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The Best Scuba Destinations for Beginner Divers in 2023

Where easy, relaxed diving meets wow moments on the reef.
By Brooke Morton | Updated On June 27, 2023
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The Best Scuba Destinations for Beginner Divers in 2023

Lively reefs and attractions like this mountainous star coral await on Bonaire’s shore dives.

Lively reefs and attractions like this mountainous star coral await on Bonaire’s shore dives.


1. Bonaire

There’s no better way to gain underwater confidence than to shore dive, which requires one to create a dive plan and rely on their own navigation skills to carry it out.

And on Bonaire, you have more shore dives to choose from than on any other Caribbean destination. In the middle of the divable coast is the all-inclusive Plaza Resort. To the north are more advanced shore dives, and to the south are sites with flatter, sandier entry points.

At the resort itself, divers can explore 800 yards of reef. A painted map on the side of the resort’s PADI Five Star Dive Center, Toucan Diving, details the house reef and its distinctive features, including a grove of coral restoration trees, rocks with a rope lying overtop, and a PVC square that serves as a buoyancy training tool—and a navigational aid. “By studying that mural, they start to build a map in their minds of what they will be looking at underwater,” says Hagen Wegerer, dive operations manager for Toucan Diving.

In the water, divers start to gain spatial awareness, a skill developed only through practice. That first shore dive without an instructor offers a huge boost in reef literacy. “Once they achieve that first shore dive by themselves, they get excited to do it more and more,” Wegerer says.



  • Buddy Dive Resort, Bonaire

  • Plaza Beach & Dive Resort Bonaire


  • Buddy Dive, Bonaire

  • Toucan Divers at Plaza Resort, Bonaire

Related Reading: How to Take Your Bonaire Dive Trip to the Next Level

2. Hawaii

Many new divers think they will never try night diving—then they visit the Big Island of Hawaii, where the most popular underwater experience happens at night.

The manta ray night dive is easily the destination’s biggest underwater attraction, and it’s a great one for new divers to cut their teeth on. “It’s a great first night dive because it’s shallow and so well lit—it’s like Vegas down there,” says Jeff Leicher, one of the owners of Jack’s Diving Locker, a PADI Five Star Dive Center located on island. On any given night, a handful of dive boats offer the trip, each bringing underwater floodlights, which help create a sense of calm for anyone fearing black water.

Jack’s Diving Locker offers the manta experience as a two-tank trip. The first dive is conducted while it’s still light out. Divers acclimate to the 40-foot-deep site. Then, after a surface interval, it’s time for the big show, where anywhere from six to 20 of the island’s 100 resident mantas appear to feed while carving turns and loops overtop the divers.



  • Aaron’s Dive Shop, Hawaii

  • Big Island Divers, Hawaii

  • Dive Oahu, Hawaii

  • Jack’s Diving Locker, Hawaii

  • Kona Honu Divers, Hawaii

A pair of buddies fins along the site Divers Leap at Caracas Bay, Curaçao.

A pair of buddies fins along the site Divers Leap at Caracas Bay, Curaçao.


3. Curacao

In a word, what newly certified divers want is easy. That’s what Curaçao has on offer.

“With our boat dives, you drop down just 10 to 20 feet and you’re on the reef,” says Pol Bosch, a PADI Instructor and co-owner of Ocean Encounters dive center.

From there, not much effort is required— no fighting currents or swimming big distances—before you see the good stuff.

Just ask Bosch’s recent open-water students from Ohio. “On their first dive, they found a seahorse,” he says. Dive number two brought an eagle ray, and dives three and four saw an abundance of turtles. “These people were just flabbergasted,” he says.

Related Reading: How to Take Beautiful Seahorse Photos

A Nassau grouper at the seamounts in Cayos Cochinos, Roatan, Bay Islands.

A Nassau grouper at the seamounts in Cayos Cochinos, Roatan, Bay Islands.


4. Bay Islands

Here’s what you can’t do in Roatan: drift dive.

One of Honduras’ Bay Islands, this destination is known for warm water, visibility of more than 80 feet most days and, of course, no currents. “Our waters are dead calm,” says Antonio Moncada, marketing manager of Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort on Roatan.

