoon in the center of the atoll. Divers can expect to see grey sharks, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, dolphins, and more. Various dive types are available for all levels of expertise.
5. Darwin’s Bay, Galapagos
Darwin’s Bay is known for being one of the best dive destinations in the world for those who wish to swim with the big fish (and other large sea creatures). Here, you’ll enjoy close encounters with various species of turtles, schools of hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and dolphins. Access to the site requires you to book a live-aboard boat. It’s considered an advanced dive.
6. Sipadan, Borneo
Cousteau also put this dive destination on the map when he raved about it back in 1989, and it’s known as one of the most-bountiful marine environments in the world, today. Divers can expect to see hundred of species of fish and coral varietals, as well as larger sea creatures such as turtles, sharks, and manta rays. One rather morbid attraction to the site is known as the “Turtle Tomb,” an underwater cave in which many a turtle has become lost, dying as a result. Sipadan is considered an intermediate-to-advanced dive zone.
7. Lembeh Strait, Indonesia
Lembeh Strait is popular for what’s known as muck diving, which is basically code for exploring the ocean floor. It requires more focus than reef diving, but it can pay off in spades in terms of wildlife discovery—hence why it’s often favored by underwater photographers. The area’s home to strange creatures such as hairy frogfish, pygmy seahorses, various species of octopi, the aforementioned peacock mantis shrimp, and many, many more. Conditions here cater to all levels of expertise.
8. Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Cocos Island is an uninhabited island off the coast of Costa Rica, which was declared a marine national park by the Costa Rican government in 1978. As such, dives here are accessible only by live-aboard boat. The water is teaming with wildlife, with huge schools (sometimes numbering in the hundreds) of hammerhead sharks providing the main draw. As there are many different dive spots, Cocos is a destination which works for adventurers of all skill levels. Note: A woman from Manhattan died this past December after she was bitten by a female tiger shark while diving here. Though this is terrifying and tragic, National Geographic notes that this is only the fifth confirmed shark attack to occur in Costa Rica over a period of 400 years.
9. Socorro Island, Mexico
This island, located southwest of Cabo San Lucas, is known as Mexico’s “little Galapagos,” and the ocean surrounding it is teaming with impressive creatures. Divers may spot giant manta rays, humpback whales, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, dolphins, barracudas, and more. It’s reachable via live-aboard boat only, and is considered an experienced dive site due to its choppy waters and strong currents.
10. Bianca C, Grenada
The Bianca C cruise ship is known as the “Titanic of the Caribbean”—it sank in 1961, though in this case only 2 lives (out of 700) were lost. You can drift dive along its 600-foot remains, but you must do so fast—the ship is now deteriorating at an advanced rate. Due to its depth—nearly 170 feet—this is considered an advanced dive. To add more marine life in to the adventure, swim over to Whibbles Reef after.
12. Guadalupe Island, Mexico
Thrill-seekers flock to Guadalupe Island on the West Coast of Baja California for one reason: to dive with great white sharks. As it’s not actually safe to swim with these intimidating creatures, live-aboard-boat guides will instead usher you into a cage and drop you 30 feet below the surface to where schools of the sharks congregate. In some cases, five or more may circle your cage at once.
13. The Great Barrier Reef and The Yongala, Australia
No scuba-specific bucket list is complete without inclusion of the most-famous reef in the world. The Great Barrier Reef, located off of the coast of Queensland, is 1,400-plus miles long and therefore offers a variety of dive zones. Try the Around the Bend drift dive at Osprey Reef, which includes a manta ray cleaning station or Lighthouse Bommie at the Ribbon Reefs, where minke whale spotting is possible. All levels of experience can be accommodated.
Many adventurers add a stop at the Yongala en route to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Located near Townsville in Australia, this is considered to be one of the best shipwreck dives in the world. Here, the S.S. Yongala sank in 1911 due to a tropical cyclone, taking all 124 passengers with it. It was discovered in the 1950s and has since become popular among advanced divers—currents are strong, so it’s not an advisable dive for beginners.
Originally published May 31, 2018; updated July 3, 2018.
Looking for more adventures? Check out this bucket list for active travelers. Or, opt to reset and rejuvenate at the first Well+Good retreat this March.