Known for its calm, warm waters (27-29C all year), the Maldives is a great place to learn, with visibility usually over 30 metres. Many resorts feature ‘house reefs’. Island resorts with PADI Dive schools are plentiful; one of the best is the luxury Anantara Kihavah Villas, located within a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that’s home to turtles and tropical fish. The Maldives is the only habitat where whale sharks appear year-round.
Just a four- to five-hour flight from the UK, and it needn’t cost a fortune. A short drive north from Hurghada, El Gouna is a good place to escape the crowds. Boat diving is the norm but there are around 40 dive sites within an hour of the jetty where you’ll see spectacular coral gardens, beautiful reef fish, as well as turtles and dolphins.
03 South Africa
The place to combine a land safari with an underwater one. Renowned for its sport fishing and diving, Sodwana Bay National Park on the Elephant coast in KwaZulu-Natal, has numerous five-star PADI dive centres. Water temperatures range from 20-28C with rays, turtles, dophins and sharks just some of the sealife to tick off.
04 Cayman Islands
These islands have some of the best visibility (18-30 metres) in the Caribbean, few currents and water temperatures of 26-28C year-round. Of the three islands, Grand Cayman is the largest and most visited by scuba divers — you can expect to see turtles on just about every dive. Many of the sites are just minutes from the shore, making this a popular beginner’s choice, while Stingray City is one of the most famous shallow dives (3-5 metres).
Just a four- to five-hour flight from the UK, Aqaba is, like Egypt, ideal for a short break and many of the dive sites are close to shore, allowing both boat and shore dives. It’s a great learner destination due to calm conditions and uncrowded dives, with chances to glimpse hawksbill turtles and spotted eagle rays. You can also combine diving with a day tour of Petra.
Published in the September 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)