Diving has been a love of mine for over a decade, inspiring trips around the world, from the Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia to the beauty of the South Pacific. Combining years of my own first-hand knowledge with suggestions from other divers I’ve met along the way, these are 20 of the best places in the world for scuba diving:

1. Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Raja Ampat is easily one of my favorite places in the world to dive, not only for its underwater menagerie, but also for its wealth of beautiful islands, pristine lagoons, and the beauty you can discover when you’re not diving.

Plan to see reef sharks, octopuses, large schools of jacks and barracudas, mantas and healthy coral reefs, including impressive fans. One of the best ways to experience diving here is on a cruise dive boat (read about my experience here). Most of them last about 11 days, but there are also local islands that also offer coastal diving.

The best diving season is from October to May (the opposite of the best Komodo diving periods below). It is preferable to be Nitrox certified for longer dive times. Keep in mind that the currents can be strong and experience is advisable.

2. Komodo, Indonesia

I will always think of Komodo when I imagine the most colorful and vibrant reefs in the world. It is also a hotspot for mantas, large schools of fish, sea turtles and many small colorful nudibranchs. The clarity of the water is awesome, and the temperature is just right, too. I was even lucky and saw Mandarin fish during a night dive!

I dived here as a Budget backpacker in 2013 with Wicked Diving, and I thought the experience was fantastic.

Be warned that Komodo is a more advanced dive where you will experience strong currents. It is best to do this after at least 40 dives under your belt. The diving season takes place all year round from March to October with the driest conditions. The best observation of mantas is during the rainy season, from December to February, although I also saw them in July.

3. Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia

On my Raja Ampat liveaboard cruise, I asked other divers what their favorite dive sites were around the world, and I was told that the Chuuk Lagoon (aka Truk) in Micronesia offers some of the best for Wreck Diving. This is another one that needs a cruise ship to get to the best places.

During World Debate II, The Chuuk Lagoon was the Japanese Empire’s main naval base in the South Pacific, and after heavy bombing by American troops, it is now home to more than 60 World Debate II wrecks, making it the largest cemetery of submarine ships in the world. Some of the wrecks are deep, which makes Chuuk famous for technical diving. It’s best to at least have your Nitrox certification to dive here.

4. Inexpensive Flights To Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Cocos is the place to be for a shark lover! If you were hoping to see large schools of hammerhead sharks, Cocos Island is one of the best places in the world to get this chance.

Cocos is best known for the big things, namely Sharks. The main disadvantage of diving here is that it is only accessible with a cruise dive boat and it takes at least 36 hours of navigation to get to Cocos (and 36 to return)! Most cruises depart from the port city of Puntarenas in Costa Rica.

Visibility is better during the winter months (December to May, also in the dry season). However, mantas and whale sharks are more often seen from June to November. The currents can be strong, so it is better to have experience before trying Cocos.

5. Darwin and Wolf islands, Galapagos

Speaking of schools of sharks, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador are another excellent diving location that offers a privileged observation of large animals, including hammerhead sharks in formation. In July and August, it is also an ideal place for diving with whale sharks.

Darwin and Wolf islands are only accessible by cruise submarine, and sometimes visibility can be somewhat poor (plus, the water is cold!). If you’re trying to avoid cruise dive ships and combine your trip with other activities, consider a land and snorkel cruise around the Galapagos, and do day dives from local islands, including the famous Gordon rocks and Kicker (sailing) rock. The currents can be very strong in the Galapagos, so some experience is usually required for diving operations that take guests to Gordon Rocks.

6. Inexpensive Flights To Caye Caulker, Belize

Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, and the water was so warm and clear that I didn’t even wear a wetsuit! It was my trip that inspired me to get the driving license in 2010.

Although the Blue Hole is one of the most famous dive sites on Caye Caulker, I can not say that we saw a lot. His claim to fame is the depth of diving up to more than 45 meters in an underwater Gorge, and the stalactites you can see once you go down. You will need at least 40 to 50 dives for a reputable dive company to take you to this dive school. To be honest, we were just certified, so we asked until we found a company willing to host a group of beginners, so they exist.

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