I became a certified diver back in the summer of 2007, but I didn’t start diving internationally until early 2009 when I went on my first dive trip to Fiji.  In my 11 years of dive travel, I have enjoyed numerous destinations for their beauty, culture, and of course diving, so I thought with the start of 2020 I would share with you 20 of my favorite dive sites, both in my local SoCal waters and around the world.  Now, of course, there are so many more spots I could share, but for me personally, these each hold a little of their own special magic.

To start with, if you’re like me, you love diving with rambunctious, young, inquisitive, silly sea lions.  They’ll spin circles around you with their swimming agility, tug on your fins, or take a taste of your photo equipment, and you’ll love every second of it.  So if you can’t get enough of these playful pinnipeds, or you haven’t had the exciting experience of meeting these puppies of the sea, then check out these sites.

1) La Jolla Cove (San Diego, California)

Here in my own backyard, San Diego is blessed with some great, easily accessible shore diving sites, La Jolla Cove being one of them.  Upon approaching this site, you will be greeted with the barking of your buddies waiting for you to enter the water and become their entertainment.  The sandy slope can be a bit challenging for entries and exists – just be prepared to have the coarse sand washed out from under you.  Initially you will sail over eel grass and a rocky seascape, but then you will enjoy winding in and out of a beautiful kelp forest.  Be prepared to have a sea lion, or even a harbor seal, join you on your dive while you check under rocks for lobster, abalone, octopus, and other surprises.  They’ll want to know what fun stuff you’ve found.

Just south of San Diego and easily accessible by charter boat and a visa, are a group of four islands known as the Coronado Islands.  Just of the coast of the northernmost island is a site called Lobster Shack.  Here too you will find a colony of curious sea lions.  They become excited at the site of a dive boat and can’t wait for you to jump in the water.  As soon as they can, the babies will be in the water to check divers out, but remember to respect the bull.  If he enters the water, blowing bubbles from his nostrils as he swims by you, he is saying enough is enough – playtime is over.  As long as you back off and go on your way to do some diving, all will be well.

2) Lobster Shack (Tijuana, Baja, Mexico)

Just south of San Diego and easily accessible by charter boat and a visa, are a group of four islands known as the Coronado Islands.  Just of the coast of the northernmost island is a site called Lobster Shack.  Here too you will find a colony of curious sea lions.  They become excited at the site of a dive boat and can’t wait for you to jump in the water.  As soon as they can, the babies will be in the water to check divers out, but remember to respect the bull.  If he enters the water, blowing bubbles from his nostrils as he swims by you, he is saying enough is enough – playtime is over.  As long as you back off and go on your way to do some diving, all will be well.

3) Los Islotes (La Paz, Baja, Mexico)

Located in the wonderful Sea of Cortez, just north of the city of La Paz, is a small “islet” as the name suggests, covered with blue footed boobies and, what else, but a large colony of sea lions (los lobos del mar).  Like the previous two sites I mentioned, all of these sites are good for the beginner diver and up.  Relatively shallow and rarely an issue with currents, these sites make for great playtime with the fun-loving creatures of the sea.  Of course, there is always more to see then just sea lions.  Keep your eye out for sea horses, eels, lobster, jaw fish, and more.

Moving on to another fan favorite – Sharks! Big ones, small ones, fierce ones, cute ones – so many to choose from – so many places to see them. Well, here are just three of my favorites for you.

4) Vertigo (Yap, Micronesia)

Found in the Western Pacific, Yap is better known for the opportunity to have close encounters with giant manta rays, but it also had a spectacular site known as Vertigo.  Living up to its name, one could become dizzy from sharks circling around you while you are perched on top an impressive drop-off.  Crystal clear waters only help to enhance the experience as gray reef sharks and black tips weave themselves in and out of enthralled divers.

5) The Bistro (Beqa Lagoon, Fiji)

I mentioned at the beginning of my blog that I started my international dive travels back in 2009 and the first place I ever dove was Beqa.  It was also my first shark dive as well and I’ll never forget it.  I found it quite interesting that the name of the site was “The Bistro”.  It made me wonder who exactly was on the menu.  These days there are actually a few dive sites in Beqa Lagoon where you can have an exciting shark encounter (all hand fed with strict guidelines), including visits by the big daddy…bull sharks, as well as whitetip and blacktip reef sharks, nurse sharks, sicklefin lemon sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertip sharks and the thrilling treat of a tiger shark occasionally.  It is suggested divers have a minimum of 30 dives under their belts, and full wetsuits, as well as head-coverage for the follicly-challenged.

