Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Jerry Han
Avid divers, dive right in: here are the top scuba diving destinations so you can scope out your next vacation spot.
1. Cozumel, Mexico
This world-class diving destination boasts 29 km of colourful reefs, underwater visibility over 100 feet, and warm waters averaging over 25C year-round. While the area is not celebrated for its beaches, its extraordinary diving attracts visitors of different skill levels to experience its drift diving, cenotes, and parts of the Mesoamerican Reef system, second in size to Australia’s great reef! Other exciting dive sites include the Colombia and Maracaibo Reefs, impressive wall dives for experienced divers, Chankanaab Reef (a natural aquarium in Cozumel’s National Marine Park), and the Barge Wreck, a 184-foot long shipwreck.
Why you should go: We like Cozumel because it’s close to home, making it less expensive and easier to travel to! This Mexican city provides an excellent introduction to scuba diving and you won’t have to sacrifice the quality here. It’s fairly easy to book an excursion from home in advance or from your resort.
Where to stay: Use trip matchmaker or the advice of our travel agents who have been there to choose a Cozumel resort that’s perfect for scuba divers. Resorts are all-inclusive, so you’ll enjoy the luxuries of unlimited food, drinks, and activities! For divers, we love the Cozumel Palace (4 star), Iberostar Cozumel (4 star), and Sunscape Sabor Cozumel (3.5 star).
How to get there: Fly into the Cozumel airport (CZM) or Cancun airport (CUN). If you fly into Cancun, you’ll have to take an hour-long bus ride to Playa del Carmen, where you will board a 40 minute ferry to the island of Cozumel. Taxis and scooters can easily get you around the small island.
Read more in our Cozumel scuba diving travel guide.
2. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Grand Cayman has dive sites for both novice and experienced divers, from easy shore dives to advanced wall dives and interesting wrecks. Best known for Stingray City, first-time visitors to Grand Cayman can’t miss out on this 12-foot dive to pet the underbellies and wings of the gentle creatures. If you’re in search of shipwrecks, you’re in luck – Grand Cayman is home to the 76-meter former U.S. Navy Submarine Vessel, USS Kittiwake, that sits upright just 64 feet deep. (Plus, the 100 meter Russian warship, Captain Keith Tibbet, broke into two parts by Hurricane Ivan, is in the neighbouring Cayman Brac.)
Why you should go: The Cayman Islands’ secluded location makes it ideal for spotting uninterrupted marine life. It also provides an alternative to popular Caribbean islands for someone well-travelled who still wants a unique sun vacation close to home. Underwater photos and videos are also popular in Grand Cayman!
Where to stay: Stay on the small island of Grand Cayman for a relaxing island getaway. With dive sites surrounding the entire island and a short hour drive to get from end to end, any hotel you choose will be great. We recommend The Westin Grand Cayman (4 star), Holiday Inn Resort Grand Cayman (3.5 star), and Sunshine Suites Grand Cayman Island (3.5 star).
How to get there: Grand Cayman is the easiest of the Cayman Islands to get to, via the Owen Roberts International Airport. Taxis, car rentals, buses, mopeds, and scooters are available to get around and explore the island.
Read more in our Grand Cayman scuba diving travel guide.
3. Cayo Largo, Cuba
With over 50 dive sites including interesting caves and grottos, steep drop offs, and black coral reefs, Cayo Largo is a diver’s paradise. Dive sites are just 15-30 away minutes by boat. A favourite Cayo Largo dive site is the El Acuario (Aquarium), 15 meters below the surface. Here, you’ll spot coral fish, sting rays, bull rays, turtles, and cat sharks.
Why you should go: Cayo Largo is a quiet island paradise compared to other, busier tourist spots. As a Cuban destination, it is also very affordable, providing sun, sand, and scuba all in one – plus, has au natural beaches for daring sun-seekers. Cayo Largo offers good diving for beginners or those wishing to try scuba diving at a reduced cost.
Where to stay: Hotels in Cayo Largo provide basic accommodation are easy on your wallet. We recommend choosing a 3+ star hotel.
How to get there: Arrive in the small Vilo Acuna Airport, just 3-7 km from your hotel, depending on which one you choose. Taxis and bicycle rentals are available on the island.
Read more in our Cayo Largo scuba diving travel guide.
