25 Great Places to Learn to Dive
By Justin Carmack
Last updated on Apr. 25. 2019.
If you want lots of information on great places to learn to dive, and get your SCUBA certifications, you should just ask a bunch of travel writers! So that’s what I did.
I asked a handful of travel bloggers where in the world they had gotten their beginner PADI Open Water certifications, and this is what they all had to say. It was great hearing about so many diverse dive locations around the world, that are great places to start your diving addiction!
There was only one requirement to make this list: The dive location or destination had to be completely suitable for beginners to get their course. In other words, easy dive sites with shallow, flat bottoms at 12 meters or less, where an instructor can properly teach a new diver.
Of course, we already have the mega list of the top 100 dive locations on Earth, but the list below is much more suitable for people who want to get their beginner certification, with some nice, easy dive sites.
Where to Learn to Dive According to Travel Bloggers
1. Sydney, Australia
Learning to dive in Sydney in Winter certainly puts a whole new spin on ‘cool’. Australia has a tonne of amazing dive sites and the tropical Great Barrier Reef usually takes centre stage, but would-be divers shouldn’t write Sydney off.
Sydney boasts several dive sites that are perfect for beginners. Beneath the calm waters of Gordon’s Bay in Sydney’s South lies an underwater nature trail that makes navigation super simple.
Divers can expect to see Blue Groper, Sea Dragons, Wobbegongs and Port Jackson Sharks among the thick kelp forests.
Camp Cove is another ideal location for learners. Camp Cove is located near the Southern entrance to Sydney Harbour and the rock wall protects Camp Cove from all but the strongest winds.
2. Boracay, Philippines
As one of the most beautiful islands in the world, Boracay is typecast as a destination best for beach bumming and partying. While both are accurate, there’s one thing to do in Boracay that’s under-appreciated: diving.
With the recent rehabilitation of the island, diving in Boracay is now more highly recommended than ever. There are several dive sites less than 15 minutes from the island that’s rich in marine life; you may even get to see reef sharks, stingrays, seahorses, and dogtooth tuna.
The best thing about Boracay, however, is scuba certification courses. Who needs a pool for confined water sessions when you have the long shallow beaches for that purpose? What’s more, you can visit Boracay with non-diving family and friends and they won’t get bored while you’re taking the lessons.
Boracay is about its beaches, nightlife, and spectacular sunsets, yes, but it’s also time for people to know it’s also great for beginning divers.
Barbados is a beautiful place to dive and to get dive certified. Boasting beautiful coral reefs and easy dive sites, these well-protected marine landscapes are home to a plethora of sea turtles, rays, eels parrot fish and hundreds of small reef species.
Located around 160 kilometres east of St. Vincent & The Grenadines and well outside of the Windward islands, Barbados has been luring ships and sinking them for centuries.
This “pirates of the Caribbean” history has left Barbados blessed with over 200 amazing wrecks. But not all of the dives here are within the deep caverns and narrow galleys of sunken ships. There are plenty of easy shallow water dives for beginners, making Barbados an excellent place to get certified.
Head to the southwest coast of Barbados along Carlisle Bay to find most of the dive centers on the island. Barbados Blue Water Sports is one of the highest rated on the island and they offer PADI Open Water Dive Certification Courses starting at $460.
4. Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Last January, I made my way to Koh Phi Phi Thailand to complete my PADI Open Water Diving Certification. I chose to get certified with a Dive Center called Blue View Divers: an eco friendly dive center.
Koh Phi Phi itself is very small. There are loads of shops and food spots on the island but the main attractions are the water activities. For the certification, the main dives are done out by Maya Bay.
The water is very warm, you have visibility at least 20 meters deep and sharks and turtles are frequently spotted. There isn’t a strong current and the environment is very simple to navigate. Overall a great spot to start diving.
5. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Many of the dive sites in this park are on the more challenging side, so this is a good spot only for those who are feeling confident and keen to learn how to deal with some tough conditions.
Not only will you be able to likely see majestic manta rays (as well as lots of other ocean life) while getting your certification, but you’ll come away with skills that most new divers don’t have.
