We’ve rounded up a list of the best scuba diving destinations in the world, from popular sites to those that are lesser-known, so you can create your own diving bucket list!
If you’re like us, scuba diving is one of those hobbies that you just can’t get enough of.
There’s just something about exploring the underwater world that is addicting. Maybe it’s the fluorescent fish swirling around you, or the colorful coral reefs that are alive with life. Or perhaps it’s the peacefulness of floating in a world in which you are an observer.
Whatever it is that gets you hooked, we all tend to continue this hobby for similar reasons: There is no experience even remotely similar on land.
I grew up hearing stories of my dad scuba diving in the cold waters of the lakes in my home state of Minnesota (yes, we would even dive in the winter when they were frozen over!). I knew from a very young age that scuba diving was something I wanted to pursue!
Just days after quitting our jobs in 2014, we boarded a one-way flight to Colombia, and one of the first adventures we did was a discovery dive off the Caribbean Coast. And after that first experience, we were hooked.
A couple years later, we got our open water certification on the Thai island of Koh Tao, and we stayed on to get our advanced certification because we loved it so much. Since then, we’ve been diving in Central America and many parts of Southeast Asia, including two stays on liveaboards, which offer you the opportunity to dive for multiple days in some of the most remote dive sites in the world. Psst! If you’re a scuba enthusiast, you’ll definitely want to put a liveaboard (or two!) on your diving bucket list!
One thing that we really love about diving is that it can be a lifelong hobby. Some of the people we’ve met on our dives have been doing it for decades, which is pretty inspiring and definitely #lifegoals!
We’ve been slowly making a list of “dream dive spots” over the years, based on advice from other divers we’ve met along the way. Some of these places are spots we’ve actually been lucky enough to go diving ourselves, while others are still on our list of dream dive trips.
We hope this list will help spark your interest in diving around the world and maybe even encourage you start plotting your own diving bucket list!
What are Liveaboards?
In short, Liveaboards are boats where you’ll spend multiple days diving. The motto of most liveaboards is “dive, eat, sleep, repeat”! For some people, it can be a lot of diving, but if the concept sounds like a good time to you, you’ll absolutely love the experience.
While liveaboards vary greatly when it comes to length, price, and accommodations, one thing they all have in common is that you’ll be able to dive in sites that can’t be reached by a typical day trip. This means you’ll experience diving in remote places that are untouched by most tourists.
We’ve added our recommendations for Liveaboard boats throughout this article in each of diving destinations to help you give you some inspiration for an epic diving trip!
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Located in the West Papua Province of Indonesia, Raja Ampat is an archipelago made up of hundreds of tiny islands and pinnacles, most of which are uninhabited. Underneath the surface of the pristine turquoise waters, the coral reefs are rich with marine life with everything from the tiny pygmy seahorse to manta rays.
Best Time of Year for Diving: Raja Ampat is a year-round diving destination. However, you will have the calmest and clearest waters from December – March. This is also the best time to spot manta ray in the area.
Average Water Temperature: Water temps stay consistent year round at about 82-86°F, or 28-30°C.
Top Dive Sites in Raja Ampat:
Boo Rock and Boo Window
Located near Misool Island, these are probably the most famous and most photographed dive site in Raja Ampat. The unique names come from the swim throughs in the rocks at this site. Here are can expect to find some incredible coral formations and underwater topography.
A record-breaking dive site with the most species of fish counted in a single dive here. Can you guess how many?? 374!! In one dive! Some of which were certainly black and white tip sharks and turtles, which regularly pass through. With such an abundance of marine life, this site never ceases to impress.
Recommended Liveaboard in Raja Ampat:
Because so many islands in Raja Ampat are undeveloped, the only way to access some of the best diving there is by Liveaboard. With Mermaid I Liveaboard you will have the chance to dive into some of the best sites in Raja Ampat.
The ship features climate controlled cabins with ensuite bathrooms, a salon, two decks, with spectacular views and a restaurant serving up fresh Thai, Indonesian and Western cuisine. The large dive deck and diving platform allow for easy access into and out of the water for divers.
