12 of the best far-flung dive and snorkel spots to add to your bucket list

Mar 7, 2022

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Although the Great Barrier Reef may be the most famous diving destination, this Australian reef system has suffered the effects of climate change immensely. Although some parts of the reef are recovering, there are many other exotic dive spots around the world to consider as alternatives.

Plus, it’s easy to social distance while diving — and you’re already wearing a mask — so dive- and snorkel-inspired holidays may be a rising trend as travel returns. Here are some of the best far-flung dive and snorkel destinations to add to your bucket list.

1. Belize

Blue Hole in Belize. (Photo by Schafer Hill/Getty Images)
Blue Hole in Belize. (Photo by Schafer Hill/Getty Images)

This Central American country is already a bucket list destination thanks to its rugged rainforests, relaxing islands, blissful beaches, Mayan ruins and of course, spectacular diving and snorkeling. However, what makes Belize’s underwater world so special is how far the country is willing to go to protect it.

Belize has banned offshore drilling to protect its reefs, one of the first developing countries to take such a strong stance against oil extraction. Although of one of its most impressive dive spots is the mythical Blue Hole, this destination is harder to reach. Alternative dive spots like Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Alley and Half Moon Caye are well worth a visit, especially in spring/early summer when visibility is high. Expect to spot nurse sharks, stingrays, hawksbill turtles, manatees or even whale sharks here.

Related: 8 reasons Belize should be on your travel bucket list

2. Egypt

The Red Sea in Egpyt. (Photo by Nature underwater and art photos www.Narchuk.com/Getty Images)
The Red Sea in Egypt. (Photo by Nature underwater and art photos www.Narchuk.com/Getty Images)

With year-round warm waters and pristine reefs, Egypt‘s Red Sea is rife with marine life — and shipwrecks, too. Spot the elusive dugong, as well as sea turtles and stingrays in lagoons near Marsa Alam. You may also catch sight of a whitetip or hammerhead shark in nearby reefs like Daedalus.

Dive to famous shipwrecks like the SS Thistlegorm off Sharm El Sheikh or the Giannis D, north of Hurghada. Interestingly enough, you can spot some of Egypt’s grandest ruins underwater — not in the Red Sea, but in the Mediterranean. Although waters are murkier, you’ll see ancient remnants of Egyptian palaces faintly tainted with hieroglyphics off the coast of Alexandria. Swim past sunken pillars, sphinxes and other artifacts in one of the area’s most famous dive sites, Cleopatra’s Underwater City.

3. French Polynesia

Tiputa pass at the Rangiroa atoll in French Polynesia. (Photo by Poly Damocean/Getty Images)
Tiputa Pass at the Rangiroa atoll in French Polynesia. (Photo by Poly Damocean/Getty Images)

The transparent waters of French Polynesia’s islands are ideal for divers and snorkelers. Visibility in Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass can surpass 200 feet and expect to dive alongside grey or hammerhead sharks, dolphins, manta rays and even spot whales during the late summer/early autumn migration. It’s possible to snorkel through the Pass, too.

The Fakarava Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, has a narrow pass where divers may be lucky enough to catch a “wall of sharks,” referring to a moment usually occurring around the full moon in July where hundreds of grey reef sharks gather to feast on spawning grouper.

4. Indonesia

Gili Air, Indonesia. (Photo by Ahmed Abdelwahab Ahmed/EyeEm/Getty Images)
Gili Air, Indonesia. (Photo by Ahmed Abdelwahab Ahmed/EyeEm/Getty Images)

It’s no surprise that Indonesia, which has around 17,000 islands (6,000 inhabited), is known for diving. But it may be worth your while to skip Bali and head elsewhere. In the Gili Islands, snorkelers can catch sight of giant sea turtles just a few feet offshore.

Alternatively, the islands of Raja Ampat are excellent for sustainable dive operators, and the reefs that surround these islands are said to have more marine biodiversity than anywhere else on earth. For something a little different, dive in Lembeh, an island known as “The Twilight Zone” and the “Critter Capital,” where the black muck diving slopes in the Lembeh Strait boast some freakishly strange-looking sea creatures.

5. Madagascar

Nosy Be in Madagascar. (Photo by Pierre Yves Babelon/Getty Images)
Nosy Be in Madagascar. (Photo by Pierre Yves Babelon/Getty Images)

This African nation’s dive season usually runs from about June to September. If you’re lucky, you may spot humpback whales as they migrate from Antarctica to breed in the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean.

Some of the best areas for diving are on Madagascar’s islands. Nosy Be, home to the Lokobe Strict Reserve, is the place to find leopard sharks, manta rays, giant lobsters and whale sharks. Nosy Boraha — or Île Sainte-Marie — is best for humpback whale sightings, as well as pirate sightings at the island’s famed pirate cemetery (on dry land). The island’s reefs are very close to the shore, making it an ideal destination for snorkelers, too.

6. Brazil

Fernando de Noronha in Brazil. (Photo by João Vianna/Getty Images)
Fernando de Noronha in Brazil. (Photo by João Vianna/Getty Images)

For a unique Brazilian underwater experience, rappel down a 232-foot-high wall into a crater to dive or snorkel in the Abyss Anhumas, a freshwater lake with a variety of fish species and mystical underwater stone structure similar to those at Stonehenge.