Just a little side story that might give you a giggle – I can actually say I was bit on this shark dive.  I wore a shorty on this dive (before the new guidelines).  I sat exactly where the DM placed me along the coral reef and never moved.  I did not wave my hands about or make any sporadic motions when the sharks appeared, and yet I still got attacked.  Apparently I was close to the home of a very protective damsel fish who wanted me to move and was making him intentions known.  All through the shark experience this fish, who I now affectionately call “Killer”, ferociously attacked the exposed skin on my thighs as I tried to do my best to shoo him away as calmly as possible.  When I surfaced from this dive, I found I had about twenty ½-diameter bites on my legs.  Who woulda thunk that would be my shark dive bite story – huh?

6) Shark Circus (Alimathaa Jetty, Maldives)

The only way to thoroughly enjoy the magic of the Maldives is to enjoy cruising (at least 10 days) on a liveaboard.  This is how I got to experience one of my most favorite shark encounters ever.  Your boat will bring you to the Alimathaa Jetty which is basically a white sandy bottom channel for an evening dive.  You descend at dusk just before the real show begins and as it quickly gets darker the real action starts.  The channel comes to life with nurse sharks and rays of every size, and trevally jacks joining in the action too.  Apparently these animals naturally congregate (no chumming involved) in the channel starting at dusk and enjoy sailing back and forth, and around and around.  My head was on a swivel as they came by me in every direction.  At first I was a little nervous until I realized they were just enjoying themselves, having a little fun.  The sharks and rays were not shy at all.  Many times the nurse sharks would plop themselves in the sand right next to divers, checking the divers out and waiting to have their picture taken.  Being bumped by their fins or tails as they passed was not uncommon.  Several times both my hubby and I had them pass within inches of our heads.  The time seemed to pass way too fast when we got the signal to ascend and leave our new found friends behind.  Now that’s my kind of shark dive!

Continuing to classify dive sites based on a common thread, let’s talk wrecks.

7) C-53 Felipe Xicotencatl (Cozumel, Mexico)

Home to lush walls and high-velocity drift dives, Cozumel attracts divers from around the world.  When you are ready to take a break from all the reef action, you might want to check out the “Cozumel Wreck”.  Originally in the service of the US Navy as a mine sweeper, this ship was later sold to the Mexican Navy and converted to a gun boat where it sailed the Gulf of Mexico, patrolling for illegal arms and drugs, and serving in rescue missions.  It 1999 it was purposefully sunk for divers to enjoy.  The C-53 is great for beginner wreck divers because of its small stature and large openings for easy penetration.  Enjoy the variety of marine life and beautiful sponges.  When you peak into some of the nooks and crannies, don’t be surprised if you have an eel looking back at you.  And while you’re exploring the exterior of the vessel, if you hear a high-pitched whirring, take a look out to the blue – you may be surprised by what you see.  One of my favorite things about this wreck is the submarine that cruises by, filled with onlookers checking out those amazing divers (oh, and maybe the fish too).  Don’t forget to wave.

8) Hilma Hooker (Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands)

Known as “Divers Paradise”, Bonaire is famous for its 24/7 diving opportunities because the majority of this island’s dive sites are accessible from the shore.  Many people dive the Hilma Hooker from a boat, but if your a seasoned shore diver, the kick out to this site really isn’t that bad. In 1984 this crippled cargo ship was towed to Bonaire’s main pier where it was discovered she was actually a drug smuggler.  During legal proceedings many from the dive community petitioned it be sunk as an artificial reef.  In September of 1984, the ship was not being claimed by the owner and was springing many leaks in its poorly maintained hull.  To avoid the ship actually sinking at the pier, it was towed offshore to an anchorage where it would cause the least amount of damage until legal proceedings were complete and its fate could be determined.  However, the ship seemed to have its own ideas and on the morning of September 12th she began taking on water through her portholes.  By 9:08am she disappeared below the water’s surface and settled on her starboard side in 95 feet of water.  Because the ship was being held as evidence, no preparation for its sinking had been done.  Everything on board sank as-is and no special accommodations were made for divers.  Although the wreck may pose some hazardous areas, it can still be enjoyed divers of all levels providing good judgement is used and divers stay within their limitations.

