Paddle in the pastel-blue seas of the Caribbean, snorkel alongside whale sharks, rays and turtles in the Maldives, or dive down below the waves to discover ancient shipwrecks on Sri Lanka’s little-explored East Coast. To inspire your next underwater adventure, we pick five of the best places to swim, snorkel and dive around the world.
Best for tailor-made snorkelling & diving – Kandolhu, Maldives
This small retreat is one of our favourites in the Maldives. Kandolhu is in the North Ari Atoll and its stunning house reef is bursting with colour – from exotic corals to rainbow-splashed fish. Its tiny size means you can swim or snorkel around the entire island, so pop your goggles on for the chance to see turtles and rays in the shallow lagoon. The island has its own safari yacht, the Ari Explorer, which can take you out on your own tailor-made snorkelling itinerary or private diving experience. You can also join a sunset cruise aboard the yacht, sipping Champagne and spotting dolphins as you sail.
Best for whale shark sightings – Outrigger Maafushivaru Maldives Resort
You’ll find Maafushivaru in the Maldives' South Ari Atoll, which is known for its year-round whale shark sightings. The island runs its own whale shark safaris, giving you the chance to swim and snorkel alongside these gentle giants in the open ocean. This unforgettable experience includes a 60-minute cruise from Maafushivaru, joined by the resort’s resident marine biologist who’ll help you seek out turtles, dolphins and rays along the way. Head to the beach at night and you may get to see the natural phenomenon of bioluminescent plankton glittering on the moon-lit ocean.
Best for families & wreck diving – Passikudah Bay, Sri Lanka
Steer off the tourist trail and head to the unspoilt East Coast for some of the best underwater adventures in Sri Lanka. The calm and shallow waters of Passikudah Bay are perfect for snorkelling and diving, whether you’re a beginner or certified. Passikudah Bay is protected, so it’s ideal if you’re travelling as a family as the little ones can swim and snorkel safely. Try wreck diving and you’ll get to explore an old WWII tanker which sank during a Japanese air raid in 1942. The best time to visit Passikudah is between May and October when the days are warm and there’s less chance of rain reducing underwater visibility. We recommend staying at the luxurious Uga Bay. It has a striking setting with views over Passikudah Bay and rooms right on the beach.
Best for swimming – Palm Island, The Grenadines
Palm Island in the Grenadines is a tropical swimming gem, impossible to resist with its white sands, warm seas and lush green interior. From here, you can hop on a boat to discover the islands of the Tobago Cays, where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed, and search for sea turtles in its electric-blue waters. If you’re a strong swimmer, the Palm to Union Island swim is a must. This straight stretch is a mile long, but worth it for the views. Olympic swimmer Becky Adlington launched her swimming workshop on Palm Island, and did the Palm to Union stretch when she was here promoting the therapeutic benefits of ocean swims. For your stay, we love the intimate Palm Island Resort and Spa. It has a very private and exclusive feel, with sea-view suites and activities such as nature trails, rum tasting, starlit cinema nights and ‘Zayaking’ – a fun new way of snorkelling without the mask.
Best for speciality dives & conservation – Gaya Island, Malaysia
The island of Pulau Gaya lies just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in Borneo’s protected Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. On this jungle-clad isle, the five-star Gaya Island Resort has a fantastic guided snorkelling experience, involving two snorkel sites and lunch on a local island. It also has a long list of PADI dive courses, from introductory try dives to speciality lessons in underwater photography. A five-minute boat ride will take you to the resort’s impressive marine centre, which has been rescuing and treating endangered sea turtles since its launch in 2013. The centre also has a coral nursery where you can learn all about reef conservation.