Skyscanner explores the top 10 best places in the world to get your scuba gear on.
Scuba diving is one of those sports which fill some with unbridled excitement, and others with inexorable fear. I am firmly in the first camp.
If you watch divers on TV, it always looks like a very technical sport with loads of complicated looking kit. You hear phrases like “decompression time” and “oxygen toxicity” which makes it sound like a science experiment rather than something fun.
The truth is, that for the recreational diver at least, it is really very easy and has to be one of the more accessible sports, since all you need are a relatively well-functioning set of lungs (note: the law says that all dive instructors have to smoke).
How do I get into it then?
You can do a “Try-dive” whilst you are away to see if you enjoy it, which requires a bit of practice in the pool and then a 4 or 5m dive in the ocean with an instructor. Alternatively your local swimming pool might offer something similar though with less fish.
And if I want to get qualified?
In order to dive all over the world, you need to get a diving license. The most popular qualifying body is PADI. You can take the Open Water Diving Certification which enables you to dive to 18m and can be used all over the world. You can then take more advanced courses which will extend your skills – and depth limit.
Courses vary in length depending on the time you have, but can be done in as little as three days. You’ll do classroom theory work, practice sessions in the pool and then perfect the techniques you have learned in the sea. To use a marine metaphor, the world is then your oyster.
How old do I have to be?
Children aged ten or over can do a Junior Scuba Certification, and can dive with parents or a guardian, and anyone over the age of fourteen can complete the entry level course detailed above.
Do I need a medical?
You’ll need a doctor’s certificate to say you are in decent shape and do not suffer from asthma, epilepsy, heart problems or any similarly diving-unfriendly conditions.
Don’t I need lots of expensive kit?
Serious divers spend an awful lot on gear, but you don’t have to. Dive shops will rent you tanks, regulators (the bit you breathe through), BCDs (the jacket thing the tank sits in), wet suits and weights. They’ll also do the whole mask, fins and snorkel stuff too but I’d recommend buying the last few items so the fit is good, and also you can go snorkelling whenever you feel like it.
So where should I go diving?
You may think recreational diving is reserved solely for tropical seas with brightly coloured fish and coral – and for me it is. But people dive in the most extraordinarily odd and uncomfortable places.
You can explore rivers, lakes, flooded quarries, caves, the North Sea – where the visibility is virtually nil - and all manner of other horrors. I met a bloke in the Maldives who appeared after his first dip and announced it was the first time he’d seen a fish, or indeed anything else, underwater. After brief questioning it turned out he’d done all his diving in a reservoir in Leicestershire roped to his mate so they didn’t get lost. Weirdo.
I met some more strange people in Egypt who dived in a gravel pit somewhere up North where you had to take a gnome with you each time to place in the gnome garden they had created at the bottom. They were very strange too.
But enough of diving crazies – what are the best spots in the world? The following represents some of the places I have been to and the rest are on my list of things to do whilst there’s still air in my tank:
1. The Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
I first went here about 12 years ago and since then, it has become more well-known. The area is famous for whale sharks and to dive with these amazing creatures is an unforgettable experience.
In the right season, you can also see turtles laying their eggs and if you’re very lucky (as we were), as you enjoy a cold beer on a deserted beach at sunset, baby turtles will hatch around you and make their way to the Indian Ocean for the very first time. Find cheap flights to Australia.
2. The Great Barrier Reef, North Eastern Australia
Probably the most famous place to dive in the world, the Great Barrier Reef extends 2000km and is made up of 2000 individual reefs and 71 coral islands. The diving opportunities are too many to mention but highlights are Cod Hole, the Yongala wreck and Pixie Pinnacle. Live-aboard trips are the best way to avoid hoards of other divers. Get flights to Brisbane or Gladstone.
3. Ras Muhammad, Red Sea, Egypt
The Red Sea boasts some of the best diving in the world with fantastic visibility, and the colours of coral and fish shown off at their best. There are also some great wrecks to dive on, one of the most famous being the Thistlegorm – a World War II supply ship sunk in 1941 – first discovered by Jacques Cousteau and later discovered by the CEO of Skyscanner when a few of us went on holiday there. Find flights to Egypt.
4. The Galapagos Islands, Pacific Ocean
These islands are famous for, amongst other things, the enormous schools of Hammerhead sharks which make their way back and forth across the oceans and are most prolific around the far northern islands of Wolf and Darwin. Aside from this spectacle the abundance of life is breath-taking with approximately one third of the marine species being unique to the area. Find airlines flying to The Galapagos Islands.
5. Barracuda Point, Sipadan, Malaysia
A famous dive site and a place I would love to go to. A friend of mine dived there and came back with tales of a giant Moray eel called Elvis who was something of a local celebrity. Aside from that, the diving is apparently world-class with huge shoals of barracuda and prodigious numbers of sharks and turtles. Fly to Malaysia.
6. The Maldives, Indian Ocean
Not just the preserve of honeymoon couples, the Maldives boast plenty for the serious diver. Visibility can be up to 40m in water up to 30°c, and over 1000 species of fish species can be found. Exceptional dive sites abound within more modest reefs, and highlights include Kudarah Tila in Ari Atoll, Felidhu Atoll and Baa Atoll. Find flights to The Maldives.
7. The Blue Hole at Lighthouse Reef, Belize
This perfectly circular limestone sink hole is one of the most famous dive sites on earth. The water is 145m deep which gives it the deep blue colour – and imaginatively titled name. Amazing stalactites can be seen in the water where visibility can approach 60m and abundant life can be found in the shallows round the rim. In the depths, you might spot Bull, Reef or Hammerhead sharks. Fly to Belize.
8. The Palau Archipelago, Micronesia, Pacific Ocean
Micronesia covers an area of 7.8 million square kilometres, and most is open ocean with a scattering of beautiful atolls and archipelagos. Live-aboard boats are highly recommended since they offer the chance to explore more out of the way locations.
Highlights are the Ngemelis Wall, the Blue Corner and the Quadruple Blue Holes. Fans of invertebrates can swim in Big Jellyfish Lake on Eil Malik amidst two million mastigias jellyfish, which fortunately do not sting. Find flights to Micronesia.
9. El Gran Cenote, Mexico
A cenote is created when the roof of a cavern collapses and creates a natural well. El Gran Cenote in Mexico forms part of a natural freshwater cave system with amazing stalactites, stalagmites and flow stone. The visibility can be up to 60m and if another diver is not exhaling air bubbles then it can look like the person is simply hanging in thin air. Find cheap flights to Mexico.
10. Bloody Bay Wall, Cayman Islands, Caribbean Sea
This is a spectacular site which offers a range of different dives. The begins at only 6m which allows a long dive time should you choose to linger over the coral canyons, sand chutes and incredible caves which lead to the deep blue waters of the outer reef. Manta Rays can be seen in the area as they sweep past with their four metre wing span. Fly to the Cayman Islands.
… the beauty of being in the underwater world is that there is always something new to discover; something that is personal to you. I know of a place on the Kenyan coast where natural pools are formed in the reef bed, and brightly coloured fish abound. It is literally like lying in a beautifully warm tropical aquarium. I’ve never seen anyone else there and that is, I hope, exactly how it will stay.
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