Best scuba diving destinations

manta ray raja ampat
This feeling is unbeatable and only accessible to traveling divers

As many divers know, the world instantly becomes twice as big as soon as we get our Open Water Diver certification. Suddenly traveling acquires a new and double meaning. We can know the surface and the sea bottom of the places we travel to. Magical, right? Egypt is no longer just home to one of the most amazing and mysterious civilizations; for us, divers, Egypt is also a place to dive in sunken ships over a century old, coral reefs and sharks. And what about Indonesia? Bali is not only temples and beaches where you can surf, it is also the USAT Liberty wreck, manta rays and giant sunfishes. Cuba not only has colonial history or architecture for us, it is also a place full of coral gardens, silky sharks and even crocodile diving. Do you see how lucky we are? Divers travel twice in a single trip. We have the power to know the singularities of the surface and the bottom.

Cuban sharks attract more and more tourists every year

Unfortunately, time and money are limited and although our imagination can lead us to dive in the entire planet, it is not possible for everyone. On the one hand, travel to dive is not cheap, on the other hand, sometimes we do not know which destinations are the most appropriate for our level of diving or the type of diving we like, or if we must do it through liveaboards or from shore.

In this article, which we intend to be an index to all our scuba diving articles and resources on diving trips, you will find descriptions of the best dive sites in the world, their most interesting dives, wildlife you will find, the best time to dive in each one from these destinations, useful tips, recommendations and links to offers from dive travel agencies, liveaboards and resorts, where you can compare prices and even book online.

 Red Sea

Buceo en el Mar Rojo
Anemones and clown fish are a constant in the waters of the Red Sea. Pic by Eric Burgers

The Red Sea is an ocean of diving options, one of the most popular destinations (if not the most popular) and where many divers usually start as their first international diving destination, especially for Europeans and Asians.

Why is diving in the Red Sea so popular?

First for the quality of your diving. We find corals of good health such as those of Ras Mohammed in the north to the sharks and the adrenaline diving of Brothers, Daedalus, Elphinstone in the south to St. Johns or Sudan in the far south with their wrecks and hammerhead sharks.

In the Red Sea you will find reefs full of life that receive deep currents loaded with food and that provides shelter to some of the most desired creatures by underwater photographers: clownfish, huge moray eels, nudibranchs, lionfish, turtles and sharks are the marine stars of the Red Sea. And, as if it were not enough, in waters with an average temperature of 26 ° C and an complete liveaboard selection, from the luxurious ones to budget boats.

Another important reason to consider the Red Sea as a Top diving destination is its peculiarity of having many shipwrecks. Some of them, like the steamers with more than 120 years underwater, are a delight for the diving lovers of this type of immersions, greatly appreciated. Some wrecks like the Thistlegorm, sunk by German ships during World War II and where we can still find remains like motorcycles, boots, trucks or different equipment for British soldiers during the campaign of North Africa, are famous all over the world and a must for any diver.

It’s Impossible not to fall in love with the Thistlegorm once you dive it. Video of flyingbeach.com

The third reason why we and thousand divers all over the world like and enjoy the Red Sea is that divers of all levels can enjoy it. For example, Open Water Divers can make such interesting diving routes with as much to offer as the classic north route, with dives in the Thistlegorm and the Ras Mohammed National Park or Shark and Yolanda Reef, areas with little currents and without great depths, apt for those who have less experience. From there in the north to areas further south, with strong currents and great depths, only suitable for those experienced divers and with at least 50 dives on their logbook, or even for technical divers who have in the Numidia wreck, for example, a place of pilgrimage, with the bow to only 5 meters deep and the stern that reaches 85 m.

Two other basic reasons to have the Red Sea among the most popular destinations are its proximity (for Europeans and Asians) and its budget options. From London, in just 7.5 hours, you’ll be in Sharm el Sheikh ready to embark on an awesome diving destination like the Red Sea. In addition, you can find offers, both for flights and liveaboards and super cheap resorts, and for less than USD 1,250 have a great diving holiday in the Red Sea and return home with 20 spectacular dives under your belt.

