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The Best Dive Destinations for Beginners

Where to go for critters, color and coral reefs, all with warm water and easy in-water conditions.
By Brooke Morton | Authored On March 21, 2022
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The Best Dive Destinations for Beginners

Why do the Top 100 Readers Choice Awards, now in their 24th year, still matter to divers? Because these are your picks, based on thousands of votes from the most experienced dive travelers on the planet. Why do they matter to us? Because every month you hear from our editors on what we think matters in the world of dive travel. For the January/February issue of Scuba Diving we get to listen to you, and we’re taking notes.

Here, we present the No. 1 ranking destinations in the Best Beginner Scuba Diving category of the awards. The full list of winning destinations is below.

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A reef shark cruises a shallow site at Looe Key in the Florida Keys.

Lureen Ferretti

Florida Keys

1st Place Winner U.S. and Canada

If you think all of Florida’s underwater coastline is the same when it comes to depth, think again. Most reefs on the Sunshine State’s eastern coast start in 70 feet of water, but in the Florida Keys, especially off Big Pine Key, many of the best sites are found as shallow as 15 to 30 feet.

“I think a lot of people are surprised by that,” says Tammy Milner, divemaster at Captain Hook’s Big Pine Key, a local dive center that also has locations on Key West and Marathon.

Big Pine Key’s star attraction, Looe Key, has so much structure that it sup- ports 30 mooring balls, each marking a site where eagle rays, turtles and sharks are seen almost daily. There, newer divers can be exposed to a variety of marine species in a short period of time.

To keep the focus on the marine life, Captain Hook’s puts a dive guide in the water on every boat trip, a practice most Keys dive centers don’t do. “With a guide in the water, you don’t have to worry about a ton of other stuff, like finding your way back to the boat on time—you can just dive,” Milner says.

Best Beginner Diving in the U.S. and Canada

  1. Florida Keys

  2. Florida

  3. California

  4. Virginia



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There is no shortage of macro life, like this frogfish, at Bonaire’s shallow dive sites.

Jennifer Idol

Bonaire

Best Beginner Diving in the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans

This 111-square-mile island stands out for its healthy reefs, which in some areas start just a few feet from the shoreline. With every stretch of coral comes all the macro life Bonaire is famous for.
“You can find everything, from an octopus to a frogfish, in the shallows,” says Lynne Culbreth, owner of the waterfront Carib Inn Dive Resort.
The instant-access marine life can be a focal point, allowing visitors to become lost in the moment and distract themselves from any new-diver jitters. “Even in 10 feet of water, you forget that you are scuba diving,” Culbreth says. “You get so mesmerized.”

Most resorts, including Carib Inn, have a house reef as a front yard, allowing divers to call all the shots, from depth to dive time. And the 60 shore dives around the island offer plenty of options to let divers decide how much and how quickly to challenge themselves. “You can go as far as you want or hardly go anywhere— you’ll still see so much life no matter what,” Culbreth says.

Best Beginner Diving in the Caribbean and Atlantic

  1. Bonaire

  2. Bay Islands, Honduras

  3. Cayman Islands

  4. Belize

  5. Bahamas

  6. Mexico



Hawaii

Best Beginner Diving in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

Hawaii is home to a handful of one-of-a-kind dive experiences that most divers, regardless of experience level, naturally want to take part in.
Take the manta ray night dive, arguably the most famous of the Big Island’s underwater offerings. The experience requires darkness so that lights can attract plankton, and it can be a challenge for newer divers who have yet to log many dives, if any at all, outside of daylight hours.

For newer divers or those less comfortable night diving, Kona Honu Divers offers a special two-tank package. Guests first complete a dusk dive at the manta ray nighttime location, before dropping into the black at the same site later on.

“On the first dive, they get to acclimate to the site and they’re also get- ting another dive under their belt,” says Byron Kay, owner of Kona Honu Divers.

Along with mantas, the Big Island offers warm water, little current and the chance to see a host of wildlife, from green sea turtles to blacktip sharks, even during an open-water certification course.

“Sometimes you’ll be sitting there doing your skills, chilling on the bottom, and a tiger shark will swim between you and your instructor,” Kay says.

Best Beginner Diving in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

  1. Hawaii

  2. Thailand

  3. Red Sea

  4. Japan

  5. Guam

  6. Malasia

  7. Philippines

  8. Australia

  9. Fiji

  10. Palau



How We Got the Numbers Thousands of Scuba Diving subscribers and online users rated their experiences at dive destinations in a variety of categories on a scale from one to five. Final scores are an average of the numerical scores awarded. A minimum number of responses was required for a destination to be included in these ratings.