The world's best diving destinations for beginners

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

If you dream of exploring what lies beneath our oceans, you need to know the best places to dive where you won’t feel out of your depth. Finding qualified dive instructors and knowing the best time of year to scuba dive in these locations is key to a memorable experience. Whether you wish to view reef sharks, crustaceans and coral, shipwrecks or tropical fish, we bring you the world’s best dive destinations for beginners.

Dahab, Red Sea, Egypt

Clear waters, a year-round warm climate and colourful marine life all add to Dahab’s dive appeal. The bohemian, Egyptian resort on the Gulf of Aqaba is a superb starting point for beginners. One popular dive site for novices is Lighthouse Reef at the northern end of Dahab. The shallow reef reveals a variety of tropical fish, turtles, blue-spotted rays and a seabed carpeted with vibrant corals. During your time in the water, you can catch glimpses of pufferfish, lionfish and yellow-tailed barracuda, and hidden among the reefs tiny seahorses and ghost pipefish may make an appearance. There are several qualified dive schools and hotels in Dahab offering inclusive diving and accommodation packages which include transportation by 4 x 4 or camel rides to shore dive locations.

  • Best Months to Dive: Although scuba diving in Dahab is year-round. June to September are the best months, when marine life is most active and sea temperatures warm, ranging from 20-25 degrees.

  • Where to Stay: Tirana Dahab Resort with traditional Arabian interiors, modern rooms and lagoon-side location is a great place to begin your Egyptian dive adventure. Not only does the hotel offer diving expeditions, you can also enjoy kitesurfing, wind surfing, hiking, cycling and horse riding!

Malta, Comino and Gozo

Malta, Comino and Gozo’s dive sites are revered worldwide and in recent years the islands have become Europe’s premier dive destinations. Between the trio there are over 50 dive centres, with many close to tourist resorts so you don’t have to compromise on 5-star accommodation. One of the best dive sites for beginners in Malta is Merkanti Reef - a shallow dive spot 10 metres deep, in calm, clear waters. It’s a great place for underwater photography with cuttlefish, octopus, wrasse and crabs living in the shallows. For those wishing to explore subterranean shipwrecks dive the HMS Maori site off the coast of Valletta or try Cirkewwa in northern Malta. The latter boasts natural subterranean archways, shipwrecks and even a statue of the Madonna! Taster dives and beginner courses are available from most resorts and towns, plus you can combine your stay with historic sightseeing, beach days and buzzing nightlife.

  • Best Months to Dive: You can dive in the Mediterranean Seas around Malta, Comino and Gozo all year, however the months of May through September are most appealing with warm, sunny days and water temperatures reaching up to 28 degrees.

  • Where to Stay: The Phoenicia in Valetta offers easy access to several dive schools and the opportunity to explore forts and museums of the Maltese capital when you’re not diving. Alternatively, if you plan to dive the sites around Malta’s sister island, Gozo, Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz boasts 5-star amenities with first-class dining and a relaxing Ayurveda Centre.

North Male Atoll, Maldives

One of the best-known dive areas of the Maldives, North Male Atoll is recognised for its superb variety of scuba diving opportunities for all skill levels. With dive sites abundant with manta rays, large pelagics and vivid coral, the atoll offers up a veritable feast of subterranean wonders. You can effortlessly glide up to a sunken cargo ship or swim alongside schools of batfish, groupers and fusiliers. Lankan Manta Point due southeast of the atoll is a manta ray cleaning station, where rays converge during latter months of the southwest monsoon to be cleaned by wrasses. The dive site is easily accessible for beginners, plus you can also encounter lobsters, hawksbill turtles and whitetip sharks!

  • Best Months to Dive: The months of December through early May are great times to dive North Male Atoll. Colours beneath the water are vivid, visibility is high between 15 and 30 metres and pelagic fish life abundant. However, if you wish to focus your expedition on Lankan Manta Point, the best times for diving are between May and October, when manta rays can be viewed partaking in their cyclonic feeding formation.

  • Where to Stay: 5-star Angsana Resort & Spa Ihuru and Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, both in North Male Atoll have PADI dive centres on-site, so you can combine your beach and spa holiday with magnificent scuba diving.

Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia

The picturesque coastal town of Byron Bay lies just over 100 miles south of Brisbane. The town is renowned for surfing, scuba and whale watching and has some of the best diving in Australia. One of Byron Bay’s finest dive sites, Julian Rocks Marine Reserve is suitable for all levels of expertise. Here you can view over 1000 species including pineapple fish, hawksbill, loggerhead turtles and wobbegong sharks. A perfect place for first-time divers is the reserve’s Nursery. This shallow dive only reaches depths of 5 to 12 metres and is sheltered so you won’t encounter any surprises!

  • Best Months to Dive: You can dive the waters around Byron Bay year-round. If you wish to see manta rays January to March are great months, or if you prefer the majesty of humpback whales in your midst, visit Australia between June and October. If you’re interested in seeing sharks in their natural habitat, Grey Nurse Sharks can be spotted from May to November and Leopard Sharks from December to April.

  • Where to Stay: Located next to Wategos Beach at the most easterly point of the Australian mainland, 5-star The Watermark at Wategos offers luxurious accommodation in a breath-taking setting. The hotel is within a short walk of restaurants, Cape Byron Lighthouse, beaches and Byron Bay dive schools can be reached on foot or via car.

Cayman Islands, Caribbean

The Caribbean boasts some of the world’s best dive sites - Barbados, Bonaire, Antigua and the Bahamas to name a few, but the Cayman Islands stand head and shoulders above the rest. With over 150 dive sites, there’s plenty to entertain beginners, intermediates and advanced enthusiasts. Beginners will adore the shallow dive site Stingray City, located within the barrier reef a few miles from shore. On arrival by boat, divers enter the water and sit at the bottom of the sandbar as swarms of stingrays gather around. These serene creatures glide gracefully through the water, allowing scuba divers to feed them squid or swim alongside and film them. It’s a breath-taking example of nature and best experienced in a small group on a private charter tour.

  • Best Months to Dive: As rainy season runs from May to November, the months of December through to April are ideal times to scuba dive and enjoy beach fun around Grand Cayman. However, if you are more experienced and travelling solely for diving it’s possible to enjoy the activity year-round.  

  • Where to Stay: Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa is within easy access for trips to Stingray City and several more dive sites along the coastline. The state-of-the-art hotel on Seven Mile Beach has relaxing spa treatment rooms and in addition to several restaurants on-site, the hotel hosts fabulous weekly foodie nights with live Reggae music and a mesmerising fire show.

Sodwana National Park, South Africa

Sodwana National Park on South Africa’s east coast is a haven for all who enjoy the great outdoors. The park lies within iSimangaliso Wetland Park encompassing diverse eco-systems ranging from coral reefs to dune forests and savannahs. It’s home to the big 5 – black rhino, buffalo, lion, elephant and leopard as well as leatherback, loggerhead turtles and humpback whales. Visibility below water is high so you’ll have the opportunity to view colourful crustaceans, dolphins, manta rays and humpback whales with ease.

  • Best Months to Dive: The months of December to April are perfect for diving in South Africa as water temperatures reach 27 degrees Celsius. Along the shore, you can see nesting turtles between November and January and a variety of seasonal visitors passing through.

  • Where to Stay: Sodwana National Park hotels may not be as luxurious as other regions of South Africa, but they are clean and comfortable with a relaxing vibe. Mseni Beach Lodge nestled inside the park, boasts a charming restaurant and sea views from guest rooms. The hotel also offers activities including scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing and game reserve visits.

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