Length of Voyage: 10, 12 & 16 days
Accommodates: Up to 15 guests
Cost: $316 USD / day
Known for: Friendly crew & dive guides
Want more info? We put together a detailed guide to diving in Indonesia including our recommendations for the best Liveaboards for every budget.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Home to a myriad of marine life found nowhere else on this planet and excellent visibility, it’s no wonder the Galapagos is one of the best dive destinations in the world. Some of the highlights you will hope to see while diving here include schooling sharks, mantas, the unique marine iguana, giant mola-mola, sea lions, and penguins among beautiful coral reefs.
Best Time of Year for Diving: Diving is possible in the Galapagos all year round. January – June is the best time to spot manta rays and hammerhead sharks; July – December for whale sharks.
Average Water Temperature:
January – June: 75-82° F, or 24-28° C
July – December: 62-68° F, or 17-20° C
Top Dive Sites in the Galapagos:
Located off Darwin Island is renowned as one of the best dive sites in the world. Here you are likely to see all the unique creatures you are hoping to lay eyes on including Galapagos sharks, manta rays, hammerheads, and even whale sharks.
This is the famous spot where divers can swim with penguins and sea lions who are not too shy to get up close and personal. You won’t want to miss Roca Redonda – an underwater volcano teeming with sharks.
Recommended Liveaboard in the Galapagos:
Because the Galapagos is such a popular destination for divers (not to mention one of our personal favorites!) we put together an entire guide to Liveaboards in the Galapagos for every budget. For the purpose of this article, we picked out our favorite option below.
Built in 2004, the steel-hulled M/V Galapagos Master is the newest luxury Liveaboard in the Galapagos. Aside from the air conditioned cabins and private ensuite bathrooms, it is also one of the most eco-friendly Liveaboards there.
Length of Voyage: 8-11 days
Accommodates: Up to 16 guests
Cost: $547 USD/day
Known for: Affordable luxury
Red Sea, Egypt
Our favorite diving instructor said that the best dive sites he’s ever experienced are in Egypt, so you’d better believe this is on our list!
Known for having incredibly calm and clear conditions, the light-filled reef systems in Egypt’s Red Sea are the perfect place for new divers, underwater photographers and anyone who wants to get a good look at life under the sea. The diversity of marine life and dive sites – from plentiful wreck dives to teeming coral reefs – makes this one of the best diving destinations in world.
Best Time of Year for Diving: Diving in the Red Sea is good all year round. However, May – July are the warmer summer months and a good time to see whale sharks, hammerhead and manta rays.
Average Water Temperature: Water temperatures rarely fall below 71°F / 22°C during the winter months, and usually reach 86°F / 30° C during the summertime.
Top Dive Sites in the Red Sea:
Sharm El Sheikh
There is some great local diving here as well as it’s a good jumping off point for many Liveaboard excursions. Among the wrecks, walls and reefs that are alive with color, you might also spot reef sharks, whale sharks, manta rays and turtles. Dolphins are also active in this area and spotted year round!
Around here you can expect to encounter the usual array of brightly colored marine life among near-perfect crystal clear waters. The conditions here are even suitable for children to dive in. This is also a hot spot for seeing manatee.
With plenty of shore diving, this is a great place for people who enjoying diving but are weary of boats. Dolphins, manatees, crocodile fish, turtles, the illusive oceanic whitetips and hammerheads are among the species divers might hope to spot here.
Recommended Liveaboard in the Red Sea, Egypt:
Offering diving Liveaboards in the northern Red Sea, Ras Mohammed and the Straits of Tiran, the Red Sea Aggressor II is a great choice for both beginner and expert divers. Guests have access to a dive deck, ample storage space, gear rinse areas and camera setup areas. The boat also features a spacious salon, large sun deck with shaded area, hot tub, sun loungers, deck chairs and a bar.
Length of Voyage: 8 days
Accommodates: Up to 22 guests
Cost: $124 USD / day
Known for: Well-organized diving itinerary
Similan Islands, Thailand
The Similan Islands make up a national marine park off the Andaman Coast of Thailand. Often regarded as the best place to scuba dive in Thailand, the diver marine life and calm, tepid waters make this a great place fore beginner divers as well as those who are more advanced.
We did our first Liveaboard diving trip in the Similan Islands and it was an incredible experience that had us itching to book another.
