Unless you are fortunate enough to live in the tropics or a similarly temperate climate, chances are that if you’re considering getting your scuba certification you are facing the standard pool routine followed by a few grueling sessions in frigid and murky waters. As much fun as that sounds, if you’re hoping to explore life under the sea, consider combining your next vacation with a scuba diving course somewhere a little less cold and a lot less expensive.
Located on the Gulf of Aqaba, Dahab is an Egyptian town on the Sinai Peninsula that is renowned for its diving and windsurfing. An attractive destination for backpackers, Dahab has numerous campgrounds and budget accommodations for the cash-strapped traveler. With its laid-back and chilled out atmosphere, this diving hotspot on the Red Sea is the perfect place to spend a few days or weeks mastering your diving skills. With many reefs immediately adjacent to waterfront hotels as well as the nearby Blue Hole (nicknamed as “The World’s Most Dangerous Diving Site)and Canyon, Dahab has exceptional diving for all levels of expertise.
With spectacular reefs, incredible underwater rock formations, and a wide variety of marine life, it’s not surprising that Phuket rates among the top ten scuba diving destinations in the world. Though it offers amazing diving opportunities for divers of all levels, it’s a great place to pick up your PADI certification as well. Most hotels are affiliated with dive shops that offer free “Discover Scuba Diving” sessions in the pool. These courses take just a few minutes and give you an idea of what it’s all about. Getting your PADI will take three to four-days and cost approximately $380 USD.
Belize Barrier Reef
Situated between Mexico and Guatemala on Central America’s Caribbean coast, Belize, with its 400 islands, stunning beaches, and barrier reef, is one of the world’s most idyllic diving spots. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300-kilometer long series of coral reefs that help to comprise the 900 kilometer Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, a reef that Charles Darwin described as one of the most remarkable in the West Indies. Extra perks? When you’re not diving with nurse sharks, you can spend your timing wandering the country exploring ancient temples and caves.
With an average ground level of 4’11″ above sea level, the Maldives is the planet’s lowest country. Well known for its azure waters and magnificent beaches, the Maldives is also a spectacular spot for diving. While it has beautiful coral reefs, it’s the plethora of sea life that makes it a top diving destination. The numerous islands and channels ensure that the plethora of Napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, snappers, barracudas, jacks, and sweetlips that inhabit the waters are always within easy viewing access. Given the number of islands, the best way to explore the waters surrounding the Maldives are on drift dives from liveaboard boats where you allow the current to carry you along. If you have time, you can first get your certification at any number of resorts in the region and then plan to take a diving tour on a liveabord. Though keep in mind that because of the region’s popularity as a diving destination, you’ll need to book any diving cruises at least six months in advance.
Billed by many dive journals as one of the top diving destination in the world, Sipadan is an oceanic island in Malaysia that was formed by living coral growing on top of an extinct volcano. With more than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species, this is a not-to-be-missed diving spot. Allow six days for your PADI Open Water Course and the PADI Advanced Open Water Course (you’ll definitely want this so that you can go deeper than 18 meters which is an absolute must for diving in Sipadan). Note that although Sipadan used to have resorts, they were closed a number of years ago in order to ensure protection of this incredible ecosystem. You’ll need to stay somewhere nearby, like Mabul or in Semporna, and then take a boat onto the island. Permits are required (only 120 dives are allowed daily) and are usually acquired by the diver operator.