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Top Scuba Destinations of 2017

Scuba diving and vacations go hand in hand. Some people travel for running, rock climbing, concerts, and other events. When you love something, you love to do it anywhere you can, and scuba diving is no exception. Below are some of the top scuba destinations to consider in 2017.

Best Places to Scuba Dive in Asia & Oceania

Raja Ampat Islands, New Guinea, West Papau, Indonesia

Scuba Diver with Clownfish as seen in Raja Ampat Islands of AsiaThe Raja Ampat archipelago is located off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula and is part of the newly named West Papua Province. It comprises more than 1,500 small isles, cays, and shoals surrounding the islands of Salawati, Misool, Waigeo, and Batanta. It is home to more than 1,200 species of fish, 600 coral species, and 699 mollusk species.

It is mostly the domain of liveaboards, with a very limited number of dive resorts available. When you visit these waters you truly feel as if you are at the ends of the earth.

What You’ll See in Raja Ampat

  • Manta rays
  • Sharks
  • Batfish
  • Pygmy seahorse
  • Groupers
  • Schooling jacks
  • Fusiliers
  • Barracuda
  • Pale-tailed surgeonfish
  • Giant six-banded angel fish
  • Goatfish
  • Purple and threadfin anthias

Malaysia

Scuba Diving a Malaysian Coral ReefMalaysia’s hundreds of tropical islands and stunning biodiversity draw divers from all over the world. There is an amazing variety of dive sites and undiscovered beaches to choose from. Underwater landscapes include pinnacles, sloping reefs, and coral gardens for deep, wreck, drift, wall, and cavern dives.

Malaysia is home to world-renowned wall diving and macro diving sites with more than 3000 marine species.

Marine Life You’ll See in Malaysia

  • Sea turtles
  • Reef sharks
  • Barracuda
  • Bumphead parrotfish
  • Trevally
  • Napoleon wrasse
  • Emperors
  • Rainbow runner
  • Groupers
  • Mackerels
  • Batfish
  • Stingrays
  • Lionfish
  • Boxfish
  • Garden and moray eels
  • Snapper
  • Butterfly fish
  • Angelfish
  • Triggerfish
  • Puffer fish
  • Mandarin fish
  • Shrimp
  • Blue-ringed octopus
  • Mimic octopus
  • Sea horses

Thailand

Fish swimming among a coral colony in Thailand, AsiaThailand offers miles of tropical beaches and excellent scuba diving. Diving opportunities include deep drop-offs, wrecks, walls, fringing reefs, caverns, tunnels, pinnacles or open ocean seamounts.

The typical Indo-Pacific species of marine life are well-represented and you have a good chance of seeing puffers, morays, triggers, and Moorish idols along with leopard sharks, mantas, and even the occasional whale shark.

What You’ll See Diving in Thailand

  • Leopard sharks
  • Whale sharks
  • Giant trevally
  • Sailfish
  • Cobia
  • Spanish mackerel
  • Manta rays
  • Puffers
  • Moray eels
  • Triggers
  • Moorish idol
  • Squid
  • Wahoo
  • Dorado

Maldives

seaplane flying over the maldives islands, indian oceanConsidered the jewel of the Indian Ocean by many, the Maldives provide azure waters, white sand beaches, and leisure diving. They are home to some of the best liveaboards, luxury resorts, and surfing, so they offer something for everyone.

A veritable tropical paradise, the Maldives consist of 26 atolls and include a diverse range of tropical fish in reefs that are sure to dazzle. When you visit the Vaavu Atoll, you’ll explore rock pinnacles, swim-throughs, and overhangs, all patrolled by reef sharks and bedazzled with vibrant invertebrates and sponges. At Lhaviyani Atoll you’ll find moray eels, bulefin jacks, angelfish parrotfish, clownfish, and turtles as well as eagle and manta rays and many types of butterfly fishes.

What You’ll See Undersea in the Maldives

  • Angelfish
  • Dogtooth tuna
  • Leopard sharks
  • Bluefin jacks
  • Butterfly fishes
  • Parrotfish
  • Clownfish
  • Turtles
  • Eagle rays
  • Manta rays
  • Moray eels

Philippines

scuba diver exploring a coral reef in the philippines, asiaThe best time to dive the Philippines is December-June, when the temperatures typically range between the mid-60s to the 90s. It is almost always hot, but is generally less humid from March until June.

The Philippines boasts more than 7000 islands, offering plenty of shoreline and biodiversity as well as a large range of diving opportunities. You’ll find clear, warm water, and mind-blowingly beautiful flora and fauna, as well as vast coral reefs.