Best Time of Year for Diving: The national park is only open from November – mid-May due to unique weather patterns, and diving is limited to these months. Your changes of spotting whale sharks and manta rays are increased from February – April.
Average Water Temperature: Stays constant throughout the diving season at 84° F / 29° C.
Top Dive Sites in the Similan Islands:
Named so because of the rocks breaching the surface in the familiar shape of an elephants head, this site is widely regarded as the best dive site in the Similan Islands. The large granite boulders create an underwater playground of swim-throughs and gorges reaching 40 meters in depth. Keep in mind currents can get fairly strong in this area.
East of Eden
This site is undeniably beautiful, with a mix of hard and soft corals that are home to brightly colored fish. You’ll have a good chance of seeing sea turtles here as well. This is typically a slow drift dive, and it almost feels as if you’re viewing an aquarium from above, so it’s great for beginner divers.
Boulder City and Shark Fin Reef
These sites are part of a ridge where larger marine life like leopard sharks, parrotfish and napoleon wrasse are frequently spotted. Divers also enjoy the beautiful fan corals that grow on this rocky ridge.
Recommended Liveaboard in the Similan Islands:
Once part of a small merchant trade fleet, The Junk underwent a complete renovation to turn this authentic sailing vessel into a diving Liveaboard adventure. The ship now features 6 air-conditioned cabins with ensuite bathrooms, an entertainment salon and sundeck with shaded area for lounging. Diving from the Junk is done via dhingy, to ensure you get to the best dive sites.
Length of Voyage: 5 or 7 days
Accommodates: 6 guest cabins
Cost: $132 USD / day
Known for: It’s feature in Hollywood films such as James Bond and Swiss Family Robinson
What to Pack for a Liveaboard
Are you planning your first Liveaboard trip and wondering what you need to bring along?
We’ve put together the ultimate packing list for a Liveaboard diving trip, including tips and advice for first-timers and some specifics you should definitely leave at home.
Bay Islands, Honduras
While Honduras isn’t on the radar for many travelers, the Bay Islands make an excellent vacation for diving or just relaxing. Sitting just off the mainland’s coast in warm Caribbean waters you’ll find world-class diving, white sand beaches, and island vibes without insane prices.
The water around the Bay Islands are known for having excellent visibility (up to 45 meters / 150 feet!) and many divers come here for the chance to spot an illusive whale shark. (We did a few dives and just missed seeing one of these beauties!) But even if you’re not lucky (like us!) there’s still plenty to see beneath the water’s surface.
Interesting to know: In the Caribbean, lionfish are an invasive species. We’re used to seeing them a lot in Southeast Asia, but in Central America divers hunt the non-native lionfish in order to protect the environment. You might see divers with tubes and arrows for hunting and storing their pretty. Apparently they make great sashimi! Who knew?!
Of the Bay Islands, the two most well-known are Utila and Roatan. They each have very different vibes: Utila is a laidback backpacker retreat where cheap dive schools are aplenty and nightlife is wild. Roatan, on the other hand, is a much larger island where you can find more upscale accommodation (though you’ll find plenty on a budget too), and less of the backpacker/party crowd.
Psst! We’ve written a whole guide to Utila and Roatan to help you plan your trip there!
Best Time of Year for Diving: Diving can be done year-round and whale sharks can be spotted for most of the year. Rainy season lasts from October to December, so if you’d prefer to avoid the rain, travel outside of these months.
Average Water Temperature: The warm Caribbean waters average 78° F / 25° C in the winter and 84° F / 29° C in the summer.
Top Dive Sites in the Bay Islands:
Mary’s Place (Roatán)
This reef starts out shallow (at about 20 feet) and gets progressively deeper. The main draw to this site is the canyons and crevices formed that can reach as deep as 90 feet. Diving here is pretty spectacular, as you’ll be between sheer cliffs that are covered with soft corals and attract all sorts of marine life.
Black Hills (Utila)
This site is located on the southeast part fo the island and is known for a deep trench that attracts thousands of brightly colored fish as well as larger sea creatures.
Recommended Liveaboard in the Bay Islands:
The Roatan Aggressor is the only liveaboard (that we could find) that runs out of the Bay Islands, but after reading reviews and seeing pictures, it looks like an excellent value for money experience and gives you the opportunity to do some unique dives, like a shark dive and one in which you hunt lionfish (see note above).
