Top 100

The World’s Best Destinations for Wreck Diving

Why do the Top 100 Readers Choice Awards, now in their 23rd year, still matter to divers? Because these are your picks, based on thousands of votes from the most experienced dive travelers on the planet. Why do they matter to us? Because every month you hear from our editors on what we think matters in the world of dive travel. For the January/February issue of Scuba Diving we get to listen to you, and we’re taking notes.

Here, we proudly present the No. 1 ranking destinations in the Best Wreck Diving category of the awards. The full list of winning destinations is below.

Pacific and Indian Oceans


Many places boast a few shipwrecks as gee-whiz alternatives to biological reefs, but there’s only one Chuuk, also known as Truk. More than 50 Japanese ships, planes, subs and all manner of machinery, weaponry and fascinating (and sobering) wartime history are on display, the result of America’s deadly aerial barrage on the Japanese fleet in February 1944. This warm, calm lagoon in Micronesia holds a World War II mari- time museum without equal. The 433-foot-long Fujikawa Maru is superb, both for military and marine-life attractions — Zero fighter planes in the hold, deck guns draped in soft corals — and is shallow enough for novices. Tec divers descend 175 feet onto the phenomenal San Francisco to see tanks, trucks and bombs. Shinkoku offers bright invertebrates and school- ing fish; inside, a soldier’s bones rest in sick bay. Chuuk is also a mass grave, a testament to the tragedy of war. — Brandon Cole

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2) Red Sea

3) Palau

4) Thailand

5) Hawaii

North America


Diving North Carolina’s wrecks doesn’t force you to choose between swimming the top deck alongside sand tiger sharks or penetrating. At a handful of sites, including the USS Indra and the tanker Atlas, drop inside tight quarters to navigate alongside these big fish. — Brooke Morton

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2) Florida and Florida Springs

3) Washington

4) California

5) Great Lakes

Caribbean and Atlantic


You might expect that a nation of 700 islands would boast a massive collection of downed ships — and it does. Your favorite might change to whichever one you dived last, be it the shallow and marine-life-rich SS Sapona cargo steamer off Bimini or Edward Williams off New Providence, where you’ll likely come face to face with Caribbean reef sharks and goliath grouper. — Brooke Morton

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2) Cayman Islands

3) Bay Islands

4) Curacao

5) Bonaire

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The World’s Best Scuba Diving Locations

Why do the Top 100 Readers Choice Awards, now in their 23rd year, still matter to divers? Because these are your picks, based on thousands of votes from the most experienced dive travelers on the planet. Why do they matter to us? Because every month you hear from our editors on what we think matters in the world of dive travel. For the January/February issue of Scuba Diving we get to listen to you, and we’re taking notes.

Here, we proudly present the No. 1 ranking destinations in the Best Overall Diving category of the awards. The full list of winning destinations is below.

Caribbean and Atlantic


Diving is such an integral part of this spunky desert island not far from South America that it’s hard to separate the underwater and topside experience. Luckily, you don’t have to, because 24/7 access to its vibrant near-shore reefs is what sets Bonaire apart. If there’s a place you can have more fun than piloting your rental truck around Bonaire’s cactus-lined ring road, pulling off to submerge almost anywhere — slowing down just long enough to admire the flamingos or grab a burger at the kiteboarders beach — we haven’t heard of it. — Mary Frances Emmons

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2) Cayman Islands

3) Mexico

4) Bay Islands

5) Bahamas

North America


Your first B.C. dive will likely take your breath away, and not just because of the refreshing 50-degree water. Novice and expert divers alike regularly rate Vancouver Island the planet’s finest coldwater diving. The mix of engaging critters, hot invertebrate colors, artificial reefs extraordinaire, rugged scenic beauty and warm Canadian hospitality ensure your return. — Brandon Cole

