Great Barrier Reef, Australia
A living, breathing seafood soup, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the largest structure on the planet made entirely by living organisms. Expect a plethora of odd-looking, colourful and often endangered animals swimming at you from all angles. The reef is a UNESCO World Heritage site, containing some 1500 species of fish. It is without rival, the world’s largest coral reef system, even able to be seen from space. Make sure you get certified before you go though – you’re not Kate Bosworth ok.
Barrier Reef, Belize
Charles Darwin once called this reef “the most remarkable in the West Indies.” Its bubbling, warm waters are home to the world’s largest population of West Indian manatee, and manta ray and spotted eagle ray are fairly common sights. Even hammerhead sharks, Caribbean reef sharks and the oceanic white tip sharks can be spotted by luckier divers (or extremely unlucky, as the case may be). Cuddle with the friendly sea cows (not with the sharks), explore the mangrove-covered islands or swim over to the Big Blue Hole – allegedly the largest sinkhole on Earth. Jacques Cousteau named it his favourite diving spot – no surprise considering this 185-mile-long gigantic wall of unspoilt beauty packs more ecodiversity than any other on the planet.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
You’ll be hard-pressed to find water clearer than the Caribbean waves of Grand Cayman. The island is actually the peak of a mountain, and most of the surrounding former peaks are now underwater, offering sheer drops so you don’t have to go far from the coast to get deep. This also provides shelter from perilous conditions, providing calm and unspoilt beauty for divers. Make sure you check out Stingray City, a series of shallow sandbars, where stingrays have been tamed for years feeding on fisherman’s scraps.
Koh Tao, Thailand
Koh Tao is perfect for the low-budget traveller, as it is a relatively inexpensive place to learn to scuba dive. Thailand’s large Andaman coast offers hundreds of islands, many of which are uninhabited and fringed with spectacular coral reefs. Whale sharks inhabit the waters along with a kaleidoscope of brightly-coloured fish. However, the best bit about choosing Koh Tao is that it has as many nightclubs and bars on the island as there are fish in its sea, so if you’re not a serious diver, and you like your liquid as much in a cocktail glass as you like it enveloping your scuba suit, then this is the place for you.
Straits of Gubal, Egypt
Although primarily famous for those big hunks of pyramid-shaped mystery erupting from the sand, Egypt is also famous for its incredible diving spots. If you love history and you love diving, this is your spot. An affordable alternative to beaches in Europe or the Caribbean, Egyptian beaches along the Red Sea offer sun-filled holidays and unparalleled waters. The Straits of Gubal are a particularly interesting choice, having claimed dozens of ships over history; shipwrecks, pirate treasure and dead sailors are as much a part of the Sea as the water is and warm, bubbly, tropical coral reefs make the Red Sea feel like one big bathtub.
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Although you may have to deal with the teenage shrieks of ‘Spring Break whoooooooo!’, Cozumel is not just a paradise for meathead jocks and bottle blonde cheerleaders. The warm, clear waters of this Atlantic superhighway make it a diver’s dream. The Gulf Stream in particular is a prime scuba spot – the experience lending itself to something on the long the lines of being Superman, only with more fish. But with nineteen distinct reefs to choose from and a host of deep dives that go down as far as 3,000 feet, Cozumel is a scuba diver’s playground. For awesome tunnels, caves and caverns, there are few better locations.