Top alternative scuba diving destinations
Diving is the gateway to some of the planet’s most diverse marine life.
In high season, though, the most popular dive sites can become overrun with tourists.
To help you experience all that the underwater world has to offer in the most relaxing way possible, our experts have chosen their favourite alternative diving destinations.
Ambergris Caye, Belize
The largest of the cayes off the north coast of Belize, Ambergris is one of Central America’s most popular islands. It’s a firm favourite amongst seasoned divers, with the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef providing excellent snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities. Also the world’s second largest reef, the area is home to a whole range of marine life, so you’re sure to get up close and personal with some astounding sea life here. Majestic whale sharks, manatees and hawksbill turtles all live harmoniously in this ocean paradise.
The biggest draw to this region, though, is the nearby Great Blue Hole, an awe-inspiring underwater sinkhole. The natural phenomenon is thought of as one of the world’s greatest dive spots. This submerged cave is UNESCO-recognised, and is thought to be over 150,000 years old. Here, you’ll find both bull sharks and hammerheads amongst an array of other fascinating creatures.
Stretching for more than sixty miles, the idyllic Quirimbas Archipelago is a collection of protected islands set off Mozambique’s northern coast. A true marine paradise, Mozambique’s waters are home to some of the most pristine and abundant reefs in the world. More than 350 species of reef fish, humpback whales, whale sharks and even elusive dugong manatees call this reef home. With such a secluded setting, Quirimbas is the perfect place to escape modern life and enjoy paradise in the form of a private island.
Con Dao, Vietnam
An archipelago of 16 islands located off the south coast of Vietnam, Con Dao is a tropical paradise of stunning natural beauty which offers adventure, relaxation and world-class scuba diving. These islands have long been coined Vietnam’s hidden treasure, but they’ve recently started emerging as a fantastic destination for outdoor pursuits. With coastal surroundings defined by pristine beaches, colourful coral and scenic bays, the Con Dao islands are perfect for snorkelling, diving and swimming.
Con Dao is a protected site, so has managed to maintain an abundance of diverse marine life throughout the years. Species such as the rare dugong, dolphins, great barracudas, and hawksbill turtles all call these shores home. More experienced divers can also explore the 65-metre wreck of a sunken Thai freighter, which lies as deep as 40-metres below the surface. From novices to avid divers, there’s something for everyone in Con Dao.
Mnemba Island, Zanzibar
Mnemba is heaven incarnate. A small island 4.5 kilometres off the coast of Zanzibar, this isolated paradise is a true desert island escape. The exceptional scuba diving here is thanks to the island’s proximity to Mnemba Atoll Marine Park. Beachside Zanzibari houses sit amidst pine forest with ocean views, while the island’s own dive centre makes it easy to explore the protected reef. Best known for its schools of fish and exceptionally frequent turtle sightings, the Mnemba Atoll Marine Park is quite unlike anywhere else on Earth.
For pure exclusive luxury, Mnemba Island Lodge is this nirvana’s only resident hotel. Ten luxury Zanzibari banda houses are hidden amongst the Casuarina pine forest here, and let as much of the outside world in as possible. Walls made of coconut matting roll up to reveal Indian Ocean views, while private verandahs offer the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by. Mnemba Island Lodge is a true nature’s paradise – apart from the deer and the doves, the only other beings you’ll share the island with are the other guests and staff.
Tioman Island, Malaysia
While Langkawi is often favoured as Malaysia’s preferred diving destination, there’s more than meets the eye under the waters surrounding Tioman Island. Just off the south-eastern coast of the Malaysian Peninsula, tiny Tioman Island is the largest of 64 volcanic islands scattered throughout the South China Sea. An abundance of sublime sandy beaches and white coral reefs make this a spellbinding diving environment. The island’s waters are known for wreck diving in particular, with a number of WWII wrecks in the surrounding area, such as the British battlecruiser HMS Repulse. Diving around Tioman Island is best suited to technical divers, as these vessels lie more than 50 metres below sea level.
Isla Cozumel, Mexico
Situated halfway along the Mayan Riviera, Mexico’s Isla Cozumel is the perfect place to scuba dive. The Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park lies just off the shore here, making this a real haven for water lovers. There are two world-famous dive sites here – Punta Sur and the Devil’s Throat. With incredible underwater cave systems at both sites, there’s a plethora of marine life here. Observant divers can spot everything from rainbow parrotfish to whale sharks.
At the heart of the coral reef, the Devil’s Throat is an approximately 60 foot long narrow tunnel, with an opening that’s just 5 feet wide. This incredible structure descends at a 45 degree angle to around 130 feet deep, so you have to be an experienced diver to truly enjoy this challenging dive. For optimum relaxation, base yourself in the laid-back beach town of Playa del Carmen for easy access to dive sites and luxury resorts such as the Viceroy Riviera Maya, who can organise exquisite diving excursions for you.
The White Continent is otherworldly in and of itself, but Antarctica’s waters are truly ethereal. On a classic diving cruise, you’ll jump from the beach or a Zodiac boat to dive under shallow ice and down along ice walls. Water, sunlight, and ice formations all combine to create a true kaleidoscope of colour, proving that diving under Polar waters is an experience like no other. Under the waters, divers may be treated to sightings of anything from jellyfish to sea butterflies.
If you’ve been trained to work a drysuit, don’t pass up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get some ice diving done in Antarctica. The depths of this remote region are best suited to more experienced divers, but they really do offer unrivalled diving opportunities. Those willing to brave the unforgiving climate are rewarded with encounters with fur seals, leopard seals, penguins and giant isopods.
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