Everyone knows that holidaying in exotic locations is fun; the sandy beaches, the beautiful resorts, the endless cocktails…you get the idea. What about the activities, though? These days, just going away and lying by a pool somewhere for a week is not enough. It’s all about the experience. And there’s no more memorable or exciting experience you can have on a summer vacation than scuba diving. Not all dives are created equal though, some really are better than others. That’s why we’ve put together this list of the five best diving sites in the world, according to the experts. Time to start planning that next vacation.
BARRACUDA POINT, SIPADAN ISLAND, MALAYSIA
Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia, located in the Celebes Sea, and was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone that took thousands of years to develop. It rises 600 metres from the seabed and is perfectly located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, the centre of one of the richest marine habitats in the world. Experienced divers from around the world visit Sipadan each year to experience the spectacular show put on by the vast array of marine life that call the area home, including enormous schools of barracuda that swim in tornado-like formations (hence the name.) In addition to the barracuda, you’re also likely to encounter large schools of big-eye trevally, and bumphead parrotfish, as well as manta rays, eagle rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks. In his 1989 film, Borneo: The Ghost of the Sea Turtle, world famous explorer and conservationist, Jacques Cousteau, said: "I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art."
THE YONGALA, MAGNETIC ISLAND, AUSTRALIA
Five miles offshore from Townsville, located in Northern Queensland, Australia, is the aptly named Magnetic Island. Such is its natural beauty that the island literally attracts visitors from all over the world, including many divers. Its gentle sloping and sheltered beaches provide easy access for divers, who don’t need to venture too far off shore to discover something fascinating. The big drawcard, of course, is the world-famous SS Yongala wreck. Lying in about 99ft of water, the ship sank in 1911 and was given official protection under the Historic Shipwrecks Act in 1989. The area is also home to manta rays, sea snakes, octopuses, turtles, bull sharks, tiger sharks, clouds of fish and spectacular coral, so there will be plenty to look at and discover.
GREAT BLUE HOLE, BELIZE
No holiday in the Central American paradise of Belize would be complete without taking a day-trip out to one of the country’s most spectacular natural attractions: the Great Blue Hole. Located about 70km away from the mainland, the Great Blue Hole is near the centre of the Lighthouse Reef, which itself is considered one of the best developed and healthiest reefs in the Caribbean. Measuring 318m in diameter and surrounded by coral, the Great Blue Hole is approximately 124m deep. As you descend into this deep blue abyss, the water begins to transition from salt to fresh water at about 15 m and you are greeted with the sight of several species of fish, including Midnight Parrotfish, Caribbean reef shark, and other juvenile fish species. If you dive even deeper, you can explore the stalagtites and stalagmites of ancient caverns, which began to form over 150,000 years ago. Take note though, the Great Blue Hole is for experienced divers only.
THISTLEGORM, EGYPTIAN RED SEA
In 1941, in the middle of World War II, the British armed Merchant Navy Ship SS Thistlegorm made its fateful final voyage. Sailing from Glasgow, Scotland and destined for Alexandria, Egypt, its precious cargo included, Bedford trucks, Universal Carrier armoured vehicles, Norton 16H and BSA motorcycles, and two LMS Stanier Class 8F steam locomotives. On the 6th of October, 1941, the ship was bombed by German aircraft and sank in the Egyptian Red Sea, where it would stay undisturbed until the early 1950’s, when it was discovered by our good friend Jacques Cousteau, using information from local fishermen. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s, however, when Sharm el-Sheikh began to develop as a diving resort, that the Thistlegorm was rediscovered. Nowadays, the wreck attracts many divers thanks to the amount of the cargo that can be seen and explored. Boots and motorcycles are visible in Hold No. 1, while trucks, motorcycles and Bristol Blenheim bomber tailplanes can be seen in Hold No. 2. It’s even possible to see the two steam locomotives the boat was carrying.
MANTA RAY NIGHT DIVE, KAILUA KONA, HAWAII
Everyone knows that Hawaii is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world, offering some of the best surfing beaches you could ask for. If you’re planning to visit the Big Island, then a trip over to Kona on the West side of the Island is a must. Filled with history, as well as shops and restaurants, there’s something for just about everyone. One of the best activities to partake in, however, is without a doubt the Manta Ray night dive. Departing in the late afternoon, charters take scuba divers and snorkelers out off the coast of Kona. Once in the water, the scuba divers shine lights up while the snorkelers shine them down creating a column of light which attracts millions of minuscule plankton, which in turn attracts the large and majestic manta rays who come to feed. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.