Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Top 10 Diving Hotels Worldwide 2005

From Jules Verne, whose imagination descended 20,000 leagues, to the Beatles, who wanted to be "in an octopus's garden in the shade," to Disney, who helped us find Nemo, arbiters of culture have long been fascinated with life under water. Certainly, there is a seductive mystery in the fluttering of exotic, multihued fish, shimmering sea urchins, adrenalin-pounding sharks, museum-worthy corals and eerie shipwrecks, all immersed in an ethereal tranquility—you'll hear no cell phones ringing on a seabed. It's no wonder diving is such a popular vacation getaway and that entire resorts are dedicated to the sport. Whether you want to decompress in Australia, PADI train in Europe or explore the Elbow in Latin America, you'll love the list of eclectic destinations we've come up with. Our motto: Have wetsuit, will travel. Ready, set, dive!


Kona Coast , Hawaii
Kona Aggressor II

Just for fun, we’re starting off with a twist. Kona Aggressor II isn’t a dive resort. This eighty-foot vessel—complete with salon, five double staterooms, one quad room and a hot tub—belongs to the Aggressor fleet, which hosts live-aboard dive holidays around the world. Consider this a floating inn that will transport you to the best dive sites off the Kona Coast of the Big Island. Volcanic topography features lava tubes, enormous craters and arches inhabited by turtles, mantas, frogfish and fanciful Spanish Dancers. Besides a variety of certification courses, you can also take underwater photography and environmental diving classes. Standard itineraries run from Saturday to Saturday.


Great Barrier Reef
Lizard Island Resort

Home to the largest collection of coral reefs in the world (with more than 400 varieties of coral), the Great Barrier Reef is deserving of its World Heritage Site status. Surrounded by a fringing reef, Lizard Island is home to a contemporary, Down-Under-casual resort that takes full advantage of the area's marine wonders. Care to observe century-old giant clams or swim with the massive—and amusingly curious—Potato Cod? You can take the introductory Discover Scuba, a PADI open water referral course (this must be booked ahead) and nocturnal dives. When not splashing around, hide away on one of 24 beaches, hang out on the private deck of your airy villa, indulge at the day spa or dine at Osprey's Restaurant.


Turneffe Atoll
Turneffe Island Resort

Thirty recognized dive sites and three opportunities each day to explore them make Turneffe Atoll a treasure for divers. Adrift off the coast of Belize, this private, fourteen-acre resort harbors four intimate lodges, eight private cabanas that look like little beach shacks and plenty of hammocks for shedding the cares of daily life. Forget about TVs, phones and faxes—you have no choice. You’re here to discover The Blue Hole, an immense ancient underwater cavern charted by Jacques Cousteau, or the Elbow, whose pinnacles and sand shoots serve as a playground for hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, eagle rays and hammerhead sharks. The resort is also noted for fly-fishing, and guests often combine activities.


Vatulele Island
Vatulele Island Resort

The fact that Vatulele Island Resort was co-founded by a TV producer comes as no surprise, given its stage-like perfection. Of all the properties on our list, this one will appeal most to those who consider a buddy more than just a diving partner. Weddings and honeymoons figure prominently here. Vatulele is just a 25-minute light aircraft flight from Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, and boasts a ratio of nearly two dive sites for each of the fourteen freestanding accommodations. Resident instructors (where do we sign up?) at the PADI dive facility lead resort, open water and specialty courses. Beneath the waves, expect to find soft and hard corals, large drop-offs and above average to excellent visibility. On land, an all-inclusive set-up means unlimited French Champagne.


