Best places to scuba dive for beginners

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Best scuba destinations for new divers

You’re newly certified and now you’re completely hooked on scuba diving (we’ve all been there…!). Of course, you want to try your new diving skills. But, where will you go? You’ll be very happy to hear there are a great number of amazing dive destinations that offer suitable dive sites for beginners. From remote Dimakya Island in the Philippines to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and from Gozo in the Mediterranean to the cenotes in Mexico. 

You’ll have so many more options to choose from after you’ve done your PADI Advanced Open Water course, but even if you’re just Open Water certified there are many wonderful locations to choose from. Fellow travel bloggers have helped us create this list with the 16 best dive locations for new scuba divers. What I love best about this list is that it offers both the usual suspects and off-the-beaten-path dive destinations. Great for those looking for a bit of adventure! Take a look and get ready to book your next trip!

Scuba diving at Dimakya / Coron, Palawan, Philippines

Loggerhead sea turtle at Dimakya Island, Philippines

The island of Dimakya, one of the islets in Coron, Palawan, boasts having dugong around for divers to see. Dimakya has a private resort that you can book. It is sort of a paradise with its white sands, clear blue waters, and picturesque sunsets, thus the resort is named Club Paradise. On-site dive center Dugong Dive Centre offers courses and guided dives. The island can be reached by plane from Manila in an hour, another hour by jeep and then by boat passing by mangroves. 

There are four sites for divers to explore: Dimakya West, The Classroom, Dimakya North and Dimakya North-East. The Classroom is the most shallow and ideal for beginners. Despite its shallow depth, it’s still as colorful as the other areas, where corals thrive and colorful species like parrot fish take nest. The other diving sites are as diverse as the creatures that abound the island. You can swim around with sea turtles, manta rays,  take macro photos of nudibranchs, and… watch dugongs grazing around the seabed. 

Half an hour away from the main island is the Kyokuzan Maru, a Japanese shipwreck. It’s one of 12 diveable remains from World War II scattered around Palawan. This dive isn’t for Open Water divers, but if you have your PADI Advanced Open Water certification it’s a beautiful dive site. 

The diving sites in Dimakya have been proudly maintained and taken care of by the managers. And depending on your skills, there’s a diving spot perfect for you. If you are a novice diver and want to experience underwater calmness, the Classroom site is the best choice. If  later on you want to advance your skills, there are the other three areas to explore. No matter your diving level, Dimakya is the island to go to.  

By Marie of Our City Travels.

Scuba diving at Bay of Pigs, Cuba

Shore based diving Cuban style at the Bay of Pigs

Scuba diving in Cuba is great for both newly qualified divers and complete novices for a number of reasons.  First of all it’s some of the cheapest diving you can do, that’s because much of the diving is shore based – i.e. you walk in or jump of rocks, there’s no scuba boat involved.  I’m sure that’s a relief for many – when I first started jumping of the boat was the hardest thing for me to do, oh apart from getting back on again too!

Secondly, the dive areas located in the historic Bay of Pigs (where the American invasion of Cuba famously failed in 1967) are in clear water with little to no current and a very low tidal range.  The dive sites are selected each day by the dive company, a dive bus picks you up from your Casa Particular and each dive will only cost you US$25 (25 CUC) with a qualified dive instructor leading your group.  If you’re a complete novice and want to give it a try, then add another US$10 (10 CUC) to the price and you’ll get a 1 instructor to 2 people service.  Non divers can also take the dive bus to snorkel for a minimal US$3 (3 CUC) fee.

Base yourself in Playa Giron, there’s a hotel directly on the beach or stay in friendly Casa Particulars and you’ll get the opportunity to visit the museum documenting the history of the Cuban Revolution and the invasion.

By Sarah from Cuba’s Best.

Scuba diving at Fiji Island

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Fiji
Boat diving at Fiji

Fiji is a picturesque island with white sand beaches, iconic palm trees, and lush rainforests.  Its beautiful blue water is enriched by the currents, giving life to the coastlines which teem with tropical fish, soft coral, manta rays, turtles, whales, large pelagic fish, and sharks.

It’s the perfect place to learn how to dive, as it has crystal clear lagoons, warm waters, and excellent visibility.  If you are staying on one of the main islands at a resort, you can dive off a boat launched from the beach.  There are also options to dive from a live-aboard boat, which allows you to access some of the more remote locations without flying between the islands. 

