Ten great dive sites

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 22.05.2019

Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa

Almost every year around June, enormous shoals of sardines, millions strong and kilometres long, swim up the South African coast towards Mozambique. Among the best places in the country to witness the Sardine Run is KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast, along which lies the scuba-diving town of Umkomaas.


© Fiona Ayerst/Shutterstock

Tubbataha Reef, Philippines

Well out of sight of land and almost 200km southeast of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, this World Heritage Site is only accessible on live-aboard boats when seas are favourable between March and June. Its very isolation means it’s not overrun by package-tour divers. For a real buzz, dive deep over one of the many coral walls that seem to plunge into infinity.


© Sabangvideo/Shutterstock

Bloody Bay Wall, Cayman Islands

Bloody Bay Wall is over 3km long and dotted with coral arches, chimneys and sand chutes. Giant barrel sponges as tall as a man cling to the wall, while barracuda, Nassau groupers and turtles patrol the wall. The waters around Little Cayman are among the clearest in the Caribbean, let alone the world, and floating over the drop-off is a unique experience


© a. v. ley/Shutterstock

The Gulf of Aqaba, Jordan

Tucked between the arid lands of northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the Red Sea is one of the world’s premier diving destinations, and leading off from its northern tip the Gulf of Aqaba boasts some of its best and least-damaged stretches of coral. The water here is nearly always warm and the reefs exquisite.


© Shutterstock

Palancar Reef, Mexico

Teeming with marine life, Palancar is just one small part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which stretches from Mexico to Honduras, but it is in a prime position to flourish. Lobsters pick their way delicately along outcrops, feelers are blown by the current, while blue-green parrotfish gnaw at the coral with their beaky mouths.

Rare Splendid Toadfish © Andi de Boer/Shutterstock

Rare Splendid Toadfish © Andi de Boer/Shutterstock

The Maldives

The brilliantly turquoise waters here hold over two thousand species of fish, including serpent-like moray eels, bulbous napoleon wrasse and huge, elegant manta rays. With visibility of up to 40m, diving in this remote archipelago, 700km southwest of Sri Lanka, is understandably big business, and established dive centres at most resorts offer reef and drift diving, as well as the opportunity to dive at night.

Maldivian sea turtle floating up and over coral reef © Willyam Bradberry/Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

Sipadan, Malaysia

Famous for its large resident population of green and hawksbill turtles as well as healthy numbers of reef sharks and magnificent coral, Sipadan is Malaysia’s only oceanic island. Sitting in the Sulu Sea off the northeastern coast of Borneo, it’s also a great base for exploring the nearby shoals of Kapalai and the island of Mabul.

Things not to miss: Sipadan Island, Borneo, Malaysia.

© Shutterstock

Pacific Harbour, Fiji

Just off the south coast of Viti Levu is a stretch of water that offers the world’s ultimate shark diving experience – the chance to encounter up to eight species of the ocean’s top predators with no cage or chainmail to protect you. It's a great way to learn about these much-maligned creatures.


© Shutterstock

White Sea, Karelia, Russia

Russia’s far north is a landscape of wonder and wandering once the colder months settle in and the unforgiving landscape freezes over, and ice diving in the White Sea is probably the most memorable time you’ll ever spend under water. Connected to the world above via a single safety rope, use your underwater torch to follow your guide down past ice hummocks, rifts, cavities and caves, minnowing under tall arches and vertical rocks overgrown with sea anemones and sponges.

Scuba diver exploring the iceberg from below in the frozen White sea © Janik Rybicka/Shutterstock

Scuba diver exploring the iceberg from below in the frozen White sea © Janik Rybicka/Shutterstock

Poor Knights Island, New Zealand

Jacques Cousteau championed the Poor Knights Islands as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. Dive boats spread themselves over fifty recognized dive sites that jointly cover New Zealand’s most diverse range of sea life, including subtropical species such as Lord Howe coralfish and toadstool grouper. Near-vertical rock faces drop 100m through a labyrinth of caves, fissures and rock arches teeming with rainbow-coloured fish, crabs, soft corals, kelp forests and shellfish.


© Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 22.05.2019

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