My bucket list of top dive sites in the world gives me daily inspiration.
I day dream about scuba diving a lot, especially because I work at a desk job and stare at a computer all day. 😉
As Jaques Cousteau once said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
There’s just something about the ocean that’s unforgettable!
I hope this list of top dive sites in the world inspires you as it does for me.
Top dive sites in the world: How I picked
No list of top dive sites in the world can be definitive.
From colorful critters in the Philippines to manta rays on Socorro and Revillagigedo Islands, there’s just so many places to pick.
I selected these top dive sites based on biodiverse life, such as healthy coral, macro or pelagic life, and interesting underwater landscapes.
You won’t find wreck dives or shark cage diving on this list – those deserve their own list.
1. Taveuni, Fiji (Oceania)
Dive Site: Great White Wall
Fiji has a reputation of being the “Soft Coral Capital of the World,” and the Great White Wall dive site is a peak example.
Located in the Somosomo Strait, the Great White Wall starts as a tunnel, before opening up to a massive wall fully covered in white soft corals and brilliant hues from other coral types and fish.
The sheer scale of the Great White Wall is said to be stunning as it is 200 feet (60 meters) long and 150 feet (46 meters) deep, like you’re flying across a mountain lit up with luminescent colors!
The only catch is the Great White Wall is tide-dependent, so be sure to book carefully for the time of the month when the corals are in full bloom.
Otherwise, the greater Rainbow Reef area near Taveuni, Fiji is more than worth exploring as well for soft corals, macro and pelagic life.
2. Galapagos Islands
Dive Site: Darwin’s Arch (Pillars of Evolution)
The Galapagos Islands is the ultimate bucket-list destination for nature lovers and divers alike.
Located 600+ miles (1,000 km) off the coast of Ecuador, this isolated archipelago is home to an incredibly unique ecosystem of creatures on both land and sea.
Much of the life here is endemic (not found anywhere else in the world) and has long been a research site for naturalists such as Charles Darwin. For example, you can see marine iguanas swimming in the water!
In particular, Darwin’s Arch (now called the Pillars after the arch collapsed in 2021 due to erosion) has an epic number of whale sharks, manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and turtles.
According to some divers, it’s not uncommon to see something amazing every few feet!
Conditions at Darwin’s Arch can be rough and unpredictable, so advanced divers recommended.
Depths range from 50-100+ feet (15-30+meters) and temperatures are cold at around 72-80 degrees F (22-26 degrees C) depending on the season.
3. Fakarava, French Polynesia
Dive Site: Tumakohua Pass (South Pass)
In the constellation of French Polynesian islands, Fakarava has something truly special on the south side.
You can see a wall of hundreds of grey sharks swim through Fakarava’s Tumakohua Pass. An estimated 700 sharks can show up – all naturally without baiting or feeding!
If you’re a brave soul, you can also try a night dive to watch the sharks hunt.
The sharks are in Fakarava year-round, but there’s also a marbled grouper spawning event in the days leading up to the first full moon of July.
During this brief, magical time, thousands of marbled groupers cover the sea floor and occasionally burst into activity (yes of the intimate variety 😉)
The grouper spawning also attracts a feeding frenzy of sharks and other predators. It truly is an action-packed marine event to observe!
Dives at Tumakohua Pass range from 50-70+ feet (15-21+meters), with warm temperatures at 79-84 degrees F (26-29 degrees C).
4. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Dive Site: Blue Magic
Raja Ampat is a coveted place for pristine corals and endemic biodiversity.
Above the water, Raja Ampat looks unbelievable: it’s all turquoise waters and lush green islands scattered like bumps on a dragon’s back.
Underwater, it’s a diver’s paradise with warm temperatures and plenty to see.
Raja Ampat hosts a mind-boggling variety of big life: giant oceanic manta rays, whale sharks, big schools of barracuda and jacks, octopus, predatory sharks.
One special thing about the Blue Magic dive site is that it’s a great spot to look for pygmy seahorses. This cute pipsqueak is only about an inch tall and rewarding to find.
You may also spot the tasseled wobbegong – possibly the world’s weirdest looking shark! This bearded bottom-dweller looks like it’d fit right at home next to grandma’s patterned armchair.
5. Sipidan Island, Malaysia
Dive Site: Barracuda Point
Another timeless favorite of Jacques Cousteau’s is Sipidan Island in Malaysia.
Sipidan Island is rich with life because of its geography. The island’s coral reef is built on an extinct volcano, and the current brings in lots of plankton from deep in the Indo-Pacific ocean.
Barracuda Point is a stellar example of why Sipidan Island is a premier dive destination.
True to its name, you can see a lot of barracudas at the sandy, channel portion of the dive site. Thousands of barracudas will whip up into a vast tornado, in a mesmerizing display of silver colors in motion.