The islands of Fiji offer reef dives, walls, canyons, swim-throughs, and caverns, and are famous for their shark dives.  If you are looking to see these beautiful creatures, you can watch them being fed by hand. 

Fiji is a world-class dive destination, and as such, has over a hundred different dive sites for all levels of divers.  Diving can be enjoyed year round, but April through to October in the winter months are the busiest, and November, April, and May, provide the best temperatures to dive in. 

By Jacqui of Four Packs Travel.

Scuba diving at Koh Tao, Thailand

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Koh Tao Thailand
Scuba diving in Koh Tao, affordable and fun

Koh Tao is Scuba Diving Mecca with thousands of wannabe Scuba Instructors and Dive Masters flocking here every year. It is one of the smallest islands in Thailand at a mere 21km2, yet it has a phenomenal amount of dive centers for you to choose from! Best you book in advance as they are all busy, busy, busy.

And the reason for the popularity of scuba diving here is without a doubt the price. As the second cheapest place to do your certification, after Honduras, Koh Tao is the most affordable place to don a mask and a tank and explore the incredible life below the sea. Oh and let’s not forget that it is stunning as well! The crystal clear water, brilliantly white sand, tropical weather and fun nightlife, make Koh Tao a hit whether underwater or on land.

There are numerous dive sites for divers of all certifications within easy reach of the island. For novice divers, shallower sites like Aow Leuk (max. depth 12m), Mango Bay (max. depth 16m), Japanese Gardens (max. depth 16m) and Junkyard (max. depth 12m) are great. Junkyard is a custom built artificial reef where you’ll find toilets, gym equipment, tents, a car and even a replica of the Sydney harbour bridge. More advanced divers will enjoy diving at Sail Rock, Chumpon Pinnacle or the HTMS Sattakut wreck.

The annual sea temperature is 28C, the water is warm and wetsuits aren’t necessary. The sea is teeming with fish and corals and you can expect to see whalesharks, inquisitive triggerfish, blue spotted rays, black tipped reef sharks, nemos and much much more. It’s the perfect place for beginners and masters alike. My son did his certification at age 10 and absolutely loved every minute of it!

By Jeanne from Learning to Breathe Abroad.

Scuba diving at Koh Lanta, Thailand

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Koh Lanta Thailand
Koh Lanta offers the perfect combination of diving and relaxing

Koh Lanta is a beautiful Thai island in the Andaman Sea. You will find a wonderful relaxed gem of an island with miles of sandy beaches, warm calm seas and beautiful sunsets. It makes a great base for divers of all abilities but is particularly suited to beginners and novices.

There are numerous companies that offer everything from half-day beginner dives to PADI certifications and multi-day live-aboard adventures.

One of the best destinations for novices is Ko Haa (five islands). Here you will find an impressive cathedral-like cavern and some amazing coral. It is good for beginners as there is a large lagoon that slopes gently down into deeper waters allowing you to explore further as your confidence grows. It is also good if you have non-diving friends as it makes for an excellent snorkelling spot. You will be likely to spot seahorses and octopuses hiding among the coral.

Other options include Ko Rok, where hawksbill turtles and black-tip sharks often swim by, and Ko Bida where there is a decent chance to spot leopard sharks (this is close to Ko Phi Phi so does get a bit busy)

Koh Lanta has a wide range of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets, but overall it is a good value island and makes for an affordable base for your trip. Go Dive, Lanta Diving Safari and Blue Planet are among the companies that have earned a good reputation, dive trip prices start at around 3,000 baht for day trips.

By Chris from More Life in Your Days.

Scuba diving at Dahab, Egypt

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Dahab Egypt
Dahab has many dive sites suitable for beginners

The Red Sea is renowned world-wide for its spectacular dive sites, and Dahab boasts some of the best. While it’s most famous for the Blue Hole – a more advanced dive – there are plenty of beginner-friendly options, including Eel Garden, Lighthouse Reef, and the Canyon. The Canyon itself is suitable for more experienced divers, but the lagoon at the entrance has stunning coral and an incredible array of fish life, and is perfect for newer divers. 

