2011 Top 100 Readers' Choice Survey Results | Scuba Diving

2011 Top 100 Readers' Choice Survey Results

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Looking for an opinion you trust on the world’s best overall dive destination? Top big-animal encounters? Destinations with the healthiest reefs? Look no further — we’ve got the answers. During the past year, thousands of our readers and Web visitors filled out reports on destinations, which are the basis of our 18th-annual Top 100 Readers’ Choice awards. Here are the cream-of-the-crop destinations on the planet as chosen by the people who count most: our readers.

Getting the Results

Divers rated the quality of the dive experience in 15 categories ranging from health of the reef to their overall impression of the dive experience using a 1-to-5 scale (5 = excellent; 4 = very good; 3 = good; 2 = fair; and 1 = poor). A minimum number of responses is required for a destination to be included, and final scores represent the percentage of 4s and 5s awarded.

CARIBBEAN & ATLANTIC

Health of Marine Environment

1. Bonaire — The Bonaire National Marine Park has won numerous awards and honors. But the praise that speaks loudest is that it’s the example by which other marine parks around the world have been modeled. Bonaire’s reefs contain virtually every single macro critter from the Reef Fish: Caribbean ID book and the finned critters — which have enjoyed protected status since 1978 — get up close and personal. This is what happens when divers rule the world. It becomes a better place. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire

2. Turks and Caicos — www.scubadiving.com/turksandcaicos
3. Cayman Islands — www.scubadiving.com/caymanislands

Big Animals

1. Belize — Nothing gets the heart pumping faster than being in the water with the biggest fish in the sea. Every year off Gladden Spit, at the southern end of Lighthouse Reef, the 40-foot giants show up just when the snapper begin to spawn and fill the sea with a fertilized egg buffet. And whale sharks aren’t the only game in town. Off Ambergris Caye, your day isn’t complete until you’ve crossed paths with a few nurse sharks, spotted eagle rays and southern stingrays. For more teeth, head straight for the famed Blue Hole, where Caribbean reef sharks have decided that divers need escorts. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/belize

2. Turks and Caicos — www.scubadiving.com/turksandcaicos
3. Bahamas — www.scubadiving.com/bahamas

Macro Life

1. Bonaire — Please forgive Bonaire if they brag a bit, but topping four categories in the Caribbean region is a pretty big deal. You’d expect the destination that gets top spot in the environmental category to fill every niche of the seascape, and the “Macro Capital of the Caribbean” delivers. Frogfish and seahorses head the list, but break out the magnifying glass to find the smaller invertebrates and juveniles that will fill up the pages of your logbook. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire

2. Dominica — www.scubadiving.com/dominica
3. Cayman Islands — www.scubadiving.com/caymanislands

Wreck Diving

1. Aruba — Once you wade past the honeymooners, the casinos, the nonstop nightlife and the legions of professional windsurfers, you get to a watery graveyard — a place where ships come to sink. And not just sink, but tumble to the seafloor intact with great stories, relatively shallow and wrapped in the kind of warm water we all dream of when we sleep on a long winter’s night. The big gun is the world-class, 398-foot Antilla, a World War II wreck with a constant halo of snorkelers looking down wishing they could dive. A profusion of corals threatens to fully transform this wreck into reef. And the story repeats itself in the name of the Pedernales, the Debbie II, the California, the Jane Sea and more. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/aruba

2. Bermuda — www.scubadiving.com/bermuda
3. Bahamas — www.scubadiving.com/bahamas

Advanced Diving

1. Tobago — You come to Tobago to get caught up in the rush, not avoid it. The Guyana current sweeps nutrient-filled waters over reefs swarming with marine life, and crowded with force-fed giant sponges and corals. Here you don’t drift, you fly; and places come with names like Kamikaze Cut, Bookends and Black Jack Hole. Mantas love nibbling their way through the current-borne tidbits, as tarpon, spotted eagle rays and even hammerheads all come for the wild rides off Speyside, St. Giles Islands, the deep walls off Sisters and, of course, Flying Reef. You want peace and calm? Go to the beach. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/tobago

2. Saba — www.scubadiving.com/saba
3. Aruba and Cayman Islands (tie) — www.scubadiving.com/aruba ; www.scubadiving.com/caymanislands