Marine Species You’ll See in the Philippines

  • Emperor fish
  • Scorpionfish
  • Barracuda
  • Tuna
  • Batfish
  • Moorish idol
  • Flutemouth
  • Trevally
  • Pygmy seahorse
  • Lionfish
  • Parrotfish
  • Triggerfish
  • Unicorn fish
  • Wrasse
  • Trumpet fish
  • Mantis shrimp
  • Octopus
  • Shrimp
  • Eagle rays
  • Manta rays
  • Devil rays
  • Thresher sharks
  • Hammerheads

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sea turtles as seen at the Great Barrier Reef, AustraliaAustralia’s Great Barrier Reef is revered for its biodiversity, and should be on every scuba diving destination list. It is a truly magical place. Located in Queensland, the reef includes nearly 2900 individual reefs, 600 continental islands, and 300 coral cays, and is the world’s largest single structure made of living organisms.

Australia offers other diving adventures, such as purpose-sunk wrecks and sandstone formations covered with corals, caverns, ledges, and pinnacles ready to explore. You should expect to see a little bit of everything, including dwarf minke whales, manta rays, sea turtles, sharks of all kinds, sea snakes, bumphead parrotfish, cuttlefish, leopard moray eels, and more. In addition, Queensland offers a lush tropical rainforest, kangaroo-filled bush, and stunning beaches.

Marine Life You’ll Find in the Great Barrier Reef

  • Great white sharks
  • Whale sharks
  • Thresher sharks
  • Zebra shark
  • Tiger shark
  • Dwarf minke whales
  • Manta rays
  • Sea turtles
  • Sea snakes
  • Bumphead parrotfish
  • Cuttlefish
  • Leopard moray eels

Lord Howe Island

Aerial view of Lord Howe Island, OceaniaOff the east coast of Australia, surrounded by a New South Wales Marine Park, Lord Howe Island is one of the world’s most beautiful World Heritage sites. Considered a diving paradise, the warm tropical waters and cooler currents host a diverse range of marine life that is a unique mix of tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate water fish species.

The most spectacular dive is Ball’s Pyramid, the world’s tallest sea stack. Here you’ll see schools of violet sweep, kingfish, amberjack, silver drummer, trevally, and rainbow runners as well as the occasional dolphin, marlin, and wahoo. Keep an eye out for Ballina Angelfish, a deep water fish generally only found in water deeper than 100 meters.

What You’ll Find Diving in Lord Howe Island

  • Violet sweep
  • Kingfish
  • Amberjack
  • Silver drummer
  • Bass grouper
  • Trevally
  • Rainbow runners
  • Dolphin
  • Marlin
  • Wahoo
  • Ballina angelfish

Palau

Diver with Napoleon fish in PalauThis unusual chain of rock islands located in the western Pacific is probably one of the most bio-diverse and unspoiled dive destinations. Home to more than 1,500 species of fish, it has a vast array of underwater features and endless visibility.

You’ll find amazing WWII aircraft and shipwrecks, stunning coral gardens, drop-offs, lakes, caverns and blue holes. Take a dip into the iconic Jellyfish Lake and swim with hundreds of non-stinging jellyfish, or boat over to the world-famous Blue Corner, where you’ll encounter grey reef sharks, leopard sharks, whitetip reef sharks, and other large pelagics.

What You’ll Find Under the Water in Palau

  • Grey reef sharks
  • Leopard sharks
  • Whitetip reef sharks
  • Bumphead parrotfish
  • Napoleon wrasse
  • Manta rays
  • Eagle rays
  • Moray eels
  • Dolphins
  • Barracudas
  • Big-eye trevally
  • Neon fusiliers
  • Black snapper
  • Anthias
  • Clown fish
  • Turtles

Best Places to Scuba Dive in Africa

Mozambique

pod of dolphins off coast mozambique, africaAh, Mozambique… the name alone sounds mysterious and exotic. Mozambique is rapidly becoming a diving destination known for big marine life encounters and untouched diving gems.

While you are there, extend your stay by visiting South Africa or Tanzania. Northern Mozambique offers one of the world’s last wildernesses, and is the perfect option if you like remote luxury. You’ll find the richest coral reefs in East Africa, home to huge gamefish, cetaceans, and turtles as well as bull shark, scalloped hammerheads, eagle rays, and humpback whales.

