Scuba divers across the globe know what it’s like to find a sweet spot under the sea, the thrill of meeting a new bustling reef, or the awe of finally catching a rare glimpse of a massive creature. For these explorers, there’s nothing like a day spent in quiet seclusion under the waves, but there are many variables that make a good dive, and they may not be the same for every diver. So, if you feel more at home under the surface, why not find your ideal retreat? Here are 10 dives that stand out from the rest, either for their clarity, uniqueness, or scores of sea life.

Magnetic Island, Australia

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The Magnetic Island reef sits five miles off the coast of Queensland, but you can reach it from sheltered beaches and gentle waters. Here you’ll find the famous S.S. Yongala wreck, where countless species of fish and marine life have made a happy home. The colors and clarity are what you would expect from the Great Barrier Reef, but on a smaller – and more accessible – scale.

 

Kona Mantas, Hawaii

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A manta dive off Hawaii’s shores is an experience like no other. Divers gather in the dark water shining spotlights on the plankton, and wait for the masses of mantas to swoop in for their feast. If you’re very lucky, you will see a dozen or so of these underwater giants, the largest with wingspans over 15 feet.

 

Vandenburg, Florida Keys

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A famous shipwreck in one of the best shipwreck diving regions on the continent, the Vandenburg dive is as eye-opening as it is dark and cavernous. The hulking shell of this missile-tracking ship is home to a huge variety of big fish species, ranging from barracudas to jacks to grouper.

 

Ambergris Caye, Belized4

Home to the world’s second largest barrier reef, Belize definitely deserves the attention of every serious diver. The depths are fairly shallow, the water is crystal clear, and the variety of sea life is astounding. There are a number of excellent dive spots off of the country’s coast, but Ambergris Caye stands out for the jaw-dropping amount of hammerheads and rays that frequent the site.

 

Silfra, Iceland

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This Northern site is clear and luminous, but there’s a very specific quality that sets it apart from other dives: the Silfra fissure is the only place in the world where you can dive between two continental plates. As you make your way down the icy, narrow channel between the American and Eurasian plates, you’ll be treated to 100 meters of visibility over an underwater landscape like no other.

 

Point Lobos, California

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A national park on the southern end of Carmel Bay holds one of California’s best kept diving sites, and if you are granted one of the 15 coveted diving on any given day, you’ll be treated to some of the most pristine, colorful reefs known to divers. Underwater forests, mounds of vivid coral, and everything from crabs to harbor seals enjoy this quiet coastal pocket.

 

Truk Lagoon, Micronesia

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A veritable ship graveyard, this site is as close to an underwater city as you will ever see. In 1944, an entire Japanese fleet sunk beside the small cluster of Pacific islands, making it one of the world’s biggest shipwreck sites – and, as many attest, the very best in the world. Everything is suspended in time, from table settings and armed machinery to the skeletons of the ill-fated crew.

 

 Palancar Horseshoe, Mexico

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Light out from the crowded beaches of Cozumel to this underwater amphitheatre, where tunnels and crevices house schools of jacks and parrotfish, and the rolling coral landscape climbs and slopes in curious ways. This is a deep dive that’s really about exploring the seascape and rocky towers rather than spotting rare or large species, but on a good day you may come face-to-face with a green Moray eel, turtle or ray.

 

Tiputa Pass, Polynesia

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The channel that leads form the ocean into the Rangiroa atoll is legendary for the sea life, but also for the movement itself. The pass drift is generally reserved for more advanced divers, and dives can only be arranged when the current is in your favor – any other time, and you’ll likely be swept out to sea, rather than into the atoll. But those who take the chance to “shoot the pass” will most likely see a selection of reef sharks, lemon sharks, hammerheads, manta rays, and perhaps the greatest dolphin gathering on earth.

 

 Darwin’s Arch, Galapagos, Ecuador

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It’s no wonder that the Galapagos Islands contribute some of the world’s best dive sites. This is where you come to see the massive creatures of the deep. It’s short on candy-colored corals, but you will surely be humbled by the gigantic whale sharks, schools of hammerheads, eels, tiger sharks, and eagle rays gliding above and around you. The sheer amount of sea life will make this a dive to remember; many top divers insist that nowhere else on earth can match the show at Darwin’s Arch.

The oceans are vast, and there are as many underwater wonderlands as pristine beaches to enjoy, but they’re fragile. However, the spotlight is set on ecotourism these days, and that means you may be able to give something back to the reefs as you enjoy them. The next time you plan a scuba diving trip, consider guide companies and resorts that go that extra step in their preservation efforts, with reef cleaning, educational adventures, or other green policies that pledge to keep the oceans alive and well.