World’s Best Destinations for Diving with Big Animals

Underwater Photo Atlantic Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas

Jon Cornforth

Atlantic spotted dolphins are one of the many big animals beloved by divers in the Bahamas

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 Big Animal Encounters category of the awards. The full list of winning destinations is below.

Underwater Photo Hammerhead Shark Bimini Bahamas

Bill Fisher


Best Big Animal Encounters in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Everyone likes a sure thing. Thus the Bahamas continues to rate so highly for big animals. Unlike ultra-remote locales requiring liveaboards and overnight motors before day one begins, here, hammerheads or Caribbean reef sharks mug for your lens just as soon as you unpack and assemble gear. Plus, the variety of species calling these islands home or waypoint is incredible. The hammerheads of Bimini. Oceanic whitetips of Cat Island. Tigers off Grand Bahama. And the place that helped the nation become synonymous for sharks: Nassau. Hopscotch between a few spots and you’ll quickly amass a portfolio of species — plus learn the behavior not only of the sharks but of the goliath grouper that serve as shark-feed second acts. One more perk: Although not as reliably seen, wild Atlantic spotted dolphins regularly cruise Bimini and the Little Bahama Bank, creating an ideal opportunity for those who’ve been wowed by the main attraction but want the show to continue. — Brooke Morton

Caribbean and Atlantic

1. Bahamas

2. Turks and Caicos

3. Belize

4. Cayman Islands

5. Mexico

Diver and Sand Tiger Shark Underwater Photo North Carolina

Scott Johnson

North Carolina

Best Big Animal Encounters in North America

They’re big, and they’re slow. Sand tigers, the predominant shark species off North Carolina, lack a swim bladder but manage near-perfect neutral buoyancy thanks to an ability to gulp air at the surface. It explains why they’re among the least hurried big animals, good news for photographers or any diver who simply wants to prolong face time with these snaggletoothed scavengers. — Brooke Morton

North America

1. North Carolina

2. Florida

3. California

4. Washington

5. British Columbia

Galapagos Sea Lions Underwater Photo

Doug Perrine


Best Big Animal Encounters in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

You could go to Galapagos just to see table-size black-blotched rays, quizzical sea lions, tornadoes of barracuda and jacks, turtles and manta rays galore. But really, you’re deluding your- self if you go for any other reason than sharks — clouds of hammerheads and whitetips, solitary tigers and packs of burly Galapagos. — David Espinosa

Pacific and Indian Oceans

1. Galapagos

2. Palau

3. Hawaii

4. Costa Rica

5. Maldives

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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