The depth can go up to 131 feet (40 meters), although the depth can range depending on skill level and current.
Other jaw-dropping fish to see include bumphead parrotfish and napoleon wrasses (which can grow a long as 7.5 feet!).
Dive Site: Blue Corner
The Blue Corner is an adrenaline-packed dive. Currents can be so strong that you’ll need reef hooks to secure yourself onto rock!
From there, you just hang back and enjoy as giant schools of fish (jacks an snappers) and plenty of reef sharks swim around you.
What makes this so special is the Blue Corner is a triangular, submerged reef shelf that gives you a glimpse into the open ocean at a depth of around 98 feet (30 meters).
The strong currents bring in lots of life, and its variability makes it a top favorite you can never get tired of. For example, the beginning of the year yields a Moorish idol spawning season: attracting a large group of grey reef sharks!
There are many famous dive sites like the Blue Corner in Palau with incredible biodiversity.
And it’s likely to remain this way for years to come, thanks to Palau’s dedication to marine conservation: creating the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, and banning commercial fishing in 80% of its territory.
7. The Red Sea, Egypt
Dive Site: Shark and Yolanda Reefs, Ras Mohammed National Park
The Red Sea is an embarrassment of riches for diving: ultra clear visibility, diverse marine life, wrecks, and more!
At the southern tip of Ras Mohammed National Park, the Shark and Yolanda reefs are two huge coral pinnacles that rise 2,600 feet (800 meters) out of the ocean floor. Dives can reach 98 feet (30 meters) or potentially more.
This area is consistently rated as one of the best sites in the Red Sea as there’s plenty to see.
Visibility can range from 118 feet (36 meters) to a whopping 164 feet (50 meters) in the winter – a match made in heaven with the sheer number of fish here.
Clouds of jackfish, tuna, barracuda, unicorn fish, and snappers can be seen, as well as regular encounters with moray eels and eagle rays. There’s even potential for dolphins to show up!
Lots of variety to see on this drift dive including soft and hard coral, and even a wreck from the 1980s near the west side of Yolanda Reef.
The sunken ship itself is gone, having slipped deeper into the depths over the years. But you can behold the wreck’s cargo: a surreal number of sinks and toilets!
8. Socorro (Revillagigedo Islands), Mexico
Dive Site: El Boiler
El Boiler is one of the most famous dive sites at Socorro (Revillagigedo Islands) as it is also a manta ray cleaning station.
The site is basically a wall dive featuring a single large pinnacle 150 feet (45 meters) deep, but divers can stay relatively shallow to enjoy the show.
Giant oceanic manta rays (which can be as wide as 26 feet!) are known to frequent the area and be very friendly.
These magic carpet-like rays may even come close to you on purpose to get tickled by your bubbles!
Outside of the famous giant manta rays, there’s also sometimes dolphins, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, and huge schools of jack.
The larger chain of islands is located far from the southern point of Baja California Sur in Mexico, with liveaboards taking 24+ hours from Los Cabos.
Water temperatures can be cooler at 70-82 F (21-28 C), depending on the season.
9. Tubbataha, Philippines
Dive Site: Amos Rock
Tubbataha is one of the most remote diving destinations in the Philippines, located in the middle of the Sulu Sea.
This liveaboard-only destination is open March to June, and also a UNESCO world heritage site home to hundreds of fish and coral species.
Amos Rock is an unmissable site if you’re a fan of wall dives. Amos Rock is covered in colorful coral (including large purple sea fans) and schools of fish darting in and out.
The wall can be enjoyed at different depths – making it doable for both beginners and advanced.
One fun fact about Tubbataha is that it is considered by scientists to be a global hotspot for reef sharks (grey and white tip), a shining example of successful conservation. Sadly all too rare during these times when the global shark population is in decline.
10. Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Dive Site: Bajo Alcyone
If seeing hammerhead sharks is on your list, Bajo Alcyone at Cocos Island (near Costa Rica) is hard to beat.
This popular dive site is located above an underwater mountain, and offers an epic view of groups of large, scalloped hammerhead sharks.
It’s truly an incredible sight to see hammerhead sharks (with their strange, yet beautiful silhouettes) completely take up the landscape around you. An unbeatable photo op if you’re a fan of sharks!
If you’re able to stop looking at the hammerheads, there’s also a large variety of other sharks (silky sharks, Galapagos sharks, and maybe even whale sharks) due to it being a shark cleaning station as well.
That said, this dive site is also deep (starts at 82 feet or 25 meters) with lots of strong currents, so it’s recommended to be an advanced diver to make the most of things.
Cocos Island is a liveaboard-only destination as well, taking about 36 hours from Costa Rica.