Length of Voyage: 8 days
Accommodates: Up to 18 guests
Cost: $271 USD / day
Known for: Excellent staff and great dives
You’ve probably heard that Belize has some of the best diving in the world, and you may have even seen photos of the famous Blue Hole, but did you know that Belize is also home to the longest unbroken barrier reef in the western hemisphere!? Neither did we until we were doing research for this blog post!
Best Time of Year for Diving: Diving can be done year-round in Belize, while March-December are considered the optimal time with the best conditions for marine life. October – November is grouper mating season when thousands of these fish descend upon the warm waters of Belize to mate and give birth.
Average Water Temperature: Waters reach a warm 85° F / 30° C in the summer time and cool off to about 79° F / 26° C in the winter.
Top Dive Sites in Belize:
The Blue Hole
Belize’s signature dive is on most serious diver’s bucket lists. Spanning nearly 1,000 ft across and over 400 ft deep, this perfectly round underwater cavern is filled with fresh water below 50 ft and an upper layer of salt water.
Belize Barrier Reef
The reef stretches the length of the Belize’s 185-mile coastline and provides ample opportunity for underwater exploration. In addition to the diverse species of coral and fish you can spot here, you may also see reef sharks, sea turtles and the endemic whitespotted toadfish.
Check out our ultimate guide to scuba diving in Belize for more information on the top dive sites, where to stay, and how to plan the ultimate diving trip.
Recommended Liveaboard in Belize:
With up to 5 dives per day, including the option of night dives, the Belize Aggressor III is a great choice for a Liveaboard in Belize. The boat features climate controlled cabins with private ensuite bathrooms, an entertainment salon, sundeck with loungers and a hot tub. Diving facilities onboard include a dive deck with personal gear bins, rinse tanks, air/nitrox fills, and a three-tiered camera table with low-pressure air hoses, E-6 photo lab, and camera rinse tank.
Length of Voyage: 8 days
Accommodates: Up to 18 guests
Cost: $281 USD / day
Known for: Excellent service and great food
Some people think of the Maldives and see palm tree dotted white sand beaches with over-water bungalows jutting out into turquoise waters. Below the surface, the nutrient rich water with an abundance of marine life draws divers from around the world to explore the tropical waters of the Maldives.
Best Time of Year for Diving: The diving is good in the Maldives all year round, however some prefer to avoid the rainy season, which is at it’s peak from June – August. The best time to see manta ray and whale sharks is from May – November.
Average Water Temperature: The water temps in the Maldives are warm all year round, ranging from 82-86° F / 28-30° C.
Top Dive Sites in the Maldives:
Baa Atoll was awarded UNESCO Reserve Status for it’s marine diversity back in 2011. While diving here you can expect to see brightly colored reefs of soft and hard corals, overhangs, dolphins, sea turtle, manta rays and whale sharks.
Located as far south as you can go, diving in the pristine and mostly untouched waters here promises a sighting of any number of rare sharks from the tiger shark to the grey reef shark and whitetips. This sight has been compared to other gems like the Galapagos and Cocos Islands and should not be missed if you are a serious diver.
Recommended Liveaboard in the Maldives:
The newly built Carpe Novo Liveaboard offers fantastic trips around the most popular diving areas in the Maldives. Each air-conditioned cabin has a spacious ensuite bathroom. Other features on this luxury yacht include an indoor lounge with entertainment system, a sundeck, shaded outdoor seating and dining areas and a fully stocked bar. Diving takes place from a fully equipped dive Dhoni, ensuring maximum space for dive preparation.
Length of Voyage: 8 days
Accommodates: Up to 12 guests
Cost: $263 USD / day
Known for: Well-maintained boat
With over 7,000 islands, located in the Indo-Pacific’s coral triangle, it’s no wonder the Philippines is one of the best diving locations in the world. With pristine reefs and coral gardens, WWII ship wrecks and macro species such as whale sharks, there is something for every diver in the Philippines.
Psst! Itching to travel to the Philippines?! We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about planning a trip to the Philippines.