Wildlife You’ll Find in Mozambique

  • Black, Blue, and Striped Marlin
  • Giant Trevally
  • Barracuda
  • Sailfish
  • Bull Shark
  • Scalloped Hammerheads
  • Eagle Rays
  • Humpback Whales
  • Wahoo
  • Groupers
  • Snappers
  • King mackerel
  • Yellowfin tuna
  • Dorado
  • Cetaceans
  • Turtles

Tanzania

Malabar Grouper in waters of Tanzania, AfricaTanzania is one of the longest continually inhabited places on Earth, but more importantly for divers, it is bound on all sides by water. With the Indian Ocean on its east coast and the great rift valley lakes of Africa to the northwest, west, and southwest, Tanzania offers shore diving, liveaboard opportunities, boat diving – just about everything that will keep adventurous divers happy. You’ll find myriad ocean reef fish, fire dartfish, ribbon eels, chevron barracuda, giant groupers, and yellowfin tuna. Lake Tanganyika teems with Cichlids.

What You’ll Find beneath the Sea in Tanzania

  • Chevron barracuda
  • Giant groupers
  • Yellowfin tuna
  • Emperors
  • Snappers
  • Sweetlips
  • Parrotfish
  • Surgeonfish
  • Rabbitfish
  • Fire dartfish
  • Ribbon eels
  • Cichlids

Best Places to Scuba Dive in Mexico

Cabo San Lucas

scuba diver with whale shark in Cabo San Lucas, MexicoJacques Cousteau called Cabo the “world’s aquarium,” and with its abundant sea life, spectacular coral reefs, and amazing rock formations, you can see why. Cabo is the perfect diving destination for divers of all levels. It is home to some of the most exotic marine life, including giant manta rays, porpoises, hammerheads, and whale sharks as well as dolphins and orcas.

Aquatic Life You’ll Find in Cabo San Lucas

  • Giant manta rays
  • Porpoises
  • Hammerheads
  • Whale sharks
  • Dolphins
  • Orcas

Cozumel

hawksbill sea turtle being watched by scuba divers near cozumel, mexicoCozumel is a quick and easy getaway from almost anywhere in the US, with direct flights from many airports. You can find a wide variety of accommodations, from all-inclusive resorts to small, scuba-centric guesthouses. You’ll also find a lot to see, including swim-throughs and deep walls, all covered in healthy coral and teeming with filefish, angelfish, triggerfish, squirrelfish, large groupers, and morays, as well as eagle rays and turtles. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for great, wide-angle photography shots as well as close-ups.

Fish Species You’ll See in Cozumel

  • Filefish
  • Angelfish
  • Triggerfish
  • Squirrelfish
  • Groupers
  • Moray eels
  • Eagle rays
  • Turtles

Best Places to Scuba Dive in the Caribbean

Cayman Islands

a scuba diver near a stingray near the cayman islands, caribbeanThe Cayman Islands have been a world-class diving destination since scuba divers began diving. It is easily accessible from almost anywhere in the contiguous US and features deep drop-offs, wrecks, and coral reefs.

Grand Cayman is home to a turtle farm, so you can expect to find sea turtles on almost every dive. In addition, you’ll see barracuda, eagle ray, moray eels, and stingrays as well as tropical species such as sergeant majors, damselfish, parrotfish, butterfly fish, angelfish, grunts, and yellowtail snapper.

Marine Life You’ll See in the Cayman Islands

  • Sea turtles
  • Barracuda
  • Eagle ray
  • Moray eels
  • Stingrays
  • Sergeant majors
  • Damselfish
  • Parrotfish
  • Butterfly fish
  • Angelfish
  • Grunts
  • Yellowtail snapper

Bonaire

school of grunts and snapper in bonaire waters, caribbeanLocated just north of Venezuela, this Dutch Caribbean island is home to more than 470 species of fish. You can dive right from shore or from the many dive boats available.

The unspoiled ecosystem and incredibly clear water make underwater photography a favorite activity. You can find green, hawksbill, and loggerhead sea turtles on most reefs. Tangs, creole wrasse, and sergeant majors are just a few of the brightly colored tropical fish that inhabit the reef along with fire coral, giant sea anemones, and tube sponges. You may even come across a seahorse.

What You’ll See Diving in Bonaire

  • Green, hawksbill, and loggerhead sea turtles
  • Tang
  • Trumpetfish
  • Yellow goatfish
  • Creole wrasse
  • Bluehead wrasse
  • Sergeant major
  • Grunt
  • Princess parrotfish
  • Yellowtail snapper
  • Seahorse

U.S. Virgin Islands

scuba diver among colorful fish and coral in st. croix, us virgin islandsSt. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix – the three US Virgin Islands – each provide different diving experiences. St. Thomas features shipwrecks, St. John nature and eco-tourism, and St. Croix incredible walls, reefs, and wrecks.