Underwater Photography

1. Dominica — Photographers see the world differently. They talk and see in shadow, light, movement and color. They like to make their images “pop.” They search for critical moments, dramatic encounters, seascapes that evoke awe, and macro aliens that make you stop and wonder. Photographers don’t just dive; they dive to wrangle time and find the soul of the reef. And when an island has everything from a resident pod of sperm whales to color-packed vertical walls, macro wonders and reefs that bubble like champagne, underwater photographers speak in admiration of that place. In the Caribbean, that place is Dominica. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/dominica

2. Bonaire — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire
3. Cayman Islands — www.scubadiving.com/caymanislands

Value for Your Dollar

1. Mexico — When you’re spending your hard-earned diving dollars, you want to go to dive destinations that don’t cost an arm and a fin. Mexico is the perfect place for divers looking to stretch their dollar in such renowned destinations as Cozumel, the cenotes of Riviera Maya, the reefs off Costa Maya and the Chinchorro Banks, and the big-animal playgrounds of the Revillagigedos and Sea of Cortez. Yes, there are a lot of reefs and wrecks in the waters that bathe our sultry neighbor to the south, as well as plenty of dive shops vying for your hard-earned cash, an excess of fiesta, cheap eats and tequila, and a sun that caresses your heart. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/mexico

2. Bonaire — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire
3. Bay Islands — www.scubadiving.com/bayislands

Overall Rating of a Destination

1. Cayman Islands — A perennial winner in Scuba Diving’s Top 100, the Cayman Islands — Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman — combine to define the kind of diverse dive experience that divers have come to expect in the Caribbean. The superlatives here need no introduction: the renowned wall diving off Little Cayman’s Bloody Bay Wall, the only divable Russian warship — the Brac’s MV Captain Keith Tibbetts — the all-in-one trip around the reef of Stingray City, and the plethora of sites off the North Wall, East End and Seven-Mile Beach. If you want it all, you need look no further than the Cayman Islands. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/caymanislands

2. Bonaire — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire
3. Turks and Caicos — www.scubadiving.com/turksandcaicos

Marine Life

1. Turks and Caicos — www.scubadiving.com/turksandcaicos
2. Bonaire — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire
3. Dominica — www.scubadiving.com/dominica

Visibility

1. Turks and Caicos — www.scubadiving.com/turksandcaicos
2. Bonaire — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire
3. Cayman Islands — www.scubadiving.com/cayman

Wall Diving

1. Cayman Islands — www.scubadiving.com/cayman
2. Mexico — www.scubadiving.com/mexico
3. Bay Islands — www.scubadiving.com/bayislands

Snorkeling

1. Puerto Rico — www.scubadiving.com/puertorico
2. Bonaire — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire
3. Turks and Caicos — www.scubadiving.com/turksandcaicos

Shore Diving

1. Bonaire — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire
2. Cayman Islands — www.scubadiving.com/cayman
3. Curacao — www.scubadiving.com/curacao

Diving for Beginners

1. Curacao — www.scubadiving.com/curacao
2. Bonaire — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire
3. Turks and Caicos — www.scubadiving.com/turksandcaicos

Overall Rating of the Diving

1. Bonaire — www.scubadiving.com/bonaire
2. Cayman Islands — www.scubadiving.com/caymanislands
3. Turks and Caicos — www.scubadiving.com/turksandcaicos

INDO-PACIFIC

Health of Marine Environment

1. (Tie) Galapagos and Indonesia — To find truly healthy marine environments, you need one of two ingredients — either a strong protection plan or a vast country that is still relatively unexplored. The Galapagos fits the first requirement, with a stringent marine reserve that’s been in place since 1998, plus currents that feed an enormous chain of life. Indonesia, which tied for the top spot and offers spectacularly abundant marine life, has a little of both: It features several marine parks (Bunaken, Komodo, Raja Ampat) and more than 17,000 islands, many of them just waiting to be dived.

