Every dive is different, and all underwater explorers will have their own personal preferences and cherished favourites. But some destinations simply stand head and shoulders above the rest. These truly exceptional scuba experiences never fail to impress, regardless of whether a diver is a seasoned pro, or a complete beginner.
Get ready to let your mind run wild as you start planning your next underwater adventure, because this is what diving dreams are made of - and don’t pinch yourself, they’re all real.
1. Fly with manta rays in Hanifaru Bay, Maldives
Imagine being centre-stage to an underwater ballet. When tide and time align, manta rays gather at Baa Atoll’s Hanifaru Bay, creating a unique natural phenomenon - a ‘feeding frenzy’ with a lot more class. Known as cyclone feeding, this event sees squadrons of 50 or more graceful manta rays lining up, one behind the other, until the head of the chain almost reaches the tail. As this chain spins in a manta vortex, these filter-feeders feast on the concentrations of plankton forced into the bay during the wet season.
The unusual key-hole shape of Hanifaru Bay provides the perfect conditions for the rays’ cyclone feeding. When the lunar tide pushes against the ocean’s monsoon current, deepwater plankton is concentrated in the bay, creating this vital feeding ground for both manta rays and whale sharks alike. By far one of the Maldives’ most exciting underwater wonders, this is an experience of a lifetime that should be on every manta lover’s list.
When to go
To experience manta ray cyclone feeding, we recommend visiting between late July and early October, particular around the full or new moon. However, the phenomenon has been known to occur from as early as March and to as late as December.
2. Spices and sea snakes in the Banda Sea, Indonesia
Exploring the Banda Sea will send you travelling back in time, along a path less trodden. Rich in culture and with a fascinating history, much of the Banda Sea - known as the original ‘Spice Islands’ - was historically controlled by the Dutch, as part of Europe’s earliest inroads to Southeast Asia. The smallest island, Run, was eventually traded with the British for what is now known as Manhattan, the famous borough of New York.
Almost untouched to this day, the Banda Sea remains largely unexplored and as such, has become a sanctuary for prolific marine life, and a prime destination for those seeking a true pelagic wonder - schooling hammerhead sharks. The Banda Sea is also infamous for sea snakes, which gather in large numbers at Manuk Island. Due to its huge size, the best way to explore the Banda Sea is by liveaboard, with vessels visiting the area while travelling between Komodo and Raja Ampat as the seasons change. These Banda Sea ‘crossings’ offer some of the most exciting diving in Indonesia.
When to go
The Banda Sea’s marine life remains abundant throughout the year, however diving seasons are restricted to spring and autumn - with most boats only visiting during the autumn months of September and October. Hammerhead shark sightings seem to be more frequent during this period, too.
3. Sustainable shark diving in Yasawa Islands, Fiji
Tucked away in Fiji’s famous Mamanuca and Yasawa island chains, lies the small, postcard-worthy Kuata Island. This remote slice of paradise is home to one of the most exhilarating shark dives found anywhere on the planet. World-famous, yet highly intimate, this safe and sustainably-managed shark dive provides once-in-a-lifetime encounters for divers preferring a more authentic experience.
While bolshy two or three-metre bull sharks are the stars of the show here, lucky divers might encounter reef sharks, silvertips, lemon, tiger, and tawny nurse sharks, which can all make surprise appearances. And best of all, you don’t even need to be scuba certified! Incredibly, a modified experience for introductory divers means this is one of the more accessible options in this list, making for a great first on your scuba diving bucket-list.
When to go
The best time to visit is during the transitions between the two main seasons - November, and April to May - when conditions can be fantastic and the islands are a little less busy.
4. Bask in sustainable luxury in Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Staggering biodiversity awaits at Raja Ampat’s Misool Eco Resort, home to some of the richest reefs in the world. Located at the heart of its self-created Misool Marine Reserve, this resort flies the flag for sustainable diving across the globe. A spectacular private island escape, the resort is hidden within an archipelago of uninhabited islands and offers the incredible variety and quality of diving expected of a liveaboard, combined with the ultimate luxury of a private island resort.
As well as a spectacular house reef, the resort is just a 15 minute boat ride from 25 world-class dive sites, from electric coral walls and stunning reef flats, to inspiring swim throughs and a bustling manta cleaning station.
When to go
The resort closes its doors during the windy summer months of July to September, reopening again as the dry northwest monsoon starts. Our favourite time of year to visit is early in the season, from October to January - although the diving at Misool is incredible whenever you visit.
5. Dance with wild dolphins at Sataya Reef, Red Sea
Sataya Reef lies off the coast of Marsa Alam, at the southeastern tip of a collection of reefs known as Fury Shoal. Aptly named Dolphin House, large pods of spinner dolphins take refuge within these shallow waters - a safe haven to rest and feed their calves. As one of the best spots in the world to swim alongside and experience these wild and inquisitive creatures, this is aquatic acrobatics at its finest - a show like nowhere else on earth. Above the corals, you’ll find cute clownfish, triggerfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish, and green turtles also enjoying the shelter of the tranquil lagoon.
