Professional Writer and Scuba Instructor. Have traveled around the world to find the best dive spots.
Discover a World Beneath the Surface
The underwater world is enormous; it is a rich and diversified area where each dive site provides something fresh and different. Choosing the top scuba diving sites worldwide is no easy undertaking, but I am up to the challenge!
I have selected ten dive spots that represent the most extraordinary scuba diving in the world—spanning from tropical to cold water settings—encompassing all four corners of the earth.
In addition, I've included the best places to see incredible wildlife, from giant pelagics to minuscule creatures, as well as some once-in-a-lifetime encounters that will have you grabbing for your dive buddy.
Do you want to discover where the finest scuba diving in the world is? Continue reading to learn more about my top ten bucket list dive spots.
Top 10 Bucket List Dive Sites
- Galapagos Island, Ecuador
- Jardines De La Reina, Cuba
- Raja Ampat, Indonesia
- Anilao, Philippines
- Dumaguete, Philippines
- Socorro Islands, Mexico
- French Polynesia
- The Red Sea
1. Galapagos Island, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands are an isolated volcanic cluster with unique biodiversity that can be found nowhere else on the planet. You can spot the iguanas on land and underwater. How cool is that?
This UNESCO World Heritage Site has two dive sites that will blow your mind. First, around the Wolf and Darwin Islands, you can see scalloped hammerheads, silky sharks, turtles, whale sharks, and majestic mantas.
The second dive site I recommend is Punta Vicente Roca. It might be slightly chilly, but it is one of the best cold-water dive sites where you can see frogfish, batfish, seahorses, and the magnificent Mola-Mola.
- Diving Season: Year-round
- Skill Level: Advanced divers
- Preparation: Negative entry due to strong down currents
- Unique Experience: Rare marine life and large species
- Warmer Season Temperature: 70–86°F (21–30°C)
- Colder Season Temperature: 60–75°F (16–24°C)
2. Jardines De La Reina, Cuba
Cuba's "Garden of the Queens," aka Jardines de la Reina Marine Park, is the most enormous and best-preserved coral reef ecosystem in the Caribbean. You can find a wide variety of sharks, including silkies, Caribean reef sharks, massive hammerheads, lemon sharks, and blacktip sharks.
You can understand why this dive spot should be on your bucket list with spectacular fish species, hard and soft coral, and anything else imaginable. The cherry on the cake? This is one of few sites where divers may get up close and personal with an American saltwater crocodile.
- Diving Season: Year-round
- Skill Level: All diving levels
- Unique Experience: Pristine reef diving and American saltwater crocodiles
- Water Temperature: 72–84°F (22–29°C)
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You can find vibrant and exceptional dive sites all around Mexico. On the Yucatan Peninsula's east coast, divers may dive the world's second-largest barrier reef, home to abundant marine life.
Between June and September, the seas near Isla Mujeres (just off Cancun) hold record-breaking quantities of whale sharks, making for an unforgettable diving experience.
Cozumel has some of the best Caribbean diving. Drift dives over cliffs reveal a colorful world of corals, sponges, fish, turtles, rays, and the odd nurse shark.
From Playa del Carmen, divers may dive with bull sharks, but unfortunately, they are baited and fed for photographers between November and March—not so cool.
Why not do an intro to cavern diving in what the Mayans believed was the entryway to their underworld? Visit Yucatan's famed freshwater sinkholes, called cenotes. Sunlight beams ricochet across gloomy rock formations, creating an otherworldly dive that is not to be skipped.
- Skill Level: All levels can dive here, but some sights require advanced diving skills
- Unique Experience: Thrilling marine life
- Water Temperature: Caribbean 77–85°F (25–29°C); The Sea of Cortez range between 68–84°F (20–28°C)
4. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
The private Raja Ampat island group—located in the Indo-Pacific Coral Triangle—is one of my top Indonesian diving sites, with Komodo and Nusa Penida shortly behind.
Divers are awed by the sheer amount and diversity of medium to large-sized fish, superb macro, in addition to frequent shark and manta sightings.
The most remarkable sights are in two places. For a single dive, Cape Kri holds the record on the Dampier Strait's eastern point. Stronger currents attract more fish, including the unusual wobbegong shark.
Boo Windows, Nudi Rock, and Whale Rock are just a few of the world-class dive spots on Misool Island. Raja Ampat's incredible biodiversity makes it one of my top global attractions. Warm water diving with Mantas? Paradise.
- Diving Season: Best from October to May
- Skill Level: Advanced divers or experience with strong current dives
- Unique Experience: Incredible biodiversity
- Water Temperature: Around 80–86°F (27–30°C)
5. Anilao, Philippines
Anilao in the Philippines has to be one of the top muck diving places in the world. Within a 20-minute boat ride from the resort, divers may explore healthy reef flats, sand, wrecks, walls, and even blackwater diving.
Dive guides can find more shrimp, crab, nudibranchs, tiny squid, and cuttlefish than anyplace else. There are also frequent frogfish, seahorse, pipefish, Bobbit worm, and stargazer sightings. Anilao is a world-class destination for all things macro.