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2) North Carolina

3) California

4) Florida

5) Washington

Pacific and Indian Oceans


If the host of accolades from this year’s Top 100 alone don’t convince you of Indonesia’s greatness — Best Macro, Healthy Marine Environment, Best Underwater Photography, not to mention Best Overall Diving — we’re not sure what will. But we’ll keep piling on until we prove this archipelago of more than 17,000 islands has something for everyone. For metalheads, Bali is home to the most photogenic wreck on the planet — and perhaps most accessible — a U.S. Liberty-class ship lying 25 yards off Tulamben’s rocky shore. Healthy reefs and fish overload more your style? Eastern Indonesia’s Raja Ampat has hundreds of sites with colorful reefs where schools of fish are so thick you won’t be able to see your buddy. Macro divers will go gaga for the nudibranchs and weird critters in Lembeh; big-fish aficionados will love Komodo’s manta trains; and wall divers will get vertigo in Wakatobi. One trip to Indonesia and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Just remember to tell your friends. — David Espinosa

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2) Micronesia

3) Palau

4) Galapagos

5) Red Sea

How We Got the Numbers Thousands of Scuba Diving subscribers and online users rated their experiences at dive destinations in a variety of categories on a scale from one to five. Final scores are an average of the numerical scores awarded. A minimum number of responses was required for a destination to be included in these ratings.

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Top 100 2015: Best Overall Diving

Our readers weighed in on their most prized dive sites around the world — from North America to the Caribbean and Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans — to bring our 22nd annual 2015 Top 100 Readers Choice Awards to life.

For variety, we have featured one destination in each region (Caribbean and Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and North America). Not all selections are the first-place winners in the Best Overall Diving category. Check out the complete list of Top 100 Readers Choice winners in this category below.

Need help planning a trip to one of the world’s best dive destinations?
The experts at Caradonna Dive Adventures can help you plan vacations to Bonaire’s Buddy Dive Resort and Divi Flamingo Beach Resort, British Virgin Islands’ Scrub Island Resort, Cozumel, Mexico’s Cozumel Palace and Occidental Grand, and scores of daily specials in the hottest dive locales on the planet.


1. Cayman Islands

2. Bonaire

3. British Virgin Islands

4. Mexico

5. Belize


1. Florida

2. British Columbia

3. California

4. North Carolina

5. Great Lakes


1. French Polynesia

2. Indonesia

3. Micronesia (Chuuk)

4. Palau

5. Guam

Thousands of subscribers and Web users rated their experiences at dive destinations in a variety of categories on a scale of one to five. Final scores are an average of the numerical scores awarded. A minimum number of responses was required for a destination to be included in these ratings.

More Top 100 Winners:

Best Wall Diving | Best Underwater Photography | Best Advanced Diving

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Top 100: Diving in Bonaire

From the pioneering work of the flamboyant and determined Capt. Don Stewart to its oft-copied marine-park model, Bonaire has been a leader in establishing ocean-conservation standards in the Caribbean. After arriving in 1962, Capt. Don, who died last year, recognized Bonaire’s underwater treasures, and he helped persuade locals and the government of the Netherlands to establish meaningful protections. The result is an island beloved by divers— and by our readers. Bonaire earned four No. 1 awards in the Caribbean and Atlantic region in our 2015 Top 100 Readers Choice survey, for macro, advanced, beginner and — for the 22nd consecutive year — shore diving. It also notched three top-five finishes, for underwater photography, overall diving and overall best destination.


Even divers who have been here so many times they’ve lost count are required to attend an orientation class and make a checkout dive. Then they’re required to purchase a $25 annual tag or $10 day pass. If that seems like a hassle, consider how easy it is to dive here. All you have to do is rent a truck — often included with resort packages — load it with tanks (usually available 24/7) and choose between dozens of sites, most of them along the island’s leeward west coast. You’re the boat captain and divemaster! No schedules to adhere to, and no enforced bottom times. Although there are dive resorts and operators that offer this dream setup, there is not another place in the Caribbean that caters to divers this way islandwide.