4. Roatan, Honduras
Scuba diving is undoubtedly Roatan’s top attraction. Best known for its reef, Roatan has over 100 dive sites and diverse marine and coral species. Spot multi-colour fish, huge sponges, manta ray, sea turtles, and whale sharks during your underwater adventure. Notable dive sites include the steep West End Wall most often done as a drift dive, Mary’s Place with drops as deep as 118 feet, featuring deep cracks and tunnels created by volcanic activity, and the Spooky Channel, with limited natural light and narrow walls. Visitors can also discover the 200-foot cargo ship known as the El Aguila Wreck and the 165-foot tanker known as Prince Albert Wreck, both intentionally sunk.
Why you should go: This unspoiled island is the largest, most developed, and most visited of the Honduras Bay Islands, with a location just offshore from parts of the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest in the world. Beginner and advanced divers looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination will enjoy scuba diving in Roatan. Most dive sites are right off the dock or within a five minute boat ride.
Where to stay: Scuba diving in Roatan is easily accessible by most Roatan hotels. Use trip matchmaker to find hotels suited to you. We recommend Infinity Bay Spa and Beach Resort (4 star), Mayan Princess Beach Resort (4 star), Media Luna Resort (4 star), and Henry Morgan Resort (3.5 star).
How to get there: Arrive at Juan Manuel Galvez International Airport and board your airport transfer to your hotel. Get around the city with a taxi, water taxi, scooter, or city bus.
Read more in our Roatan scuba diving travel guide.
5. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
Providenciales, known as Provo, is the most inhabited island of Turks and Caicos, one of the eight inhabited islands out of the archipelago’s 40 islands and cays. The water is warm, clean, gentle, and crystal clear, with more than 100 feet of visibility. The most popular dive sites include Grace Bay, a calm bay with an excellent barrier reef, home to small walls, deep corals, and wildlife like groupers, barracuda, grunts, snappers, and turtles. North West Point, another popular dive site, has wall plunges over 3000 feet deep plus the likes of barracuda, horse-eye jacks, lobster, crabs, and angelfish attracting divers to catch a glimpse. In Princess Alexandra National Park, you’ll find Bight Reef and Smith’s Reef, both with underwater signs that describe the ecosystem and diversity for snorkelers.
Why you should go: Calm clear waters, uninhabited islands, and untouched reefs are the alluring features of scuba diving in Turks and Caicos. Much of the water surrounding this upscale destination is protected national parkland. Providenciales in particular, is known for its dramatic walls and large, healthy coral.
Where to stay: Any hotel in Providenciales will provide easy access to some of the area’s best dive sites and centers. Use trip matchmaker or speak with a travel agent who’s been there to recommend resorts for you. We love Beaches Turks and Caicos (5 star), Villa del Mar (4 star), Sands at Grace Bay (4 star), and Royal West Indies (4 star).
How to get there: Arrive into the Providenciales International Airport (PLS). It’s easy to get around the island in 20 minutes or so; the roads are flat with not many traffic lights. You can rent a car or take a taxi, but bicycles, scooters, and even golf carts are easy ways to get around.
From blue holes and caves to coral reefs and sunken ships. Bahamas has it all. Get your adrenaline pumping and swim with reef sharks and dolphins or enter into vessels on natural and artificial wreck dives. Swim with the dolphins in Bimini, West End, and Grand Bahama in the open ocean, and even spot a shark while you’re underwater. If you prefer wreck diving, Bahamas is rich with wrecks: shallow, moderate, and deep. From the 20-foot deep Sapona wreck in Bimini, a cement vessel sunk in the 1926 hurricane, to the 100-foot deep Theo’s Wreck off Grand Bahama Island that was sunk in 1982, the wrecks are home to hundreds of reef fish and other fascinating creatures. Also famous for its wall dives spanning different sizes and shapes, Bahamas’ Great Lucaya (or Grand Bahama) Wall begins 80 feet deep and includes caves, caverns, and swim-throughs. But, Bahamas’ most enchanting natural feature is its more than 50 blue holes in Andros Island, created during the Ice Ages – a spectacular sight!
Why you should go: Bahamas is an all-in-one dive destination, awesome for someone who wants to experience a bit of everything or for diverse groups of divers travelling together. Every island is surrounded by shallow reefs, making it a great spot for beginner and family dives.