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/galapagos, www.scubadiving.com/indonesia

2. Fiji — www.scubadiving.com/fiji
3. Palau — www.scubadiving.com/palau

Big Animals

1. Galapagos — This is where seven oceanic currents collide, and the intense mixing zone brings the really big stuff: whale sharks, massive schools of scalloped hammerheads, sea lions, seals, silvertip and Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, penguins, the possibility of humpback, Brydes and other whales, marine iguanas and, on land, giant tortoises. Galapagos is hands-down the crown jewel in the big-animal world. If there’s any shadow of doubt, try to book a live-aboard in whale-shark season less than two years in advance. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/galapagos

2. Maldives — www.scubadiving.com/maldives
3. Costa Rica — www.scubadiving.com/costarica

Macro Life

1. Indonesia — In a reshuffling of last year’s top 3 finishers, Indonesia leapfrogs Malaysia and wrests control of the No. 1 spot from the Philippines. While this might be a result of Indonesia having the world’s capital of muck diving, Lembeh Strait, the reality is Indonesia has more than its fair share of great macro spots, including Komodo, Bali — with dive site Puri Jati the latest hotspot — and Raja Ampat — which, yes, along with having excellent big-fish sites and mind-numbing reefs also has a great collection of critters. — David Espinosa

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/indonesia

2. Philippines — www.scubadiving.com/philippines
3. Malaysia — www.scubadiving.com/malaysia

Wreck Diving

1. Truk — The site of Operation Hailstone and the final resting place of nearly 50 Japanese plane and shipwrecks, Truk beat out the Red Sea to restake its claim as the best wreck destination in the Indo-Pacific, if not the planet. Truk’s most popular wrecks include the Yamagiri Maru and the Nippo Maru, though with so many to choose from and a number of “tec-friendly” operators, you’ll have the opportunity to spend countless hours on a rebreather deciding which one is your favorite. — David Espinosa

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/truk

2. Red Sea — www.scubadiving.com/redsea
3. Australia — www.scubadiving.com/australia

Diving for Advanced

1. Galapagos — Nobody travels to this archipelago for pretty sponges and sea fans, because few places on the planet deliver big-animal encounters as consistently as the Galapagos. Of course you’ve got to work for it, braving strong currents, cold waters and steep walls. Nothing comes easy in these tiny islands in the eastern Pacific, but that makes every dive with whale sharks, hammerheads and rays all the more enjoyable. — David Espinosa

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/galapagos

2. Fiji — www.scubadiving.com/fiji
3. Maldives — www.scubadiving.com/maldives

Underwater Photography

1. Indonesia — Humble underwater photographers say the best images are 10 percent skill and 90 percent luck; and you make your own luck by going to the spots that are the most productive. Which would explain why the best photographers make yearly pilgrimages to Indonesia. With dozens of destinations to choose from and just about any animal encounter you could wish for, you’re guaranteed to come home with images that will amaze your nondiving friends, and a portfolio you’ll treasure for life. — David Espinosa

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/indonesia

2. Maldives — www.scubadiving.com/maldives
3. Philippines — www.scubadiving.com/philippines

Value for Your Diving Dollar

1. Hawaii — What would you pay to get eyeball to eyeball with humpback whales, pilot whales, spinner dolphins or oceanic whitetips as they buzz your boat between dives? Or have 15 mantas come within inches of your head at night? Or drift over 12,000 feet of ocean at night, dangling on a 40-foot line to see things that defy description? Or encounter giant green sea turtles on shipwrecks? Schooling hammerheads? And know that almost 30 percent of what you see, you will see nowhere else. That’s value. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/hawaii

2. Malaysia — www.scubadiving.com/malaysia
3. Thailand and Philippines (tie) — www.scubadiving.com/philippines, www.scubadiving.com/thailand

Overall Rating of the Destination

1. Indonesia — Want vertiginous walls packed with life? Head for Manado. Need critters for your photography portfolio? Lembeh Strait is the capital of the ocean’s oddballs. What about bountiful reefs and schooling fish? Raja Ampat is for you. What’s more, Indonesia’s best dive destinations also feature some “wow” topside activities: The world’s biggest lizard lives in Komodo — home to wicked currents and fantastic marine life — and the quintessential island-paradise Bali has the best of everything. That’s why most divers, with one place to dive and unlimited funds to dive there, would choose Indonesia again and again. — David Espinosa

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/Indonesia

2. Galapagos — www.scubadiving.com/galapagos
3. Fiji — www.scubadiving.com/fiji

Marine Life

1. Indonesia — www.scubadiving.com/indonesia
2. Philippines — www.scubadiving.com/philippines
3. Malaysia — www.scubadiving.com/malaysia

