From scaling coral cliffs to swimming with sea lions, and from keeping pace with whalesharks to exploring war wrecks, these 10 dive locations around the world offer a spectrum of experiences for both divers and snorkellers.
Great White Wall has long been one of Fijis most famous dive sites, and for good reason its a unique and awesome wall dive. What makes it so special is that its a sheer drop smothered in uniformly white soft-coral growth that resembles a snow-covered ski slope.
This underwater winterland starts at 25 metres and drops off to well-below recreational diving depths, and as strong currents always sweep along the steep face experience is definitely needed.
Fiji is well known for its prolific soft corals, offering many excellent dive sites, but this is one dive you should not miss.
Best time to dive : November to April
Water temperature : 24-30°C, so a 3mm wetsuit is ideal
Mooring: Paradise Tavueni has a unique deep water frontage with a permanent mooring just metres from the resorts private marina. Visiting yachts may use the mooring free of charge and are welcome to use the resort facilities, which include a restaurant, dive shop, tour desk, Wifi service and Oceanfront Serenity Spa.
Guadalupe Island, Mexico
Great whites are the ultimate sharks, and coming face to face with a predator more than five or six metres long will live with you forever. Forget Jaws these are not mindless predators but calculated hunters at the top of the food chain, and seeing them cruising by and actively checking you out will certainly raise your heartbeat. With the promise of clear blue water and multiple shark sightings, Isle Guadalupe is rapidly becoming the in place for great whites. It is classed as being in Mexico, but sitting a 22-hour boat journey out in the Pacific, is easily accessible from harbours in San Diego or San Francisco.
Best time to dive: the shark season runs from September through to December, with the peak being October through November
Water temperature: during shark season the waters average between 18-21°C, so while a 6-7mm semi-dry will work, a drysuit is a more comfortable option
The Bianca C is a 180-metre-long luxury liner known as the Titanic of the Caribbean because of her sheer size she is the largest diveable wreck in that sea. She caught fire after an explosion in her engine room in October 1961, while anchoring off St Georges, Grenada. There was a failed attempt to tow the cruise ship to shallow waters and she sank in 50 metres just a few hundred metres off the shore and now sits perfectly upright a truly magnificent sight.
Time underwater has not been kind to the old girl and many of her decks have collapsed, but Bianca C is still a phenomenal dive with plenty of features to explore, including her promenade deck, her bridge and swimming pool. She is also a magnet for marine life, often attracting large shoals of predatory jacks and barracuda.
Nearby, for a less challenging, but just as exhilarating underwater experience drop into the clear waters of Molinere Bay where 65 submerged sculptures by artist Jason deCaires Taylor are displayed in a marine sculpture park covering an area of 800 square metres. Swimming or snorkelling amongst them makes for a surreal experience as you come upon a circle of 26 life-sized children, all holding hands and facing outward, or the Lost Correspondent sitting at his desk typing on a manual typewriter, or run into a cyclist on the reef. Real fish hover over a plate of chips and flick around The Un-still Life. Over time, colonies of coral and marine life have taken hold on the stonework, giving them an ever-changing marine palette and texture.
Best time to dive : the dry season running from January to May
Water temperature : 26-28°C, so a 3mm fullsuit should suffice
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Hammerhead sharks are some of the weirdest-looking creatures in the sea. The flattened, hammer-shaped structure formed by the front of their skulls the cephalofoil is believed to serve various functions. It may improve hydrodynamic efficiency by adding lift while swimming, it may increase the heads surface area for sensory systems to aid hunting, and it may even be used to pin stingrays against the seabed.
Scalloped hammerheads, which can grow up to four metres long, are best known to divers for their spectacular habit of schooling in enormous numbers around sea-mounts and there is nowhere better to see them than Costa Ricas remote Cocos Island.
This single volcanic outcrop rises sharply from the ocean floor in the Pacific and its steep sides are a huge attraction for all pelagic species of shark. Scalloped hammerheads are the local speciality at Cocos Island, however, forming a constantly moving backdrop all year round to virtually every dive, particularly at the Manuelita, Alcyone and Dirty Rock sites.
Best time to dive: Hammerhead sharks can be seen year-round, and between June and August you may also see whalesharks and manta rays about
Water temperature: 25-28°C, but as you will often be static in the water a 5-7mm wetsuit is a safe option
Stingray City, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Stingray City is the worlds most famous 4 metre deep dive site without a doubt. What makes this sand patch in the north of Grand Cayman so remarkable is the presence of 30 or more large southern stingrays, which swarm around kneeling divers like big, over-friendly puppies.
Clutch a handful of squid in your fist and you will soon have a stingray sniffing at your hand and trying desperately to suck the food out of your grasp. You can find yourself enveloped by these graceful creatures and the whole dive can become quite frenetic, especially if two or more rays begin to compete for your attention.