Villa at Dunbar Rock & Nautilus Dive Resort

When it comes to our value pick, economical doesn’t mean cut-rate. Warm waters, visibility up to 100 feet, tube sponges, hard corals and the impressive Villa on Dunbar Rock—poised on a thirty-foot-high rock dome—make this destination priceless. The villa is 300 meters from the dock of its sister property, Nautilus Dive Resort, which resides on Guanaja Island, a former pirate haunt forty miles off the northern coast of Honduras. The Villa is a new, five-bedroom, private retreat complete with a dedicated staff, while Nautilus is a restored six-bedroom mansion built by the descendants of buccaneers. While pillaging and plundering may no longer be the regional pursuits of choice, you’ll find plenty of underwater adventure in the form of the drop-offs, a tunnel filled with thousands of silverside sardines and the Jado Trader, a sunken freighter.


Onemobaa Island
Wakatobi Dive Resort

There’s something especially appealing about a resort with its own “house reef.” Especially when that reef features a trio of habitats—sand, sea grass and coral—and a dramatic panorama of marine life: turtles, rays, clownfish, ghost pipe fish, porcelain crabs, nudibranches, blue-ringed octopuses and pygmy seahorses. Located in a National Marine Park in the Wakatobi archipelago in the Banda Sea, this eco-friendly resort also offers easy access to several dozen outlying sites with three boat dives a day. Miles of drop-offs, slopes, caverns, caves and seamounts will give you plenty to dream about as you lie in bed each night in your rustic, romantic wooden bungalow.


Hotel Ilio

There’s no denying it. “Under the Tuscan sun” has run its course. Sure, we adore the graciously shabby villas, ruby wines, velvety olive oils and fields of sunflowers, but we also appreciate Tuscany for its ability to surprise. In the Tuscan Archipelago National Park off the west coast of Italy, Elba—best known as the place of Napoleon’s exile—is a reminder of the region’s great diversity. Make yourself at home at the pretty Hotel Ilio, adjacent to a PADI dive center, and use it as a base for underwater explorations of Cape St. Andrea. In the shallows, fields of Posidonia seaweed shelter local fish varieties, while further out, intriguing dives can be found near le Formiche della Zanca rocks. Along with gorgonia, lobster and sunfish in the summer, you can hunt for the remains of two Roman merchant ships.


Velavaru Island
Velavaru Island Resort

Seeking that last lost corner of the world where no one will find you? Velavaru Island Resort is one of only two resorts in the Dhaalu Atoll, a chain of 1,190 coral islets. Consider these waters your own exclusive playground as you head out for daily morning and afternoon dives with a choice from four to eight dives a day. In fact, you can go for almost a week of unlimited diving without visiting the same site twice. Traditional Maldivian dhoni-style boats are used for all excursions, to destinations such as Kudu Giri (a wonderland of red sponges and white fan coral) and Madi Kandu (a narrow channel crossing filled with sharks and eagle rays). Bungalows are just steps from the beach, and courses from the OCEAN-PRO dive team include open water, dive master and shark specialist.


Palau Pacific Resort

This property has an appealing old school vibe. Rather than trying to heighten the tropical atmosphere with a sleek designer interpretation of island living, it offers the casual South Pacific-style made famous during the first half of the 20th century. Relaxation is paired with Splash, a PADI dive center offering guided diving tours on its dedicated dive boat, Splash, and a variety of certification courses. The waters here boast visibility up to 150 feet, more than 1,500 types of fish and 700 types of hard and soft coral. You can also work on your WWII history by diving to the wrecks of the Amatsu, Maru, Goxan Maru, Iro or Helmet. Those divers who want to capture their experiences at the Blue Corner or Ngemelis Drop-off on film can get advice at the in-house underwater digital video and photo center.



If you're single, ready to mingle and a fan of the happy hour, this resort was made for you. A member of the Club Med family of "villages," this particular property caters to guests eighteen and older. Like its sibling resorts, it's all-inclusive: food, booze and more than fifty different activities. Divers can customize the deal to incorporate underwater pursuits. Take your pick from beginner, accompanied advanced and unaccompanied advanced packages (three to six days), which include a variety of two dives per day. The vertical shafts, canyons and coral reefs in this region are famous. Among the marine life you might encounter: barracudas, groupers, triggerfish, hammerhead sharks and reef sharks.

(Updated: 08/21/13 RD)

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