The Best Places to Scuba Dive for Beginners [2020 Guide]

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What are the best places to scuba diver for beginners?  There are almost an unlimited number of islands and dive sites to choose from and it can be overwhelming to try and narrow down your choices.  We have focused on finding sites that are most appropriate for new divers; places that will provide an exciting adventure while focusing on conditions that won’t overwhelm and will allow an inexperienced diver to develop and hone diving skills.

Experiencing some level of anxiety for a beginning diver is normal.  A good way to help reduce some of that anxiety is to choose a dive destination that is suited for inexperienced divers.  A dive site best suited for beginners should include the following features and characteristics:

  • Dive depths that are between 10 and 20 meters (33-66 feet).

  • Avoid destinations that have an underwater current.

  • Water conditions that provide high visibility.

  • Water temperatures that are comfortable and that won’t stress you while diving.

  • Avoid locations where experience using buoyancy control is required (i.e. a wall dive).

  • Dive locations that provide underwater habitats that are of interest to you (i.e. marine life, shipwrecks, reefs).

So with these factors in consideration, let's look at the first five scuba diving destinations that are best suited for beginning or inexperienced divers.

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

One of the most well known diving destinations is the Grand Cayman, which is located in the tropical setting of the Cayman Islands.  Diving in this location provides an impressive display and range of marine life, in turquoise water that provides great visibility.  The Grand Cayman offers in excess of 150 dive sites to choose from, many of which are appropriate for beginner divers.  

stingrays off of grand cayma

The factors making this a great dive site for beginners include the following:

  • There are more than 25 dive sites that are in 70 feet of water or shallower.  Ideal depths for beginners.

  • An abundance of marine life.

  • Vividly colored reefs.

  • Dive sites less than a quarter of a mile off shore.

  • Seven Mile Beach: Is a long crescent-shaped coral sand beach, considered one of the ultimate and most beautiful beaches in the world.  

  • Wreck diving for experienced and inexperienced divers at the USS Kittiwake.  The ship was sunk in 2011 and sits in approximately 65 feet of water, with the superstructure only about 10 feet below the water's surface.  The water is shallow enough and the water is so clear that the ship can be seen from the surface.

  • The visibility is in excess of 90 feet, making it ideal conditions for inexperienced divers.

  • An extremely popular dive site is Stingray City, which is in about 10 to 15 feet of water.  

  • Water and weather conditions make this an ideal year round destination for diving.  Water temperatures average between 77 to 82 degrees year round.  

The Grand Cayman provides shallow diving depths, turquoise clear water, abundant marine life, reefs, and shipwrecks, making it an ideal destination for inexperienced divers.  There is no doubt this location needs to be on any scuba diving list whether you’re a beginner or an experienced diver.  

Bonaire

Bonaire is located in the southern Caribbean, just off the northern coast of Venezuela.   This dive location offers shore access to reef dives and is protected from currents making it an ideal dive destination for beginners and inexperienced divers.  

Bonaire offers a unique “house reef”, which is a coral reef that is right off the beach, within an easy swimming distance that separates the island and its lagoon from the deeper water.  Additionally, the opportunity to view shipwrecks, over 50 marked shore dive sites, a wide variety of marine life and over 470 species of fish.

sea turtle near bonaire

The elements that make Bonaire an absolute must for new divers include:

  • Dive sites that allow viewing of shipwrecks for beginners.

  • A wide host of marine life (fish, coral, sharks, whales).

  • Unspoiled and protected ecosystem.

  • Easy access shore diving, with reefs within 30 feet of shore.

  • A “house reef” the provides diving opportunities that are protected from currents.

  • Crystal clear water with visibility that exceeds 100 feet.

  • Water temperatures vary from approximately 80 to 89 degrees.

Island of Roatan, Honduras

The Island of Roatan is a small Bay Island off Honduras. This island is located in Central America with a majority of the dive sites being appropriate for beginner scuba divers.  Roatan is a popular location and boasts extremely reasonable costs to get scuba certified.  

The dive sites have an abundance of marine life, colorful reefs, walls and shipwrecks.  Almost all are accessible and viewable from depths appropriate for beginners.  

scuba diving in roatan

The characteristics that make Roatan an ideal dive site for beginners include the following:

  • The island is approximately 30 miles long and varies from a mile to 3 miles wide.  About 30 miles off the coast of Honduras it boasts a varied landscape including mountains, jungles and beaches.  