For a more traditional experience with over 20 different dive sites, the pristine island archipelago and protected reserve of Fernando de Noronha features warm waters and extremely high visibility levels, as well as a large population of spinner dolphins and certain shark breeds. Advanced divers can check out the underwater Corvette V17 warship wreck.

Related: Tips for staying safe while traveling in Brazil

7. Philippines

Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park in the Phillipines. (Photo by imageBroker/Norbert Probst/Getty Images)
Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park in the Philippines. (Photo by imageBroker/Norbert Probst/Getty Images)

With more than 7,000 islands, there’s no shortage of incredible dive sites in the Philippines. Advanced divers should head to Ticao Island within the Masbate Province to dive in the Manta Bowl, an underwater area teeming with mantas. From December to May, you’ll likely see whale sharks, too, as they migrate to feed on the excess of plankton in the water during these months.

Another must-visit spot is the Tubbataha Reefs National Park, a protected marine park in the heart of the Coral Triangle with over 1,200 different marine species. Be on the lookout for a number of different whale and shark species at various dive sites within the park, hundreds of different fish species and nesting sea turtles.

8. Cuba

Cayo Coco in Cuba. (Photo by ICHAUVEL/Getty Images)
Cayo Coco in Cuba. (Photo by ICHAUVEL/Getty Images)

Most visitors head to Cuba to experience the vibrant energy of Havana or Varadero’s dazzling white-sand beaches. However, many may not realize that Cuba’s pristine waters are home to some incredible sea life, as the country’s waters and reefs have remained relatively untouched since tourism has been kept at bay.

From the famed ‘Notre Dame’ coral (named for the renowned French cathedral it resembles) in waters near Cienfuegos to the sea turtles along the pirate coast of Isla de Juventud, Cuba’s underwater world is lush and enticing for adventurous divers. Additionally, you’ll find pink flamingos and whale sharks in the waters of Cayo Coco in the north. Bay of Pigs is full of shipwrecks, and while Playa Santa Lucia is an 8-hour drive from Havana, it’s worth the long, bumpy ride as you may spot bull sharks there.

9. Hawaii

The Corsair Plane Wreck off the coast of Oahu. (Photo by Kevin Boutwell/Getty Images)
The Corsair plane wreck off the coast of Oahu. (Photo by Kevin Boutwell/Getty Images)

For those wanting a serious adventure, blackwater diving is the ultimate Hawaii underwater experience. Head out on a boat late at night deep into the ocean off of Kona, where you’ll be tethered to your boat by a line and head underwater to see glowing pelagic fish.

In the light of day, both snorkelers and divers can enjoy the Molokini Wall, a large volcanic crater filled with fish and even whitetip reef sharks. Hawaii is full of shipwrecks, too, and advanced divers who are also #AvGeeks should dive to the Corsair aircraft wreck off Oahu, a plane now piloted by octopus, moray eels, frogfish, garden eels and lionfish.

10. Iceland

The Silfra crack in Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
The Silfra crack in Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

While it’s definitely not a warm-weather, tropical paradise like the Caribbean or Southeast Asia, you can have one-of-a-kind underwater experiences in Iceland — like diving through a geothermal chimney or in hydrogen sulfide bubbles.

Iceland also features one of the most unique dive sites in the world: the Silfra fissure. This is a crack between tectonic plates — the only spot in the world where you can dive (or snorkel) directly between two different continents. Iceland also has a variety of freshwater diving and snorkeling, too. Dry suits are often worn by snorkelers allowing them to stay both dry and warm. However, snorkeling in a spot like the Litlaá River isn’t actually chilly since volcanic, heated water erupts from the bottom.

11. Bonaire

The 1000 Steps Divespot in Bonaire. (Photo by Thomas Groß/EyeEm/Getty Images)
The 1000 Steps Divespot in Bonaire. (Photo by Thomas Groß/EyeEm/Getty Images)

It’s hard to choose from the many Caribbean islands that offer epic diving and snorkeling in their crystal clear waters. However, Bonaire, a municipality of the Netherlands, made the cut as 100% of its waters are protected and 20% of its land is, too. The island is also outside Hurricane Alley, meaning it escapes many major tropical storms, providing calmer waters with higher visibility than other Caribbean destinations.

Diving and snorkeling options range from beginning to advanced, and one of the best spots is 1,000 Steps. Descend the steps (there are actually only 67), get into the water and keep an eye out for turtles and other marine life. More experienced divers should head to the east and north coasts. While these areas have stronger currents, you’ll have a higher probability of spotting eagle rays and sharks there.

12.  Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

A sea lion in the Galápagos. (Photo by pkphotoscom/Getty Images)

With 13 major islands and a number of other smaller islands and islets, the Galápagos is one of the most remote and coveted places on earth for divers. Cold water, strong currents and low visibility conditions make these islands best for more experienced divers, but the opportunity to swim with hammerhead sharks, sea lions or yellow-bellied sea snakes is worth it for those willing to brave the elements.

It’s not just hammerhead sharks divers can see in the Galápagos waters, either. There are actually 28 shark species in total to keep an eye out for, as well as stingrays, turtles, sea horses and black coral.

Bottom line

Whether you’re a super-advanced diver, a beginner snorkeler or anywhere in between, these epic dive and snorkel spots should all have a place on your bucket list.

For more exciting bucket list content, check out the below articles:

Featured photo by Colin Baker/Getty Images.

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