Swim with sharks (other big fish) at world's best new dive sites
(Photo: Jeff Rotman/Getty Images)
Scuba divers used to be part of an exclusive club. Simply being certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) served as a sort of cocktail party trump card. ("You enjoyed Paris? How droll. I breathe underwater.") But with established destinations like the Caymans and the Caicos flooded with hundreds of thousands of freshly certified divers, simply getting down doesn't feel like enough anymore.
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To stay ahead of the curve — and away from the crowd — serious aquanauts are now hopping live-aboard cruises and winging toward obscure archipelagos to seek out dangerous megafauna in rough waters. The best dive expeditions suddenly have more in common with safaris than with day trips out to the local reef.
The abundance of new destinations and activities is great for beginners and divemasters alike, but choosing a dive spot can still be tricky. Always the good dive buddy, we've found six of the best new destination dives on the planet. These descents offer underwater explorers the chance to get up close and personal with exotic creatures and explore both pristine and restored ecosystems.
For the past 25 years, Discovery Channel's annual Shark Week has hooked viewers with equal parts tantalizing and terrifying footage of the ocean's top predator. The ratings-bait programming is a perennial hit, but it has also caught flak from some scientists, as it turns out that the planet's top predator (that's us) has taken a serious bite out of the shark population.
Inspired to combat the unnecessary devastation of perhaps the most iconic creature of the ocean, the Project Aware Foundation and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) have joined forces to offer specialty diving courses that allow everyday divers the chance to experience sharks up close. "These courses do a nice job of showing people the need to protect these beautiful animals that, after seeing 'Jaws,' we all thought were going to eat us on sight," says PADI instructor Budd Riker. "Sharks have been around for millions of years, and we've wiped them to near extinction in a matter of decades."
Shark awareness courses are starting to pop up all over the world: at Barefoot Divers in Roatan, Honduras; Bimini Big Game Club Resort in the Bahamas; and — for a less adrenaline-steeped experience — a specialty course visiting placid whale sharks with Avadon Divers in Placencia, Belize. Any diver will tell you a shark spotting is among the ultimate dive experiences, and Riker has seen quite a few of them during his 35-plus years of diving. Still, he says there's nothing quite like a first encounter with a great white shark. "It's like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time," he says. "They're so big – like a bus coming through the water. You forget to breathe."
A more comprehensive listing of shark courses is on PADI's travel website. And even if you're not quite ready for a shark close-up, do your part to ensure they'll still be around for the future by learning more about them.
By Melissa Gaskill
(Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/Getty Images)
The world's best spot for cavern diving is just 75 miles south of Cancún. Bright white beaches and laid-back visitors make Tulum, a small windswept town most known for its Mayan ruins, the best jumping-off point for the massive network of underground caves dotting the Yucatán.