Dahab is just an hour – an easy bus ride – from the nearest international airport at Sharm el Sheikh. It’s a laid-back town that’s well set up for tourists with plenty of dining options, accommodation to suit all budgets, and countless PADI dive centres. There are yoga classes available that emphasise breathwork, with a view to improving divers’ breath technique.

The tourism industry has been hit hard in the wake of several terrorist attacks across Egypt. Some resorts have closed down, and the restaurant trade is quiet. While sad for the local business owners, this has some advantages for anyone who chooses not to have their travel plans dictated by tragic events of the past: food and accommodation are cheap (falafel wrap for 50 cents? Yes please!), the instructor to student ratio is generally high on dives, and the dive sites themselves are relatively quiet and peaceful. 

To me, Dahab felt as safe as anywhere else. I appreciated the quieter atmosphere and having spent five days there, I’d be happy to return for five months!

By Marita of Yoga with Marita.

Cenote Diving in Tulum, Mexico

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Tulum Mexico cenote diving
The light is amazing when you’re diving the Cenotes in Tulum, Mexico

“Cavern diving for newly certified divers!” I hear you say. Yes. There are many different cenotes to suit all skill levels. Some of the easiest cenotes to dive are also some of the most beautiful. You only ever go a short way into the cavern area so there is lots of beautiful light coming in from entrance which is obvious at all times. The water is crystal clear so the visibility is awesome which means that its easy to see everything. There aren’t any big waves or strong currents because the water flows so slowly. There are convenient platforms to access the water.

Many dives are very shallow, no deeper than 10m. The dive guides are experienced cave divers and dive in small groups. All of these things make cenote diving very safe for newly certified divers, but why go diving in cenotes? What do you see if it’s just all black? We see Rocks and Light. The tunnels in the rocks have been eaten away by water over an extremely long period of time, Its awesome “flying” through these spaces. There are wonderful Stalagmite and Stalagmites that have grown in the tunnels and fossils in the walls. When we are in the shade looking towards the light we see a stunning “dancing light” effect that has to be seen to be believed. In some Cenotes we can see a halocline which is a crazy light effect that happens when salt water meets fresh water.

This all makes diving in the cenotes an awesome and unique scuba diving experience for divers of all levels. The best cenotes in Tulum to dive for newly certified divers are Casa Cenote and Dos Ojos.

By Dominic from Best Cenote Dives.

Scuba diving at Jeju Island – South Korea

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Jeju, South Korea
Jeju divers at the Sunrise Peak in Korea

The exotic Jeju Island is a very popular tourist destination among Koreans and foreign visitors. The island has so much to offer from great hikes to amazing beaches, yummy food and great water activities like kayaking, snorkeling, diving and many more. 

There are lots of different diving locations and schools around the island but the best place to go is around the Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak). This natural phenomenon is a volcanic crater created hundred thousands years back due to volcanic eruptions. This site is now a protected UNESCO heritage site.

The underwater world around this peak is absolutely stunning. As the water is rather warm, there are lots of soft corals and other tropical marine life. Diving in South Korea is mostly a summer activity as the rest of the year might be too cold for divers. On top of that during autumn and winter, the currents around the island are rather strong and dangerous for inexperienced divers. 

Seongsan Diving Resort offers diving packages to both unlicensed and licensed divers, making this the best location for beginner divers. This resort is accessible by bus from Jeju city or Jeju Airport, but it is recommended to rent a car and drive in Jeju

By Marie from Be Marie Korea.

Scuba diving at Malta & Gozo

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Gozo
Alien looking cuttle fish at Gozo

Gozo is the perfect European location for novice divers.  It is an easy flight from a range of countries and a number of budget airlines fly on a regular schedule into the islands.  There is diving on Malta, Gozo and Comino although we have found Gozo to be the best for learning to dive.  The courses are carried out in open water so there is no boring swimming pool.  From the start you will see sealife (an octopus on your first training dive is entirely possible!).   

We were based in Marsalforn, a laid back town on the south east coast of Gozo.  From here there are many options, depending on the wind direction.  The islands are exposed but the instructors have knowledge of the coast and can find a sheltered dive spot whatever the wind is doing.  The main diving season is from May to late September.  It continues through the winter months but for warm water and calm seas the summer months are best.

