Scuba diving is a sport that appeals to people on many levels. Some enjoy the freedom that comes from being temporarily weightless. Others get a thrill from coming in contact with marine life, away from aquariums and nature documentaries. Life teems just under the surface, so there is no need to be an expert to enjoy diving. The following is a list of five supreme diving destinations, guaranteed to leave participants speechless.
Palau is a small island in Micronesia, less than 1,000 miles east of the Philippines. While underwater, divers can explore the fringe reef that surrounds the island chain, caves and shipwrecks. The Japanese ships that sank during World War II have become artificial reefs and are now home to various species of coral, rays, fish and turtles.
Palau’s government is proud of the country’s reputation as one of the world’s foremost diving destinations and has taken steps to protect the delicate ecosystem of the ocean. The waters surrounding Palau have officially been declared a ‘shark sanctuary’ making all commercial shark hunting illegal. An estimated 130 species of shark live in the protected waters around the island, including Oceanic Whitetips, Scalloped Hammerheads and Grey Reef Sharks. With so many marine animals to see up close, it is no wonder that Palau is seen as a diver’s paradise.
- The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s most well-known diving locations. The world’s largest living organism stretches almost 1,500 miles along the eastern coast of Australia. It is one of two constructions able to be seen in space, the other being the Great Wall of China. Perhaps because of its size, the Great Barrier Reef has an unrivaled marine population.
There are two ways to explore the reef. Day trips are an optimal way for people to experience the reef without committing their entire vacation to it. Cairns in the north is one of the most popular launching points for day trips, but most of the cities along the coast have at least one company providing short tours. For those who would like to spend an extended period of time becoming familiar with the breathtaking scenery, it is possible to live on-board a ship.
- Galapagos Islands
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known simply as UNESCO, has declared the Galapagos Islands to be a World Heritage Site. The islands and the surrounding waters are protected, and this allows divers to get closer to fish than is possible in other areas of the worlds. Some species of fish even seem to welcome divers, darting close enough to be touched.
The shimmering water around the Galapagos hides abrupt drop-offs and strong ocean currents. The Antarctic Humboldt current passes by the islands as well, keeping the water abnormally cold. Because of the risks involved with these conditions, diving around the islands should be reserved for those with experience only. Transit cards must be purchased prior to travel to the Galapagos and a park fee is charged once the visitors arrive.
- Cocos Island
Slightly more than 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica lies one of the world’s largest uninhabited islands. Park rangers are the only permanent residents of the island, visitors must leave by nightfall. Vacations to the rainforest-covered Cocos Island will last several days, as it is only accessible by a live-aboard boat.
Octopuses, tuna, turtles and sharks abound in the ocean around Cocos. Whale sharks are one of the most popular attractions in the deeper water off-shore. Deep water and strong currents make this site one for experienced divers. However, sea kayaking, whale-watching and day hikes on the island will ensure a good time, even for those who never enter the water.
- The Red Sea
Once known only to European divers, the Red Sea has recently attracted visitors from around the world. Coral reefs, shipwrecks and deep walls are able to be explored in this 1,200 mile stretch of water. Most expeditions, day trip and live-aboard, leave from Sharm El-Sheikh. This city on the southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula offers many other water sports as well, such as windsurfing and para-sailing.
The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism founded the Sharm el-Sheikh Hyperbaric Medical Center to help solidify the city’s name as a premier dive location. While five tourists were injured in 2010 by an Oceanic Whitetip Shark, resulting in one death, Egyptian authorities have stated the shark was captured alive. Water in the Red Sea is very warm, and awe-inspiring underwater scenery help make this area one of the best in the world.