Ideal conditions make it easy for newer divers to gain experience on the reefs of Roatan, most of which lie along walls. “The advantage of wall diving is that no matter how experienced you are, you will find a spot on the dive,” says Moncada, referring to the depth ranges between 40 and 60 feet. In the shallows of many wall dives, such as Turtle Crossing, it’s possible to see seahorses, highly active triggerfish and, well, turtles—all without dropping deep along the wall.



  • Anthony’s Key Resort, Roatan, Bay Islands

  • CocoView Resort, Roatan, Bay Islands

  • Mayan Princess Beach & Dive Resort, Roatan, Bay Islands

  • Turquoise Bay Dive & Beach Resort, Roatan, Bay Islands


  • Anthony’s Key Resort Dive Shop, Roatan, Bay Islands

  • CocoView Resort, Roatan, Bay Islands

  • Dockside Dive Center at CocoView Resort, Roatan, Bay Islands


  • Roatan Aggressor, Bay Islands

Related Reading: Where To Plan Your Next Scuba Vacation

5. Florida Keys

The most welcoming underwater classroom is often a shallow one. In North America, one of the best is found off Key Largo, where reef systems start at 15 to 50 feet. Shallow reefs aren’t just ideal for open-water certs. They’re also a space that provides for abundant down time where divers of any level can practice their skills. “When you get two hours underwater on one morning dive trip, you get the time to really work on your gas supply,” says Dan Dawson, owner of PADI Five Star Dive Center Horizon Divers.

The quickest path to improvement, says Dawson, is the Peak Performance Buoyancy course, which focuses on breathing and finning techniques. Most of all, the class helps divers dial in precisely how much weight they need to enjoy a dive, not just sink. Dawson and his fellow instructors help divers remove weight and also distribute lead more evenly on their bodies. After the class, most divers want just one thing. “Everyone can’t wait to go deeper,” he says. “When you’re shallow, things change dramatically up or down, so you really learn to fine-tune your skills before you go deeper.”



  • Amoray Dive Resort, Key Largo, Florida Keys

  • Captain Hook’s Dive Key West, Florida Keys

  • Courtyard by Marriott Key Largo, Florida Keys

  • Holiday Inn, Key Largo, Florida Keys

  • Marina Del Mar, Key Largo, Florida Keys


  • Amoray Dive Center, Key Largo, Florida Keys

  • Captain Hook’s Dive Key West, Florida Keys

  • Horizon Divers, Key Largo, Florida Keys

  • Islamorada Dive Center, Florida Keys

  • Rainbow Reef, Key Largo, Florida Keys

Related Reading: Alexander Springs: The Best Dive Site in Florida For Newly-Certified Divers

6. Thailand

Some scuba instructors believe conditions should be as difficult and harsh as possible to build strong divers.

Darren Gaspari is not one of those people. He’s the owner of Aussie Divers, with two locations in Thailand: Phuket and Koh Tao. Every year, tens of thousands of divers come to Thailand to get certified. “When you are learning to dive, the conditions should be as easy as possible,” he says. Warm water removes stress. So, too, does a lack of currents. “The diving here is a lot more relaxed than it is where most people are visiting from,” says Gaspari.

The conditions, coupled with an active reef, tend to get new divers hooked.

Caribbean And Atlantic

1. Bonaire

  1. Bay Islands

  2. Bahamas

  3. Curacao

  4. Aruba

  5. U.S. Virgin Islands

  6. St. Lucia

  7. Cayman Islands

  8. Belize

  9. Mexico

  10. Turks and Caicos

Pacific And Indian

1. Hawaii

  1. Philippines

  2. Thailand

  3. Fiji

  4. French Polynesia

  5. Red Sea

  6. Indonesia

  7. Mexico

  8. Maldives

  9. Costa Rica

  10. Galapagos

U.S. And Canada

1. Florida Keys

  1. Florida

  2. Washington

  3. California

  4. Great Lakes

  5. North Carolina

  6. Texas

What Is Readers Choice?

More than 3,000 readers cast their vote in our 2023 survey to decide this year’s Readers Choice awards. Here we feature some of the top destinations, listing in alphabetical order the winning resorts, operators and liveaboards serving those areas. More at