The signs are everywhere to remind visitors that this island is tailor-made for divers — red-and-white fags fluttering over dive shops; yellow stones along the roadside, pointing to dive sites; license plates inscribed with “Divers Paradise;” 24/7 tank-refill stations. Counting the dive sites that ring Klein Bonaire, there is a total of 86 places where divers can blow bubbles — many of them accessible from shore and open to divers any time of the day or night. The road to building this underwater utopia hasn’t been without bumps, but islanders were quick to realize the value of their marine resources. As Capt. Don noted in his ship’s log when he first sailed into Kralendijk’s harbor, “Bay like glass, a spectrum of shimmering blues, extraordinarily clear. To the north, a craggy silhouette of small mountains sloping southward to a fat spit of coral- rimmed beach. Brilliant tropical fish of all varieties. Looks to be a fantastic underwater island.” Indeed it is, and readers named it the No. 1 spot for shore diving and No. 2 for best overall diving.

Just a sampling of dive sites gives you an idea of how sweet it is to dive the waters here. It’s a short swim out to the wreck of the Hilma Hooker, a 236-foot cargo vessel with a shady past (25,000 pounds of marijuana was found in a false bulkhead after the ship had engine problems and was towed to Kralendijk). It’s a popular site — get an early start so the only crowds you’ll bump into are the mobs of fish here. Bonaire isn’t known for wall diving, but it is possible to get vertical at north-western sites like Rappel, famous for its healthy stands of swaying sea fans, and Wayaka, in Washington Slagbaai National Park. These drop-offs aside, Bonaire’s fringing reef is mostly a terraced affair, sloping down gently from about 30 feet to 130 feet. It’s a reason why the island earned a No. 1 award for beginner diving.


Bonaire’s advanced-diving opportunities — another No. 1 award — are truly challenging. Northwest sites like Playa Funchi, Playa Bengi and Bise Morto, in Washington Slagbaai, are slammed by heavy current. But if you’ve got the stamina, you’ll be wowed by the most pristine corals found not only in Bonaire but in the Caribbean. As you drop down, look for schools of horse-eye jack.


Bonaire’s waters teem with nearly 400 fish species, according to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, and underwater photographers (the island got a No. 2 nod from readers in this category) will appreciate setting up for reef scenics that pulse with marine life. If you’re a fan of tiny critters (No. 1 for macro), the island is silly with flamingo tongues, seahorses, and hermit and coral crabs. Is behavior more your thing? Look for jawfish aerating their eggs, sergeant majors protecting their nests, and juvenile spotted drum flying their dorsal fins like pennants in the wind.


Along with the fishy reefs, you’ll fall in love with the warm and friendly locals — learn a few words, like mi dushi (“my sweetheart” in Papiamento, the Creole language spoken here) — the charming Dutch-inspired architecture of the capital Kralendijk, and the crazy-quilt landscape that looks a little like the American Southwest plopped down into the Caribbean. The island’s salt ponds are a natural habitat for brine shrimp, a favorite meal for hundreds of pink flamingos and other migratory birds that flock to the island. By the time you pack for home, you’ll be saying, “Mi stima Boneiru” (“I love Bonaire”). Our readers certainly do, giving the island a coveted top-five listing for best overall destination.


The dive resorts all have beach bars, including Plaza Resort’s Coconut Crash (, or venture of premises to Kralendijk’s harborfront and drop in at Karel’s Beach Bar for a lively happy hour (


Choose between two restaurants at Divi Flamingo: Chibi Chibi or Pureocean ( Either way, you’ll have calming views of the Caribbean. In Kralendijk, you’ll find eateries with inventive menus, such as At Sea — the terrace is lovely.


With two swimming pools, its Ingridients restaurant, drive-thru air-fill station and house reef, Buddy Dive Resort (buddydive .com) is perfect for the do-it-yourself diver. Want to do your own cooking? Apartments have fully equipped kitchens.


When To Go It’s dry and sunny year-round. Bonaire enjoys a lucky geographic location — it lies outside the Caribbean tropical storm belt and averages only 22 inches of rainfall annually.

