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 breath 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. 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.
Ultimately, 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.
The Maldives, a string of green atolls fringed by bone-white beaches and turquoise waters, look like something out of a traveler's tall tale. And that is exactly what they're likely to become. With an average elevation of less than five feet above sea level and a peak elevation of eight feet, these islands are disappearing under the rising Indian Ocean. Scientists predict the country will be gone before the end of the century. The islands' beauty ensures that their legend will survive.
One thousand of the 1,192 islands that constitute the Maldives are deserted. The other 192 host some of the most decadent and luxurious resorts found anywhere in the world. There are spa islands and overwater villas located a half mile from shore to ensure privacy. Known throughout the world as a premiere honeymoon destination for the affluent – including the British Royal Family – the islands are often overlooked for what they themselves offer (amenities aside).
The Maldives' Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, is a maze of technicolor coral visited frequently by whale sharks and other pelagic species, including the hammerheads that school here in massive numbers. As if incredibly healthy reef ecosystems weren't enough, nearby Addu Atoll also contains the remains of the British Loyalty, a 450-foot-long tanker with 6-foot propeller blades covered in coral. Decades after sinking, the ship is as impressive as ever, especially for divers comfortable penetrating wrecks. Overhead, world-class breaks, famous for their ruler-edged perfection, roll toward distant destination surf spots like Lohifushi, Sultan's, and Colas.
With so many resorts, options are plentiful. The only mistake would be to arrive in the Maldives without a reservation. Tourism is highly controlled and regulated by the questionably legitimate government of Mohammed Waheed Hassan, and travelers are sometimes turned away after flying the 20 or so hours from New York. The best hotels are not cheap, but they do offer a genuine value thanks to all that real estate in the middle of paradise. With two land-based resorts, Kuda Huraa and Landa Giraavaru, and the Explorer, a liveaboard dive boat, the Four Seasons has a huge presence. It also has a seaplane available to ensure that guests make it to remote dive spots and the best waves. Looking for something even more plush? The underwater suite at the Conrad Maldives Ringali Island Hotel is a novelty – albeit an impressive one – and the Tree houses villas at the Shangrila Villingilli resort will make you feel like a very happy grade schooler. If surfing is your priority, stay at the Lohifushi Island resort, which has private access to the waves at Lohifushi's reef, some of the best in the islands.
Just go soon, before you can't.
More information: Rooms in higher-end hotels, including the Four Seasons properties, start at $1,000 a night. A number of larger international carriers operate flights to the capital city of Male, but tickets aren't cheap either and will likely cost at least $2,000 from New York. No one said paradise came cheap.
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