When you’ve got the wanderlust to travel, and you’re a scuba diver, the world can be your oyster. I’ve been diving internationally since the early ‘90s and I still have a list of places that I wanna visit (or revisit!). My preference is to go on scuba trips using dedicated liveaboard scuba diving boats as doing so allows you to immerse yourself completely in diving and get to some less visited dive sites. Here’s my list of destinations to consider for your next scuba adventure:
- The Sea of Cortez
- The Great Barrier Reef of Australia
- Solomon Islands
- The Galapagos
- New Zealand
- The Philippines
The Sea of Cortez
An easy trip from the US, northwestern Mexico is home to the Sea of Cortez. This small body of water is a UNESCO World Heritage separating the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. Thanks to its unique geography, what you’ll find on land is as fascinating as what you’ll encounter under the water. From the Cerro Mencenares volcanic complex to the white beaches of Isla Coronados, and the quaint harbor of Laguna Punto Escondido–the Sea of Cortez also offers plenty to do if you want a break from diving.
But oh, the diving! The main attraction and the reason this trip is nudging toward the top of my 2023 list. Host to a variety of species both endemic, including the endangered vaquita, the world’s smallest ocean mammal, and migratory, the Sea of Cortez has an abundance of flora and fauna. Multiple species of whales (including the world’s largest, the blue whale), rays, turtles, squid–even whale sharks make seasonal journeys to the Sea of Cortez. There are also many species of birds that travel to one of the area’s 900 islands to nest. Nicknamed the World’s Aquarium, your dive experience could include a frolic with playful sea lions or an exploration of the 20,000-year-old living coral reef in the Cabo Pulmo National Park. A destination you have to see at least once, it’s one I will keep coming back to!
The Cuban archipelago shows the world an example of what is possible with prudent environmental stewardship. The result? You as a diver can experience what the entire Caribbean used to be like. The Cuban reef system is among the candidates for a future UNESCO World Heritage site.
A warm-water diving adventure in Cuba will include healthy coral gardens–including the Jardines de la Reina where visibility averages 100 feet, historic shipwrecks, forgotten pirate lairs, and yes, sharks! Famous for its long drop-offs and unforgettable dives, a diving vacation in Cuba is accessible to US citizens, but only as an education program under a special visa. Cuba also limits the number of divers who can visit some areas as part of its conservation philosophy.
Cuba is also on my motorcycling bucket list due to its amazing history and culture. Perhaps as the world continues to open up we will do a true dive and ride adventure here!
One thing that makes the Maldives attractive is the underwater geography, which offers something for divers at almost all levels, beginner to expert. An Arabian Sea archipelago consisting of 1,200 islands, the Maldives is a well-known and world-famous attraction. And the reputation is well-earned: reef dives, deep dives, and even wreck diving, take your pick of possible adventures. Many of the Maldive atolls feature stunning rock pinnacles, called thila, as well as caverns and underwater overpasses, where larger sea creatures can be observed in the warm water. Put this all together and the Maldives is a great destination for the dive adventurer, even more so if you’re a photography enthusiast like I am.
I’m hoping for a trip to the Maldives, but it’s not on my list yet. The area has a troublesome LGBTQ history, which tends to be ignored in tourist areas, but is something we at Dive N Ride Adventures will continue to monitor.
Not to give this popular vacation spot short shrift but it checks a lot of the same boxes as other places on my list (I like what I like!).
- Colorful soft corals ✓
- Large marine life and sharks ✓
- Schooling fish, every color, everywhere ✓
The point is, while there are schooling fish in a lot of places, it’s not a static feature. And because I love ocean fauna, there’s no limit to how much I can take in. so, yes to Fiji–especially since it is a great place to practice drift diving. Fiji is known for spectacular drift dives. If you aren’t familiar, here’s the bottom line. When we all learned to dive, we were taught to swim against the current (if there was one), the reason being so you didn’t have to fight it on the way back and risk running out of air. Going with the current on purpose, or drift diving, you let the current transport you. It’s an effortless, almost meditative way to dive, and one of the best ways to see marine life on the move.
I went diving in Fiji when photographers were still using film to capture images. There was an amazing dive site named E6. E6 was the name for the process for developing slide film back in the day. I would love to see if that site has been renamed now!
