For most novice divers, the otherworldly world beneath the surface of the sea is fantastical enough in its own right. No major bells or whistles are needed to make it more alluring.
The natural underwater attractions-sherbet-hued coral, Skittles-colored fish, and the deep, unending void of blue-are plenty. But as with any sport, the more you progress, see, and do, the more you want to push the envelope. So after you venture to the Great Barrier Reef and exhaust the Caribbean, what next?
Consider this article your roadmap. We've rounded up a dozen one-of-a-kind scuba sites around the world that turn diving stereotypes on their head. From a six-year-old underwater cemetery in Florida to an 8,000-year-old lost city in Japan; from the 100°F waters of Indonesia to the freezing Antarctic Ocean; with narwhals and the deepest sea-hole on earth in between, our roster of superlative dives will arm you with far more interesting answers to that age old question-So, what'd ya see?-than just, "fish."
Creating best-of lists is always daunting, but this countdown was especially intimidating, for few groups are more passionate than divers. Given the specialty training, travel, and equipment involved, it's no wonder. You can't just pick up the sport on an afternoon whim, after all. Courses and certification are needed first, and those small-group educational settings, it seems, foster a sense of community within scuba diving that few other sports enjoy.
Are you passionate about an incredible dive spot that's not on this list? Let us know in the comments.
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Credit: Facebook/Reef Encounters International
Solve an 8,000-Year-Old Mystery-Japan
Deep in the Pacific waters surrounding the Yaeyama Island chain, off of Japan's westernmost shores, lies a diving site fit for Indiana Jones and his ilk: an underwater pyramid structure said to be some 8,000 years old. Named after the closest-lying island, the Yonaguni Monument is made up of a 60-foot-high, 160-foot-long series of stone steps and terraces and a range of megaliths adorned with intricate carvings and, on one, a massive stone resembling a carved turtle statue. Rumors abound as to the monument's origins: Is it the relic of a long-list civilization, a kind of sister city to Atlantis? The work of amphibious aliens? A freak geological phenomenon? For now, no one knows for sure. What's certain is that Yonaguni is a one-of-a-kind spectacle, one that's the exclusive domain of experienced divers (the ruins are located in open waters with strong currents). Reef Encounters leads outfitted trips from Okinawa to the wonder, for both English- and Japanese-speaking divers.
Get Beyond the Cage-Bahamas
In most cases, the term "shark diving" means cowering in a fenced-in, submerged box surrounded by bloody bits of chum, with flashes of fin and gnashing teeth only occasionally visible through the murky red water. That somewhat violent experience is a world away from what's offered at SharkSchool, an immersive course led by one of the leading shark researchers in the world. Erich Ritter, Ph.D., hosts small groups of divers for multi-day field studies in Grand Cay, Bahamas, home to black-tip, Caribbean reef, lemon, nurse, and bull sharks. The goal of SharkSchool is to introduce people to as many types of sharks as possible, with multiple snorkel and scuba outings each day. You'll walk away with plenty of bragging rights of photo ops-but also a better understanding and appreciation for the animals.
Float Through an Underwater Art Gallery-Mexico
Cancún's frenetic Spring Break scene feels a world away from the tranquil sculpture garden just offshore, set up on the seabed between the coasts of Cancún and Isla Mujeres. The Museo Subacuático de Arte is home to some 400 life-size replicas of people, modeled after members of the local community. The solemn-faced statues are permanently installed and spread across about 1,600 square feet of the ocean floor. They're made from a pH-neutral marine concrete that's resistant to erosion and encourages natural coral growth. The one-of-a-kind gallery was started in 2009 by British sculptor and diver Jason deCaires Taylor and now draws snorkelers from around the world. It's said to be the biggest artificial reef attraction in the world. Countless Cancún-based outfitters offer daylong excursions here, including Aqua World.