8 of the World's Most Spectacular Scuba Destinations

scuba diver with a school of bright orange fish on a vibrant coral reef filled with hard and soft coral
The Maldives is known for its crystal clear waters and incredible marine biodiversity.

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Scuba diving is an exciting way to see parts of the planet where few travelers ever venture. Tank-aided diving opens the door to an underwater world where nature still dominates. The unique and colorful life of coral reefs and the vast variety of marine creatures found in ocean waters offer a thrill that’s impossible to replicate on land.

Not every scuba dive site can offer the same level of contact with aquatic life. However, a few standouts will thrill newly certified novices and expert divers alike, with swims through some of the world's most beautiful underwater attractions and a chance to see some of its most amazing creatures.

Here are eight of the world's most spectacular places to go scuba diving.

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Great Barrier Reef

scuba diver exploring a variety of colorful coral on the Great Barrier Reef

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The Great Barrier Reef is the ultimate dive destination. The world's largest reef (it can be seen from space), this haven for serious divers sits off the coast of Australia. Once underwater, divers will find that the reef lives up to its reputation, with thousands of species of fish and crystal clear waters that make seeing all the wildlife easy.

In an effort to conserve and protect this vibrant but fragile place, boat traffic is limited in certain areas, and fees are levied on companies that operate around the reef (with much of the money used to fund conservation initiatives). Most dive boats support the conversation efforts by using permanent anchor points so that they do not drop anchors on the reef itself.

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a school of orange squirrel fish on a colorful coral reef in Palau

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Oceania's Palau is a great destination for open-water, wall, and reef diving. A place known as Blue Corner features nutrient-rich waters, which draw smaller reef fish and, in turn, larger fish, such as tuna, barracuda, and sharks. More advanced divers might tackle the caverns and tunnels known as the Blue Holes, which are located near the Blue Corner dive site. A number of other reefs and sandy-bottom channels are found around Palau. Divers can explore these areas and see a variety of small and large marine life, including sharks and manta rays.

The area may be best known for its famous snorkeling site: Jellyfish Lake. In this body of water, a unique species of golden jellyfish is found. While the jellyfish are not stingless, it is mild and harmless to humans. The lake is not technically a scuba diving site, since air tanks are not permitted for conservation reasons.

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Cayman Islands

Scuba diver floating above a reef and a Hawksbill turtle in the Cayman Islands

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The clear, warm waters of the Cayman Islands are a haven for divers seeking the perfect place to swim among colorful aquatic life. The most attractive aspect of this spot is the breadth of options. For serious divers, the headlining site is Bloody Bay Wall, a massive wall with a drop-off that starts only 10 or 20 feet below the surface. Divers can see distinctive wildlife on the upper portions of the wall and in the shallows before the drop-off.

The visibility that divers in Cayman waters enjoy is superior to any other dive site in the region, making it possible for novice divers in shallower water to see plenty of creatures. The Caymans are home to reefs and shipwrecks, offering visitors a wide variety of wildlife and experience unique underwater attractions.

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orange and black clown anemone fish in bright blue water swimming along the vibrant pink anemone and colorful coral reef

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These islands of this remote nation in the Indian Ocean are home to some amazing beaches and the type of clear, warm water that draws tropical vacation aficionados from around the world. A variety of reefs and channels as well as changes in depth around the islands make for some very interesting dive sites. Fish flock here, thanks to nutrients and food sources being swept through the archipelago by ocean currents. The reefs are shallow and packed with a variety of sea life.

For divers seeking the kind of colorful reef life that is usually only seen on TV diving specials, the Maldives is idyllic. However, the reefs, as attractive as they are, are only part of the story of this Indian Ocean destination. Large marine species swim in the deeper waters near the Maldives. In channels and open water, divers can see huge manta rays, whale sharks, and more.

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Red Sea

a reef teeming with orange fish amidst a variety of red, green, and tan hard and soft corals with the bright blue Red Sea above

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In scuba diving circles, the waters of the Red Sea are not as well known as places like the South Pacific, Caribbean, and Mediterranean. However, there are a number of amazing dive sites in this region, including Egypt's Daedalus Reef. Great underwater visibility, warm waters, and a variety of reefs and open-water dive sites as well as ship- and plane wrecks provide a huge menu for serious and novice divers.

The headlining diving area is found in the waters around Ras Mohammed National Park. This marine sanctuary features high-table reefs and deep vertical overhangs. Divers who spend a lot of time underwater in Ras Mohammed will encounter large animals, such as sharks or dolphins, and small, colorful marine life, including sea fans, scorpionfish, and anemones.

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Two scuba divers with bright lights swimming through the wreck Um El Faroud in Malta

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Malta is one of the best places to dive in the Mediterranean. It is a relatively small nation, so getting to different dive sites by land is quite easy. One famous scuba and snorkel spot is the Blue Lagoon, a sheltered lagoon with vibrant marine life near the island of Comino. This area is shallow and attractive for fish-seekers because many young members of species like barracuda swim in these relatively safe, protected waters.

Underwater caverns, fish-filled bays, and shipwrecks round out the list of possible dive sites on Malta.

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Ko Tao

two scuba divers with a school of small barracudas in blue water in Koh Tao, Chumporn, Thailand

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Ko Tao (also known as Koh Tao), in the Gulf of Thailand, is one of Southeast Asia's hottest dive sites. It boasts a diverse menu of dives, with options that will appeal to novice and experienced divers. From coral reefs and huge underwater rock formations to challenging open-water dives, Ko Tao has something for every level of diver. This popular dive destination boasts a high number of dive schools, so novices will be able to get the necessary certification quickly and accomplish their beginners’ level dives at world-class sites.

The shallow reefs, rock formations, and wildlife-filled coastal waters are certainly attractive spots to take a first tank-assisted dive, but the real magic of this island is found in the open waters where whale sharks (when in season), sea turtles, barracuda, and tuna swim.

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tropical coral reef on the white sandy ocean floor with a school of bright yellow Goldbelly Cardinalfish in Seychelles

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Located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa, the archipelago known as the Seychelles is one of the best diving destinations on Earth. Divers come to the warm and clear waters to see a variety of species, including different types of coral, small reef fish, sharks, groupers, and stingrays. Some of the shallower dive sites in Seychelles are ideal for newly certified divers. Colorful tropical fish are definitely a highlight in these underwater sightseeing spots.

Advanced divers can experience dives on the outer islands, which have deeper waters that feature larger marine species, including hammerhead and whale sharks. While most of the action takes place offshore, there is plenty of nature onshore as well. Some of the islands of the archipelago are sparsely populated, or completely uninhabited, and dominated by seabirds and small exotic animals.