The dives are mainly shore based.  The dive centre will take you to the dive site and you will kit up straight from the truck.  Some of the entry points involve walking down a cliff path or a stride entry but there are also a number, which are straight from the beach.  The best dives for novice divers are Ngarr Ix Xini, Xlendi Bay or the stunning Cathedral Cave, a beautiful cavern which you can surface in before continuing the dive.  Xlendi Bay has a gentle sloping beach which is covered in flounder and tiny cuttlefish and even a seahorse if you know where to look.

Gozo is without a doubt one of the best places in Europe for learning to dive and also has options for non-divers and post dive entertainment.

By Suzanne of Meandering Wild.

Scuba diving in Oman

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Oman
Honeycomb Moray Eel at Bandar Khayran, Oman

You might not think of a Middle Eastern destination covered in vast deserts –  like Oman – as a dive destination, but Oman has 2000 kilometers of coastline. The many dive locations easily reachable from Oman’s capital, Muscat, are a haven for new divers. Many of the dive sites are located in remote but sheltered coves, making them calm and excellent for beginner divers needing to perfect their new skills.

There’s plenty to see, too, with Oman having the greatest diversity of marine species of any destination situated on the Arabian Sea. There are seven species of sea turtles in the world and Oman is home to five of those seven. You can spot all five species at the Turtle City dive site, which is also one of the best for new divers.  Those doing an open water dive certification will likely have one of their certification dives at Turtle City (lucky them!). You’ll find schools of mobula rays, sharks, nudi branches and a variety of colorful reef fish and even shallow wrecks with swim throughs that you can get a tiny taste of wreck diving in.

By Jennifer of Luxe Adventure Traveler.

Scuba diving at Moalboal – Philippines

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Moalboal Philippines
Underwater fun in Moalboal, Philippines

Moalboal is a small town on the south-western part of Cebu in the Philippines. It has beautiful, quiet beaches with clear and blue water. There are also a lot of things to do in Moalboal and one of the best things that you can do is scuba diving. Moalboal offers dive sites for all certification levels, from first time divers to the more experienced ones.

The Plane Wreck is one of the dive sites that anyone should visit. It’s a site where a two-passenger Cessna plane was sunk to make an artificial reef and create a unique dive site for the divers. And then there’s also the Sardine Run, where you can encounter hundreds and thousands of tiny sardines that congregates into a one school. This is one of the most sought after sights by the tourists visiting Moalboal. Looking at their swift movements like they were dancing while the ray of sun shines underneath the water is a scene you don’t want to miss.

Of course there are a lot of other dive sites that you can experience in Moalboal as it is one of the best places to try diving but for novice divers, the mentioned sites are the ones not to be missed.  

By Ruben from Gamintraveler.

Scuba diving in Belize

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Belize
Loggerhead turtle in Caye Caulker, Belize

The small Central American country of Belize is a treasure for scuba divers. Not only is the coast of Belize littered with thousands of picture-perfect Caribbean Islands, but Belize is also home to the second largest barrier reef in the world! Whether you are visiting Belize to learn to dive, or you’re an experienced scuba diver looking to experience the beautiful coral gardens of Belize, you are in for a treat.

The Belize Barrier Reef is over 300 km long and has 3 coral atolls to explore. But that’s not all. Off the shores of Belize is the world-famous diving location the Great Blue Hole. This emerald gem in the Caribbean Sea is a massive ocean cavern, almost perfect round, that is one of the world’s premiere scuba diving destinations. The Blue Hole is 305m in diameter and at least 138m deep.

Another thing that makes Belize such a sensational destination for divers is that there is WAY more to do in Belize than just scuba diving. The country is home to some of the largest Mayan cities in the world like Lamanai, which was a city of nearly 2,000,000 people at its height. And let’s not forget about the amazing wildlife to be found in Belize, like at the Half Moon Caye Bird Sanctuary.

By Kevin from Wandering Wagars. Also read about more things to do in Belize

Scuba diving at Great Barrier Reef

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Great Barrier Reef
Napoleon Wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

It’s no surprise that one of the biggest, most famous locations in the entire world to dive at is an ideal place to learn. Seeing the Great Barrier Reef is unforgettable. It’s on most  people’s bucket lists, but to see it from below is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

The Great Barrier Reef is a great place to learn how to dive because there is such a variety of dive sites.  And because it is one of the most visited reefs in the world, there are countless well accredited and experienced dive shops, companies and instructors with a wide variety of offerings.

