8 of the World's Most Spectacular Scuba Spots

Scuba diver and underwater school of fish
Photo: think4photop/Shutterstock

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 impressively large creatures found in open ocean waters offer a kind of buzz that landlubbers rarely experience.

Not every scuba dive site can offer the same level of contact with aquatic life. However, there are some standouts that 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 some of the world's best places to go scuba diving.

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Great Barrier Reef, Australia

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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 of the coast of Australia. Once underwater, divers will find that the reef lives up to its reputation, with thousands a species of fish and crystal clear waters that make seeing all the wildlife easy. Because it's so popular, dive trips here aren't cheap.

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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Palau is best known for its famous Jellyfish Lake. In this body of water, jellyfish have evolved without stingers, so visitors can swim among them without fear of the painful jabs inflicted by most members of the species. The lake is not technically a scuba diving site, since air tanks are not permitted for conservation reasons. However, people can still swim among the jellyfish with a mask and snorkel. In the past, the lake was home to 10 to 20 million jellyfish. Over the years, the numbers rapidly declined until government officials were forced to close the lake to tourists in 2016. The recovery period seemed to work as thousands of jellyfish have now appeared. A survey conducted in December 2018 showed 630,000 jellyfish, reported CNN. Therefore, the lake has now reopened.

For those who want an air-tank aided experience, Palau is also a great destination for open water, wall and reef diving. A place known as Blue Corner (pictured) features nutrient rich waters, which draw smaller reef fish and, in turn, larger fish such as tuna, barracuda and sharks. More advanced divers might even 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.

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Cayman Islands

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The clear and 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 diversity of scuba diving experiences. 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 even novice divers in shallower water to see plenty of creatures. The Caymans are home to reefs and shipwrecks. On multiple dives during their stay in this Caribbean paradise, visitors can see lots of different wildlife and experience unique underwater attractions.

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The remote nation of the Maldives boasts an idyllic tropical setting. These islands in the Indian Ocean are home to some amazing beaches and the type of clear, warm water that tropical vacation aficionados from around the world dream about. Yes, this is a beach-goer's paradise, but that's not all. A variety of reefs, channels and changes-in-depth around the islands of the Maldives makes 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 diving specials on television, the Maldives is a great destination. However, the reefs, as attractive as they are, are only part of the story of this Indian Ocean destination. Major 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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Egyptian Red Sea

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In scuba diving circles, the waters of the Red Sea in Egypt are not as well known as places like the South Pacific, Caribbean and Mediterranean. Nonetheless, there are a number of amazing dive sites in this region, including the Daedalus Reef (pictured). 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 like sharks or dolphins and colorful small marine life forms like sea fans, scorpionfish and anemones.

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Photo: Mal B/flickr

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 is 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.

On land, Malta features Old Town streets and historic buildings ranging in age from 1,000 to 5,000 years. Even for those who have no interest in diving, this picturesque destination is a great place to visit.

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Ko Tao, Thailand

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Ko Tao (also referred to 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. Ko Tao is a popular dive destination and boasts a high number of dive schools, so novices will be able to get the necessary certification quickly and accomplish their beginners’ level dives in world-class dive sites.

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

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Located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa, the archipelago known as the Seychelles is arguably 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 sting rays. Some of the shallower of the Seychelles dive sites are ideal for people who have just gotten their certifications. Colorful tropical fish are definitely a highlight in these underwater sightseeing spots.

Advanced divers can try dives on some of the outer islands, which have deeper water sites that feature larger marine species include the occasional hammerhead shark and whale shark. While most of the action takes place offshore, there is also plenty of nature onshore as well, with some of the islands of the archipelago sparsely populated or completely uninhabited and dominated by sea birds and small exotic animals. For an onshore and offshore nature-themed vacation, the Seychelles are an ideal (albeit pricey) option.