Take the plunge at the world’s 10 most beautiful diving spots

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Anna Melville-James

Looking for hidden depths in your holiday? Then it’s time to get your tanks on and explore the 71 per cent of the world that’s covered in water. Part of the joy of diving is finding the perfect part of the big blue to explore – and then having the perfect excuse to go on holiday there.

Whether you’re a first-timer looking for Nemo or an experienced diver looking for a challenge, we’ve picked ten of the top spots around the world for different types of diving holiday.

Images: Getty, iStock

  • Best for coral reef

    If you’re only going to dive one coral reef, you’d be mad not to make it the Great Barrier Reef. It’s the world’s largest living structure with 3000 individual reef systems, 300 coral cays and over 600 islands along it, including The Whitsundays.

    You’ll be sharing it – not only with other scuba divers, but helicopter tours, glass-bottomed boat viewers and semi-submersibles. Fortunately, it’s large enough that you’ll still feel like the first person ever to put fins on here. You name it, you can see it along the Great Barrier Reef.

    Top dives include Cod Hole, to see the giant fish of the same name, and Lighthouse Bommie, popular with migrating minke whales. Just make sure your sunscreen is marine-safe and doesn’t contain oxybenzone – which contributes substantially to coral bleaching along the reef each year.

  • Best for wreck diving

    To sink once is unfortunate, to sink twice… looks like you were probably meant to be a wreck dive. Luxury liner the MV Bianca C was torpedoed by the Nazis while being towed from her boatyard during WWII - and then later sank off the coast of Grenada in 1961 after an explosion. It now sits on a sandy bank near Grand Anse, and at 182m it’s the Caribbean’s largest diveable wreck.

    Much of the ship has deteriorated but there’s still plenty to see, including a community of sea turtles that have made the Bianca C their home. You’ll need to be an experienced diver though, and because of the depth (27-40m) you’ll only get about 10 minutes on the ship. But it’s totally worth it for the surreal chance to swim underwater in the Bianca C’s intact midship swimming pool.

  • Best for water visibility

    On a clear day you can see forever in the Maldives. According to one guide, water visibility stretches from 20m to “really really far”, particularly on the western sides of the atolls from May-December. It’s the perfect lens for sea life from turtles, tuna and manta rays to whale sharks – a rich diversity due to the remoteness of the archipelago from a landmass.

    Just above the water many of the 300 low-lying islands, a submerged volcano range, are topped with luxury resorts. Below, in the warm Indian Ocean you can drift along the reefs thanks to the Indian Monsoon Current. For a view unclouded even by oxygen bubbles, throw off the tanks and free dive – the Maldives’ first PADI-certified free diving centre opened this year at the Anantara resorts.

  • Best for beginners

    Sunseekers head to Lanzarote for the almost year-round sunshine, dramatic volcanic landscape and even stylish boutique stays these days. But the best sights here are underwater. Warm waters, shallow gradients, good visibility and little current make this, the most easterly Canary island, a great place to learn to dive. In an added bonus, you'll be able to dive the recently opened Museo Atlantico, Europe’s first underwater sculpture park, after you qualify.

    The clusters of striking statues 15 metres below the surface were created by renowned underwater artist Jason deCaires Taylor. Join them in their silent, beautiful world, as you glide round them in water dappled with sunshine.

  • Best for shore dives

    Want to wade out and get straight to it? Then head for the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, where pristine beaches of split sugar sand reliably sheer off into walls and drop offs that take you quickly down to the action.

    Plus, as the islands are still an up-and-coming destination, both above and below the water, you won’t have to worry about jet skis and banana boats cutting you up as you make your way out. With a limit on tourist activity as well as fishing here, the waters are full of marine life still largely undisturbed by man. And as such, it’s not unusual to find a man-size grouper or an eagle ray cruising next to you just off shore here, completely at ease. Magical.

  • Best for night diving

    Nature’s rave, the phenomenon of bioluminescence, is the best reason ever for night diving. Marvel at the bright blue glow of phytoplankton in the inky night waters of Ton Sai near Krabi, a beach bypassed by most tourists as it’s only accessible by boat or rock-climbing.

    You don’t have to dive to see it – the sand lights up with what look like blue stars underfoot, turning a night walk into an otherworldly experience. But to fully enjoy the sci-fi magnificence of it you have to get down among it. As most bioluminescence occurs in relatively shallow waters it’s possible to night dive it on a basic PADI open water ticket. So turn your dive torch off – and let the show begin.

  • Best for cave diving

    Scuba divers alone know the secrets of the Geronimo cave on Cap de Fortmentor in northern Mallorca – it’s only accessible by boat and the opening is 10m underwater. 

    Unlike many cave dives you can do this one with just an open water PADI qualification, so even if your diving is basic you can still enjoy exploring somewhere that relatively few people have ever seen.

    Swim down from a boat and you’ll reach the entrance – a six-metre opening that takes you through a rocky floor bed to the cave in three fin strokes. Surface in the huge underwater cavern lit only by sunlight and you’re in a hidden world, floating around in glowing turquoise water like ice cubes in a nightclub Gin and Tonic.

  • Best for liveaboard diving

    One of the seven wonders of the undersea world, the Red Sea has 1100 fish species, 20 per cent of which are only found here, little wave movement and fabulous visibility. Its labyrinths of reef, lagoons and coral gardens surrounded by confetti showers of colourful fish mean that if you’re diving within sight of shore, you’re not going to be doing it alone.

    The further south you go in the Red Sea, the better the diving. Head out from Hurghada on a liveaboard boat and you’ll not only swerve the crowds – but also get access to some of the world’s best dive sites, including the Three Brothers and Daedalus Reef. Guaranteed wow factor, whether you’re a first-time visitor or part of the ‘seen it, done it’ diving brigade.        

  • Best for UK diving

    What do you mean it’s chilly? With a drysuit anything goes, and as an island nation we have enough underwater wonder to warrant a descent.

    UK dive sites might not have the visibility (and post-dive cocktail potential) of the Caribbean – but you do get the rolling playfulness of the grey seals around the Island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel.

    You can’t dive from Lundy itself – a Landmark Trust outcrop with 23 rental properties, from a lighthouse to a castle – but charter companies take experienced divers out from nearby north Devon ports such as Clovelly. Plus, with a UK dive you’ll be able to impress people with your depth when they ask what you did at the weekend. (Image:

  • Best for natural drama

    It doesn’t get more dramatic than diving in the break between two continents, and the Silfra fissure provides real tectonic thrills. This 120m channel between the North American and Eurasian continental plates is where they meet - and drift apart from each other at 2cm a year. This is every geography lesson you ever had – writ large in 3D. And underwater too.

    There’s little to no marine life in the fissure, most of it staying in the Thingvellir Lake, but that only adds to the stark drama. As does the glacial water – chilly at around two degrees, even at the average diving depth here of between seven and 12m. You’re only an hour from Reykjavik though, so you can always warm up in the geothermal Blue Lagoon pool afterwards.


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Anna Melville-James

Travel writer Anna Melville-James has been trotting the globe for 15 years in search of great stories. She sifts the sands for, tracking down travel news, trends and destinations for the site to inspire holidays and daydreams. When she’s at home in London, Anna enjoys watching David Attenborough documentaries and counting her extensive collection of free sewing kits and miniature toiletries. 

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