I actually got my Advanced Open Water Certification while on a live aboard at the Great Barrier Reef.  This was the perfect situation as we had a master diver with us on our first several dives, boosting our confidence enough to dive by ourselves towards the end of the trip. But aside from the options of who to choose to get certified with, you are going to have some amazing logs from your initial dives.  Don’t be surprised if you get to write that you saw sea turtles, clown fish (aka “Nemos”), sharks and more!

By Leanna from Well Traveled Nebraskan

Scuba diving at Utila, Honduras

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Utila, Honduras
Haliburton wreck, Utila, Honduras

Utila Island in Honduras is a backpacker’s haven for travelers spending a couple of months in Central America. Not only that, it’s also famous as one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified. 

As a new diver, who got her Open Water certificate only a few months earlier, I really enjoyed diving in Utila due to the lack of currents, and even getting the chance to dive a shipwreck. The island itself is a laidback paradise, with cool bars and picturesque beaches. 

If you’re newly certified and looking to get your Advance certification, there are a number of dive shops offering courses for a fairly decent price. Dive instructors from all over the world come to the island to work so you’ll find instructors in all languages.

My favourite dive site on the island is the Haliburton wreck. You can dive it as part of your advanced water course, or join a day dive heading out there. While you can’t go inside on an Open Water certificate, swimming around it was just as fun.

The best thing about diving on the island is not only is it cheap, but most of the dives are suitable for beginners due to lack of heavy currents, and easy boat entries. It’s a great spot to get more comfortable as a diver, learning to improve your buoyancy and air conservation.  

By Lexi of Bubbles Always.

Scuba diving at Cozumel, Mexico

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Cozumel, Mexico
School of Ribbon Sweet Lips at Columbia Shallows, Cozumel

Cozumel, Mexico, a small island in the Caribbean, is where I went from being Open Water certified to Divemaster certified, and I can’t imagine a better location for beginner divers. Between the area’s wide array of species, its inviting conditions, and its selection of boutique dive operations, it’s an ideal spot for divers looking to improve their skills and gain some confidence—while having an unforgettable experience. 

To start, the conditions in Cozumel could hardly be more accommodating. Smooth boat rides mean that seasickness here is thankfully relatively rare—and that’s coming from someone who’s very prone to it. And below the surface, you can expect around 80’ visibility, warm waters, and a gentle current. 

Of course, it’s not just the conditions that lure thousands of divers to Cozumel every year. Cozumel’s marine park encompasses part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System—the second largest reef system in the world! And thanks to Mexico’s protection efforts, divers here regularly swim past tropical fish like angelfish, filefish, cowfish, grouper, parrotfish, and barracuda. By the way, my favorite dive sightings in Cozumel? That would be the hawksbill turtles, nurse sharks, moray eels, southern stingrays, and eagle rays.

The best part for beginner divers: having less experience won’t mean missing out on the best sites. Dive sites like Columbia Shallows and Palancar Gardens house vibrant corals, sponges, a wealth of tropical fish, hawksbill turtles, and nurse sharks at depths ranging from 30’ to 80’. Some reefs can even accommodate new divers and deep divers. Tell your guide your experience level, and you’ll be sure not to be disappointed. 

By Dylan from Everywhereish

Scuba diving at Taganga, Colombia

Best scuba destinations for new divers - scuba diving Taganga, Colombia

Taganga in the north of Colombia has in recent years emerged as one of the most popular diving sites in South America. The quality of schools, prices and beautiful diving sites have made it an ideal location for visitors to both learn and practice their diving. I had the pleasure of training for my advanced diving certificate when visiting this village.

 Although it continues to be a traditional fishing village its proximity to both Santa Marta and Minca means it has grown as a popular haunt for backpackers. The schools work on several pre-selected dive sites. Most are boat entrances, but a number are shore entrances which is ideal for new divers or divers in training. 

All the school cater for both English and Spanish speakers. 

During our dives, we came across a wide range of marine life and the water was exceptionally clear. I found the dives extremely comfortable and enjoyable especially as I was not very experienced at the time. 

Although I only went with one school, I believe the prices were similar in each store although there may be room for some bargaining opportunities.

By Eoin from DollysQuest.

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