During the final semester of my senior year in college, I took a scuba diving class since almost all of my real classes were already completed. Two weeks after graduating I decided last minute to take a one-way flight to Australia for an adventure, so it turns out that timing had been perfect to get scuba certified. Over the next few years I continued moving around the world and scuba diving became one of my favorite activities. Now it is definitely a factor when selecting destinations for trips and I always look for an interesting dive if possible. Although I have done over a hundred dives ranging from world renown reefs to shipwrecks, night dives with massive pufferfish or multiple cave dives in a day, the following are five of my favorites based on their uniqueness, the visibility, diversity of underwater wildlife, and the over-all experience.
1) The Great Barrier Reef
One of the natural wonders of the world as well as one of the most famous diving locations, the Great Barrier Reef was actually one of my first dive trips which set the bar extremely high. The water is simply teeming with every shape and color of fish, coral, turtles, etc. There was not a dull moment on any of the dives with massive Blue Groupers brushing by and spotting several cuddle fish shifting colors to blend in as they swam over. The Great Barrier Reef lives up to all the hype and is definitely a destination that should remain on every avid divers’ bucket list.
2) Underwater Moai
2) Underwater Moai- Located off the southwestern shore of Easter Island, this is one of the more difficult locations to get to in terms of the total flights and travel time to reach the remote island. However, the clear visibility, abundance of sea life, and the famous sunken Moai statue is the reward waiting. The Moai was placed by the local inhabitants out in the ocean as a token of gratitude to the older generations for passing down the skills necessary to live off the sea as well as a sign of respect for everything the water provides. The dive is an extremely simple one, only about 40 meters’ depth and an easy 10-minute boat ride from the coast, but there are plenty of turtles and variety of fish to keep the dive interesting- as if the massive statue is not intriguing enough.
3) Whale Shark Diving
Several places around the world offer the opportunity to have an up-close encounter with these gentle giants. While I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, diving became a part of weekend activities since the diving was easily accessible and there were so many good spots. For a limited time during the summers, it was possible to go whale shark diving and so immediately my friends and I signed up. Moments after getting in the water and dropping down, my friends started waving and pointing excitedly behind me. I turned around to stare face to face with a momma whale and her baby (the first close-up shot below). Even the baby whale shark was immense and swimming beside them in their underwater world was absolutely surreal. These beautifully spotted sea creatures are extremely good-natured and willing to let people come up next to them and swim along, which was an incredible experience.
4) Underwater Museum
Although most travelers to Cancun are party-goers enjoying their time off on vacation or spring-break, one of the best features that the city offers is the diving in the stunning blue waters. In 2010, Jaime Gonzalez Canto and Jason deCaires Taylor opened an underwater museum known as the Museo Subacuático de Arte or MUSA with the intent of saving the natural coral reefs in the area. The Underwater Museum has several exhibits consisting of nearly 500 statues and sculptures that have small holes in them to allow coral and algae growth to support marine wildlife. Swimming silently through the groups of these sunken statues is slightly eerie, but a completely new way to experience art in a different realm.
5) Shark Diving
I distinctly remember the first time I saw a shark in the open water. It was on a dive in Byron Bay, Australia and my instructor was motioning us away from the inbound sharks and trying to ensure that we maintained our breathing so we did not burn through our air tanks. After seeing Tiger sharks around shipwrecks and coming face to face with several black tipped sharks in Okinawa, I am generally not phased and try to just keep my distance. In the Bahamas on a dive specifically designed to provide very close encounters, we did the exact opposite. All of the divers were instructed to kneel on the bottom and keep their hands and arms tight to their chest while the instructors chummed the water (from the safety of their metal protective suits). The following chaos of sharks coming in for a feeding was a remarkable sight. Sharks eagerly pushed by the kneeling circle of divers even hitting my arm with their tails as they fought the others for a larger share of the fish being thrown into the water. It was a controlled chaos that was fun to watch as the sharks swarmed around all of us sitting quietly on the bottom.
Two of my next big bucket list dives are cage diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa and the Blue Hole in Belize. Please post any comments about good dives you have done and what spots are missing from this list!