Best Time of Year for Diving: Diving is possible year round in the Philippines, however there are 3 distinct seasons that will affect conditions. Your best chance of spotting some of the most interesting macro species is in May, during peak tourist season, when it is also very dry.
Average Water Temperature: Water temps in the Philippines stay around 78-82° F / 26-28° C year round, however, they can drop down to 75 F / 24° C during the winter months of January – March.
Top Dive Sites in the Philippines:
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
Located in Palawan, this UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of the Sulu Sea is where you will find the widest range of biodiversity while diving in the Philippines. Beneath the surface, you will find pristine coral reefs, rich with marine life and pelagic action as well as dolphins, whales, turtles and sharks.
Malapascua Island, Cebu
This site draws divers from all over the world hoping to get a sighting of the infamous thresher sharks, who are known to be spotted here on a daily basis. The only place in the world that holds this claim! Other species of sharks and rays are also commonly spotted around this site.
Recommended Liveaboard in the Philippines:
With Infinity Liveaboard you will have the chance to dive some of the best sites in the Philippines. The ship features climate controlled cabins with ensuite bathrooms, an indoor lounge, outdoor lounge and massive sundeck with cushion loungers and hammocks. The large dive deck, top of the line equipment, rinse tanks, camera tables, and charging stations, are just some of the diving amenities that you will enjoy while sailing.
Length of Voyage: 7 days
Accommodates: Up to 25 guests
Cost: $205 USD / day
Known for: state-of-the-art diving amenities
Komodo National Park is arguably one of the best and most (relatively) accessible diving areas in Indonesia. Here divers have the chance to see sharks, rays and dolphins in a variety of dive sites and conditions. It is important to point out the national park is known for having strong currents, which can make diving here a bit more challenging than in other destinations.
We choose Komodo National Park as the destination for our second Liveaboard trip and were more than pleased with the diving conditions and abundance of dream-like marine life.
Best Time of Year for Diving: While diving is possible in Komodo year round, hands-down the best time to go is during the months of July – October when you are more likely to spot sharks, rays, manatee, dolphins, and turtles.
Average Water Temperature:
July – September: 81° F, or 27° C
November – May: 84° F, or 29° C
Top Dive Sites in Komodo:
One of the most famous dive sites in Komodo, and for good reason. You are almost guaranteed to spot manta rays as they hang out here in a “cleaning station”. This action is sure to make for a memorable dive here!
Meaning “hole in the rock,” this site gets its name from an arch in the pinnacle that sticks out of the water. Visibility is typically excellent here and you’ll see tons of sea life on this dive.
This underwater playground plays host to swim-throughs, caves and valleys among marine-rich coral reefs. You can expect to see reef sharks and the occasional passing ray along with a myriad of other fish here.
Recommended Liveaboard in Komodo:
The Yoshi Liveaboard is a smaller ship offering intimate diving excursions in Komodo National Park, Indonesia. The cabins are climate-controlled during the daytime and include ensuite bathrooms. The boat also features ample space for guest relaxation both indoors and outside on the sundeck and shaded dining areas.
We took our second Liveaboard trip on this exact boat and you can read more about our experience diving in Komodo and living on the ship.
Length of Voyage: 5 days
Accommodates: Up to 8 guests
Cost: $192 USD / day
Known for: Friendly crew & helpful guides
Coral Sea, Australia
Have you ever asked yourself what coral reefs would look like if humans didn’t exist? There aren’t many places left on this planet that can give you the experience of traveling back in time to a marine playground as virtually unspoiled by human interaction as the Coral Sea.
Best Time of Year for Diving: Diving in the Coral Sea is possible all year round, however the best conditions will be from August – December when they experience the least wind and rain.
Average Water Temperature: Water temperatures vary in the Coral Sea by season, reaching an average of 66°F / 19°C during the winter months, and an average of 75°F / 24° C during the summertime.
Top Dive Sites in the Coral Sea:
The most northern of reefs in the Coral Sea, Osprey reef has both wall and drift diving, as well as diving for advanced divers. An abundance of marine life can be spotted among the healthy coral as well as sharks, turtles, schooling fish and large pelagics.
Counted among the Great Barrier Reef’s world-class dive sites, highlights of diving at Holmes Reef include spotting whale sharks and other shark species, as well as turtles, schooling fish and host of other marine diversity. Diving here includes wall dives, caverns, drift dives and is suitable for both beginner and advanced divers.