  • Second largest barrier reef in the world.

  • Tons of dive shops.  Scuba diving is a huge part of the economy on the Island of Roatan.

  • Water temperatures range from 77 to 86 degrees year round, making the conditions ideal for scuba diving.

  • The average visibility is from 70 to 80 feet.

  • Many dive sites are accessible from shore.  

  • Off shore dive sites are as short as 10 minutes.

  • Roatan is surrounded by amazing reefs.

  • Mary’s Place is a popular scuba dive experience, which has amazing formations created by volcanic activity. 

The Island of Roatan provides a variety of dive sites for beginners, high visibility and diversity of experiences, making it another ideal scuba diving experience for inexperienced and experienced divers alike.

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

The Providenciales is an island in the Turks and Caicos archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean that boasts some of the most spectacular beaches and amazing waters.  If you want to add some snorkeling to your scuba diving adventure there are multiple beaches that provide vibrant reefs that are close to shore.  These reefs offer the opportunity to view coral, sea turtles, stingray, and a wide variety of fish and marine life.

The Turks and Caicos islands offer numerous dive sites to pick from that makes finding a quality dive location for inexperienced divers a breeze.  Some of the highlights of this scuba diving destination for beginners include:

turks and caicos
  • Reefs that are accessible from shore and at depths starting at about 20 feet.

  • Wall diving as shallow as 25 to 50 feet.

  • Several dive sites that require less than a 30 minute boat ride.

  • This island location is such that if there is rough water on one side, typically the opposite is calm, which is ideal for beginners to ensure you’ll be able to dive safely.

  • Consistent water temperatures between 75 and 86 degrees.

  • Crystal clear water with visibility from 50 to 130 feet.

  • 70 miles of barrier reef.

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is found in the Coral Sea, off the northeastern coast of Queensland, Australia.  This dive location offers the opportunity to experience the world’s largest coral reef system, boasting over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands covering 133,000 square miles.  The ecosystem and multitude of marine life includes over 1,500 species of fish, 30 species of dolphins and whales, 6 of the 7 species of sea turtles and manta rays. 

While at this destination you can add snorkeling with easy access to the reef. You can also add a helicopter or plane excursion to take in the whole picture of this amazing natural wonder that is the only living organism that can be spotted from space.  This dive destination offers several options that are conducive for beginning divers, highlighted by the following features:

great barrier reef
  • World’s largest coral reef and the only living organism viewable from space.

  • Multiple options for beginner dive sites.

  • Gentle currents within the reef.

  • Water temperatures average between 75 to 86 degrees, ideal for year round diving.

  • Beginning divers should limit their dives close to shore where the currents are gentle.

  • Visibility inside the reef is approximately 50 to 70 feet, outside from 60 to 100 feet.

  • 1,500 species of fish, 30 species of dolphins and whales, 6 of the 7 species of sea turtles.

Additional Dive Destination Considerations

In addition to the five dive destinations we have listed above we offer the following locations as strong considerations for the beginning diver:

Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are a chain of tropical islands covering approximately 115 miles off the southern point of Florida, located between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.  This dive site offers multiple ideal shallow-water coral reefs, the opportunity to see a large variety of marine life, including manatees, and one of the limited destinations you can view the enormous Goliath grouper, also known as the jewfish.  The Keys also have several great snorkling sites as well. 

Key West offers several dives sites that are perfect for beginning divers.  This destination is located in the subtropics offering comfortable air temperatures year around, with water temperatures averaging between 73 to 86 degrees.  Several dive locations provide a variety of viewing opportunities in shallower water, with gentle currents that are appropriate for inexperienced scuba divers.

Related: The Best Dive Spots in Florida

florida keys

Cozumel

Cozumel is a Mexican island in the Caribbean Sea, located less than 10 miles to the east of the Yucatán Peninsula.  This destination is a popular cruise ship port and a famous scuba diving location.   What makes Cozumel such a great dive location is the warm water, great underwater visibility, white sandy beaches and an extremely healthy Caribbean reef.  The reef system is part of the Mesoamerican reef system, which is protected by the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park.  The result of this extra effort and attention is a marine life that has 26 coral species and over 500 species of fish.  

cozumel

Utila

Utila is an island located in the Caribbean Sea just off the northern shores of Honduras.  This destination is a popular location for those seeking to get certified because of the amazing diving opportunities and the low cost for getting certified.  One of the highlights of Utila is the opportunity to dive or snorkel with whale sharks.  The majority of dive sites are in shallower waters, ideal for beginners, while providing access to all of the amazing sea life present in these waters.  Utila has ideal conditions for beginners including: visibility from 80-150 feet; water temperatures from 78 to 82 degrees year round; mostly mild currents; over 300 species of fish; and dive site access only a few minutes boat ride.  

