Some crave steep snowy peaks. Others bask in a bustling metropolis. And some want a labyrinth of reefs, streaked in bright blues, yellows, and reds, swarming with bizarrely beautiful undersea creatures. For those aqua-oriented souls, Travel Channel and Oyster.com have compiled a list of top scuba diving destinations, and the resorts to relax in while you're on dry land.
Don’t let Costa Rica’s small size fool you. It’s packed with spectacular marine life and an abundance of diving spots. Its beaches boast some of the sea’s most colorful creatures, both big and small. With cooler, nutrient-rich waters, divers often see dolphins, whale sharks, and humpback whales. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, Cocos Island, an uninhabited island more than 300 miles off the coast, is one of the world’s most-treasured diving spots, with oodles of Hammerhead, ray, and dolphin sightings. It’s normal to see dozens or even hundreds of these animals on every dive. If you’re traveling between December and mid-April, make sure to pack some exposure protection, as water temps have been known to dip relatively low.
Whether you’re looking to dive at your resort’s house reef, or take a boat ride to more challenging depths, you’ll find it in Maui. As Hawaii’s second-largest island, with more than 40 dive sites off the western coast, opportunities abound for beginner divers. Meanwhile, scuba veterans can try Molokini Crater, one of the island’s most famous dive locales. Who knows what you’ll find in the crater’s interior. Eels, rays, massive schools of fish, and even occasional sharks or whales have been known to pass through the crater. Between December and February, divers often hear the songs of migrating humpback whales.
After the filming of the movie, “The Deep,” featuring the historic Rhone wreck, the British Virgin Islands have allured divers from all over the globe. Today, the wreck’s iron hull is coated in dazzling coral that flourishes with fish, eels, lobsters, and octopus. With visibility averaging around 100 feet, the surrounding areas have long been popular in the diving world. Another site that’s becoming increasingly well-known is the Chikuzen, a wreck about seven miles off the coast of Tortola. It’s known for colossal schools of fish, turtles, rays, and sharks. Another positive: All of the waters surrounding the Virgin Islands are protected by the National Parks Trust, which keeps marine life thriving. The U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John have plenty of hidden bays and wrecks as well.
Clear, warm Jamaican water provides an ultra-relaxing environment for divers. Although the reefs have taken a heavy hit (due to both human and natural causes) this destination is an ideal spot for beginners. With its proximity to the U.S., it’s a popular getaway for divers on a budget that crave some quality time in the water. Some of the best diving can be found in Negril, a west-coast town that’s home to seven miles of white, sandy beaches. A profusion of bright fish and coral thrive in this area, making it one of the top dive spots on the island. Thanks to multiple preservation efforts, fish populations are starting to grow again. Several close-to-shore wrecks around Pete Wreck are good alternatives for advanced divers, where lots of barracuda have been known to hang out.
The Bahamas boasts some impressive numbers: 100-foot visibility; 340 sunny days per year; 700 islands. It’s no wonder divers relish year-round in its multiplicity of healthy coral reefs. Nassau offers clear, warm water with plenty of caves, wrecks, and blue holes – perfect for green and experienced divers alike. Grand Bahama Island has some worthy options for divers as well, particularly its historical ship wrecks. The Sugar Wreck, resting off the West End, abounds with gobies, angelfish, and parrotfish, thanks in part to the large amount of sunlight it receives almost every day.