Beach vacations can offer so much more than a suntan and a pina colada. Skip the lounge chair in favor of the underwater environment to observe some of the world’s most beautiful marine life in our top 10 beach destinations for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Mexico has always had its own unique tourist calling, but the shores of Cozumel in particular offer a serenity that is found in few other Mexican hot spots. The Mexican Caribbean’s largest island, and just 12 miles from the Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel is home to many eels, nurse sharks, barracudas, crabs, lobsters, and sting rays. Save the Corona for dry land.
Exploring the Grand Cayman’s seven miles of reefs and wreck dives opens travelers to a world of sponges, corals, algae and tunicates in an unimaginable variation of color. Beginners can try shore diving right by the beach, and serious divers can choose night diving for a unique experience. Check out the sunken wreck, Mermaid, located just 100 feet off the coast of Sunset.
Great Barrier Reef
Deemed a World Heritage Site and containing the largest marine park in the world, the Great Barrier Reef is the only living thing on the planet that is visible from the moon. It houses 1,500 breeds of fish, 400 species of coral, 4,000 kinds of clams and snails, and the entire thing is larger than the United Kingdom. Need we say more?
While some know it as the Great Barrier Reef’s kid sister, there’s no joking around when you dive into the Belize Barrier Reef. This masterpiece runs the length of the coastline, and is considered the “holy grail” of the area. While snorkeling in Belize, make sure to see the three open-ocean atolls, and check out the Turneffe Island and Lighthouse Reef Atolls for coral-garden diving.
Bonaire’s surrounding waters are designated as an official marine park, and diving here offers a seemingly untouched and unspoiled environment. The South Caribbean water is exceptionally clear, making underwater photography a must. Most reefs begin at the water’s edge, so beginners can start from the shore, and experts can dive as deep as the drop-off zone – where star coral loom like huge pillars and give way to families of sea turtles and sting rays and new sights of spur and groove formations.
In Hanauma Bay’s shallow inner area, more than 50 species of reef and inshore shore fish welcome snorkelers to what feels like an outdoor aquarium. Options for snorkeling and diving in Hawaii are endless. Great for beginners, Kahaluu Beach on Big Island is calm and clear, and if you listen closely enough, you can hear the parrotfish feeding. Another option, mile-wide Kealakekua Bay is just at the foot of stunning sea cliffs, and provides abundant marine life.
These islands, while breathtaking, are not for beginners. Diving veterans will be able to better navigate the strong currents and cold waters, but diving for the most part here requires you to go deep into the ocean. Discover the beauty and mystery below of surfaces of Wolf and Darwin Islands. For extra safety, dive with a group that has a boat with Nitrox facilities, and do not attempt to dive at night.
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Settled among the Red Sea and Mt. Sinai, Sharm El Sheikh’s stunning reefs encapsulate a history of six mysterious shipwrecks and years of maritime trade. The isolated reefs, enormous tidal movement, and lack of nearby intensive fishing create the perfect conditions for observing schools of fish, sea turtles, and dolphins.
Rocktail Bay, South Africa
Opened to divers only in recent years, Rocktail Bay is very strict with its diving activity, and offers only one boat for permits. This solitude and exclusivity creates an unmatched atmosphere for underwater exploration. So far, 1,250 species have been spotted, including manta rays, dolphins, scorpionfish, and even whale-sharks. On land, Rocktail Bay’s wild coastline is tempting enough to stay on-land, but once you plunge beneath the surface, you’ll understand how to the two worlds collide.
The soft coral capital of the world, Fiji has plenty of luxury resorts and eco-hideaways that pair stunning beaches with exotic underwater environments. Its ever-changing current allows the corals to bloom into color. One of the most popular dive sites, Beqa Lagoon, is a favorite of both beginners and veterans, and Viti Levu offers bone-chilling shark feeding dives. To remove yourself from the business of resorts, visit Kadavu, where you’ll be treated like a local, and acclimate to the true culture of the Great Astrolabe Reef.