Maldives

The Maldives is a tropical destination located in the Indian Ocean and is a very popular destination for new scuba divers.  The waters have visibilities up to approximately 100 feet and are calm and warm (80 to 84 degrees) year round. This destination is highlighted by the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, which offers a large turtle and fish population. There are multiple options for shallow dive sites where you can view sharks, mantas and a variety of marine life.

maldives villas

Guide: Beginners Dive Locations

What makes a good dive destination for a beginner scuba diver?  

When you are looking for a destination that is appropriate for the inexperienced diver it should offer: gentle or no currents; a variety of unique or specific experiences (shipwrecks, reefs, marine life, etc.); crystal clear water with high visibility; dive sites available at depths that are appropriate for beginners; instructors, guides, dive shops, and/or excursions with experts for support and assistance; comfortable water and environmental conditions; and optional activities for times when you are not diving.

  • Gentle or No Currents: As a beginner, gaining experience and knowledge before taking on more challenging conditions and environments are always advisable.  Nothing good can come from putting yourself in a situation that you are not prepared for, the results will not be good.

  • Dive Destination: The only reason to dive in an environment lacking variety or interest is for training purposes.  Even as a beginner, you want to consider what types of interests you have in observing during your diving adventure.  Whether it’s the marine life, shipwrecks, coral reefs or all of the above, you need to factor this in when deciding on a destination. 

  • Visibility: Crystal clear water is ideal for any destination, especially as a beginner: being comfortable in your environment, being able to clearly view interests, and understanding your dive depths have limits, all make the clarity of the water you are diving in important.

  • Dive depth of shallower than 65 feet: Deeper does not mean better.  There is an enormous amount of marine life, structures and elements to be viewed without having to go very deep with your dive.  Additionally, viewing becomes inhibited the deeper you dive, requiring special knowledge and equipment. Your safety is always paramount and adhering to the guidelines and learning progressions should never be compromised.

  • Local Experts: As a beginning diver you want instructors and guides that are attentive, understanding and supportive to your needs.  

  • Water Temperatures: As a beginning scuba diver, you will want to eliminate any reasonable factors that can interfere or inhibit you experience.  Diving under conditions, specifically water temperatures, that allow you to remain confident and comfortable should be part of your planning.

  • Additional Activities: You will want to consider the alternative activities available as your time at these locations will have periods when you are not diving, as well as the potential of environmental conditions not conducive for you to dive.

Serious and Professional Attitude

Most beginning scuba divers combine their first experiences with a vacation.  It is important you maintain a serious approach to your adventure.  Scuba diving, if done correctly is a relatively safe water sport but failure to maintain your focus and follow appropriate guidelines and measures could result in serious issues.  

Ask Questions

Although it’s a cliche phrase, it applies, that, “there is no such thing as a dumb question.”  Any dive location for a beginner should have access to and the support of experts. Ensuring you are comfortable and confident in understanding your equipment, the local conditions, any unexpected issues or any other questions you might have, should be considered essential.  Any instructor, guide or expert should be more than willing to respond to your questions and explain something to you multiple times, if necessary, to avoid any needless anxiety you might experience.

​Final Thoughts

As we’ve outlined in this article, you have several factors that need to be considered in your planning: currents, visibility, water temperatures, interests, etc.  Proper planning and consideration will lessen any stress or anxiety you may experience. You are taking on a new challenge in an unfamiliar environment. Limiting your distraction and extenuating factors will increase your level of success and enjoyment.  

Hopefully you’ve found the information provided and the recommended dive destinations of value in planning for your scuba diving experience.  Please let us know in the comment section which destination you’ve chosen and how your dive went. If you’ve already experienced one of the locations we’ve recommended we love to have you share your experiences.  And finally, if you have other destinations you would recommend please let us know.

Are you looking for the BEST Places to Scuba Dive for Beginners? Then you won\'t want to miss our all new 2020 guide of the top dive locations!

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