All three islands provide warm turquoise water and soft, white sand beaches. This means that there is an island for every diver. You’ll see strikingly beautiful queen angelfish swimming around cup corals, feather duster worms, and sea fans. Schools of tarpon are often seen and reef squid, frogfish, blackbar soldierfish, and scorpion fish swim through the reef.

Sea Life You’ll See in the U.S. Virgin Islands

  • Queen angelfish
  • Reef squid
  • Frogfish
  • Blackbar soldierfish
  • Scorpion fish

Cuba

shores of cayo largo island, cuba, caribbeanLocated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Cuba’s sea grass beds, coral reefs, and mangroves are some of the most intact marine ecosystems in the region.

Almost 100 of the world’s 500 shark species can be found in Cuba. It has a lengthy coastline with sandy beaches and numerous scuba diving opportunities. The Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) is a marine reserve sheltered from the prevailing South East winds. It offers caves, wrecks, and drop-offs. Some of the best diving can be found at the Jardines de la Reina archipelago, only accessible by liveaboard.

Marine Life You’ll See in Cuba

  • Snook
  • Permit
  • Tarpon
  • Bonefish
  • Barracuda
  • Jack crevalle
  • Snapper
  • Needlefish
  • Bull sharks
  • Hammerhead sharks
  • Caribbean reef shark

Curaçao

dolphin leaping from water in curacao, caribbeanJust off the coast of Venezuela, Curaçao offers divers a little bit of everything, including boat, shore, wreck, and reef diving, along sloping walls and healthy coral reefs. The water is usually very clear and warm. You’ll find orange elephant ear sponges, star corals, and tub sponges in vivid hues. Seahorses, frogfish, spiny lobster, mantis shrimp, and eels swim around the reefs. You’ll often see hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles along with barracuda cruising by.

Marine Species You’ll See in Curaçao

  • Barracuda
  • Frogfish
  • Eels
  • Spiny lobster
  • Mantis shrimp
  • Seahorses
  • Hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles

Best Places to Scuba Dive in North America & Central America

British Columbia

orca breaching in waters of British Columbia, CanadaConsistently ranked as one of the best places to dive in North America, British Columbia offers spectacular diving. If you want breathtaking marine life encounters, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll be swimming with wolf eel, giant Pacific octopus, and awesome six-gill sharks. Frolic with playful Harbour Seals or drift through spectacular gardens of colorful kelp, anemones, and sponges.

What You’ll See Diving in British Columbia

  • Wolf eel
  • Giant Pacific octopus
  • Six-gill sharks
  • Rockfish
  • Greenlings
  • Pricklebacks
  • Harbour Seals

California

a school of big eye trevally jack approaching a scuba diver in California watersWith 1,264 miles of coastline, California offers picture-perfect shore dives, pinnacles and formations, submarine canyons, and wrecks as well as scenic caves and extraordinary kelp forests. The seemingly endless list of species you will find in these waters includes bass, perch, wrasses, mackerels, garibaldis, eels, flatfish, kelpfish, rockfish, scorpionfish, sharks, rays, sponges, jellyfish, sea fans, corals,  worms, mollusks, sea slugs, starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins, and any number of crustaceans.

Fish Species You’ll See in California

  • Bass
  • Perch
  • Wrasse
  • Mackerel
  • Garibaldis
  • Eels
  • Flatfish
  • Kelpfish
  • Rockfish
  • Scorpionfish
  • Sharks
  • Rays

North Carolina

aerial photo of coast of Nag's Head, North CarolinaKnown as the graveyard of the Atlantic, it is the variety and number of wrecks that lures many divers to the North Carolina coast. With more than 600 wrecks, some dating from the 1500s, the area has earned its nickname.

You can find massive fossilized shark teeth, huge grouper, and abundant lobsters that rival the size of those found in the Caribbean. Soft corals, sponges, and other invertebrates similar to those found in the Caribbean can be found on the reefs offshore of North Carolina.

What You’ll See under the Sea in North Carolina

  • Grouper
  • Spinner shark
  • Great white shark
  • Bull shark
  • Tiger shark
  • Black sea bass
  • Black and red drum
  • Cobia
  • Croaker
  • Flounder
  • Trout
  • Mackerels
  • Pompano
  • Atlantic bonito

Key Largo and the Florida Keys

waters of Bahia Honda State Park, Florida Keys, great for divingInternationally renowned for breathtaking sunsets, the Florida Keys are ideal for divers of all levels. You will love the area’s shipwrecks and living tropical coral reefs. The marine life is varied and abundant, with sea turtles, sharks, whales, and sailfish. The estuaries are home to tarpon, redfish, snapper, garfish, and largemouth bass. You’ll also find goliath grouper, amberjack, hogfish, barracuda, and lobster swimming through the wrecks and reefs.

