Considering oceans cover more than two-thirds of Earth’s surface, there’s no shortage of excellent places to go diving. So any list of the “best” spots is sure to missing a few. They’re like children, it’s hard to pick a favorite. At the risk of leaving off your No. 1, here’s a sampling of top locations around the globe to explore the wonders of the deep in style.
OK, it’s hard to argue this one doesn’t belong. The Great Blue Hole, almost 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep, was made famous by Jacques Cousteau. Formed in stages between 15,000 and 150,000 years ago, it’s a basically a big sinkhole about 40 miles off mainland Belize and a marvelous sight to behold. Divers are greeted by midnight parrotfish and Caribbean reef sharks, but the main attraction is the dark, stalactite-filled caverns stretching up from the floor like an underwater cathedral. Just off the mainland is the Belize Barrier Reef, which wowed Charles Darwin and is the second-largest reef system in the world. From the Coppola family’s Turtle Inn in Placencia to Las Terrazas on Ambergris Caye and Cayo Espanto private island, Virtuoso-preferred resorts make awesome command centers for charting your adventures.
Thanks to their warm and clarity, the waters off the Canaries (part of Spain but off the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara) make it easy to spot a wide variety of sea life. Three marine reserves in the islands provide sanctuary for turtles, rays, dolphins, barracudas and even an ocean whale shark. There is underwater volcanic activity, and you can see the results of earlier eruptions in the arches, caves and cliffs beneath the surface. For man-made attractions, shipwrecks line the ocean floor, waiting to be explored. If you find sunken treasure, celebrate with a lavish feast then treat yourself to a massage at Virtuoso-preferred Bahia del Duque on Tenerife.
There are more than 1,250 miles of coastline in Mozambique, providing ample opportunity for an aquatic safari to pair with one on land. Virtuoso-preferred Azura Quilalea in the north and Azura Benguerra in the south are on private islands and serve as gateways to dives such as the Gap and the Edge of Reason on one end and the Doodles, Pinnacles and Manta Reef on the other. Just as on a land safari, you’re in for spotting big game: Whale sharks and manta rays are year-round residents, while humpback whales make the journey from Antarctica in the winter.
Made up of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines are a diving mecca. Water temperatures range between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year, though the rainy season from November to June can put a damper on diving. Puerto Galera, Cebu and Boracay in particular are world-class. Virtuoso-preferred Amanpulo on Pamalican Island is centrally located for hopping from one to the next. Of course, from Amanpulo, you need only go about 1,000 feet to find 2.7 square miles of pristine coral reef. If you’re so worn out that you can’t even make it back to land for a drink, the floating bar is available for rent on an hourly basis.
Great Barrier Reef
The world’s biggest reef system, the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland, Australia, can be seen from space. The diversity of marine life is staggering, with more than 1,500 varieties of fish. Rising ocean temperatures in the area threaten the health of the reef and several aquatic species unique to the area. There are six species of sea turtles. There are more than 30 types of whales, dolphins and porpoises. There are saltwater crocodiles in the marshes near the reef. There are so many wonders to behold, and three Virtuoso-preferred resorts to behold them from. Lizard Island is less than an hour from dives such as Cod Hole, Dynamite Passage and No Name. Qualia and Hayman Island in the Whitsundays offer easy access to Heart Reef. Qualia even has the option for an overnight liveaboard excursion with lit night diving. Now that sounds like something that belongs on a list of the world’s best dives.