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Trip Ideas

9 Epic Underwater Adventures Around the World

Swimming with dolphins and snorkeling in the USVI were super exciting when we were twelve. But now that we’ve got a few more decades under our belts, and vacations are no longer funded by mom and dad, we’re on to bigger and better adventures. Here, 8 insane underwater experiences that you’ll be bragging about from here to infinity.

A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.

See recent posts by Chelsea Stuart

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Anemone image courtesy of Quicksilver Cruises

Learn to scuba dive with the Great Barrier Reef as your classroom

If “learning to scuba dive” has been waiting on you bucket list as long as it has ours, give it the royal treatment with lessons at the destination to end all scuba diving destinations: the Great Barrier Reef. Five-day learn to scuba courses, with Pro Drive Cairns, include two days of classroom and pool training followed by three days of diving with a live-aboard vessel as home base. After completing four out of nine dives—canoodling with thousands of coral species, fish, and hawksbill and loggerhead sea turtles—you’ll earn your open water certification.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Fallows/

Cage dive with Great Whites in South Africa’s Shark Alley

If you run a countdown to Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and organize episode-viewing events for friends each year, then maybe it’s time to strike out for the real thing. Cage diving in Gansabaai’s Shark Alley—just two hours from Cape Town—isn’t for the faint of heart, but getting up close to the legendary, 15- to 20-foot, 2.5-ton predators is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Go with Apex Shark Expeditions for a marine biologist-hosted expedition where your cage diving and surface viewing activities are caught on film by an underwater videographer. While there’s no guarantee on how many Great Whites you’ll spot, the average trip clocks four to eight sightings.

RELATED: 25 Photos That Will Have You Packing for South Africa

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Photos courtesy of Chris Fallows/

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Photo courtesy of Chris Fallows/

Swim with whale sharks in Mexico

Each and every year, the world’s largest group of whale sharks convene off the coast of Holbox Island in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Far from predatory, the gentle giants—we’re talking 41,000 pounds of slow-moving, sheer marine mammal mass—are docile in nature and even playful in their interactions with divers. From June to mid-September, you can hitch a ride with Holbox Whale Shark Tours as they head off on full day swimming trips.

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Get up close and personal with saltwater crocs in Australia

At Darwin City’s Crocosaurus Cove more than 70 species of Australian reptile are on display. But let’s be real, the show-stopping sight isn’t the reptile house, freshwater aquarium, or even the croc feeding show—it’s the Cage of Death (less ominous than it sounds, we swear). The acrylic enclosure drops one to two people into the croc tank at a time, offering 360 degree views of the mammoth saltwater crocs as they snap away at bait—of the chicken, not human variety—just feet away from your face.

RELATED: Underwater Cameras to Bring on Your Next Beach Getaway

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Explore an underwater archaeological site in Israel

We’ve all heard Atlantis-style myths of sunken cities and lost treasures, but in Israel, there’s nothing fictional about Caesarea’s lost first-century harbor—Sebastos. While it’s unknown if seismic action or a tsunami wiped out the once great marina, scholars are certain it was underwater by the 6th century. Today, visitors can join in on guided dives with the Old Caesarea Diving Center to explore the submerged ancient ruins of Herod the Great’s port city including tower fortifications, temple podiums, and collapsed piers.

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Dive Palau’s Big Drop-Off, Blue Corner, and Jellyfish Lake

Palau landed on the radar of divers around the world when Jacques Cousteau gave it his ultimate blessing—saying dive sites like the Big Drop-Off were some of the best in the world—in the 60s. Though the 200-island archipelago has only gained acclaim since then, it still sees relatively few tourists so its turquoise lagoons and limestone and volcanic isles are as pristine as ever. Link up with Palau Dive Adventures to experience three of the country’s best dive spots: Big Drop-Off—a sheer, vertical 900-foot wall swathed in soft corals, fans, and anemones, and patrolled by nurse sharks, leopard sharks, schools of butterfly fish, lion fish, and hawksbill turtles; Blue Corner—a flat reef plateau with strong currents and a dumbfounding breadth of marine life (think: barracudas, eagle rays, parrotfish, eels, whale fish, and tuna); and Jellyfish Lake–a sea-connected lake whose million-plus jellyfish population—due to a lack of predators—have evolutionarily lost their ability to sting (making them perfectly safe to swim with).

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Check out an underwater art exhibit in Spain

British artist Jason deCaires Taylor— the same man behind the Museo Subacuático de Arte in Cancún and the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park in Western Grenada—debuted his latest submerged art exhibit in Spain last year. At Museo Atlantico, in Bahía de Las Coloradas (just off the southern coast of Lanzarote), in order to take in Taylor’s 12 sculptural collections, daring museum-goers are first challenged to a 45-foot dive. Once they make it to the ocean’s floor, they’ll find displays like the Raft of Lampedusa, a haunting lifeboat piled with 13 hyperrealistic refugees, and The Rubicon, 35 figures frozen in time, walking towards a wall that the artist says "emphasizes that the notions of ownership and territories are irrelevant to the natural world" (can you say timely).

RELATED: Europe’s First Underwater Museum Opens Off the Coast of Spain

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Surround yourself with barracudas in Malaysia

At the easternmost tip of Malaysia’s Sipadan Island, you’ll find an aptly-named area known as Barracuda Point. Though the spot is rife with all sorts of marine life (think: garden eels, morays, lionfish, octopus) the main draw is the thousands-strong silvery vortex of barracuda that swirl around in the channel’s strong currents every day. Thanks to their sharp, fang-like teeth, barracudas rouse fear even in experienced divers, but like the greatly-misperceived Great White, they rarely go on attack. Of course, don’t plan on orchestrating your own swim; join Scuba Junkie on a safe, guided trek and don’t forget your underwater camera.

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Night dive with manta rays in Hawaii

Off the Kona Coast on Hawaii’s Big Island, manta rays playfully taunt divers and snorkelers. Since visitors are given express instruction not to pet the rays, the intelligent creatures indulge in a little you-can-look-but-you-can’t-touch jest, swimming within inches of contact before gracefully gliding away. Though the sassy behemoths are out all day, everyday (there is no peak season), the best time to catch them is at night, when illuminated by spotlights, the 20-foot rays come out to feast on plankton.

RELATED: The Best Beaches in Hawaii

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