Marine Life You’ll See in Key Largo and the FL Keys

  • Sharks
  • Whales
  • Sailfish
  • Tarpon
  • Redfish
  • Snapper
  • Garfish
  • Largemouth bass
  • Goliath grouper
  • Amberjack
  • Hogfish
  • Barracuda

Hawaii

maui, hawaii beachAlthough each of the Hawaiian islands is unique on its own, Hawaii as a whole is a destination that should not be overlooked. The weather is generally warm with cooling trade winds. The temperatures average 68-83 degrees year round with little variation.

Considered a Pacific Paradise and the quintessential tropical vacation destination, you’ll find plenty of marine life, including white-tip reef sharks, moray eels, giant green sea turtles, slipper lobsters, and reef fish of all stripes. Morning dives often offer spotted dolphin sightings at some locations. In winter, you can hear migrating humpback whales singing while you are underwater.

What You’ll See Scuba Diving in Hawaii

  • Whitetip reef sharks
  • Moray eels
  • Giant green sea turtles
  • Slipper lobsters
  • Spotted dolphin
  • Butterfly fish
  • Potter’s angelfish
  • Goldring surgeonfish
  • Tangs
  • Moorish idol
  • Bigeye Emperor
  • Hawaiian sergeant
  • Peacock grouper
  • Wrasses
  • Humpback whales (in winter)

Belize

blue hole, belize, central america, diving destinationIf you want adventure, romance, and world-class diving in one trip, you want Belize. You’ll be in awe of the abundant marine life found in its turquoise waters.

Don’t miss the infamous World Heritage Site, The Blue Hole, where you can experience reef sharks and stalactites and stalagmites that are millions of years old. Visit Glover’s Atoll to observe colorful sea fans, eagle rays, large schools of barracuda, dorado, bonefish, tarpon, and jack as well as loggerhead sea turtles. You can also watch toucans fly through the rainforest, explore Mayan ruins, or go cave tubing.

Species of Marine Life You’ll See in Belize

  • Sailfish
  • Eagle rays
  • Nurse sharks
  • Bonefish
  • Permit
  • Tarpon
  • Wahoo
  • Dorado
  • Barracuda
  • Jack

Best Places to Scuba Dive in South America

Galápagos Islands

scuba diver following whale shark galapagos islands, ecuadorOnce you visit these Ecuadorian islands you’ll see why they captivated Charles Darwin and inspired is research. This dive destination has long been considered the ultimate diving experience. It’s easily among the top dives for any year, and 2017 is no exception.

The Galápagos are a protected marine research area teeming with a wide range of wildlife, possibly the most diverse in the world. You’ll find yourself diving with marine iguanas, penguins, turtles, whale sharks, hammerheads, sea lions, dolphins, and rays. Visit sites such as Cabo Marshall and Darwin Island for an underwater experience that will leave you breathless.

What You’ll See Scuba Diving in the Galápagos Islands

  • Whale sharks
  • Hammerheads
  • Dolphins
  • Rays
  • Marine iguanas
  • Penguins
  • Turtles
  • Sea lions

Best Places to Scuba Dive in Europe

The Silfra Fissure, Iceland

diving spot silfra fissure, iceland, europeScuba diving in Iceland is becoming increasingly popular among divers due to the eerie topography, fantastic visibility, and surreal creature spotting.

Most divers head to the Silfra fissure, a glacial-water filled ravine between the tectonic plates of North America and Europe. You can expect visibility of over 100 meters and can drink the water on your dives. Since the water is between 2° and 4°C, the dives are conducted in dry suits. If you have not dived in a dry-suit before, you will need to learn how to use one.

The marine life in Silfra consists mostly of bright green “troll hair” and different types of algae that provide a colorscape unlike anything that occurs naturally above the surface. While you may see some fish, the stunning watercolor-like topography makes it worth the trip.

What You’ll See in Iceland

  • Bright green troll hair
  • Colorful algae

Plan Your Next Scuba Diving Adventure

Where will your next scuba adventure take you? There are so many beautiful places in the world to dive that you can plan a lifetime of vacations, at almost any time of the year. As you can see, there are many destinations, each special in its own way, from the plethora of fish to see, to the uniqueness of what you’ll see. Choose from this list and you can take a quick trip or a full-on vacation. Just get your scuba diving equipment and out there.

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