- Travel Tips
- Adventure Travel
Pristine coral reefs, kelp forests, and sunken battle ships all make for epic dive destinations from Mexico to the Marshall Islands.
Cenote Taj Maja, Mexico
World's Greatest Diving Spots
Cenote Taj Maja, Mexico
Where It Is: The limestone bedrock that underlies Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is pocked with freshwater-filled sinkholes called cenotes. For divers, one of the best known is the 48-foot-deep Cenote Taj Maja, just south of the Caribbean coastal town of Playa del Carmen.
What to Look for: In the still and crystal-clear waters of Cenote Taj Maja, a 60-foot-wide sinkhole leads to an immense network of underwater caverns. Divers descend and swim through rock passageways to cathedrals of stalagmites, stalactites, and coral fossils. Deep down, seeping seawater from the nearby ocean creates a strange layered, mirrorlike phenomenon known as the halocline effect, where a layer of saltwater meets freshwater above.
Kicking to swim toward the shipwreck, Dan Orr descends in still water nearly transparent as air. It’s a bright day above water at Fathom Five National Marine Park, a preserve on Lake Huron four hours north of Toronto. But beneath the surface—106 feet down in the icy freshwater of the Georgian Bay—Orr is swimming into a haunted world.
A few feet down, the deck of the Arabia, a 19th-century wooden-hull schooner, fades into view. Bubbles trickle in front of Orr’s face; his breath quickens. Soon, shapes materialize on the bottom—chains, anchors, masts, and an eight-spoke wheel stand upright, preserved in cold water where they sank during a storm more than a century ago.
After his dive, Orr is exhilarated. “That was one of those truly rare diving experiences that never clouds in your mind,” he says.
Like many veteran divers, Orr, the CEO of Divers Alert Network, a recreational diver association, has traveled the globe in search of the most epic underwater adventures. Along the way, though, he’s discovered that while the world is full of scuba fanatics, all of them have different ideas about what makes “the best” dive site.
For some divers, like Ken Knezick, president of a Houston-based travel company specializing in dive trips, the most spectacular diving environments are also some of the most remote. Knezick’s favorite underwater destination, Wakatobi Marine National Park in Indonesia, used to require three full days of travel to reach, back when he started visiting in the late 1990s—a journey that culminated with a 22-hour boat ride to reach the preserve.
“Despite that arduous journey, it proved to be one of my best-ever diving experiences,” Knezick says, citing Wakatobi’s prolific reef system with some of the healthiest and most diverse coral remaining in any ocean. Today, though Wakatobi is more developed, with chartered air transfer service from Bali, it remains a remote and epic dive destination.
Other divers prefer spots closer to home. For Tom Phillipp, a dive-equipment company exec who contributed a chapter to the book Fifty Places to Dive Before You Die, the colossal kelp forests off California’s Channel Islands are without compare.
Phillipp’s descriptions of diving in this undersea realm—where sea lions and harbor seals frolic, and the ocean bottom is carpeted with vivid invertebrate life—are enchanting: “You glide through stalks suspended in the middle of the water column,” he writes, “the kelp forming a golden canopy on the surface with rays of light from the sun piercing through.”
Still other divers prefer more adrenaline-fueled underwater adventures—like wreck diving among sunken WWII vessels (in the Bikini Atoll), forays into territory inhabited by squids (in the Sea of Cortez), or diving with whale sharks in the waters near Utila Island, Honduras.
Luckily, there are so many kinds of dive spots around the world that it’s possible for every diver to have his own favorite. Why not suit up, jump in, and discover your own underwater fantasy world?