9) Yamagiri Maru (Chuuk [Truk], Micronesia)

For wreck diving enthusiasts and World War II buffs, Chuuk Lagoon is probably one of the best destinations to explore.  During the war this lagoon was a serious Japanese stronghold of the Pacific and home to much of their fleet.  In 1944, American naval forces spearheaded Operation Hailstone, a 3-day barrage that succeeded in sinking twelve warships, thirty-two merchant ships and destroying 275 aircraft.  The wrecks of Chuuk Lagoon are considered to be the final resting place for hundreds of Japanese seaman and soldiers.  Please remember this when exploring these wrecks and give respect to any remains you encounter on your dives.  One of the most memorable moments during my exploration of the Yamagiri Maru was seeing the skull (photographed many times over) of one of her engineers, wedged into a storeroom screen.  Seeing this site for myself made me take a moment to reflect on the actual humanity that perished during this battle.  Diving the wrecks of Chuuk Lagoon should be, at a minimum, for advanced divers who have their wreck diving certification and are led by a qualified divemaster.  These ships remain as they were sunk.  There are no cutouts specifically created for easy penetration.  Stay aware of your surroundings and your limits as you explore these monuments of history.

10) I-1 Submarine (Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands)

Steeped in WWII history, I find the story behind this wreck more fascinating than the actual dive itself.  In February of 1943 when Japanese troops were being evacuated from Guadalcanal, 2 New Zealand ships detected this Japanese submarine and drove it to the surface with depth charges. They then rammed it, damaging its conning tower and hull, and forced it onto a nearby reef.  The crew set destruction charges which destroyed the bow, but failed to completely destroy the I-1 and left the torpedos intact.  Later, during search of the wreckage, code and backup code books were discovered which led to significant victories by the Allied Forces.  In the early 70’s, Australian salvagers set charges on the sub in an attempt to open it up in search of booty.  Instead of making a small opening, they succeeded in destroying the front third of the sub and splitting it wide open, most likely due to those remaining torpedoes.  Although there is not much left of the bow which lies in about 10 feet of water and the hull is literally torn open down to the stern lying at about 90 feet, there is still plenty to explore.  The beauty of the wreck is the variety and color of the corals which encrust its remains and the colorful fish which reside there.  Access to this wreck is by shore.  Enjoy snorkeling along the reef on your way out.

So now that I gone through a few of my favorites based on common themes, let’s break down my favorite sites based on the destination.  To keep things impartial, so you don’t think I favor one destination over another, I am listing them alphabetically.  Let’s go!

Bonaire (Caribbean Netherlands)

11) Invisibles

One of the last dive sites along Bonaire’s double-reef system, Invisibles is a great spot to see garden eels in shallow water.  A nice site for divers of all levels because reef depths range from about 20-100 feet.  Over the reef you spot lots of parrot fish, grunts, tangs, trumpet fish and angels.

12) Oil Slick Leap

I think maybe the majority of divers probably dive this site by boat, but then they’re missing out on the true adventure of the site and that is the entry!  Here is an awesome spot to practice your GIANT stride.  Named Oil Slick because it was the original site proposed for an oil storage terminal, luckily these days it is still an access point for divers.  Where the Leap comes in of course how every diver gets into the water – off a reasonably high cliff.  Thank goodness the exit isn’t quite as intensive.  You’ll find a nice steel ladder to climb out by.  For those brave enough to take the leap, you’ll enjoy an easy site with depths from 20-70 feet.  Don’t forget to look up from the corals – you may see some nice school of barracuda here.


13) Great White Wall (Somosomo Straits)

Most everyone who has ever thought of diving Fiji has heard at some time that it is the Soft Coral Capital of The World and diving the Great White Wall is just one fabulous example of why it gained this title.  Located in the Somosomo Straits, near the island of Taveuni, this steep wall appears to be bottomless, but depth is not why you are there.  Look up to the wall and enjoy the breath-taking abundance of white corals covering the rock like soft, puffy snow.  At the end of the dive is a deep swim-through cavern providing an exciting exit to an amazing dive.  Not a difficult dive, due to depths it is probably best for the intermediate to advanced divers.  Generally, divers are dropped at this site only during slack tide to ensure a mild current. You should see large numbers of clown fish, parrot fish and other tropical fish, sharks, and barracuda during your dive.


