Great Barrier Reef, Australia is known as the top place to dive, but the influx of divers over the years has damaged the coral reefs. But for divers on the western side of the globe, Australia is much more expensive to reach. “The best places to go scuba diving are most often the ones with the least tourists,” says Marc Turenne, a National Aquatic Service scuba instructor in central New York. “The Great Barrier Reef is one of those places where so many divers visit that areas are drastically damaged.” You don’t have to go to Oz for cool underwater views. In fact, there are many dive locations much closer to home for divers (and beginning divers) in the Americas.
Shark Ray Alley in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize, is a stretch of eight-foot deep water where you can dive and swim with nurse sharks and rays. Local fishermen used to gut their day’s catch over this area of water. Consequently, the sharks and rays built a habit of feeding on the small fish, and now stay here. “You’ll also see fluorescent-colored fish, four-foot long black groupers, and delicate sea fans,” says Corbett. “It’s one of the best places for marine life, and one of my favorite places to dive in Belize.”
The Blue Hole, also located in Belize, was created after an ancient underwater cave collapsed to form a sink hole that can be seen from outer space. It’s more than 400 feet deep and 1,000 feet across. There isn’t as much marine life, apart from a few sharks, but you can dive 130 feet down the Blue Hole to the lip of cave and then “go underneath the ledge. But you have to be careful because the depth is outside the recreational diving standard of 100 feet,” says Tia Hastings, a National Aquatic Service scuba instructor in central New York.
The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador has some of the most diverse marine life in a concentrated area. When diving the Galapagos, you’ll see everything from penguins to four-eyed fish, and iguanas to dolphins and sea lions. “We just saw it all,” says Turenne. “It was hard to believe that this whole world existed under water, and then I was there and it was incredible. Being that close to an eight foot shark or a tiny sea horse is awesome.”
Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence river in New York is a famous U.S. dive spot and some consider it the best freshwater diving in the world. With shipwrecks at dive-able depths, the water is an attractive place to vacation for the weekend. “Thousand Islands is my favorite place to dive because the water is relatively clear, it’s affordable for those on a dive-budget, and the ship wrecks are all very different from each other,” says Turenne.
Thirty miles off the coast of San Francisco, the Farallon Islands are one of the best places to view Great White Sharks in the world. You can cage dive here, and you don’t have to be a certified scuba diver to do it—although you will have to undergo a crash course in safety equipment. The sharks range from 15 to 20 feet long and some of the world’s largest. Dive experts specializing in cage diving will set you up for $875.
Just a flight away from America, the Caribbean offers less known dive sites. Holly Corbett was dive-certified in Thailand three and a half years ago, and has been traveling the world on dive trips ever since. One of her favorite spots is exploring off the coast of Ambergris Caye, a 25-mile long Caribbean island in Belize. At San Pedro, the island’s only town, you fill up your oxygen tanks and have prime-dive access to the world’s second largest barrier reef.