Recommended Liveaboard in the Coral Sea:
The M/V Spoilsport Liveaboard was custom built to explore the Coral Sea on the ultimate diving holiday. They even have cabins to accommodate every budget! Guests can relax in the entertainment lounge, partially shaded sundeck and bar areas. A specious dive deck allows for easy access and exit from the water.
*It should be noted that this Liveaboard requires you to have your Advanced Open Water Diving Certification to participate.
Length of Voyage: 4, 5, and 8 days
Accommodates: Up to 28 guests
Cost: starting at $304 USD / day
Known for: Increased stability reduces motion sickness onboard
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Just 300 miles from Costa Rica, Cocos Island famously said to be the most beautiful island in the world by Jacques Cousteau. With more than 27 endemic species, this area is known for sightings of dolphins, giant manta rays, schooling hammerheads, and whale sharks, making it an excellent place for diving with large animals.
Psst! Planning a trip to Costa Rica?! We’ve got everything you need to know in this Costa Rica guide!
Best Time of Year for Diving: Cocos Island has highly unpredictable weather patterns throughout the year, however, during the rainy season from June – December is the best time for spotting sharks and other pelagic species.
Average Water Temperature:
June – December: 76-80° F, or 24-27° C November – May: 78-82° F, or 25-28° C
Top Dive Sites in the Cocos Island:
Probably the most popular of the 15-20 dive sites surrounding the Cocos Islands, with it’s heavy currents, this sit should only be visited by advanced divers. The draw is a seamount rising up to 85ft underwater and teeming with hammerheads and rays.
More suitable for less than advanced divers, the pinnacles and boulders here create a channel that is popular with hammerheads, whale sharks and rays.
Recommended Liveaboard in the Cocos Island:
In 1994, the Cocos Sea Hunter was re-outfitted to become a Liveaboard. As a former commercial diving support vessel, this stable and robust ship is superbly equipped for diving. Designed for comfort with all the facilities needed for underwater photographers in mind, this Liveaboard experience offers some of the best diving around Cocos Island as well as ventures on land to explore the Costa Rican rainforest.
Length of Voyage: 10, 11 & 12 days
Accommodates: Up to 20 guests
Cost: $481 USD / day
Known for: Knowledgable dive guides
French Polynesia (sometimes known as the Islands of Tahiti) has no shortage of spectacular scuba diving. With 118 islands spread out over the South Pacific, French Polynesia is best known for it’s tropical waters, stunning underwater diversity, and is home to an array of sharks.
Best Time of Year for Diving: Diving is possible year round in French Polynesia. However, due to an influx of pelagic-attracting plankton, November – April is the best time for shark spotting.
Average Water Temperature: Water temperatures are tropical in French Polynesia, reaching an average of 76°F / 25°C during the winter months, and an average of 86°F / 30° C during the summertime.
Top Dive Sites in French Polynesia:
Popular amongst underwater photographers for it’s crystal clear waters and marine life activity. You can likely spot predators such as blacktip, grey and lemon sharks here. And if conditions are right, you may even spot dolphins and whales.
Anau, Bora Bora
The highlight here is known as the manta ray ballet. During the months of May – December, divers are likely to encounter around 10 of these ocean giants in a single dive. There is an abundance of larger marine life in this lagoon, which puts it at the top of many diver’s bucket lists.
Recommended Liveaboard in French Polynesia:
Join an intimate diving Liveaboard experience aboard the Aqua Tiki II catamaran. Ammenities on the boat include an indoor lounge, library and dining area as well as outdoor covered lounge, grill and the coveted hammock-like nets over the open ocean. Aside from the amazing dives at some of the best dive sites in French Polynesia, you’ll also experience stunning beach walks, meeting locals, and several other watersport activities.
Length of Voyage: 8, 9, 10, 11 and 14 days
Accommodates: Up to 8 guests
Cost: $351 USD / day
Known for: An intimate experience
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We want to hear from you!
Have you been scuba diving in any unique or exotic locations around the world? Which have been your favorite places to dive?
Would you ever do a diving Liveaboard multi-day trip? Comment below and let us know!