Travel Tip Consider getting a room or suite with a fridge — the markets in Bonaire are well-stocked, and you can get fresh fruits and vegetables at the harborfront in Kralendijk.

Dive Conditions Water temps average in the low 80s. On most sites, viz is a dependable 100 feet.

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Top 100: Diving in French Polynesia

Honeymooners who arrive at the over- water bungalows of Bora Bora and Moorea are convinced they’ve found Eden. But what most of their blissed-out ilk never realize is they’ve hardly scratched the surface when it comes to all there is in fantastique French Polynesia. Divers, of course, are more clued in. Collectively known as the islands of Tahiti, this volcanic archipelago of 118 islands and atolls includes five island groups, and covers a swath of the Pacific as large as Western Europe. From bejeweled reefs to ripping passes blitzed by pelagics, it’s a lot to take in. Here’s a head start on where to get wet.

Shark Central

Many dive destinations can claim sharks, but it’s hard to think of one that delivers them in the insane abundance of the Tuamotu atolls, the largest of the five island groups, where walls of sharks are the norm. During drift dives in Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass and Fakarava’s Tumakohua Pass, hundreds of gray reef sharks congregate on the atoll’s outer wall like puzzle pieces in a toothy jigsaw, and silvertips and whitetips make appearances too. “My dive buddy wasn’t lying when he said, ‘Ain’t nobody gonna out-shark us,’” remembers San Diego diver Mark Guinto, who traveled to FP for what turned out to be the sharkiest dives of his life (gray sharks, lemon sharks, whitetips, silvertips and more). “Almost everyone was there to dive with sharks, and there were several species of them in great number,” says Guinto. Great hammerheads also are spotted fairly regularly at the passes, and tiger sharks make appearances too — making it easy to see why FP also took top honors for Best Big Animals.

Wide-Angle Wonderland

French Polynesia’s dazzlingly clear seascapes are to wide-angle photography what Lembeh is to a macro lens: the dream destination for clicking the shutter on some of the world’s most singular underwater moments, earning FP the No. 2 spot for Best Underwater Photography in the Pacific and Indian Ocean region. Excellent visibility that consistently surpasses the 100-foot mark enhances your photos, with ambient light a particularly saturated shade of blue. From the plunging walls of the Tuamotu passes and the Opunohu canyons of Moorea to Fitii pass in Huahine in the Society Islands (a calmer version of a Tuamotu-style drift), a wide-angle lens is your best friend for capturing walls of sharks, schooling jacks, mantas, dolphins and the like. “There is nowhere on Earth that compares to the stunning atolls of the Tuamotu chain when it comes to reef shark photography,” says Mike Veitch, an underwater photographer based in Bali. “The clear water and amazing abundance of sharks there is unmatched anywhere.”

Migrating Humpbacks

From mid-July to late October, visitors to Rurutu in the Austral archipelago (the southernmost group in French Polynesia) are treated to one of the ocean’s most awe-inspiring experiences — the chance to snorkel alongside humpback whales and their babies, drawn to the shallow, sheltered waters as a stopover on their migration path to Antarctica. Whaling stopped on this lagoonless island in the 1950s, and whale-watching tourism and snorkeling tours have brought a new livelihood for the people living here. The seas can be rough at this time of year, and visibility can be compromised, but when you find yourself finning alongside one of the gentle giants that come here to reproduce, calve and nurse their young, you’ll be left humbled for life.

Pelagic Paradise

Coastal and open-ocean pelagic species abound in French Polynesia, and therein lies the excitement of diving here — you never know when a great hammerhead, manta ray or tiger shark will go cruising past you. On the pearl-farming coral atoll of Manihi, mantas can sometimes be seen carousel-feeding in about 30 feet of water at the dive site called the Circus. Jacques Cousteau’s explorations in Tikehau in the Tuamotus found a higher concentration of species there than anywhere else in French Polynesia (he called the atoll the richest on Earth). Tikehau remains a pelagic gold mine for shoaling barracuda, manta rays and the usual shark denizens. And on Rangiroa, a veritable underwater Serengeti awaits.