When to go
March to May offers a good balance of weather and conditions, but is also high season, meaning some sites may get crowded and prices can rise. The months of September to November also provide comfortably warm temperatures and generally fewer crowds.
6. The remote reefs of Tubbataha, Philippines
Arguably one of the best dive destinations the world has to offer, the isolated Tubbataha National Park in the Philippines is home to over 100,000 hectares of protected coral reefs and open sea, creating an awe-inspiring haven of marine life just waiting to be discovered.
Over 360 species of vibrant corals span Tubbataha’s plunging walls, deep slopes, enchanting wrecks and shallow flats - so it’s no surprise that marine life flourishes. From reef sharks, turtles and stingrays, to hammerhead sharks, whale sharks and manta rays, divers visiting these breathtaking reefs are guaranteed nothing but magical underwater moments.
When to go
Located over 100-kilometres from Puerto Princesa, Tubbataha is true frontier diving, and only accessible for a few months of the year. The short, three-month dive season runs from mid-March to mid-June each year.
7. Surround yourself with turtles in Sipadan, Malaysia
An explosion of underwater life awaits at the world-famous island of Sipadan. The combination of deep waters, strong currents and a shallow, sunlit pinnacle have resulted in flourishing corals and tons of turtles! Green and hawksbill turtles can be spotted in abundance at Sipadan, where they gather in huge numbers to mate, nest, or simply rest on the reef. During low tide, visitors are often fortunate enough to experience up to 30 green turtles at once, as the majestic creatures explore the sea bed or visit cleaning stations.
Often regarded as Malaysia’s best scuba diving destination, Sipadan also boasts an extra eerie experience for adventure-seeking divers. The legendary ‘turtle tomb’ is an underwater cave system where unfortunate, disorientated turtles become trapped and now lay at rest. This sunken turtle graveyard offers a ghostly, yet unforgettable, turtle diving experience, in stark contrast to the life on the reefs.
When to go
Sipadan is an amazing dive destination year round, but turtle mating season takes place in July and August.
8. The weird and wonderful in Lembeh, Indonesia
The unique ecosystem of Lembeh Strait has been named the mecca of macro photography - a muck diver’s dream and home to a whole host of outlandish marine life. It’s volcanic black sand setting, an impressive collection of wrecks, and small artificial reefs - mostly man-made debris that is swept into the strait - have resulted in a rich and plentiful macro life.
With an abundance of microhabitats to shelter the weird and wonderful, muck divers will find it easy to tick off new sightings from their bucket list in this diverse location. From nudibranchs and flamboyant cuttlefish, to mimic octopus, hairy frog fish and pygmy seahorses - the legendary muck diving of Lembeh Strait is a worthy pilgrimage for inquisitive divers from across the globe.
When to go
The strait sits in a sheltered location between the mainland and island, meaning diving is accessible and pleasant year-round. Although conditions will vary, the seas are generally calm and dive sites can always be found with little or no current.
9. History and hammerheads in Galapagos, Ecuador
An undisputed heavy-weight in the world of natural history, Ecuador’s Galapagos Archipelago is home to an unimaginable array of spectacles. Equatorial penguins, giant tortoises, and algae-munching marine iguanas are just the first few that spring to mind. For divers, the list is even longer, with many of the world’s most sought after marine species making an appearance - from sea lions, sea snakes, and seahorses, to manta rays, mola mola, and the bizarre red-lipped batfish.
Truth be told, this one-of-a-kind destination should be on any diver’s bucket-list. But for any underwater explorers with a soft-spot for sharks, the Galapagos is an absolute must. An incredible 30 species of shark can be seen here, including Galapagos sharks, silkies, tiger sharks and whale sharks. But the marquee attraction has to be the dense ‘walls’ of schooling hammerheads.
When to go
The Galapagos can be dives at any time of year, but marine life comes and goes with the seasons. Manta rays are most common during the warm wet season, between December to May, and hammerhead schools tend to be larger. Whale sharks are more common during the cooler dry season, from June through November.
10. The uncharted atolls of Aldabra, Seychelles
The Seychelles are an iconic luxury holiday destination, and have been on the tourist-radar for many years. But the salubrious Inner Islands are only half the story, as a scattering of even more remote destinations, known as the Outer Islands, lie strewn across the Indian Ocean towards Africa. Part of the Aldabra Group, Astove and Cosmoledo are among the most isolated of these atolls, located around 1,000-kilometres south of the country’s capital, Mahe. In fact, these places are so remote, much of the diving here is yet to be discovered.
As you can imagine, the underwater ecosystems in these distant destinations are all but untouched - boasting virgin reefs, open blue ocean, and staggering walls dropping from waist-high shallows to depths of 100-metres or more. In short, the diving around Astove and Cosmoledo has to be seen to be believed.
When to go
Due to their exposed location, Astove and Cosmoledo are only open to diving from mid-November to mid-April. The best all-round conditions can be found during the shoulder months of March to April and November to December.