The nature of the dives paired with the incredible amount of marine life and healthy corals make Komodo a great place to get advanced certifications as well. Most of the dive schools are based out of the town of Labuan Bajo on Flores Island, and the boats take day trips into the National Park.
6. Koh Lanta, Thailand
I did my first PADI dive certificate while staying on the beautiful Koh Lanta. I did it with Thai owned company Go Dive and it was a fantastic introduction to the diving community as we then spent many evenings hanging out with the people we met.
One thing that some people may not like was that we had to sail out quite far to the dive sites (and this played havoc with my motion sickness) but it was always worth it to then learn to scuba dive in and around the uninhabited Koh Haa island.
I’d go back to dive in and around Koh Lanta in a heart beat!
7. Koh Tao, Thailand
With over 25 dive sites, Koh Tao has a lot to offer for all levels of scuba divers. We took our 3-day open water PADI course with Simple Life Divers.
One of the reasons that Koh Tao is so popular, is that it’s also one of the most affordable places to learn to dive. Accommodation and dive packages are popular on this island.
Out in the water, we saw beautiful coral formations, plenty of colorful fish, and even a few turtles. Definitely add Koh Tao to your scuba diving list!
8. Aliwal Shoal, South Africa
Aliwal shoal is one of the top 10 dive sites in the world and it is ideal for anybody looking into becoming certified as a scuba diver. With dive sites as shallow as 12m your first dive can be exploring this world famous reef.
The shoal is a few kilometres off the east coast of South Africa and is in the Indian Ocean which means that the water is warm all year round, 25°C in summer and 20°C in winter.
The shoal almost always has a current so you can train in conditions that will prepare you for most dive sites across the world.
There are a wide variety of scuba centres in the area, but a personal recommendation is ScubaXcursion in Scottburgh. It is an accredited centre with well-trained and professional staff who can take you from beginner to master!
I did all my PADI diving certificate (Open, Advance, Rescue) in Malta. It was convenient for me as I lived on the island for two years.
Malta is an effortless place both to live and to dive. Everyone on the island speaks English, and it is so small that a one hour trip will take you from end to end.
There is a vast choice of diving schools teaching PADI, BSAC and CMAS and a variety of diving sites. Many of the sites are accessible from the shore, and this is super-convenient, especially for beginners. A good range of fauna and flora are available at shallow depths around the island.
Once you get your certificate, you can try more adventurous exploring. Malta has several sunken boats which form artificial reefs and attract a wide variety of colourful fish. My favourite of these is The Um el Faroud in Wied Iż-Żurrieq.
10. Aqaba, Jordan
Aqaba, on Jordan’s coast, sits right at the Northern tip of the Red Sea. The area is known as the gulf of Aqaba and it is one of the most wonderful places to take to the water as a beginner.
The water here is protected from the waves of the open ocean so it is warm, clear and calm. You won’t find any strong currents so you will always feel in control. It is great for snorkellers and divers alike.
For example, the Japanese Garden is a huge area of soft coral reef that is just a metre from the surface in some places. You could start by exploring here with a snorkel, and when you feel ready, it is time to dive a little deeper.
Aqaba’s main town has some big resorts, but ten minutes by car south, you will find a cluster of very cheap and very cheerful dive camps. Most have their own pools so you can practice before hitting the sea.
11. Roatan, Honduras
Roatan is one of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. Unlike the rest of the country, English is the main language spoken here, because of the Caribbean influence, which makes life easy if you don’t speak Spanish well.
I loved getting certified here because the whole island is geared towards diving and there are many dive resorts/ hotels that have combined accommodation and diving packages, which makes it cheaper.
There’s also a nice laid-back vibe to the whole island, with great beaches, bars and restaurants. It’s not the absolute best diving I’ve ever done, but it is one of the best and cheapest places in the world to get certified.
I enjoyed it so much I stayed longer than originally planned and got my Advanced License at the same time!
12. Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia
From abundant shallow reefs in local lagoons to vibrant slope walls of Toyapakeh, the idyllic island of Nusa Lembongan is teeming with fascinating marine life and a perfect destination for all levels of scuba certification training.
