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9 of the Best Places Around the World To Learn How To Scuba Dive

Strap on your fins and get to diving at these nine beginner-friendly scuba spots around the world.

A person waits to start a diving lesson in open water
Hi, I'm Theodora!

A freelance writer and recovering nomad, Theodora divides her time between Britain and Bali. With bylines including CNN, BBC, the Guardian, Discover, Lonely Planet, and National Geographic Traveler, she’s working on a book, still blogs once in a while at EscapeArtistes.com, and spends far too much time on Twitter.

The ocean is Earth’s final frontier and there’s no better way to discover it than scuba. From hanging with sea turtles or mantas to sipping beers on the boat home, diving can shape the ultimate vacation. But learning to dive is a big investment and breathing underwater is far from zero risk, so choosing the right place to learn is key. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge and getting your PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) license, here are nine spots to consider.

1. Sinai

A diver swims in the ocean in Egypt.
Scuba diver makes the "OK" sign in the seas off Egypt.Photo Credit: Jag_cz / Shutterstock

Egypt

Whether you opt for bustling, hotel-heavy Sharm el Sheikh or laid-back, backpackery Dahab, Sinai’s Red Sea coast has tons to offer. Dive sites run from world-class wreck dives such as the SS Thistlegorm to the dramatic walls of the Blue Hole with plenty of mellow coral gardens for beginners. Plus, clear waters make for excellent visibility, so expect to see for 100 feet (30 meters) all year round.

Insider tip: Sinai is one of the world’s best-value places to learn to dive, but safety standards can vary. Look for long-established schools with high ratings.

2. Florida

A diver swims in a spring in Florida.
Scuba diver explores a Florida spring.Photo Credit: Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock

USA

With 1,350 miles (2,150 kilometers) of coastline, Florida offers a whole world of diving—think: coral reef, wrecks, caves, and the magical Rainbow River drift dive. Safety standards are high—you’ll need months of rigorous training to access those world-famous caves—and prices are too. But Key Largo’s reef and wrecks sit just a 60-mile (95-kilometer) drive from Miami, a great choice for travelers who like their cities close and their travel times short.

3. North Male Atoll

A diver swims in the ocean in the Maldives.
The Maldives have some of the best diving in the world.Photo Credit: Jag_cz / Shutterstock

Maldives

Luxe lovers should look no further than this Indian Ocean archipelago, famed for private island resorts with overwater bungalows. With warm waters all year round—temperatures never drop below 79°F (26°C)—and tranquil lagoons for beginners to practice, learning to dive in the Maldives can be pure zen. Coral quality is not what it was, but many sites offer spectacular marine life, including mantas and whale sharks in season.

4. Byron Bay

A leopard shark swims in the waters off of Byron Bay in Australia.
Expect to see leopard sharks in the waters off Byron Bay.Photo Credit: Craig Lambert Photography / Shutterstock

Australia

There’s more than surf to the laid-back hippie hangout of Byron Bay—it also offers some of Australia’s most fascinating diving, as tropical warm waters mix with cooler temperate waters. Weird and wonderful marine life includes wobbegong sharks, leopard sharks, and grey nurse sharks, as well as colorful tropical fish. Visibility is best late in the Australian summer (February to March), when the water is also warmer. But, as with so much else in Australia, dive courses here do not come cheap.

Insider tip: Conditions can be challenging, with currents and wave motion, so learning here will prepare you for diving in all sorts of destinations.

5. Malapascua

Fish swim in the Malapascua ocean in the Philippines.
You might be lucky enough to find Nemo in the Malapascua waters.Photo Credit: DentalEducation / Shutterstock

Philippines

This chilled-out tropical island’s most famous attraction are the thresher sharks, gormless-looking creatures with enormous tails that hang out at depths you’ll need an advanced course to reach. However, there are plenty of cool critters for learners to admire, even if you don’t want to take two diving courses back to back. Look out for seahorses, scorpionfish, and bamboo “walking” sharks—as well as a couple of wrecks—along with all the rich coral life you’d expect to find in the Coral Triangle. Waters are warm all year round.

6. Galapagos Islands

A diver interacts with a sea lion off the coast of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.
Diver interacts with a sea lion off the coast of the Galapagos Islands.Photo Credit: Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock

Ecuador

Make no mistake—diving the Galapagos can be very challenging, what with the cool water, wave action, and currents to contend with. Yet Academy Bay provides sheltered spots to learn the basics, and qualified divers will be rewarded with the likes of sharks, turtles, sea lions, and swimming iguanas, as well as spectacular underwater volcanic landscapes. Given the islands’ isolation, prices are relatively high, but learning to dive in the Galapagos will equip you to handle most any vacation dive.

7. Bali

A diver swims in the ocean off the coast of Bali.
Warm waters year-round make Bali a diving hotspot.Photo Credit: DJ Mattaar / Shutterstock

Indonesia

Slap bang at the heart of the Coral Triangle, Indonesia offers some of the world’s most spectacular diving. A developed scene with a wide choice of locations and schools makes Bali the archipelago’s best island for learners. Amed/Tulamben has a world-class wreck dive at depths shallow enough for complete beginners; Menjangan and Padangbai feature some drop-dead gorgeous coral; and manta rays are the big draw on Nusa Penida, where the giant mola-mola sunfish favors depths too low for beginners. And waters are warm all year round.

8. Koh Tao

Divers prepare for a swim in Koh Tao, Thailand.
Divers prepare to head out from Koh Tao, Thailand.Photo Credit: thipjang / Shutterstock

Thailand

Rock-bottom prices, year-round warm waters, and plenty of coral and marine life make Thailand’s Koh Tao a backpacker favorite when it comes to learning to dive. And with instruction on offer in languages from Chinese to Italian, it’s easy to see why. While some of the reef is bleached, dive sites such as Chumphon Pinnacle are world class. However, safety standards vary widely between schools and some can feel a bit like a production line, churning out divers en masse—check class sizes before you commit.

9. Cozumel

Divers swim off the coast of Cozumel in Mexico.
You'll find some of the best diving in Mexico off the coast of Cozumel.Photo Credit: GoodFocused / Shutterstock

Mexico

This island off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is one of the Caribbean’s favorite scuba destinations. Shallow coral gardens with low or minimal current make learning a dream, with walls and drift dives to keep more advanced divers happy too. Once you’re qualified, a trip to the mainland offers some fascinating freshwater cenote (limestone sinkhole) diving opportunities, too.

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