- Diving Season: Year-round, though the primary dive season is October to June
- Skill Level: All levels of diving
- Unique Experience: Muck diving and macro biodiversity
- Water Temperature: Around 80°F (27°C) year-round
6. Dumaguete, Philippines
Dumaguete is one of the few locations in the world that caters to a wide variety of interests, all at a high level. Think world-class macro, massive coral reefs, schools jackfish, and legendary whale sharks just to mention a few.
The inshore Dauin locations are easily accessible and home to many creatures and macro topics that match any top muck diving destination. Every dive has frogfish, dragonets, pipefish, nudibranchs, squid, octopus, seahorses, and countless shrimp and crab species. Some guests saw up to 40 frogfish on one trip! How incredible is that?
Expect to see sea snakes, turtles, blue-ribbon eels, and a large school of jacks as you cruise around Coconut Point. Apo Island also has noteworthy macro, providing a unique chance for divers with diverse interests to enjoy the same location.
- Diving Season: Year-round, with the primary diving season running from October to June
- Skill Level: Diving for all skill levels
- Water Temperature: 80°F (27°C)
- Gear: 3mm wetsuit and boots are suggested all year
7. Socorro Islands, Mexico
I couldn't leave the Revillagigedo Archipelago, also known as the "Socorro Islands," off my bucket list because the diving here is exceptional.
Sharks and other marine animals congregate in large numbers along high cliffs and pinnacles rising over 3,000 feet from the ocean bottom, making the islands one of our top shark diving sites.
The Boiler is the first of two fantastic diving sites to leave tourists with unforgettable experiences. This underwater pinnacle is one of the greatest sports in the world to swim with oceanic manta rays since the mantas congregate at cleaning stations to rid themselves of parasites.
The second outstanding dive location is Roca Partida, where world-class shark diving shines. Feast your sights on a plethora of Galapagos—silky, hammerhead sharks, and scores of whitetip reef sharks piled and jammed into cracks all around the pinnacle.
Add dives with frequent appearances by large gamefish species such as tuna, wahoo, and marlin, as well as some very friendly dolphins and the occasional sightings of whale sharks and humpback whales, and the Socorro Islands offer memorable diving within easy reach that very few other destinations can match.
- Diving Season: The primary season is November to May; however, species change over time. For example, whale shark season is in November and December, humpback whale season is in February and March, and whale shark season is in May and June.
- Skill Level: Due to turbulent seas and frequently strong currents, this dive is best suited for experienced divers.
- Water Temperature: Range from 70–74°F (21–23°C) in February and March to 82°F (28°C) in November, December, May, and June.
The 300 or more islands that form Fiji are as fascinating underwater as on land. They are 1,300 miles northeast of New Zealand in the South Pacific.
The lush reefs thrive even more as the typically turbulent currents intensify, attracting many beautiful species along dazzling coral walls. Expect to see angelfish, butterflyfish, anemone fish, anthias, hawkfish, moray eels, and blue ribbon eels.
Although sharks aren't plentiful on these dives, there are a few outliers. For example, at Beqa Lagoon, the Shark Reef Marine Park is home to up to eight species of sharks, including grey reef, whitetip reef, silvertip, lemon, bull, and tiger sharks.
- Diving Season: November and May
- Skill Level: There is diving for all skill levels, although the best diving is in strong currents, where some experience is advised.
- Unique Experience: The best soft coral in the world
- Dry Season Water Temperature: 74–76°F (24°C)
- Wet Season Water Temperature: 80–83°F (27–28°C)
9. French Polynesia
Each dive in French Polynesia is wonderfully diverse, with spots to suit divers of all abilities and interests. The concentration of world-class sharks and large animal dives focused around a narrow cluster of islands really distinguishes these islands.
The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Fakarava and Rangiroa are among the most significant spots in the world to see sharks. In addition, personal encounters with lemon, whitetip, blacktip, grey reef, and hammerhead sharks in the pristine blue waters surrounding the islands' lagoons and reefs is an unmatchable experience.
Moorea as a world-class destination is undoubtedly the greatest and one of only three spots in the world where guests may lawfully swim with humpback whales—yes!
Between July and November, vast numbers of these ocean giants move to the island's outlying reefs and atolls in search of partners or to nurse their babies.
- Diving Season: Year-round diving, except December and January, which are the wettest months. Visit between July and November to see humpback whales.
- Skill Level: All levels
- Unique Experience: Warm water and large marine animals
- Water Temperature: 79–84°F (26–29°C), with an average temperature of 81°F (27°C)
10. The Red Sea
The Red Sea is the Middle East's equivalent to Raja Ampat in Southeast Asia. A plethora of gorgeous reefs, amazing marine life, and safe diving conditions make this a highly appealing option for some of the world's more remote diving spots.
Due to its isolated location and peculiar climate, over 20% of the 1000 or so fish species found here are exclusive to the Red Sea. Hard and soft corals grow on broad with shallow reefs that plunge into cliffs and gorges. Divers may see oceanic whitetips, threshers, and the rare hammerhead drifting quietly by.
- Diving Season: Diving is possible year-round, while many liveaboards do not operate during the colder months of January and February.
- Skill Level: All levels
- Unique Experience: The best liveaboard destination
- Water Temperature: 84°F (29°C) during summer to 70°F (21°C) in the winter
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Ilse