Where to stay: Bahamas has many quality resorts on the islands of Nassau, Freeport, and Exuma, the most popular vacation spots. Use trip matchmaker to find the one best for you – almost all the hotels in Bahamas are great for diving.
How to get there: Depending on your resort, you will arrive into The Lynden Pindling International Airport in the capital of Nassau, The Freeport Grand Bahama International Airport on Grand Bahama, or the George Town International Airport in Exuma.
7. Costa Rica
Bordered by the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, Costa Rica’s underwater volcanic rock formations make it an interesting destination to explore, with its hard corals, sponges, and gorgonians. Visibility ranges from 50-100 feet – and temperatures vary from 26-29C. The Gulf of Papagayo is recognized as Costa Rica’s premier scuba diving destination, with approximately 30 dive sites off the Guanacaste coast, including the Tortuga Islands, home to three interesting shipwrecks. Our top three scuba diving spots in Costa Rica include Cocos Island, Catalina Island, and Bat Island. Each have massive schools of fish because of their remote locations and changes in water temperature and visibility – and have hammerhead sharks and giant manta rays. Catalina Island is a great spot for advanced divers seeking deep dives and drift dives, where they can explore arches, caves, and coral created by volcanic rock formations. In the Bat Islands in Santa Rosa National Park, divers can encounter huge bull sharks up to 12 feet long, drops more than 100 feet deep, and stronger currents, making it a spot for advanced divers.
Why you should go: Costa Rica is celebrated for its eco-tourism, so it’s no wonder it would make the list of best places to scuba dive. Visitors can experience a beach vacation that has the allure of an exotic, eco-focused locale but the price point and accessibility of an all-inclusive vacation.
Where to stay: Guanacaste provides access to the Bat and Catalina Islands, both fantastic scuba diving spots. Visitors to Costa Rica generally stay in Guanacaste, San Jose, Liberia, or Jaco.
How to get there: Arrive into the San Jose or Liberia Airport and board your transfer bus to your resort (this is typically included in your vacation package). Taxis and car rentals are good ways to get around this small country.
Travellers come to Bonaire to dive – especially those seeking shore dives to explore the island’s narrow fringing reef. The reef starts at the shoreline and extends almost 200 feet deep, making it fantastic for both shore and boat dives. With an average visibility exceeding 100 feet, water temperatures around 29C, and approximately 80 dive sites, there is a ton to explore in this marine sanctuary. Sites like 1000 Steps (there really aren’t this many!), Hilma Hooker freighter, and shore dives like Salt Pier showcase the underwater diversity of colourful fish and coral. You’ll spot sea turtles, nurse sharks, parrot fish, rays, and if you’re lucky, maybe even a seahorse!
Why you should go: Bonaire has the best scuba diving of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao). As part of the 700-acre Bonaire Marine Park, the small, unspoiled island is protected, making it even one of the Caribbean’s best dive destinations. It’s a great spot for beginners, with the calm waters and abundance of marine life along the shallow drop-offs – plus a favourite among underwater photographers!
Where to stay: The island is just 39 km long and 11 km wide. Most hotels will have easy access to dive sites.
How to get there: Arrive into Bonaire’s Flamingo International Airport and head to your hotel. Dive operators will bring you to and from the dive sites on organized tours. You may rent a car to get around the whole island in a day or two. Taxis are also available.
Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef, and the largest unbroken barrier reef in the western hemisphere. Located between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize has over 400 islands and almost 300 km of coastline. Divers flock to experience the 450-foot-deep famous Blue Hole, to see its sharks, huge tuna and other pelagics, octopus, stalagmites and stalactites. The marine park of Ambergris Cay is home to abundant marine life like corals, grouper, snapper, barracuda, and jacks. You’ll also get to swim with nurse sharks and stingrays at Shark Ray Alley!
Why you should go: Besides the Belize Barrier Reef, Belize has tons of marine life and shallow waters in its diverse ecosystem, plus sites worth exploring like Glover’s Reef Atoll, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Half Moon Cay.
Where to stay: Belize hotels are smaller and independently run. There aren’t many luxury or all-inclusive resorts; most are comfortable and affordable.
How to get there: Visitors to Belize will arrive to the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport located 16 km northwest of the city. Direct flights from Canada are seasonal. Taxis are available to take you into town. Most travel is done by bus.