 Indian Ocean

whale shark maldives

We associate the diving destinations of the Indian Ocean with white sand paradise beaches, luxury resorts and liveaboards where to disappear, multicolored coral gardens where you can snorkel and all kinds of small tropical species to swim with. While it is true that diving in the Indian Ocean brings together many of these topics, it is not least that it also has top level drift diving where meet the biggest predators of the sea, powerful currents and some unique adventures.

What are the most incredible diving destinations in the Indian Ocean?

 Maldives

manta maldivas
Manta rays are responsible of thousands of divers coming to  Maldives. Image courtesy of nicoboxethai

Undoubtedly, the star of diving in the Indian Ocean and one of the best areas to dive the world is Maldives. Known by all divers for their whale sharks and manta rays, Maldives has the most complete diving travel infrastructure in the world, with more than 40 liveaboards operating throughout the year on different routes and hundreds of resorts, with some the most luxurious on the planet.

This country is made up of more than 1,000 islands and 26 atolls through which a water laden with food flows and through whose channels you can dive with two of the species with which divers from all over the world dream diving with: the whale shark and manta rays.

Yes, Maldives is the kingdom of these two enigmatic species, but also home to up to 1,000 species of fish and invertebrates, immaculate coral gardens (mainly in the southern liveaboard routes), extraordinary sharks like the guitar shark or the tiger shark and a whole series of tropical fauna such as humphead wrasse, sweet lips fish, clownfish, turtles or eagle rays. Maldives wins your heart as soon as you put the mask under its waters.    

 Mozambique

Mozambique is also a territory of big fish, especially of whale shark and manta rays. Here we can find an enormous channel, between Africa and Madagascar, where an enormous torrent of plankton flows, taking advantage of the cold waters of Antarctic Ocean and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. That phenomenon is like a magnet for the megafauna of the ocean. The two animals that are common in the Indian Ocean, manta rays and whale sharks, show up to lucky divers throughout the year in Mozambique, which also has rich coral reefs and large mangroves, becoming a very important nursery for this huge ocean. One aspect that makes unique the diving in this country is the chance of meeting whales, mainly humpback and right whales, which appear in their migrations from June to December.

In Mozambique, specifically in Tofo, where most of the country’s diving is concentrated, you can also find 5 of the 7 species of sea turtles, dolphins, rays, tunas, huge potato groupers or reef sharks. A destination for adventurous divers still little exploited since it can have pretty challenging dives. 

 Indo-Pacific

pez luna bali

If the Red Sea is an ocean of options for diving, the Indo-Pacific must be a universe. This is the most graceful area of the planet in terms of conditions for a bloom of marine life. In this area, known as the Coral Triangle, there are a series of currents that, together with the temperature of its waters, have made life flow and evolve to extraordinary parameters of beauty. Here we will find a unique biodiversity around the world, home to over 2,000 species of reef fish and 37% of the total reef fish on the planet. As if that were not enough, 75% of coral species from around the world can be found here, where 30% of all corals on Earth are concentrated.

Exactly, the Indo-Pacific can be described as a paradise for the most demanding divers: the best macro in the world, manta rays, sharks, many endemic species, immeasurable coral gardens, the rarest critters, sharks, cetaceans, volcanoes in the surface and underwater, resorts on deserted beaches, diving liveaboards coming out form pirate films… Once you try the Indo-Pacific diving do not go back.

What are the best diving areas in the Indo-Pacific?

The Indo-Pacific diving area is made of 7 countries, all with excellent diving spots, although not all with the same diving infrastructure and possibilities, let’s see what these peculiarities are:

Indonesia

Pulpo de anillos azules
The blue ring octopus is very much desired species by divers in Indonesia

Indonesia is, no doubt, the best diving destination in the Indo-Pacific area and one of the best countries in the world to dive. Taking into account that we are talking about more than 17,000 islands located in the heart of the Coral Triangle and that it is a country that has understood very well the economic benefits of the diving industry, there is no doubt that it is a destination that must be known for every diver. Even if you’ve dived there 100 times you will always have a lot to discover! On the one hand, we have a great liveaboard infrastructure, with up to 60 top level liveaboards that cover all the best diving that Indonesia can offer.