14) Silfra (Thingvellir)

Thingvellir is a national park where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge comes to the surface.  It’s the area where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates diverge.  I’ve never seen water so clear as I did at Silfra.  The visibility is endless!!  In fact, we were told to take our regs out and take a sip – that’s how clean and fresh it is.  The water comes from a nearby glacier, is filtered through the earth, then surfaces to form a small river and lake.  This is a drysuit diver due to the frigid temperatures.   Only for divers with their drysuit certification – you must have at least 10 drysuit dives under your belt – Silfra is a very easy dive as long as you have good buoyancy skills.


15) Bianca (Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi)

The best mandarin dive I’ve ever been on!  Now granted I’ve only been diving on 4 official mandarin fish dive sites trying to spot these psychedelic tiny fish, but I didn’t have to work at all to find them on Bianca.  In fact, after awhile I stopped watching these little love bugs and went off to find other reef fish before I returned for another dose of love in the ocean.  A very shallow dive in a harbor, the site is named after the Indonesian-style phinisi boat moored there.  If you too get tired of watching so many mandarin fish, keep your eye out for a variety of frogfish, nudibranch, mantis shrimps, and ribbon eels as well.

Palau (Micronesia)

16) Blue Corner

Let’s go hooking on Blue Corner!  Anchor yourself to a secure spot, and soar in the current like a kite.  It’s unforgettable and definitely one for the bucket-list.  The dive starts out simply as a drift along a beautiful coral wall where turtles swim alongside you and schools of barracuda check you out.  Then you are there at the corner and it’s time to let your equipment do the work.  Tether yourself to a rock with your reef hook, inflate your BC, and let the action come to you.  It is like a fish-freeway going by.  Reef sharks, Napoleon wrasse, parrot fish, eagle rays, and more all passing by – it is a spectacle to behold.  This dive can be challenging due to strong currents, so I advised it is only for experienced divers.

17) German Channel

This channel was actually created by man and not Mother Nature.  In 1911, the Germans blew up this section of reef and dredged it to create a more direct passage to the island of Koror.  These days, traffic in this channel mainly consists of tourist, divers, and MANTAS.  With the growth of coral along this passage and abundant marine life, there are some nice cleaning stations where mantas love to stop for their spa treatments to the delight of onlooking divers.  Divers of all skill levels can enjoy diving German Channel.

18) Ulong Channel

Another of Palau’s top-ranking bucket-list dives, to me the most memorable thing while drifting along this sandy channel was the beautiful, humungous lettuce coral.  Dives at this site are usually in strong currents.  You are dropped at the mouth of the channel so all you have to do is just let the current do all the work and you cruise along, spotting reef sharks, schools of jacks, snappers, and barracuda, as well as beautiful batfish.  Large numbers of spawning groupers can be spotted here during season as well.  I guess it goes without saying that this is another site for experienced drift divers.


19) Chapel Point (Apo Island)

One of the Philippines beautiful wall dives is off the small island of Apo, just across the water from the renowned muck diving destination of Dumagete (Negros Island).  This lovely site, named for the church that overlooks it, is packed with marine life, ranging from turtles, trevally and banded sea snakes to leaf fish, frogfish and a variety of colorful nudibranch.  A small cave at a depth of about 65 feet provides refuge for small fish like silversides.  If you keep an eye on your depth, this site is great for open water divers, as well as the more advanced.

20) Coral Garden (Verde Island)

Coral Garden is a kaleidoscope of colorful corals, numerous nudis, funny frogfish, electric clams, and even seahorses.  So much to see, you’ll love every minute of it.  If you are staying in Puerto Galera for your dive vacay, make sure to include Verde Island in your list of must-see dive sites.  About an hour’s ride across the channel, it is well worth the trip.  Sometimes currents can be challenging, so be prepared.

So there you have it. 20 of my favorite dive sites from around the world for 2020. Have you been there too? If not, then maybe this should be your year to go see them for yourself. If you have, I loved to hear about it. Where are some of your favorite dive sites? What do you think I should I check out for myself that I may have not listed here? Inquiring minds want to know. Please share!

Leave a Reply