Visibility

1. Thailand — www.scubadiving.com/thailand
2. Hawaii — www.scubadiving.com/hawaii
3. Palau — www.scubadiving.com/palau

Wall Diving

1. Palau — www.scubadiving.com/palau
2. Malaysia — www.scubadiving.com/malaysia
3. Red Sea — www.scubadiving.com/redsea

Snorkeling

1. Maldives — www.scubadiving.com/maldives
2. Malaysia — www.scubadiving.com/malaysia
3. Australia and Great Barrier Reef — www.scubadiving.com/australia

Shore Diving

1. Maldives — www.scubadiving.com/maldives
2. Malaysia — www.scubadiving.com/malaysia
3. Indonesia — www.scubadiving.com/indonesia

Diving for Beginners

1. Hawaii — www.scubadiving.com/hawaii
2. Philippines — www.scubadiving.com/philippines
3. Australia and Great Barrier Reef — www.scubadiving.com/australia

Overall Rating of the Diving

1. Galapagos — www.scubadiving.com/galapagos
2. Indonesia — www.scubadiving.com/indonesia
3. Philippines — www.scubadiving.com/philippines

NORTH AMERICA

Health of Marine Environment

1. Florida Keys — Here’s how it happens in North America’s tropical escape: You designate 2,900 square miles of water as a marine sanctuary — encompassing huge swaths of sea grass, endless miles of mangroves, the world’s third largest barrier reef — and then sink dozens of giant ships to take on the overflow from the reef. For marine life, this ensures a protective shell around the cycle of life; it means intact habitat and places of refuge for fish and invertebrates. For divers, this means more fish, more predators and more prey, and encounters that range from manatees to tarpon to turtles. Best of all, these experiences don’t require a passport — they’re a short flight away in the Florida Keys. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/florida

2. Canada/British Columbia — www.scubadiving.com/canada
3. Southeast Florida — www.scubadiving.com/florida

Big Animals

1. North Carolina — North Carolina has long been known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic for its more than 2,000 recorded wrecks, including three WWII German U-boats and Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge. And, like all good shipwrecks, they attract marine life like an oasis in the sea. At several sites, you’ll be able to get within kissing distance of snaggle-tooth sand tiger sharks, big nurse sharks and giant mantas. Big, bad animals, it would seem, like to hang out in graveyards. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/northcarolina

2. Southeast Florida — www.scubadiving.com/florida
3. Texas — www.scubadiving.com/texas

Macro Life

1. Southeast Florida — Divers might think exotic macro diving is the sole domain of the Pacific or the Caribbean, but they’d be wrong. North America is home to a number of destinations where, if you look closely, you’ll be surprised with macro finds. While there are a handful of good macro spots, Florida’s best site for the weird and wonderful — and the reason it gets top spot — is West Palm Beach’s Blue Heron Bridge, where colorful flounders vie for real estate with Pegasus sea moths, and octopuses make discarded bottles and sneakers their home. — David Espinosa

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/florida

2. Canada/British Columbia — www.scubadiving.com/canada
3. Southern California — www.scubadiving.com/california

Wreck Diving

1. North Carolina — Ship captains might hate the shallow shoals off its famous capes, but divers love them for the wrecks they’ve snared. While North Carolina doesn’t have the purpose-sunk stars of the Keys (the Spiegel Grove comes in at No. 8 on the Gold List) or Southern California (the Yukon grabbed No. 74), it does have plenty of swoon-worthy WWII wrecks to choose from. The highlight is the U-352, a WWII German submarine that sits 120 feet deep. There’s also the Papoose, the submarine Tarpon and more than 50 other wrecks that have been accounted for. The Great Lakes might have more wrecks and New York/New Jersey more challenging ones, but the divable wealth of rusted metal beneath North Carolina’s balmy waters make it the capital of Wreck Diving in the USA. — David Espinosa

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/northcarolina

2. Florida Keys — www.scubadiving.com/florida
3. Southern California — www.scubadiving.com/california

Diving for Advanced

1. Great Lakes — Beyond the easy diving most recreational divers prefer is the fist-pumping adrenalin of more advanced sites. Great Lakes divers have a certain swagger. They like the challenge of deep-wreck dives in cold waters. They like the feel of twins on their back, and redundant gear. Trimix is as common as snow in winter. Drysuits are sexy. Diving to 200 feet with deco time is considered a lunch break. The allure here, despite the conditions, is the thousands of intact shipwrecks that date from the Colonial era to present day. Every Great Lakes diver has a little black book of GPS coordinates for the “secret” wrecks they share only with their friends, but never with nondivers, and certainly not with warm-water princesses. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/greatlakes