Although the diving options in Indonesia are so many that we could write an encyclopedia about it, we should highlight diving areas like Komodo, and its National Park both in the north and in the south, and its adrenaline drift diving with strong currents, walls and coral gardens where you can dive with mantas, sharks, turtles and its excellent macro and muck diving. Raja Ampat is another excellent diving area both in liveaboard and from the resort, where you will dive with mantas, spectacular jack fish balls in the blue, coral gardens of extraordinary health, white tipped sharks, grey sharks, the always special wobbegong shark, humphead wrasse… those who have dived there know that it is a truly extraordinary destination, for many the best in Indonesia.

Another area of ​​great value for diving through liveaboard are the Forgotten Islands, a very remote islands with excellent diving both pelagic (several species of sharks, mantas and cetaceans are common) and beautiful macro diving is very common in each dive. It is almost impossible to highlight destinations in such a rich area like Indonesia with so much to offer.

Another remarkable feature of diving in Indonesia, which the Red Sea lacks, for example, is that diving from a resort can be as exciting as diving from liveaboards. There are resorts both in Raja Ampat and in other areas such as Lembeh, Sulawesi, Ambon, Gangga or Nabucco where lovers of the smallest and strangest creatures of the ocean come expecting to see wonders of nature such as frog fish, blue ring octopus, mimic octopus, pipe fish of a thousand types, fragile seahorses… but that also brings surprises of enormous size in the shape of manta rays or hammerhead sharks. What has been said, Indonesia is a huge diving destination, impossible to summarize in three paragraphs but we have been talking about years in Fordivers.

 Philippines

philippines diving

The Philippines is in the upper corner of this sort of scalene triangle that is the Coral Triangle. It is also a very extensive country, like Indonesia, in this case with «only» 7,000 islands and with great variety of diving. Also, like in Indonesia we can find excellent macro diving, diving with big fish and many peculiarities. This is a destination that although it has excellent liveaboard diving, it is more common to dive from land in the areas of Luzon and Visayas.

Regarding liveaboard diving, we must highlight Tubbataha, a National Park with a very short diving season but a «Top World» dive are where the schools of jacks, sharks, a visibility exceeding 50 meters, huge tunas, or whale sharks stand out in one of the healthiest coral and huge sponges environments that can be found in Indo-Pacific area.

Tubbataha has achieved that category of extraordinary diving destination thanks to eradicating illegal fishing and coral harvesting until it has become a healthy reef where underwater life amazes and scuba divers from all over the world book their diving vacation up to one year in advance. If you are looking for a destination full of biodiversity, with big fish and healthy reefs full of tropical life, Tubbataha Reef and its liveaboards are the ideal option.

Malapascua and Isla de Pescador are other two very requested destinations in the Philippines, where you can dive from liveaboard or resort. Departing from Oslob, where you will see the whale sharks, you will go around the island passing through Monad Shoal, Gato Island or Apo Reef, areas known worldwide for its dives with thresher sharks, large balls of sardines and all kinds of tropical fauna in extensive coral gardens. A destination also appreciated by Open Water Divers that can enjoy a top diving destination even having little experience.

To end up with the Philippines best diving places we need to highlight Apo Reef and Dumaguete for being us lovers of muck diving and we know that many of our readers and clients love also this kind of diving. These two areas located in the heart of the Philippines have become a pilgrimage area for lovers of macro photography due to the large number and variety of strange creatures with which we can dive. On dark sandy bottoms there are beautiful critters like scorpion fish, all kinds of nudibranchs, frog fish, pipe fish or lion fish. It does not only have much to offer to macro lovers, for lovers of big fish it also has a lot: sharks, turtles, manta rays in very challenging drift dives.

