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There’s not much on this planet like scuba diving, of being able to discover the watery mysteries of a world largely unknown. While we’ve more or less conquered the air, land and mountains near us, the oceans are one territory where we still have (nautical) miles to go. Although scuba divers can’t go as deep as the deepest depths, they’ve still got a freedom to bend around rocks and coral and live, however temporarily, hundreds of colorful and exotic species we’ve yet to name. Without further ado, let’s talk about the top 7 spots all scuba divers should plan on checking out.

Great Blue Hole, Belize

At a width of 984 feet and depth of 124 feet, the Blue Hole, as it’s known in scuba circles, is consistently ranked among the top in the world. It looks menacing when you see it from a bird’s eye view, as it looks like a giant hole in the middle of the Belize coast that leads to…who knows where it leads?

It has a bottom, though, and despite its natural wonder, it’s still not very well known to tourists, even though its reef is the second largest in the world. But for scuba divers who visit, they’ll get the chance to experience water that’s sometimes crystal clear, and swim among species of fish like the Midnight Parrotfish, Caribbean reef shark, the bull shark, hammerhead shark, and more. This sinkhole, or vertical cave, is like diving in a nature-made deep pool.

Turks and Caicos

We could easily rattle off a number of reasons why just visiting Turks and Caicos is a marvelous idea, never mind going there to scuba dive: many of the islands are isolated so you won’t run into huge crowds, the weather is beautiful year-round, the water is always warm and clear, and you can possibly spot humpback whales between December to March.

The whole country consists of 40 islands, but only eight of them are inhabited, which gives scuba divers almost free reign to go where they want. Most divers, though, stick to either Providenciales, Grand Turk and Salt Cay, with all the islands surrounded by a coral reef system that’s 65 miles across and 200 miles long. The visibility is excellent (up to 200 feet), and divers can choose between wall diving or deep blue diving.

Hawaii Beach

The weather and water are warm year round, with the calmest waves coming in the summer months. But anytime you go, you’ll be in for a treat. Although there aren’t a lot of fish species in Hawaii when compared to other scuba diving hotspots, what this state boasts that others can’t is exclusivity: you’ll be seeing fish here that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

There are plenty of options for you to take in when scuba diving in Hawaii: a midnight dive with manta rays on the Big Island, the seemingly glowing underwater caves of Lanai, and the forbidden island of Niihau (only island residents’ relatives, US Navy personnel, government officials and invited guests can visit).

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

As scarce as the fish species are in Hawaii, they’re the opposite and very plentiful at the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches 1,430 miles along the northeastern coast. If you have your eyes wide open, you can spot up to 1,500 species of fish, 1,500 shipwrecks, and 4,000 separate reefs, cays and islands.

What’s great about Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is its biodiversity, which rivals that of the Amazon Rainforest in terms of selection and abundance. In fact, there’s so much to see and explore here that you can make this only spot to ever scuba dive in for your entire life, and still not see everything. If you’re planning on going, check out Osprey Reef, Blow Hole, Cathedral, the S.S. Yongala wreck and Lighthouse Bommies, all during June to August.

Yap, Micronesia

If you find yourself in Los Angeles (6,000 miles) or Guam (one hour plane ride), then you’re really close to the sleeper scuba diving spot that is Yap. Getting here is easy enough via United Airlines to Yap International Airport, but once you arrive, it’ll be as though you’ve stepped back in time. The Yapese people use stone currency, with the largest piece of currency requiring 20 men to carry it.

Because of Yap’s isolation from the rest of the world, despite its proximity to America, scuba diving here is a bit of a secret. And because not many people know about it, the waters are clear and unspoiled, and home to a huge variety of marine life. With the temperature hovering in the high 80s year round, it’d be natural to expect more people to visit, but other than the locals, you’ll probably only wander into ecologists and explorers.

Galapagos Islands

Originally made famous by Charles Darwin, the Galapagos Islands are world renowned for their wealth of marine life, giving scuba divers the opportunity to swim among sting rays, golden rays, whales, white tip reef sharks, pelagic fish, and marine iguanas, just to name a few. It’s awfully tempting to step foot in the same waters that one of this world’s greatest thinkers did, and see the very same species he wrote about so many years ago.

You’ll be landing in Ecuador, the closest landmass in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and then making your way to the Galapagos Islands from there. Once you arrive, you can take your pick from the 18 main islands or four minor islands. The temperatures there range from 72 to 77 year round, although the Humboldt Current brings cold water and frequent drizzles. In terms of water temperatures, you can expect 75-82 degrees from January to May, and 62-68 from June to December.

Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt

Acres and acres of sand, desert and pyramids doesn’t exactly conjure up visions of awesome scuba diving to mind, but Egypt has a sleeper hit with Big Brother. There are actually two brothers here in the Red Sea, or El Akhawein, that you can visit, both just a five-minute boat ride apart from each other. The Big Brother, though, the one that’s home to a military-manned lighthouse, offers the better experience.

You’ll need to be a seasoned scuba diver because the currents can get pretty strong and wild here. As well, you’ll be challenged by not being allowed to drop anchor or moor your boat, so diving in good weather is a must. To capitalize on the best chances, head to Big Brother during the full moon in June, July or August.

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