The Great Barrier Reef of Australia
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the Great Barrier Reef? Of course, it’s on my list. GBR is akin to the Holy Grail of scuba tour destinations, and for good reason. Home to our planet’s largest natural reef system, this reef is bigger than the Great Wall of China, is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and the only natural feature of our planet visible from space. What could be better than that? Seeing it up close and personal through my diving mask is what!
In addition to the 100 islands that make up the Great Barrier Reef, Australia has created some impressive artificial reef systems, like the Yongala shipwreck with its amazing man-made ecosystem.
The GBR offers warm water and great visibility year-round, the better to observe the many species, large and small that call this magical place home. Australia has an active approach to conservation, their goal being to create a refuge for species that are threatened, at-risk or so rare you can’t find them anywhere else, like the endemic weedy sea dragon of New South Wales.
Lastly, it is a threatened area due to coral bleaching. I want to see it before it is completely decimated and perhaps set in place a strategy where my trips can give back to help.
This is my favorite place in the world for a scuba vacation because of the amazing and never-ending diversity of sea life. To date, I’ve been here eight times and I still can’t wait for my next trip. I love diving here. Indonesia isn’t “a destination,” but 14,000 islands–which means 14,000 underwater environments to explore, each with something you’ll only find there.
If I had to pick one spot, it would be Raja Ampat. Known for the highest level of marine diversity on the planet (yes!), it’s a fairly remote destination. Because it takes a bit of planning and effort to get there, it’s not as heavily traveled as some other places I’ve been (or plan to go). The best way to enjoy Raja Ampat is via a liveaboard boat.
An extra added benefit of visiting Indonesia is that most likely, you’ll have a stopover in Bali–a destination in and of itself. The stop-over is well worth it, to experience Bali’s unique Hindu-centric culture.
The thing that captured my interest about diving in the Solomon Islands was the chance to explore WWII-era shipwrecks and downed aircraft. Nearly 80 years after the Battle of Guadalcanal changed the course of WWII in the South Pacific, divers can experience this history in peace and in person. I’m also keen on the fact that these islands are so remote as to have remained largely unspoiled. The result? The chance to experience the abundant and diverse plant and animal/marine life that call the island home. It has the reputation of being a congenial place to visit as well, the population friendly to travelers and willing to share their local culture. From everything I’ve heard and read, this might be one of the most unique places on earth.
Known primarily for larger marine life, including sharks, diving in The Galapagos requires experience diving in the current. Because it is considered cold water diving, this destination requires a bit of special equipment–a 7mm wetsuit or even a drysuit. This made my list for the contribution the island made to modern science. This is where a 22-year-old Charles Darwin landed in September 1835 to conduct research, which in large part led to his publication of the seminal work in evolution, The Origin of the Species. And I can’t mention The Galapagos without indulging my love of reptiles. Here is the only place on earth where you’ll find the fascinating marine iguana.
Most of the diving in New Zealand is done by shore operators: and this was one of the more pragmatic reasons I included it on my list. For my clients who are true dive and riders, this will be a potential destination for both activities. But I also thought the following ocean features would be cool to see:
- The Kelp forests of southern New Zealand, where the water is colder.
- Checking out the Rainbow Warrior Greenpeace shipwreck. From what I heard, it’s now home to throngs of small animals and schooling fish.
- The Poor Knights Marine Reserve, where caves, tunnels, radical cliffs, and arches create an extreme topology to explore.
This is another place I’ve been to that is on my list for a return visit. The travel is easy, in fact getting there was one of the easiest international flights I’ve ever taken. And for English speakers, most of the population is fluent, making it easy to get around on land as well as underwater.
Ease of travel aside, the diving is endless, at least it seemed that way to me (and another reason I plan to go back). There are thousands of dive sites to choose from, where you’ll encounter everything from pygmy seahorses to Thresher sharks. You just have to figure out what you want to see first (Dive N’ Ride can help with that). Three sites that stuck with me:
- The Palawan – Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an incredible array of biodiversity.
- Anilao for color and an ocean floor chock full of interesting marine life. Popular here is muck diving. In a word, this is searching the bottom for tiny creatures, most of whom are incredibly photogenic.
- Last but not least, Dumaguete for yes, more coral reefs and even more muck diving.
Wanna share your bucket list to give all of us some more ideas? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. Here’s a good reference for where to go diving worldwide: https://www.padi.com/exploration/