“The concentration of colors and species was a sensory overload,” remembers Katharyne Daughtridge Gabriel, a diver who lives near London. “We saw gray sharks, whitetip sharks, barracudas, manta rays. And on the exit, I remember thinking, ‘I just foated through Jacques Cousteau’s dreams.’”

Ripping Drift Dives

Drift dives are a bit of a misnomer for the experience that awaits when you find yourself aviating through the famed atoll passes of Rangiroa, Fakarava and Tikehau in the Tuamotus. Sites like Tiputa and Avatoru passes in Rangiroa and Fakarava’s famed south pass, Tumakohua, are considered advanced dives due to the strong tidal currents pushing you into the lagoon that range between 3 and 8 knots. (Plan some refresher-level drift dives on Huahine in the Society Islands if you’re out of practice.) “It felt like I was flying next to a mountain-side,” remembers Guinto, a pilot who teaches military parachuting, of a dive at Tiputa Pass. “As a sky diver, I’ve had similar sensations.” Indeed, if any diving experience approaches the sensation of aerial acrobatics underwater, it’s the roaring passes of the Tuamotus — one reason FP was lauded as Best Advanced Diving in its region.

Pearl Farms

One of the pleasures of French Polynesia is shopping for Tahiti’s famed black pearls — which come in many sizes, shapes and colors, from black to shades of green, blue, bronze, aubergine and even pink — at a local pearl farm. At destinations such as Rangiroa and Tikehau, you can borrow a bike from your dive resort and pedal along sandy lanes fringed with palms to inspect the goods, or take a tour at farms such as Gauguin’s Pearl in Rangi or Fakarava’s Pearls of Havaiki.

The Land of Gauguin

The goal is to spend as much time as possible underwater, but some of the planet’s most jaw-dropping tropical landscapes — old volcanoes glinting with rainbows and emerald slopes lapped by perfectly peeling waves — make any time spent topside a treat too. From the mist-carpeted mountains of the Marquesas, where the French artist Paul Gauguin spent his final years, to Moorea’s lush Route d’Ananas (Pine- apple Route), best explored by scooter, and the iconic extinct volcanic peaks of Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu on Bora Bora, you’ll need extra memory cards. Add to all that lushness the barren beauty of the atolls — sandy rings lapped by turquoise water and dotted with tiny motus (islets) that materialize as you descend toward the Tuamotus — and it’s visual overload in the very best sense, making it clear why readers named French Polynesia Best Overall Destination. “Everything feels exaggerated in its beauty,” remembers Janet Malin of time spent snorkeling with sharks and rays in Moorea’s lagoons. “The electric green of the land, fuchsia flowers, water this crazy royal blue, even the locals’ tattoos.”

French Style Crepes



For dining on the (relatively) cheap, alongside locals in Papeete, look for food trucks called roulottes. Skirted with picnic tables, they serve things like grilled mahimahi and French-style crepes and steaks. Can’t decide which? Look for the most crowded.

Le Cocos restaurant in French Polynesia


One of the best wine lists in French Polynesia — heavily French, of course — awaits at the new Moorea outpost of Le Coco’s, opened in March 2015 in Haapiti ( Try the three-course sampler option to get a wider range of tastes.

Bungalow in Ninamu Resort

Courtesy Ninamu Resort


Mingle with big-wave surfers and kite surfers who also enjoy diving at Ninamu Resort ( on Tikehau. The property has six bungalows and is completely of the grid, producing its own solar power and filtering its drinking water.


When To Go You can dive year-round in French Polynesia, but it’s rainier during the Southern Hemisphere summer, from November to March.

Travel Tip If you’re coming from the East Coast, consider staying a night in Los Angeles on your way to Tahiti. That way, you will arrive refreshed and ready to dive.

Dive Conditions Visibility in French Polynesia can reach up to 150 feet, and the water temperature averages 80 degrees.

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