Published October 03, 2012
From Jules Verne and his 20,000 leagues beneath the sea to the Beatles in their octopus's garden, landlubbers have long had a fascination with the world below the waves.
Much of the seduction comes from visions of multi-hued fish and balletic manta rays drifting along the currents, as well as marine treasures such as spectacular coral and mysterious shipwrecks.
You can explore this wonderland on the big screen ("The Little Mermaid," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Open Water"), but why not visit it in person?
Whether you want to dive an abandoned mine, the Great Barrier Reef or the Tuscan coastline, our list of eclectic destinations will quench your undersea thirst. Our motto: Have wetsuit, will travel.
Lord Howe Island
This UNESCO World Heritage-listed island is home to the southernmost coral reef in the world, as well as the exclusive Capella Lodge. Located two hours from Sydney, this natural paradise (which allows no more than 400 visitors at a time) has no cell phone service; instead, it's all about rugged volcanic peaks, lush forests and azure waters. Wafting through nine luxurious designer suites and an elegant al fresco restaurant, soothing sea breezes welcome divers as they plunge into the surrounding depths. Hundreds of species of vibrant fish inhabit a waterscape rich with trenches, caves and volcanic drop-offs. Local highlights include Ned's Beach, where guests can meander the shallow waters feeding gigantic kingfish by hand.
Turtle Bay Dive Resort
Created by a family of divers with the needs of divers in mind, Turtle Bay is one of the Philippines' top destinations for underwater adventurers. A casual atmosphere sets the tone for days spent exploring the Marine Sanctuary with its forest of sea fans or discovering the sunken plane at Copton Point. You can dive right off the jetty or enjoy two daily scheduled boat entry dives. In addition, night dives are offered, and kids' courses include tropical lagoon pool lessons and a house reef ideal for first dives. Along with a PADI Dive Center and dive attractions that include a sunken island, sea turtles, vertical walls, colorful nudibranchs and dive masters who serve as guides, the resort features Bay View Restaurant, massages and just 23 rooms in tropical villas with views of the mountain range and bay.
Republic of Maldives
Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru
This isolated island property is a dream destination for scuba divers. Not only is the area home to intricate coral reefs that ring the numerous islands, but visitors can also swim with dolphins, manta rays and whale sharks — the largest fish in the world. Guests arrive at this luxurious Indian Ocean outpost via seaplane and enjoy classic Four Seasons amenities, such as fine dining, a top-notch spa and depending on room selection, private plunge pools. We recommend the water villas, with glass bathroom floors for up-close views of life in the peaceful lagoon. For fledging divers, certification programs are offered through the resort's PADI Five-Star Gold Palm Dive Centre. Families can even join in, as introductory programs are offered for kids as young as eight.
Bonne Terre Mine
While not a resort in the luxury sense of the word, Bonne Terre Mine is a truly unique diving destination. Once the world's largest lead mine and now the largest freshwater dive resort on the planet, this National Historic Site is known as the Billion Gallon Lake and features three levels with miles of dive trails, including the advanced "Bear Trails." Jacques Cousteau explored this underwater marvel, which features calcium falls, man-carved pillars, shafts, archways and mining artifacts such as drills and ore carts. The depth of average dives (led by guides and safety divers) ranges between 40 to 60 feet, and year-round 100-foot visibility is enhanced with half a million watts of underwater lighting. The ultracasual Diver's Lodge offers on-site accommodation; those who prefer more in the way of ambience can stay at the 1909 Depot Bed & Breakfast in town.
Playa Ocotal, Guanacaste Province
Ocotal Beach Resort
Situated on the northern Pacific shore of Costa Rica, Ocotal features beachfront rooms right on the sand. And while the resort has everything you need for a relaxing escape (spa, infinity pools, gorgeous scenery), the big draw here is the diving. As the country's first PADI Gold Palm Resort, this property offers professional PADI instructors and daily dive trips to the Catalina and Bat Islands, as well as a dive shop with everything you need right on the beach, just steps from your accommodations. Among the possible underwater sightings: bull sharks, eagle rays, golden rays, sea turtles and dolphins.
Blue Waters Inn
Nestled into a 46-acre tropical estate, the historic, beachfront Blue Waters Inn enjoys the privilege of a secluded private bay. Each of its 38 rooms faces the ocean, and the property is popular with bird watchers, since it sits opposite Bird of Paradise Island, which has been a nature sanctuary since 1926. But the main reason to come here is for the diving. The resort hosts an on-site PADI Gold Palm Facility, run by AquaMarine Dive Ltd. With two covered dive boats, the facility can transport divers to memorable sites just minutes from the private dock. Beginning divers can test the waters at Angel Reef, while advance drift dives can be found at Blackjack Hole. The area's many wonders of the sea include parrot fish and manta ray.
Situated on a cliff overlooking the Lombok Strait, this luxurious Aman property offers the best of old-style Bali. With expansive views and the fragrance of island flora drifting in on cool sea breezes, the airy lobby allows guests to relax the moment they arrive. Below is the resort's very own stretch of sand and a beach club that offers all you need for a memorable diving experience. Surrounding waters dotted with rock pinnacles boast giant tuna, manta rays and oceanic sunfish. On-site guest assistants can arrange PADI certification courses or simply advise on the best spots to swim through coral gardens adorned with feather stars, turtles, moray eels and barracuda.
"Under the Tuscan Sun" may have run its course, but that doesn't mean we're abandoning this part of Italy. Sure, we adore the graciously shabby villas, ruby wines, velvety olive oils and fields of sunflowers, but we also appreciate Tuscany for its ability to surprise. In the Tuscan Archipelago National Park off the country's west coast, Elba — best known as the island of Napoleon's exile — is a reminder of the region's great diversity. Make yourself at home at the pretty Hotel Ilio (adjacent to a dive center with PADI instructors), and use it as a base for underwater explorations of surrounding Cape St. Andrea. In the shallows, fields of seaweed shelter local fish varieties, while farther out you can swim among coral sea fans with the seahorses as you explore the remains of two ancient Roman merchant ships. For those who prefer to stay close to the surface, snorkeling tours are also offered.
Tanjong Jara Resort
On the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, this boutique resort pays tribute to Malay tradition, with its contemporary take on indigenous architecture and a philosophy based on the concept of Sucimurni, which emphasizes purity of body and spirit. As for the main reason Tanjong Jara made this list, its Water Sports Centre (complete with dive master and PADI dive instructor) is just a short speedboat ride from Tenggol Island, home to untouched coral gardens and rare marine life. The reef is in near perfect condition, and more than twenty dive spots showcase its diversity, from the spectacular Amazing Grace, filled with turtles and stingrays, to Moonraker, boasting hard coral structures up to ten meters tall.
REPUBLIC OF PALAU
Palau Pacific Resort
This property has an appealing old school vibe. Rather than trying to heighten the tropical atmosphere with a sleek designer interpretation of island living, it offers the casual South Pacific style made famous during the first half of the twentieth century. For divers, on-site Splash PADI dive center offers guided tours on its dedicated dive boat and a variety of certification courses. The waters of Palau boast visibility up to 150 feet, more than 1,500 types of fish and 700 types of hard and soft coral. Divers can also brush up on their WWII history by exploring the wrecks of the Amatsu Maru, Goxan Maru and Helmet. Those who want to capture their experiences at the famed Blue Corner on film can get advice at the underwater digital video and photo center.
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