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Alex Schechter
October 23, 2015

Ready to dive deep? Diverse marine life is just one of the perks of these world-renowned scuba sites, which offer travelers a memorable experience both in and out of the water. What’s more, they’re all beginner-friendly, so all you have to do is watch and breathe. Now, what are you waiting for? Get those flippers on and start exploring—a whole world awaits.

Maui

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When divers plan a trip to Hawaii, they usually have one thing in mind: sea turtles! The flat-finned little dudes are particularly drawn to a crescent-shaped volcanic crater known as Molokini, off the coast of Maui. Grand Wailea, a T+L World’s Best Award-winner, has Hawaii’s only resort-designated scuba training pool; and at the well-established Maui Dive Shop, two different excursions are offered each day of the week.

Belize

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It’s home to the second longest reef in world (185 miles!), and for American travelers at least, a heck of a lot closer than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. From the international airport in Belize City, it’s a quick 15-minute flight (or 45-minute ferry) to heavenly Ambergris Caye, the nation’s largest island, and—thanks to accessible courses through PADI-licensed Scuba School Belize—a diver’s haven. Don’t miss the spectacular Blue Hole, a 1,000-foot diameter vertical cave flecked with stalactites.

Cozumel, Mexico

Mass tourism and an incessantly active cruise port have warded off travelers from this eastern Mexican island, though its dive appeal remains undisputed. Much of Cozumel is ringed by lush, rainbow-gleaming coral reef—it’s hard to visit spots like the Columbia Wall (a 90-foot drop-off with eagle rays and coral towers) and the dramatic swim-throughs of Palancar’s Reef (Moray eels! Sunfish! Splendid toads!) and not leave impressed. While you’re in the area, head north to the Museo Subacuático de Arte’s fantastic underwater sculptures.

Micronesia

Ever tried scuba diving in an underwater graveyard? Each year, thousands head to Chuuk Lagoon, in Micronesia’s Caroline Islands, under whose surface lie 100 warships, tanks, planes, and even the ghostly remains of Japanese soldiers, who perished when the U.S. bombed the site in 1944. The eerie lagoon is made accessible through dive operators at the Blue Lagoon Dive Resort, though getting there is tricky. First, you must fly to Guam (serviced by United Airlines), then take a separate 632-mile flight to Chuuk.

Maldives

What is it about this chain of islands, smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean, that divers find so irresistible? Maybe it’s the shallow, easily navigable, circular reefs, formed by sinking volcanoes millions of years ago. Or maybe it’s the fact that, due to such a high density of marine life (manta rays, reef sharks, and thousands of smaller fish), you never quite know what you’re going to find. New initiatives, like Vivanta by Taj- Coral Reef’s Coral Propagation Project, help travelers play an active role in preserving the threatened ecosystem; for a more luxe experience, spring for a seven-night private boat excursion along the Thaa Atoll with Maalifushi by COMO, which made T+L’s It List this year, complete with butler service and private yoga classes.

Curaçao

Liquor might be the first thing you picture when you hear ‘curaçao.’ The second should be coral reef. The brilliant underwater swaths can be accessed via 65 distinct dive sites—a few of the more interesting ones include Mushroom Forest, whose hooded coral formations resemble giant sprouted fungi; and a 100-foot deep, orange coral-covered shipwreck known as Superior Producer.

Florida

After Belize, Florida contains the world’s third largest barrier reef system, and the only living coral barrier reef in the entire U.S. The arc-shaped Florida Reef, as it’s known, stretches from Biscayne National Park all the way to Key West, though the most intriguing part is found at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Here, divers spend hours investigating the limestone tunnels and coral arches at French Reef, and witnessing Christ of the Abyss, an impressive 4,000 pound submerged bronze statue.

Roatan, Honduras

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Local dive shops and dive operators, led by Roatan Marine Park, have banded together to protect the delicate (and extraordinarily beautiful) reef systems of this pristine island, ensuring that one-of-a-kind sites like Dolphin Den (maze-like tunnels with eels) and Mary’s Place (dramatic crevices with rare black coral) remain available to travelers for generations to come.

Brothers Islands, Egypt

The Red Sea’s most impressive diving spot is located 40 miles off the coast of Egypt. The Brothers Islands are a pair of tiny, volcano-formed masses, one of which has an eerie, 132-year-old abandoned lighthouse. But the real attraction is underwater: adjacent to the densely populated reef wall is a sandy plateau where shark sightings—including thresher sharks, silvertips, and hammerheads—are all but guaranteed.

Indonesia

A group of islands in eastern Indonesia, known as Raja Ampat, have been a mecca for divers for years, thanks to an exceptionally fertile reef containing soft coral gardens, 700 species of mollusks and 1,400 species of fish. Hit the all-natural Misool Eco Resort for an immersive luxury experience: hand-built overwater bungalows, on-site spa treatments, and a fully-equipped dive center offering three excursions per day.

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