But I highly recommend that you go for an Advanced Open Water license before the Mola-Mola season begins in July, as these creatures are usually found at around 30 to 40 meters below the surface.
Seeing the biggest bony fish in the world (nearly 2 meters in height) is unquestionably one of the most mind-blowing experiences that you will never forget!
13. Nha Trang, Vietnam
If you’re travelling around Vietnam, Nha Trang is a great place to get your PADI certification. There are many dive schools to choose from, and prices are usually reasonable, around $400/450, and condition at the various dive sites are perfect for beginners.
There’s a sandy bottom, good visibility and little or no current, yet it’s possible to see a variety of fish, nudibranchs and other critters.
If you opt to do your Advanced certification in Nha Trang, some dive sites also have rocky formations with small caves and swim-throughs, which are lots of fun!
14. Utila, Honduras
Utila is a small island on the shore of Honduras. It is known as one of the cheapest places to get your PADI certification in the world.
There are different diving shops to choose from – some of them are focused on rich people and some of them on budget backpackers. You can find a shop for 250 USD to get your Open Water Diver certification.
This usually includes accommodation and 2 fun dives. I chose Paradise divers for my diving certification and I was happy with my decision.
15. Dahab, Egypt
Dahab is a small coastal town in the South Sinai desert in Egypt. In the ‘70s it used to be popular with hippie backpackers and while it’s grown a lot since then, it still has that chill vibe.
Almost all of the 30+ dive sites in Dahab are easily accessible from shore. Dahab’s dive sites are diverse and will satisfy both advanced and tec divers as well as novice divers or those looking to get PADI certified.
Being able to just walk into the water with your dive gear on and spot colorful reef fishes from the very moment you take your first breath underwater makes this an excellent spot for your PADI Open Water training.
During your surface interval you can relax at one of the many small restaurants lining Dahab’s boulevard, while sipping on a fresh fruit juice and having a lovely Egyptian lunch.
16. Negril, Jamaica
Negril in Jamaica is an idyllic and popular destination among scuba divers and a perfect place for those longing to explore Caribbean mysteries below.
Beneath the Caribbean Sea, you can spot coral reefs, canyons and aquatic world. Dive beginners will enjoy in nine dive sites, in a warm, calm and crystal clear water with an average depth of 30 ft and maximal depth of 70 ft.
Sandals luxury Resorts is one option, and offer several dive courses tailored to the level of your experience and interest. You can enroll in the PADI eLearning program, which is an 8-
hour online course and helps you to complete in your own pace.
Once finished online course, you will take a practical exam at the resort. Scuba diving in Negril is an experience not to forget. So, be adventurous and come to Jamaica.
17. Caye Cauker
The small island of Caye Caulker in Belize makes for a great place to get your first PADI certification.
Not only the island itself is very chill with a “go slow” vibe but also the diving sites nearby are not only stunning but world-class renowned thanks to the Belize Barrier Reef – which is the second largest barrier reef in the world, only second to Australia’s.
This combines a great relaxed environment to learn while discovering some of the greatest underwater scenery.
Some of the diving highlights you can do during your certification are the reef itself and the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve – which is full of deep canyons, soft corals, and lots of Caribbean fish species.
The Blue Hole is not too far from Caye Caulker, so if you’re interested in diving it, you can also get your advanced certification here.
18. Ontario, Canada
Scuba diving is often considered to be a tropical destination activity but if you are willing to brave the colder waters, you’ll find that Ontario, Canada is a great place to learn to dive.
It’s not somewhere you would normally associate with scuba diving, but it’s pretty handy for Canadians who are looking to get certified before a vacation.
Plus, since Ontario’s dives are all in lakes and rivers, strong currents aren’t as much as an issue which may be a relief for anyone who is a little worried about the certification process.
Dive shops can be found around Ontario and in most major cities, though you will likely need to spend a couple of hours travel time getting to the actual dive destinations. If you don’t mind travelling for your course, look at dive operators in Tobermory, Bruce Peninsula.
It’s one of the most well-known dive areas in Canada and is famous for its shallow ship wrecks and visibility that can extend up to 80 feet.