Finally, we highly recommend visiting Coron, a perfect destination for wreck diving lovers and where we can find many ships of the Japanese fleet that were sunk during World War II. With extraordinary wrecks with 118 meters of length like the Akitsusima Maru sunk to 22 meters and others from only 5 meters deep and suitable for Open Water Divers.

In short, the Philippines is one of those top world scuba diving destinations and where you have to repeat over and over again as long as your budget allows it.

 Pacific

socorro island diving

The diving destination par excellence for lovers of pelagic creatures and big fish. Those in love with diving with sharks, from whales sharks to white sharks or hammerhead shark to some more «exotic» ones such as silky or galapagos shark. In the Pacific Ocean, large animals find the perfect habitat to live, spend short periods feeding, breeding or raising their calves and then moving with the currents in their annual migrations.

The Pacific Ocean has special conditions where cold streams loaded with nutrients join together with great depths that allow large predators to have enough food in the form of either plankton or medium preys such as tuna, sea lions, rays or squid.

If your dream is to meet (or repeat) the diving with biggest predators in the ocean, keep reading 🙂

The best diving areas in the Pacific Ocean

 Galápagos

Whale sharks, huge schools of hammerhead sharks, up to 27 other species of sharks (although «only» 7 are usually spotted), tunas, dolphins, penguin, manta rays, turtles, seabirds diving for fish balls… and yes, sometimes many of them together in the same dive.

Areas such as the Darwin Arch, where to «hang» in the blue about 10 meters and enjoy the passage of the largest fish in the ocean or Wolf, where you can see schools of almost 300 hammerhead sharks, eagle rays patrolling in groups or Galapagos sharks has given to Galapagos the TOP dive reputation of the world. That’s right, the best place to dive in the world. 

Galapagos 2010 from Darek Sepiolo

Galápagos is a destination suitable only for advanced divers due to its currents, which can be quite strong in some areas even with downdrafts, with most dives drifting, and sometimes with cold waters and thermoclines. A dream for all those who have always wanted to enjoy the wildest ocean.

 Socorro Island

Socorro Island, or Revillagigedo as it is also known, is a Mexican archipelago that is gaining increasing interest among divers lovers of big fish, especially giant oceanic manta rays. As it could not be otherwise speaking of Pacific destinations, Revillagigedo is far from the coast, about 400 miles, in a perfect area for the passage of pelagic creatures that take advantage of the streams and waters laden with nutrients to breed, hunt or mate.

What animals are we going to find diving in Socorro? The most extraordinary are the manta rays, huge, with wingspans exceeding 7 meters, and many sharks, 7 different species, hammerhead sharks, whale shark, gray, silky, tiger, black tips… is, like Galapagos, an eminently shark diving destination. 

A feature that makes this destination special is the presence of an incredible mammal, the humpback whales. In winter, especially in November, they use Revillagigedo streams in their transit to the south looking for warmer waters. You can see them, hear them and dive with them along with other mammals like dolphins and even blue whales that occasionally show up. Another must-see destination for lovers of strong emotions under water.

 Cocos Island

Cocos is the third corner that forms the pelagic triangle of the Pacific Ocean together with the two destinations above. Cocos, or Isla del Coco, also known as «The Shark Island», was described by Jacques Cousteau as the most beautiful island in the world. And this man had met a few.

Berkley White – Cocos – One Dive, Two Hundred Hammerhead Sharks from Backscatter

Cocos is fortunate to be a very remote island, more than 300 miles from the coast, and where fishing is banned, which has facilitated the proliferation of sharks, many other smaller pelagic fish as tuna, barracudas or sailfish and where you can find many endemic species such as the famous red-lipped batfish. Another great luck of this small island of only 7 km long is that it has 5 streams that converge in it creating a perfect environment for large pelagic creatures and up to 8 different types of sharks that we can find, highlighting hammerhead sharks schools, some of up to 200 specimens, which attract hundreds of divers every year thanks to its liveaboards, the only way to reach this incredible island.

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