Whether you want to explore shipwrecks or see coral of every color, scuba diving is a great way to experience the underwater world. We’ve picked our favorite places to take the plunge, where there’s also plenty of things to do on dry land to make a great vacation. What’s on your diving dream list? Share your best diving destinations in the comments. For more info and tips, see How to Plan Your Scuba Diving Trip.
The Red Sea, Egypt
Hundreds of miles of coral, a wealth of sea life, and crystal-clear waters earn Egypt's Red Sea Coast recognition as one of the planet's best dive destinations. The warm water, great visibility, and availability of excellent instructors make this a good spot to learn how to dive. Most scuba activity here is based out of Dahab, Hurghada, Marsa Alam, Safaga, and Sharm El-Sheikh.
When to Go: Warm water (75 to 82 degrees) means the diving is good here year-round. Winter is the most popular time to visit the Red Sea, as the air temperature cools down.
Other Things to Do: climb Mount Sinai, dance the night away in Sharm El-Sheikh, tour Saint Catherine's Monastery
Turks and Caicos, Caribbean
A popular scuba destination since the 1970s, the Turks and Caicos islands are home to calm water and colorful marine life. Many of the islands are uninhabited, so this is a good place to get away from the Caribbean crowds. Set among the world's third largest coral reef system, you'll find some dramatic wall diving here, with drops that plunge hundreds of feet into the deep. Many of the reefs are shallow and close to shore, so snorkelers also have easy access to the underwater world.
When to Go: The water is warm and clear year-round. Humpback whales might be spotted Dec.—March.
Other Things to Do: relax on a deserted beach, beachcomb for conch shells
Visibility is exceptional, and encounters with whale sharks are not uncommon in the waters around Thailand's spectacularly scenic islands. The Mu Koh Similan National Marine Park is an underwater playground where you'll find coral in every color and rare marine creatures. Note that the 2004 tsunami had a considerable effect on some of Thailand's dive sites, but many are open for visitors; contact a dive operator for more information.
When to Go: On the Andaman Coast (Similan Islands, Surin Islands, Koh Phi Phi) the best diving is Nov.–Apr., when seas are calm. Avoid monsoon season, which varies throughout Thailand.
Other Things to Do: ride a longtail boat around Koh Phi Phi, camp at Koh Similan, eat banana pancakes
Because of Hawaii's extreme isolation, the island chain has fewer fish species than Fiji or the Caribbean—but many of the fish that are here exist nowhere else in the world. You can do a night dive with manta rays on the Big Island, swim in the waters around the forbidden island of Niihau, or explore the luminous underwater caverns of Lanai. From December through April, keep your ears tuned; you might hear the haunting song of the humpback whale.
When to Go: Hawaii's waters are calmest in the summer. However, whale season is in winter and spring.
Other Things to Do: see flowing lava on the Big Island, take a surf lesson, attend a luau
Famous for its Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole that descends more than 400 ft into the deep, Belize is a great choice for adventurous divers. The barrier reef here is the second largest in the world, and attracts a variety of sea life—from tiny damselfish to the more substantial sharks and manatees. Belize is also home to three of the Western Hemisphere's four atolls, whose shallow waters and deep walls offer diving for all skill levels.
When to Go: In late spring and early summer the risk of storms is low, hotel prices drop, and the water is very warm.
Other Things to Do: stay in a jungle lodge, visit the Mayan underworld at Actun Tunichil Muknal, drive the Hummingbird Highway
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
So large you can see it from space, the Great Barrier Reef stretches 1,430 miles along Australia's northeastern coast. Mind-boggling in size and scope, encompassing more than 4,000 separate reefs, cays, and islands, the reef could rightly be called its own subaqueous country. Equivalent to the Amazon Rainforest in its biodiversity, the reef is home to more than 1,500 species of fish, 1,500 shipwrecks, and countless other things to discover. You could spend a lifetime exploring this underwater domain without ever seeing all of its wonders.
Best Places to Dive: Osprey Reef, Blow Hole, Cathedral, S.S. Yongala wreck, Lighthouse Bommies
When to Go: Visibility is best during the dry season (June–Aug.). Jellyfish can be an issue Nov.–May, though they're more common close to the mainland, not on the outer Reef.
While You're Here: sail the Whitsunday Islands, look for crocodiles in Daintree National Park
Other Things to Do: Fodor's Great Barrier Reef Travel Guide
Made famous decades ago by Jacques Cousteau, Cozumel is one of the world's premier diving destinations. There are more than 100 dive operators on the island, offering everything from deep dives, wreck dives, night dives, and underwater photography dives. The 600-mile long Maya Reef stretches from Cozumel to Central America, and boasts a technicolor profusion of fish and coral.
Best Places to Dive: Felipe Xicotencatl (C-53 minesweeper wreck), Maracaibo Reef, Santa Rosa Wall, Tormentos Reef
When to Go: June–Aug. is peak diving season, when water temps are 75 to 80 degrees and hotel rates are low.
Other Things to Do: explore Mayan ruins, walk around the gardens and beach at Parque Chankanaab
Roatan and the Bay Islands, Honduras
Located roughly 37 mi off the northern coast of Honduras, the Bay Islands have attracted divers with their shipwrecks and colorful corals for decades. You can swim with spotted eagle rays along the world's second largest barrier reef (the same reef that borders Belize and Mexico). Utila is widely known in the diving world as the Caribbean's whale shark capital. Whether you're a finely tuned diver or haven't yet gotten your feet wet, rates here are reasonable for a beginner's course or experienced dive excursions.
Best Places to Dive: West End (Roatán), West Bay (Roatán), Utila
When to Go: Utila is one of the few places where you can see whale sharks year-round. Rainy season is Oct.–Jan., though dive boats still run then, except during heavy storms.
Other Things to Do: visit the Whale Shark Oceanic Research Center on Utila, chat with locals at a beachfront pub
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor's Honduras & The Bay Islands Travel Guide
This southern Caribbean island is a scuba haven—one of the top diving destinations in the Western Hemisphere. The water surrounding Bonaire was protected as a marine park in 1979, so you can expect clear water, pristine corals, and lots of sea life. Easy beach access to dive sites makes for great shore dives, and night diving is popular here as well.
Best Places to Dive: Angel City, Bonaire Marine Park, Calabas Reef, Windsock Steep
When to Go: outside of Oct. and Nov., when surges can decrease visibility
Other Things to Do: visit the market in Kralendijk, watch flamingos at Washington–Slagbaai National Park
The continental United States' only living coral barrier reef stretches 5 miles offshore of the Florida Keys and is a teeming backbone of marine life, ranging from brilliant corals to neon-colored fish. You can explore coral-encrusted shipwrecks, some historic, others sunk by design to attract divers and provide protection for marine life. On land, check out the History of Diving Museum on Islamorada.
When to Go: Calm water in May and June make for good visibility. Hurricane season officially begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
Other Things to Do: drive the Overseas Highway, check out Hemmingway's home, try a key lime pie