11. Similan Islands, Thailand
Dive Site: Richelieu Rock
In the Andaman Sea, near the south side of Thailand, is a horse-shoe shaped rock formation covered in soft coral.
Jacques Cousteau first discovered this reef, and nowadays it is one of the most well-known dive sites for liveaboards in the area.
Diving at Richelieu Rock was one of my most memorable experiences in my early days as a diver.
We descended to around 65 feet (20 meters), and I remember being amazed by the shock of colors. It felt like I was floating through a forest of purple and red coral, with clouds of small fish darting in and out.
While I didn’t see the famed whale sharks known to frequent the area, I did see very cute small life, like a seahorse and colorful shrimp.
I certainly was a scuba diving convert after visiting Richelieu Rock!
12. Cozumel, Mexico
Dive Site: Palancar Reef
Cozumel is an easy-to-reach, popular destination for drift diving. The current pushes you along like you’re in an underwater safari!
Palancar Reef is one of the most popular dive sites in Cozumel.
The reef is so large that it’s comprised of multiple dive sites (Gardens, Caves, Horseshoe, Punta, Bricks, and many more).
My favorite dive sites on Palancar Reef is Palancar Gardens and Punta Palancar. Yes, I’m cheating by picking two sites! But in my defense you can squeeze them both into a single dive if the conditions are right!
My dive at Palancar Gardens started with a max depth (usually around 70 feet or 21 meters) and varied from there.
Palancar Reef (Gardens in particular) are full of colorful coral of all shapes (large bells, sea fans, and long vine-like fingers), colors (bright yellow, orange, reds, and purple), and Carribean fish.
It is also a great place to spot eagle rays on the sand banks from December to March!
I visited Cozumel recently, and have a video of my experience here. I will also update this post soon with my full Diving in Cozumel guide.
13. Kona, Hawaii
Dive Site: Manta Heaven
Kona is the home to many local reef manta rays that swarm at night to feed on plankton.
This night dive is always a hit – and an easy dive for beginners.
Manta Heaven is the best place for scuba divers to see this evening congregation of manta rays.
Manta Heaven is located near the Kona airport and a bit more protected from Kona’s famously strong currents. Once you arrive via boat, all you do is lie down on the sea floor with a max depth of 30-40 feet (9-12 meters).
The diving company will setup a basket of lights, which in turn attract plankton. Then you simply stretch out and watch the manta rays engage in a graceful ballet above you.
While you can see manta rays in many different places in the world, this is by far the easiest way to see them. There’s a chance many manta rays will show up, so it’s a completely spell-binding experience to see these creatures up-close and personal.
Read more in-depth about my experience diving with the Kona manta rays.
More Bucket List-worthy Places
The world is vast with many amazing opportunities for diving, so consider adding these places to your bucket list, depending on what you like.
Anilao (Batangas, Philippines)
Dive Site: Secret Bay
If you’re into muck diving (looking for tiny critters in the sand), then Secret Bay is a favorite.
Divers looking for reef or pelagic life may be disappointed, but this stretch of sand is a dream for muck divers armed with macro lens cameras in search of nudibranchs, shrimp, cuttlefish, seahorse and octopus.
Also, Anilao is fairly easy to get to (three hour drive) from Manila.
Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Dive Site: Batu Bolong
Batu Bolong is legendary for having the best of everything: colorful soft and hard corals in pristine condition, with the option for both wall and reef diving. It’s known to have a dazzling array of fish life on the reef, but also large pelagics like sharks and rays sweep through since the site is next to the open ocean.
La Paz, Mexico
Dive Site: Los Islotes
The underwater scenery isn’t beautiful – but the main draw here is sea lions, guaranteed! The sea lion pups in the Sea of Cortez here are very playful. If you dive here, you’ll likely find these creatures nipping at your fins like puppies. It’s a crowd pleaser and a unique experience to interact with wildlife (or rather, the wildlife comes to you!).
Florida Keys, United States
Dive Site: Molasses Reef
The US isn’t the first place you’d think of for warm water diving, but the Florida Keys offers a heavenly escape to see tropical ecosystems in American marine territory. Molasses Reef is a stretch of protected marine sanctuary, host to multiple dive sites with large coral formations and lots of groupers, barracudas, turtles, rays, and more.
Dive Site: Mary’s Place
Honduras is a key dive destination in Central America, and is known to be the best bang for your buck when it comes to beautiful tropical diving. Mary’s Place in Honduras is a world-renowned dive site that offers many swim-throughs, cracks, and caves that offer endless exploration.
Are there any places that you would add to your own dive bucket list? Share in the comments below!
Diane is an avid diver who loves to share her underwater travels with the world! She’s a PADI Advanced Certified Diver with 100+ dives under her belt, including diving in Mexico, French Polynesia, Thailand, Hawaii, Honduras, and Fiji.