World's top 10 diving resorts
Getting certified to scuba dive is like getting your underwater driver's license. Suddenly, new worlds open up to you filled with colorful coral, schools of tropical fish swimming in unison, and even sharp-toothed sharks. The following ten hotels are great for divers, allowing enthusiasts to explore everything from a former Missouri lead mine to wrecks of downed Japanese warships and airplanes. So pack your wet suit and enjoy the top 10 diving resorts worldwide.
North Male Atoll
From the underwater treatment rooms at LIME Spa to "CSI Marine" night snorkeling that uses LED technology for illuminating underwater treasures, nearly every aspect of Huvafen Fushi focuses on the Maldives' incredible underwater world. The resort features just 44 land or over-water bungalows (the latter with glass floors), as well as an underground wine cellar. One night per week, LIME Spa hosts SpaQuarium, where guests can sip Champagne while a resident marine biologist introduces them to lionfish and vibrant local coral species. Numerous scuba programs include discover scuba courses, open water certification courses and experiences tailored for children as young as eight. Along with specialty classes in drift diving and underwater digital photography, the resort offers an adopt-a-coral program, where guests can select, name and cultivate a coral from the on-site nursery. For more information, visit the website for Huvafen Fushi.
Sharm el Sheikh
Four Seasons Resort Sharm el Sheikh
For top-tier luxury, the Four Seasons never disappoints. Among the hotel group's most alluring properties, this Sharm el Sheikh destination wows guests with its fine dining, four resort pools, full-service spa, comprehensive children and teen programs and superb Red Sea setting. The latter is what draws divers from around the world. Within a day's boat ride, guests will find 76 recognized dive sites with locales ideal for wall, drift, night and wreck diving. The house jetty serves as a starting point for leisurely snorkeling trips, while nearby Tiran Island beckons with its drift and mooring dives. From children's introductory dives at the house reef to the SS Dunraven shipwreck in Ras Mohammed National Park to full moon night dives that offer visibility to a depth of 30 feet, there is an underwater experience to suit all ages and levels of expertise. For more information, visit the website for Sharm el Sheikh.
3. United States
Bonne Terre Mine
While not a resort in the luxury sense of the word, Bonne Terre Mine is a truly unique diving destination. A former 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 24 dive trails. Jacques Cousteau explored this underwater marvel, where divers can discover calcium falls, the former elevator shaft and mining artifacts such as scaffolding 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 more than 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. For more information, visit the website for Bonne Terre Mine.
4. Costa Rica
Playa Ocotal, Guanacaste Province
Ocotal Beach Resort
Situated on the northern Pacific shore of Costa Rica overlooking the Papagayo Gulf, Ocotal features beachfront bungalows and guest rooms right on the sand. While the resort has everything you need for a relaxing escape (spa services, swimming pools, gorgeous scenery), the big draw here is the diving. As the country's first PADI Gold Palm Resort, this property offers PADI instructors, a fleet of five dive boats, night dives and daily dive trips to the Catalina and Bat Islands, as well as a dive shop with everything you need right on the beach. Among the possible underwater sightings: bull sharks, golden rays, giant manta rays, sea turtles and dolphins. For more information, visit the website for the Ocotal Beach Resort.
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, expert staff can transport divers to memorable sites just minutes from the private dock. Beginning divers can test the waters at Angel Reef, while advanced dives can be found at London Bridge and Blackjack Hole. Parrot fish and manta ray are among the area's many wonders of the sea. For more information, visit the website for the Blue Waters Inn.
Cascading down a hillside 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 open-air lobby allows guests to relax the moment they arrive. Below is the resort's very own private stretch of sand and an exclusive beach club. Dotted with rock pinnacles, the surrounding waters 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 with turtles, moray eels and barracuda through coral gardens adorned with feather stars. For more information, visit Amankila's website.
"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 seahorses and explore the remains of two ancient Roman merchant ships. For those who prefer to stay close to the surface, snorkeling tours with marine biologists are also offered. For more information, visit Hotel Ilio's website.
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 Sucimurni, which focuses on the purification of the body and spirit. As for the main reason Tanjong Jara made this list, its Water Sports Centre (complete with PADI dive instruction) is just a short speedboat ride away on Tenggol Island in the Terengganu Marine Park, home to pristine coral gardens and singular marine life. The island features more than twenty dive spots that showcase the area's diversity, from the spectacular Amazing Grace, filled with turtles and blue-spotted stingrays, to Moonraker, boasting hard coral structures up to ten meters tall. For more information, visit the website for Tanjong Jara Resort.
9. 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. The on-site Splash PADI dive center offers guided diving tours and a variety of introductory classes and certification. The waters of Palau boast visibility up to 150 feet, more than 1,300 types of fish and more than 700 types of hard and soft coral. Divers can also brush up on their WWII history by exploring the wrecks of dozens of downed Japanese warships and airplanes. For an adrenalin-charged experience, advanced divers can visit the famed Blue Corner, a shark-filled underwater ridge that drops thousands of feet. For more information, visit the website for Palau Pacific Resort.
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 by plane from Sydney, this natural paradise allows no more than 400 visitors at a time, in order to protect its rugged volcanic peaks, lush rainforests and azure waters. Wafting through nine luxurious designer suites and an elegant al fresco restaurant, soothing sea breezes entice divers to plunge into the surrounding depths. There are more than 30 dive sites in the Admiralty Islands, and the lodge can arrange a variety of dive courses and tours so that guests can explore the abundance of underwater trenches, caves and volcanic drop-offs. Local highlights include Ned's Beach, where guests can wander the shallow waters feeding silver-drummer and gigantic kingfish by hand. For more information, visit Capella Lodge's website.
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