Pacific & Indian Oceans

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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Scuba Diving with the Deadliest Animals on the Planet


There is diving — the casual pursuit of water time for the simple fun of it. And then there’s DIVING — exploring new frontiers and edgy locations where divers are few and far between. It’s about discoveries with purpose, and exotic marine life that are truly exceptional. Risk? Sure, there’s some. But the rewards are substantial. For anyone who loves checking off another species (and an excuse to travel around the world), here are diving’s most daring encounters.


Diving with Oceanic Whitetip Sharks in the Bahamas

Insane Cave Exploration in Australia

15 Epic Dives Around the Globe

Scuba Diving with the Deadliest Animals on the Planet Read More »

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

Top 100 2015: Best Overall Diving Read More »

Sea Watch: Where to Scuba Dive with Killer Whales

Orcas — aka killer whales — are one of the most recognizable species of marine mammals in the world, thanks to their unfortunate history in captivity at theme parks like SeaWorld. But to understand the sheer power and intelligence of these creatures, there’s no substitute for seeing them in the wild.

Despite the name killer whale, orcas are actually the largest members of the dolphin family, growing up to 30 feet long and weighing nearly 9 tons. In fact, some believe their name is a misreading of the moniker “whale killers,” given by Spanish sailors, which better describes their habit of hunting and killing large whales, though whales aren’t the only prey on the menu for orcas.

Fast Facts About Orca Whales

What they eat depends on which type of orca is doing the hunting. There are three distinct subgroups: residents, transients and open-ocean pods. Resident orcas stay in one area, eating mostly fish; transients migrate over a coastal range, hunting marine mammals such as seals, dolphins and whales. A third population of offshore orcas lives exclusively in the open Pacific Ocean, where they’ve been hard to study, though evidence shows sharks might be part of their diet.

Orcas are found all over the world, from the salmon-rich waters of North America’s Pacific Northwest to the shores of Patagonia, where they chase seals right onto the beaches, sliding across the sand to snatch their prey before wriggling back into the water.

Divers looking to go face to face with orcas in the water should head to northern Norway from November to January, when hundreds of killer whales descend on a vast herring migration. Sven Gust, owner of arctic dive operation Northern Explorers, has led tours to snorkel with orcas in this herring run for more than 15 years.

“We did our first tours in the Tysfjord area, but the herring change their route every 10 to 20 years to get rid of the predators,” Gust says. “Now we see them in the area between Andenes and Tromsø, and we’re also seeing other whales — humpbacks, finbacks, sei whales, pilot whales and minke whales.”

Gust says around 1,000 orcas visit the area every winter; he uses two different techniques to get divers in the water with them. “Most commonly, we use fast RIBs to drop the divers in front of the whales, but you only get a short look and a minimum of interaction,” he says. “The best situation is to find where the feeding whales push the herring into shallow water. Here you get the best action, but it’s also a bit scary.”

That’s because the orcas blast through the school, trying to smack the herring with their tail fins, which gets the school panicked and moving fast. “You might have clear viz one second, and in the next you’re inside a black wall of herring,” Gust says. “I am not scared about the orcas — they’re very in control — but I wouldn’t trust humpbacks when they try to eat a whole shoal of fish at once.”

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Black Magic: Night Diving with Manta Rays in Kona, Hawaii

Nothing in life is guaranteed. Mantas are (gorgeous) wild animals, and they dance to their own tune. But on the west coast of Hawaii Island, mantas have been showing up to the party with fairly predictable regularity at a dive site just north of Kona Kailua, near the airport.

Imagine this: The fiery sun sets on the horizon. Soon, a flotilla of day boats arrives in the twilight, with their loads of divers and snorkelers nervously gearing up on their decks. These operators send down their divemasters to place some bright lights on the ocean floor, to shine up toward the surface. They also shine down lights from the boats, setting the stage for what is not unlike a light show at a rock concert. The site itself is a rubbly amphitheater on the flats, just above a pretty dive site called Garden Eel Cove.

The numerous divers and snorkelers start splashing into the ocean as darkness descends. The divers drop down to perch on the bottom in about 35 feet of water, lining up behind the lights, while the snorkelers orbit above.

And then, if you are lucky, the mantas show up.

They arrive in squadrons. Sometimes just a handful of animals come to thrill, sometimes a bounty. We hit the jackpot on our manta dive in September 2015, with at least 18 gorgeous, otherworldly rays being counted.

The Kona Aggressor has a great routine for this very special night dive. The boat anchors on its usual mooring for the site, and its passengers have dinner and then leisurely get ready for the dive. Meanwhile, the masses from the many day boats are already enjoying their manta experience. As those divers and snorkelers begin to be wrangled back onto their boats, the Aggressor’s divers jump in off the dive deck, descend, and swim towards the glow of lights in the distance.

And what a scene it is. As I said above, it was not unlike a rock concert, only strangely silent — many beams of light traveling up and down, through the water, lighting up the virtual stage, and the clouds of plankton. Huge stealth bomber-like, black-and-white beasts soaring and zooming and doing tight barrel rolls in front of and over the audience, at times bumping into each other, and occasionally into the divers perched on the bottom. It is beautiful chaos.

It is hard to describe the absolute joy, and awe, of being in the water with these massive, graceful animals. I have been very fortunate and have seen mantas in several locations in my dive travels, besides this recent trip to Hawaii — in Australia, Indonesia, Palau and Thailand. They awe with their size, their sheer poetry of motion, their incredible agility (they can turn on a dime, and give a nickel in change), their strangely beautiful eyes, set far apart on the sides of their wide heads, their gaping mouths as they vacuum up the tiny zooplankton that are attracted to the lights, and their odd cephalic (chin) fins which they can roll up when cruising — or deploy when they are feeding to help to direct the plankton to their mouths. They are truly weird and wonderful critters.

Manta rays are filter feeders (so no big teeth!) and have no other defense mechanism (unlike their cousin the stingray with its treacherous tail), other than their large size — they can grow more than 20 feet in wing span! They feed by opening their cavernous mouths, taking in huge volumes of water and its tiny inhabitants, and filtering out the food through a large amount of spongy tissue in the back of their gullets, while the water passes over their gills.

They come to the site at Garden Eel Cove because of the lights. The nearby night-lit airport, and the added lights from boats and divers, attracts the zooplankton, which makes for fairly easy pickings for the mantas.

And so, unlike seeing mantas beautifully winging their way down a reef, or seeing mantas coming to a cleaning station on a reef to be de-loused (both are also great experiences), the manta night dive in Kona is pretty much a feeding frenzy. It is an exhilarating dive, and the 90 minutes or so that we had to enjoy the show passed so quickly. As we were the last divers in the water, and took our lights with us when we left, several of the mantas actually followed us back to the boat, and hung around off the swim grid for several hours, taking advantage of the lights shining off the stern of the boat to keep the food coming.

So, three final words about the Kona Manta Night Dive: Just Do It. Hawaii diving is lovely, if not hugely diverse. I will be writing more about the nice reef diving and endemic critters, and sharing pictures of both of these in an upcoming article. Kona’s easy accessibility from the west coast of North America makes it a good dive destination. The Manta Night Dive makes it a great one.

Judy G is a traveling underwater photographer. Check out her blog HERE and follow her on Facebook: Judy G Diver

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