Best time to dive : diving around the Cayman Islands is a year-round activity
Water temperature: remains stable year-round at 26-28°C, so a 3mm full suit is perfect
Los Islotes, Mexico
Sea lions can be 3 metres long and weigh more than 318 kilogrammes, so these impressive animals are well worth sharing an underwater experience with. They are easily distinguishable from seals by their external ear flaps and their forward-pointing rear flippers on land.
Los Islotes in Mexico comprises two rock islets, one of which has a natural arch, and these islets are home to a colony of more than 200 California brown sea lions famed for their playfulness.
The large males and adult females will generally tend to steer clear of divers, but the juveniles will be in your face literally. They like nothing better than to sneak up on you, then nip cheekily at your mask or fins before shooting off into the distance.
Best time to dive: the best months are August through to November when the water is warm and clear
Water temperature : a 3mm full suit should be more than sufficient to keep you warm
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Chuuk Lagoon is a tiny dot of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and would probably not feature very highly on any diving wishlist if it wasnt for the 60-or-so Japanese supply vessels that lie on the seabed here, after being sunk by American aircraft. The presence of all these ships makes Chuuk formerly Truk one of the premier wreck-diving locations in the world.
In particular, the 132-metre-long Fujikawa Maru is one of Chuuk Lagoons must-dives. Sitting upright in just 34 metres of water, she is shrouded in soft corals and reef fish although it is her cargo that really makes her stand out from the crowd. In Fujikawa Marus holds you will find everything from shells, machine guns and airplane wings to an entire Zero fuselage, and it is this unusual treasure trove combined with the stunning visibility, warm water and fantastic marine life in this area that makes for a dive experience not to be missed.
Best time to dive: June through to September offers the best conditions for diving
Water temperature : remains fairly constant around 27°C, so a 3mm shortie or fullsuit is ideal
Salt Island, British Virgin Islands
The 95 metre-long RMS Rhone was one of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Companys principal ships, often to be seen plying the Atlantic on her way back and forth from the Caribbean to the UK. In 1867 she was at anchor when the weather worsened and her experienced captain decided to sail out to sea to ride out the storm. Unfortunately, it turned into a full-scale hurricane the worst ever seen in the British Virgin Islands and she foundered on Salt Island, breaking in two and sinking in no more than 21 metres of water, taking with her 125 passengers and crew.
After nearly 140 years underwater, her wreckage has been claimed by nature and is now smothered in coral and sponge growth. All this supports a healthy mix of marine life, making her a fantastic dive site. And if you wanted yet another reason to dive the Rhone, try this she was used as an underwater set for the 1977 film The Deep, starring Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset.
Best time to dive: the BVIs have favourable weather all-year-round, although August and September are the hottest months
Water temperature: ranges from 26 to 29°C, so a 3mm shortie or fullsuit should be more than adequate
Manta Point, North Male Atoll, The Maldives
Manta rays are one of the most majestic underwater creatures, and seeing one for the first time as it comes gliding in out of the blue is an incredible experience. These gentle giants can weigh up to 1,360 kilogrammes and boast a wingspan of up to 7 metres. They feed primarily on minute crustaceans using their cephalic (head fins) to funnel plankton-rich waters, often somersaulting repeatedly in the process.
Manta Point (or, to give it its proper name, Lankanfinolhu) is often subject to a heavy swell and surge, but divers who get down on to the reef at around 12 metres will be greeted by the sight of shoaling manta rays coming in to be cleaned at stations on the reef top. Up to 50 have been spotted at any one time an amazing sight.
Best time to dive: the manta ray season off Manta Point in North Male Atoll runs from February to March
Water temperature: the waters off the Maldives are fairly constant all year round at 28°C plus, so a 3mm shortie or fullsuit should be more than adequate
Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Not all encounters with sharks are adrenaline-fuelled the largest shark, the whaleshark, is a docile plankton eater, yet being in the presence of one is simply mind-blowing such is its scale and majesty.
Mature whalesharks usually reach lengths of 8 metres or more, but 20 metre specimens have been sighted. They are unmistakable thanks to their broad flat heads, massive gaping mouths and the checkerboard patterns of yellow or white spots on their grey, bluish or greenish-brown backs.
The western coastline of Australia is popular with whalesharks and plentiful supplies of food attract these vast creatures all along Ningaloo Reef. Snorkelling with these majestic animals is recommended scuba diving is less practical as they dont generally like the bubbles and trying to keep up with them on scuba is next to impossible but its a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Best time to dive: the whaleshark season runs from March to May
Water temperature : the waters off Western Australia during whaleshark season can be around 28°C, so a 3mm shortie or fullsuit should suffice