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Tanya G. Burnett

The World's Best Destinations for Beginner Scuba Divers

*Scuba Diving* readers voted Florida, Bonaire and Hawaii the best for beginners.
By Brooke Morton | Authored On April 8, 2018
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The World's Best Destinations for Beginner Scuba Divers

There’s something about that first real dive trip that just can’t be topped — the underwater world takes its hold on you and never lets go. For those who want to stick with the sport, it helps to get certified or fine-tune skills in a destination where the rewards — big critters, fascinating macro life, lush reefs — outweigh the hurdles, which are hopefully few. Warm water, zero-to-mild currents and stellar visibility sweeten the deal. These locales deliver on all this and more.


Rainbows and Sea Cows: A 90-­minute drive north of Tampa brings you to the town of Crystal River, home to a collection of springs where manatees ­gather ­every winter, creating an opportunity for in-­water viewing that was named a Readers Choice Best Big-Animal Dive. In this same area lies Rainbow River, a swift-moving dive that’s a fun rush amid bluegill fish, alligator garfish, turtles and sea grass. And, at 20 feet deep, even ­snorkelers can stay on the surface without feeling far from the group.

Shallow Goals: The reefs in the ­Florida Keys all start at 30 feet or shallower, ­making for an all-inclusive destination where families or groups of friends with varying experience can enjoy a site such as Key Largo’s Molasses Reef all together. Throughout the Keys, the payoffs are shallow, including 25-foot-deep Sombrero Reef off Marathon and Eastern Dry Rocks at 35 feet off Key West.

Shore Thing: The east coast is ­shore-dive friendly, including the perennial ­favorite Blue Heron Bridge, named a ­Readers Choice best shore dive. Drop in to ­experience nudibranchs, seahorses, flying ­gurnards, and more that create the weirdest and most colorful community in the state, second only to the Halloween celebrants of Key West.

Clear-Headed: The Gulf Stream sweeps the reefs of Florida, from Key West to Jupiter, clean of debris. For new divers, there’s a comfort in diving amid good visibility, allowing for a view of the bottom upon entry, or of the mooring line toward dive’s end.

Bonaire diving

A yellowline arrow crab enjoys Bonaire’s lively reef.

Reinhard Dirscherl


In Da House: In Bonaire, house reefs come standard. Steps from Buddy Dive Resort’s welcome desk, newbies can ease down a ladder or jump from the dock, swim less than a minute, and dive with frogfish, seahorses and more, all at around 15 feet.

The Shallow End: Bonaire’s dive sites are located on the leeward side of the island, so large waves aren’t a part of the entry process. Even better, 57 of the 85 named sites are shore entry, allowing newbies to ease their way in along a gradual slope.

Community of Experts: Nearly everyone on Bonaire is there for scuba. Should your inflator valve give you trouble while gearing up, the next folks arriving can likely help out. And, come happy hour, talk often leads to buoyancy and best practices.

hawaii diving

Manta rays feed at night off the Kona coast.

Jennifer Penner


Tunnel Vision: The challenge of keeping neutral ­buoyancy while swimming through the lava-formed tunnels and arches at sites such as Tunnels Reef and First Cathedral is fun for any diver, and has the bonus of boosting a newbie’s skill set quickly.

Night Bright: Few moments pack more wow underwater than the manta night dive of Kona, and it’s a nighttime experience ­open-water divers can have thanks to the site’s depth of 38 feet.

Well-Versed: Because Hawaii calls to families and ­couples, dive instructors ­frequently work with new divers or those whose skills need polishing. The dive crews here certify open-water divers and offer ­refresher courses regularly.

Readers Choice Regional Winners

North America

  1. Florida
  2. California
  3. Washington

Pacific and Indian

  1. Hawaii
  2. GBR/Queensland
  3. Philippines
  4. Thailand
  5. Fiji


  1. Bonaire
  2. Cayman Islands
  3. Bahamas
  4. Roatan
  5. USVI

What is Readers Choice? More than 3,000 Scuba Diving readers rate their experiences in our annual survey, scoring destinations in a variety of categories. Winners are selected via averaged scores.

Readers Choice Winners

The best ­operators, resorts and liveaboards to get you this experience in these destinations, as chosen by ­readers.

Best Dive Resorts

Buddy Dive Resort, Bonaire

Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino, Bonaire

Best Dive Operators

Buddy Dive, Bonaire

Ocean Divers, Key Largo, Florida Keys

Horizon Divers, Key Largo, Florida Keys

Dive Oahu, Hawaii

Jack's Diving Locker, Hawaii Island

Kona Honu Divers, Hawaii Island

Dive Maui, Hawaii

How are winners chosen? Each year, ­readers vote for their ­favorite operators, resorts and liveaboards, which are chosen by ­popular vote and ranked by category.