Once the rare exploit of scientists, scuba diving is now a universal adventure for everyday travelers—it’s affordable, easy to learn, and the best way to experience 71% of the planet (which is water). PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) remains the standard certification course for scuba diving, and while more and more destinations offer resort dives or one-off trials underwater, it’s well worth taking the time and effort to get certified so that you can dive all over the world—and you will. Trust me, diving can be very addictive.
Nowadays, you can pretty much get certified anywhere (even Kansas) but why not broaden the adventure and go somewhere fun? These top seven picks are based on price, good climate, underwater environment, dive safety, and ease of travel. Already a certified Open Water diver? Great! You can take the next step, improve your skills and go for your Advanced Diver, Rescue Diver or any of the special certifications that PADI offers—like Divemaster—at all of the locations below.
1. Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Quieter and calmer than the U.S. Virgin Islands, the best thing about getting certified in BVI is the range of diving available—from sandy shallows and healthy coral gardens to hidden coves, historic wrecks, desert islands and turquoise lagoons. Blue Water Divers is a great company to start with. Also, it’s a British colony, so everything is super safe.
2. Utila, Honduras
By far the cheapest place to get certified in the world, Utila is a backpacker’s paradise packed with austere hostels and dozens of dive shops that will often throw in free room and board with your dive course. The long northern reef makes for some phenomenal wall diving and whale sharks are common visitors.
3. Eilat, Israel
Less than an hour’s flight from Tel Aviv, Israel’s southernmost seaport offers beautiful beaches, intensely blue water and year-round sunshine—not to mention, Red Sea diving is some of the best in the world. Healthy coral reefs, underwater nature trails and friendly dolphins makes this a fabulous introductory spot for diving.
4. Boracay, Philippines
Far from the crowds of Manila or the high-rise resorts of Cebu, Boracay is small and secluded, with a scant population and some of the best undersea sights in the Philippines. There is also plenty to for non-divers to do, both day and night, so your family and friends won’t get too bored while you’re hanging out underwater.
5. Key West, Florida
A scenic drive over the water from Miami, colorful Key West is a nearby getaway with a long tradition of underwater exploration. Beyond the charming bungalows and a vibrant nightlife scene, the Florida keys are a paradise of manatees, turtles, and tropical fish. Long-established dive shops means you’re always in good hands in Key West.
6. San Diego, California
Another underappreciated dive destination in the USA, San Diego’s Pacific coastline is home to elaborate kelp forests, friendly sea lions, dancing sting rays, huge schools of fish, and the occasional shark or two. Yes the water can be colder, but wearing a thicker wetsuit is worth the amazing wildlife you’ll encounter. Diving aside, San Diego is an amazing city to visit, with awesome surfing, terrific food, and a very chill, outdoorsy culture.
7. Cairns, Australia
It might be a helluva long way from home, but Queensland is a helluva place to dive. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest in the world and a dazzling dive reward once your coursework is done. Steep competition keeps prices relatively low while ensuring a high level of professionalism; ProDive is a good start. Some companies even offer a combination of getting certified and spending a few nights on a live-aboard, which allows you to access some of the farther and less-visited reef spots. Prepare to have your mind blown.