For those who love it, scuba diving is an activity like no other. Floating through the water, breathing as you would on land yet being surrounded by incredible marine life, is all a dream come true – one that divers rediscover every time they head beneath the surface. With so many unbelievable reefs and wrecks and such varied marine life across the earth, you’ll never find a definitive list of the very best – although some are definitely a cut above the rest. Just remember: on top of having a good time and staying safe, one of the most important elements of scuba is maintaining the marine environment, so wherever you’re diving off to, be sure not to touch any coral, choose your company responsibly and if you can, take part in free clean-up dives to help keep our oceans clean.
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Probably the most famous reef in the world, the GBR is still going strong despite the threat of coral bleaching which projects to see the world’s coral reefs almost gone by 2050. You’ll find myriad dive sites here which keep divers of all abilities occupied and fascinated, but here are some of the best:
Steamship SS Yongala has been an ocean-bottom feature for over 100 years, sitting 12 miles off the Queensland coast since it tragically sank in a cyclone in 1911. There’s a reason this is Australia’s most famous wreck dive; the marine life here is second-to-none, and you’re likely to find some of the biggest and best you’ll ever see. Giant groupers live alongside huge marble rays, hoards of barracuda, turtles and even bull sharks – this truly is a bucket-list dive.
Only diveable via a liveaboard expedition, Osprey Reef is as isolated as it is fantastic, and shark-lovers will be in paradise here. The North Horn dive site boasts shark-life in abundance, including grey sharks, silvertips, hammerhead sharks and even, if you’re lucky, a tiger shark or two. Most trips here involve shark feeding, so you’re almost guaranteed to have a fin-tastic time. The drift dive known as ‘Around the Bend’ is a must-do as well, featuring a manta cleaning station alongside stunning coral grottos.
A speck of an island in the middle of the GBR, Lizard Island is a popular starting point for dives along the Ribbon Reef to the east. World-famous Cod Hole is the best place to spot insanely large potato cods, who are so friendly they’ll come to nuzzle with you (in exchange for some food). You could spend weeks diving the Ribbon Reef and still not scratch the surface (metaphorically, not literally), but Cod Hole is definitely one of the best.
Great Blue Hole, Belize
This somewhat eerie site is one that many divers have on their bucket list, but it’s not for the faint of heart and should only be taken on by experienced, advanced divers. The main draw of this dive is the depth, and the other-worldly atmosphere you’ll experience once you get to it. You’ll descend off a sandy shelf 40 metres into the azure abyss, likely spotting the silhouettes of circling sharks through the dusky waters as you go. You’ll encounter a forest of stalactites and, in some of the cave systems, stalagmites bursting up from the floor, forming a strange shark’s mouth-like tunnel. Be prepared for sensory deprivation and a tricky dive, but also one of the most ethereal underwater experiences you could ever wish for.
Silfra Fissure, Iceland
Situated in Iceland’s truly epic Thingvellir National Park, Silfra is the only place in the world where you can dive directly between the earth’s tectonic plates. A bucket-list dive if ever there was one, Silfra is known for having some of the clearest waters, best visibility and coldest temperatures on earth (you’ll need to take a specialised drysuit course), thanks to the water which melts off the Langjökull Glacier and is filtered through lava for up to 100 years, before it reaches the fissure. Though there’s little marine life here, you’ll be so preoccupied with swimming through a literal crack in the earth that you probably won’t even miss it. With towering walls on each side of you and a corridor of pure, crystal-clear water, you’d be hard-pressed to find a dive more incredible than this.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Charles Darwin’s wildlife paradise is as magical in the ocean as it is on land, featuring species you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world. Since many of the marine animals here have never developed a fear of humans, they’re likely to be inquisitive and friendly; a diver’s dream. Sea lion pups glide around you gracefully in the water, timid sharks pop by to say hello and majestic marine iguanas munch on algae. Elsewhere, you’ll most likely see turtles and penguins, and Cabo Marshall is all about manta rays. Brave the cold water in winter and you’ll be sharing the space with the gentle giants of the sea: whale sharks.
The Red Sea
The Red Sea is another place that seems to be on every diver’s bucket list, and for good reason. With a shoreline spanning four countries (Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Sudan), there’s so much fabulous diving on offer here, including an abundance of wrecks, coral aplenty and all the pelagic sights you could wish for. With almost permanent sunshine, and therefore permanently warm waters, the Red Sea is a fabulous dive location for novices to seasoned experts.
A British Merchant Navy ship sunk in 1941, the SS Thistlegorm sunk with its entire cargo aboard, which included armoured vehicles, steam locomotives, motorcycles and tonnes of guns and ammunition. After being bombed down to the sea floor, it became one of the most popular wreck dives in the world, thanks to its length and fascinating cargo. The marine life here varies from sea turtles and moray eels to lionfish and stonefish.
Shark and Yolanda Reefs
Argued by some to be the best reef dive in the world, this possible drift dive features marine life by the bucketful. Anemone City is usually the first stop, followed by Shark Reef, home to massive schools of unicornfish and the odd ray or shark gliding by. In the saddle between the two, you might be treated to huge triggerfish making nests, before coming through to the main wall of Yolanda Reef and the Yolanda wreck. This is quite the popular photo stop, thanks to its somewhat interesting cargo – a rather large collection of toilets.