19. Puerto Morelos, Mexico
That means that you can easily incorporate learning to dive into a Mexican beach holiday, and there are plenty of hotels, bars and restaurants nearby to enjoy at the end of each day.
Puerto Morelos is perfect for beginners because you can dive directly off the beach. After you’ve done your classroom theory, you’ll be handed your scuba gear and you can literally walk into the warm, shallow water and start practicing. If at any time you feel scared, you can just stand up!
When you get a bit more confident, Puerto Morelos is the gateway to the best-preserved section of the second largest barrier reef in the world – the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.
Many of the reef’s dive sites are very close to the town, and with shallow, beginner-friendly sites just offshore.
These sites offer natural bridges and swim-throughs as well as plenty of colourful coral and tropical fish, there’ll be plenty to delight you on your first undersea experience.
20. San Andres Island, Colombia
San Andres Island in Colombia is the perfect place to get your scuba certification.
Because the island is so isolated (only accessible by airplane and no boats or cruise ships go there) the coral is in amazing condition and there is lots of marine life.
The high quality of diving means there are some very great dive schools on the island, not to mention, it is just a beautiful place to fall in love with diving!
With over 30 different dive sites around this small 26 km2 island, there are plenty of great spots for beginners including a selection of shore dives.
21. Homestead Crater Lake, Utah
There are plenty of tropical destinations to get certified as a scuba diver, but depending on where you live, planning a trip to one of them can be quite expensive.
That’s why Homestead Crater in Utah is a fantastic option for anyone wanting to get certified on a budget. Located about an hour from Salt Lake City and a day’s drive from Denver, this destination also offers a nice resort within walking distance, multiple local dining options, and other nearby attractions in the town of Midway.
The water in the crater stays at 90-96 degrees year-round, making it the only warm scuba diving location in the continental U.S. Visiting in the winter makes for an extra memorable trip, as you carry your gear through the snow before getting inside the warm crater.
No wetsuit needed – it’s like diving in a giant bath!
22. Cozumel, Mexico
If you are looking to get your Open Water Certification then I highly recommend the Mexican Island of Cozumel.
Cozumel is a world-class diving destination and almost all of the top dive sites are great for beginners as you don’t need to go too deep. The water is a perfect shade of Caribbean blue and the average visibility is 100ft.
Where other reef systems in the world are deteriorating, Cozumel is still thriving thanks to its protected status. Cozumel was declared a national marine park 20 years ago so the reef is in great shape with plenty of marine life.
On any given day you are likely to see turtles, nurse sharks, Green Moray Eels, and even eagle rays during the season (December-March). The Island itself is also a really cool place to hang out for a week, lots of beach clubs, tacos, and of course plenty of Tequila for when your course has finished.
23. Siquijor, Philippines
I did my PADI certification in Siquijor, a small island in the Philippines, and I can’t imagine a better experience for beginners! We spent a week at the Kiwi Dive Resort at the northern tip of the island.
The highly qualified instructor made us feel completely safe and in expert hands. The weather and terrain in Siquijor are perfect for newbies: clear, calm water, a sandy bottom near the shore for practicing the basics, and nearby reefs teeming with colorful aquatic life. I’ll never forget seeing my first sea turtle!
The experience was made even better by the fact that everyone in the PADI class was staying at the resort, so we really got to know each other – my travel partner even met his future wife there. I can’t guarantee that you’ll meet your spouse if you do your certification in Siquijor, but I’m sure you’ll fall in love with the island itself, and of course, with diving!
24. Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Especially the Long Beach is full of diving schools which have some of the best prices in whole Southeast Asia.
Since the diving schools are located right at the shore, you can already practice everything in the sea – no need for a pool – which prepares you even better for your first real dive.
During your dives, you can visit amazing places such as a shipwreck as well as a spot full of turtles and bamboo sharks.
25. Tulum, Mexico
I recommend the Agua Clara for the Open Water Course, and their package of 4 days, which include reef diving as well as cenotes.
The instructors from Agua Clara are very patient and helpful, which is great if you’re a bit nervous or scared.
Some of the best dive sites in Tulum can be found in the Sian Ka’an Reserve. From Tulum, you can also go on Dive tours with Bull Sharks between November and March.