2. Canada/British Columbia — www.scubadiving.com/canada
3. New York/New Jersey — www.scubadiving.com/northeast

Underwater Photography

1. Florida Keys — Go to Key Largo, open the phone book and look up underwater photographers. There are lots of them. Real famous shutterbugs like Stephen Frink, Bill Harrigan, Tom and Therisa Stack, among others. They tend to gather in places where the subjects are evocative, interesting and diverse, the water’s clear, the conditions are favorable year-round and the sky is sunny. The expanse of the Florida Keys that stretches from Key Largo to Key West encompasses a lifetime’s pursuit of underwater photography. There are giant wrecks (the Spiegel Grove and Vandenberg), Big animals that range from sharks to manatees, and a healthy ecosystem famous for its large aggregations of snapper, grunts and spadefish. Every dive here represents two things for underwater photographers: opportunity and more opportunity. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/florida

2. Southeast Florida — www.scubadiving.com/florida
3. California/Channel Islands — www.scubadiving.com/california

Value for Diving Dollar

1. British Columbia — It’s not so much the exchange rate, or the multitude of dive shops and boats on this Canadian dive island. It’s just that they like to dive, and to take you to see things you’ll not experience anywhere else. So they make it reasonable and easy (and the Vancouver Island Canadians are just so dang friendly about it too). After dives on bountiful shipwrecks off Nanaimo, Victoria and Campbell River (there are 1.5 shipwrecks per mile here, including the famed Saskatchewan, Cape Breton and Riv Tow), seeing the primitive six-gill sharks off Barkley Sound and such cool critters as monkey-faced eels, wolf eels, sea lions and giant Pacific octopuses on the big side, and hooded nudibranchs on the small side, you’ll have one single compulsion: to emigrate. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/canada

2. North Carolina — www.scubadiving.com/northcarolina
3. Southeast Florida — www.scubadiving.com/florida

Overall Rating of Destination

1. Florida Keys — Protect it, nurture it, grow it. Throw in great diver bars, interesting night life, sun, sand, a free-spirited local community that favors personal freedom over profit, and conch chowder, and you’ve got North America’s top-rated destination by the people it matters most to: readers. If you dig shipwrecks, there’s a shipwreck trail that will take the rest of your life to fully explore. If you like healthy reefs, the world’s third-largest string of coral seascape parallels the 126 miles of the Keys. It’s all part of the massive Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, and it just keeps getting better each year. — Ty Sawyer

Go Now — www.scubadiving.com/floridakeys

2. Canada/British Columbia — www.scubadiving.com/canada
3. Southeast Florida — www.scubadiving.com/florida

Marine Life

1. Canada/British Columbia — www.scubadiving.com/canada
2. California/Channel Islands — www.scubadiving.com/california
3. North Carolina — www.scubadiving.com/southeast

Visibility

1. Southeast Florida — www.scubadiving.com/florida
2. Florida Keys — www.scubadiving.com/floridakeys
3. Great Lakes — www.scubadiving.com/midwest

Wall Diving

1. Canada/British Columbia — www.scubadiving.com/canada
2. Monterey — www.scubadiving.com/california
3. California/Channel Islands — www.scubadiving.com/california

Snorkeling

1. Florida Keys — www.scubadiving.com/floridakeys
2. California/Channel Islands — www.scubadiving.com/california
3. Southeast Florida — www.scubadiving.com/florida

Shore Diving

1. Monterey — www.scubadiving.com/california
2. Southeast Florida — www.scubadiving.com/florida
3. Florida Keys — www.scubadiving.com/floridakeys

Diving for Beginners

1. Florida Keys — www.scubadiving.com/floridakeys
2. Southeast Florida — www.scubadiving.com/florida
3. Monterey — www.scubadiving.com/california

Overall Rating of the Diving

1. Canada/British Columbia — www.scubadiving.com/canada
2. California/Channel Islands — www.scubadiving.com/california
3. Florida Keys — www.scubadiving.com/floridakeys

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