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Although the Great Barrier Reef may be the most famous diving destination, this Australian reef system has suffered the effects of climate change immensely. Although some parts of the reef are recovering, there are many other exotic dive spots around the world to consider as alternatives.
Plus, it’s easy to social distance while diving — and you’re already wearing a mask, so dive- and snorkel-inspired holidays may be a rising trend once travel starts up again. Here are some of the best far-flung dive and snorkel destinations to add to your bucket list.
This Central American country was already on the TPG U.K.’s bucket list after Senior Writer Ben Smithson raved about its rugged rainforests, relaxing islands, blissful beaches, Mayan ruins and, of course, world-class diving and snorkeling. In fact, the island banned offshore drilling in 2018 to protect its reefs. Although of one the country’s most impressive dive spots is the mythical Blue Hole, you should also make sure to head to sites like the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Alley and Half Moon Caye in spring/early summer to spot nurse sharks, stingrays, hawksbill turtles, manatees or even whale sharks.
With year-round warm waters and pristine reefs, Egypt‘s Red Sea is rife with marine life — and shipwrecks too. Spot the elusive dugong, as well as sea turtles and stingrays in lagoons near Marsa Alam. You may catch sight of a whitetip or hammerhead shark in nearby reefs like Daedalus, too. Dive to famous shipwrecks like the famous SS Thistlegorm off Sharm El Sheikh or the Giannis D, north of Hurgada. Interestingly enough, you can spot some of Egypt‘s grandest ruins underwater — but not in the Red Sea — in the Mediterranean. Although waters are murkier, you’ll see ancient leftovers of Egyptian palaces faintly tainted with hieroglyphics off the coast of Alexandria.
The transparent waters of French Polynesia’s islands are ideal for divers and snorkelers. Visibility in Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass can surpass 200 feet and expect to dive alongside grey or hammerhead sharks, dolphins, manta rays and even spot whales during the late summer/early autumn migration. The Fakarava Marine Reserve has a narrow pass where divers may be lucky enough to catch a “wall of sharks”, referring to a moment usually occurring around the full moon in July where hundreds of grey reef sharks gather to feast on spawning grouper.
It’s no surprise that Indonesia, which has around 17,000 islands (6,000 inhabited), is known for diving. But it may be worth your while to skip Bali and head elsewhere. In the Gili Islands, snorkelers can catch sight of giant sea turtles just a few feet offshore. The islands of Raja Ampat are excellent for sustainable dive operators, and the reefs that surround these islands are said to have more marine biodiversity than anywhere else on earth. For something a little different, dive in Lembeh, an island known as “The Twilight Zone” and the “Critter Capital”, where the black muck diving slopes in the Lembeh Strait boast some freakishly strange-looking sea creatures.
This African nation’s dive season usually runs from about June to September. If you’re lucky, you may spot humpback whales as they migrate from Antarctica to breed in the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean. Some of the best areas for diving are on Madagascar’s islands. Nosy Be, home to the Lokobe Reserve, is the place to find leopard sharks, manta rays, giant lobsters and whale sharks. Nosy Boraha, or Île Sainte-Marie is best for humpback whale sightings — and pirate sightings at the island’s famed pirate cemetery (on dry land).
For a unique Brazilian underwater experience, abseil down a 232-foot-high wall into a crater to dive or snorkel in the Abyss Anhumas, a freshwater lake with a variety of fish species. For a more traditional experience, the pristine island archipelago and protected reserve of Fernando de Noronha boasts warm waters and extremely high visibility levels (up to 160 feet during the months of September or October) — as well as a large population of spinner dolphins and certain shark breeds. Advanced divers can check out the underwater Corvette V17 warship wreck.
With more than 7,000 islands, there’s no shortage of incredible dive sites in the Philippines. You probably haven’t heard of the Masbate Islands, but advanced divers should head to the Masbate island of Ticao to dive in the Manta Bowl, an underwater area teeming with mantas. From December to May, you’ll likely see whale sharks, too, as they migrate to feed on the excess of plankton in the water during these months. Another must-visit spot is the Tubbataha Reefs National Park, a protected marine park in the heart of the Coral Triangle. Be prepared for a number of different whale and shark species at various dive sites within the park as well as over 500 different species of fish.
Most visitors head to Cuba to experience the dazzling energy of Havana or Varadero’s white-sand beaches. But the diving and snorkeling in Cuba are actually fantastic as Cuban waters and reefs have remained pristine since tourism has been kept at bay. From the underwater caves and stingrays of Guanahacabibes National Park on the west coast to the sea turtles along the pirate coast of Isla de Juventud, you won’t lack for sea life spottings. And, pink flamingos, as well as whale sharks, are found in the waters of Cayo Coco in the north. Bay of Pigs is full of shipwrecks, and while Playa Santa Lucia is an eight-hour drive from Havana, it’s worth the long, bumpy ride as you may see bull sharks there.
For those wanting a serious adventure, blackwater diving is one of the ultimate Hawaii underwater experiences. Head out on a boat late at night deep into the ocean off of Kona, where you’ll be tethered to your boat by a line and head underwater to see glowing pelagic fish. Both snorkelers and divers can enjoy the Molokini Wall, a large volcanic crater filled with fish and even whitetip reef sharks. Hawaii is full of shipwrecks too, and advanced divers who are also #AvGeeks should check out the Corsair aircraft wreck off Oahu, a plane now piloted by octopus, moray eels, frogfish, garden eels and lionfish.
While it’s definitely not a warm-weather, tropical paradise like the Caribbean or Southeast Asia, you can have one-of-a-kind underwater experiences in Iceland — like diving through a geothermal chimney or in hydrogen sulfide bubbles. And, Iceland features one of the most unique dive sites in the world: the Silfra fissure. This is a crack between tectonic plates — the only spot in the world where you can dive (or snorkel) directly between two different continents. Iceland also has a variety of freshwater diving and snorkeling, too. While dry suits are often worn by snorkelers allowing them to stay both dry and warm, snorkeling in a spot like the Litlaá River isn’t actually chilly since volcanic, heated water erupts from the bottom.
It’s hard to choose from the many Caribbean islands that offer epic diving and snorkeling in their crystal waters. But Bonaire, a municipality of the Netherlands, made the cut as 100% of its waters are protected and 20% of its land is, too. The island is outside Hurricane Alley, meaning it escapes many major tropical storms and therefore has calmer waters with higher visibility than other spots. Diving and snorkeling options range from beginning to advanced, and one of the best spots is “1,000 Steps”. Descend the steps (there are actually only 67) to begin your snorkel or dive experience — and keep an eye out for turtles. More experienced divers should head to the east and north coasts. You’ll encounter stronger currents, but you may spot eagle rays and sharks there.
Whether you’re a super-advanced diver or a beginner snorkeler or anywhere in between, these epic dive spots should all have a place on your bucket list.
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