The most popular, beloved stretches of sand plus secluded shores, coves and atolls — and all the shore dives, pinnacles and wrecks in between.
1. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands
On Providenciales, Grace Bay Beach is the most famous stretch of sand, but it’s not the perfect fit for every visitor. Alan Jardine, own- er of Dive Provo, prefers the quieter Long Bay Beach on the southeast coast, as do the island’s kitesurfers. As for diving territory, the most famous sites, including the Crack, the Chimney and Shark Hotel, lie roughly a quarter-mile off the northwestern tip, where you’ll also find the Turks Island Passage, a trench dropping 7,200 feet. This area, often called simply “The Wall,” is common territory for spotted eagle rays, Caribbean reef sharks and turtles — plus humpbacks December through March. Says Jardine, “On the Wall, there’s nothing we don’t get.”
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2. Exumas, Bahamas
“The beauty of the Exuma Cays is that there are so many uninhabited islands and beautiful beaches,” says Peggy Purdy, co-owner of Aqua Cat Cruises. And unlike many dive-charter itineraries, the Aqua Cat makes daily shore visits an option thanks to onboard kayaks, paddle boards and a 28-foot launch. Of course, you can dive five times a day at sites such as Amberjack Reef, home to hundreds of amberjack, and Washing Machine, where the incoming tide shoots divers through a narrow passage. It’s a tough call: your wetsuit or your beach towel. Says Purdy, “No matter what, you’re not stuck on a dive boat for a week.”
GO NOW: aquacatcruises.com
3. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
For many Americans, especially those in the Northeast, Florida’s Gold Coast could well be the most convenient destination to catch some sun and fatten logbooks. The Fort Lauderdale airport is 15 to 20 minutes by taxi to the beach and, once there, you won’t need a car if you’re comfortable walking. Along the waterfront, find restaurants, night life, high-end shopping and the Sea Experience dive shop. Day trips leaving Port Everglades take 20 minutes to reach popular dive sites, including a former Tenneco Oil rig. Another easy-to-reach spot is Hog Heaven, which Bill Cole, owner of Sea Experience, names his favorite. It’s home to a maze of structure, including two barges, a few rail cars, and a radio tower that seems a convenient meeting spot for cobia, manta rays and goliath grouper.
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4. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Seven Mile Beach is Grand Cayman’s most famous stretch for sun, sand castles, volleyball, paddle boarding and occasional bodysurfing. For scuba, it serves as a mark- er in a way as well: On either end, you’ll find prime shore-accessible dives. To the south, Devil’s Grotto is a network of caves sheltering tarpon and morays. Head north for sites like Cheeseburger Reef, an easy, shallow pick, and Turtle Reef, also known as Macabuca, for a mini wall and sightings of stingrays, snapper and, yes, turtles.
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“People don’t realize that in the summer months, Horseshoe Bay is packed, but almost nobody makes the effort to walk to the beach’s far eastern side,” says Michael Dudley Heslop, one of the owners of Fantasea Diving and Watersports on Bermuda. “You’ll find all these beautiful coves, one after another, and nobody’s there.” That beach lies midway on the Great Sound side of the western side of the island, and at that coast’s tip is an area called Dockyard. From there, Fantasea Diving’s trips depart for the must-see site that inspired Peter Benchley’s The Deep. Many who visit the side-by-side wrecks of the 1943-sunk_ Constellation_, and Montana, downed in 1863, are most surprised to see that artifacts such as glasses, cutlery and plates still remain.
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6. North Male Atoll, Maldives
It’s a staple honeymoon destination for good reason: There’s a romance to standing on a low-lying atoll in the Maldives, your feet in white sand, and nothing in the distance but blues of sea and sky. Much of the diving offers a similar we’re-the-only-people-here feeling: It’s common to drift-dive channels, dropping in atop pinnacles and submerged atolls. From the North Male Atoll, one top dive is HP Reef, also known as Rainbow Reef. Ahmed Nihad, lead diving instructor for the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa Resort, says, “The whole reef is covered in red, blue, green and yellow soft corals.” Enjoy the riot of colors, because afterward, you’ll return to a view of just whites and blues — how awful.
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7. Puerto Aventuras, Mexico
“People who come from other parts of the world are amazed by Xpu-Ha Beach — the sand is perfectly, ridiculously white,” says Suzy Ashton, PADI master scuba diver trainer for Pro Dive Mexico, which operates nine shops in Riviera Maya, including one in Puerto Aventuras, just north of Ashton’s favorite beach. As for diving, choose from reefs or cenotes. The reefs support lobsters, turtles and, says Ashton, “dining-table-size stingrays.” Head inland for cenotes, where the flowing water ensures silt-free visibility regardless of weather, providing the perfect antidote to what Ashton says is the only downside of powder sand beaches. “When it’s wavy, it takes a day for visibility to settle.”
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8. Rangiroa, French Polynesia
Atolls in French Polynesia feel like the edge of the Earth. On Rangiroa, boats carry you to the lagoon’s outer edges, where the strip of sand is barely wide enough for a cartwheel. Inside, the ocean is so warm and clear, it’d be easy to mistake it for a pool. But that lagoon is a nursery for juvenile reef fish, and the finish line for pass dives. For these adrenaline-inducing swims, tidal changes carry you alongside whitetip sharks, dolphins, and other predators, plus schools of fish, from the outside reef through a cut in the atoll into the warm waters.
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9. Kauai, Hawaii
Of the many benefits to living on a small island, one is never being without options that feel worlds apart. “They say if you don’t like the weather, drive to another part of Kauai,” says Marvin Otsuji, owner of Seasport Divers. “It’s like that with beaches, and to an extent, diving.” Swells knock against different coasts depending on the season — which is why the singular destination accommodates surfers and divers. One spot that’s steadily divable is off one of the better-known beaches. “Our signature site is Sheraton Caverns, a blown-out lava-tube formation with lots of light filtration, and three fingers that house an abundance of moray eels,” says Otsuji. Plus, because it spans 20 to 65 feet in depth, it gives options to divers of mixed abilities — all without driving across the island.
GO NOW: seasportdivers.com
10. Bali, Indonesia
White sand, throngs of young people, thatched-roof bars serving Bali Hai beer, and a 411-foot army cargo ship that you can shore dive: These are the selling points of Bali beaches. The USAT Liberty lies on its side, parallel to the fishing village of Tulamben. A few storms have combed overtop the wreck, adding handfuls of exit points. Says Simon Pridmore, Bali dive guidebook author, “For people looking to get comfortable with overhead environments, it’s pretty much ideal.”
GO NOW: aquamarinediving.com