Cleopatra’s Sunken Palace
In 1996, the president of the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology made a startling discovery, the long lost island of Antirhodos. He actually spent 10 years planning an expedition to the island to uncover the secrets of Cleopatra’s sunken palace.
The island sank without a trace in the Fourth Century due to a great earthquake prompting a chain of devastating tremors and a powerful tsunami that struck the Egyptian coastline hard. Once a place of immense wealth and splendour, Antirhodos vanished to be rediscovered in the 90s, a priceless archeological find recovering well-preserved and authentic relics, statues and artwork.
Unfortunately for divers, nowadays all those pieces have been taken out of the water to tour the world museums. That said, there are some artifacts left for divers to see today and you can still explore the stunning historical palace. The site isn’t really deep, just 5 to 8 meters, but it’s really shallow, which is something to bear in mind.
Diver will be able to see many of the columns of the palace, huge stones everywhere, big bowls used in ancient times to keep water or food and two Sphinxes. There are also stones with ancient Egyptian writings on it if the visibility is good enough. Fan of historical discoveries will definitely want to brave the shallow waters and explore the site.
The Military Museum
Located in the Middle East, the Military Museum in Aqaba is the world’s first underwater military museum, and it’s a sight to behold.
This incredible underwater museum includes 19 different pieces of hardware including tanks, an ambulance, a military crane, a troop carrier, anti-aircraft guns and a combat helicopter, each piece was sunk in ‘battle formation’ for authenticity. Organisers say that great care was taken to remove anything toxic from the pieces, before sinking them in an underwater playground for diving and military enthusiasts.
The dive site is situated far from any natural coral reefs, because it’s hoped that it will bring tourism to the area, and create a crucial, albeit manmade, coral reef where coral, sea sponges and fish will thrive and call it home. It’s hoped that it will also give divers somewhere new to explore, taking them away from the delicate coral ecosystems nearby.
This is a stunning dive to explore, in the bluest of waters and even though it’s between 15 and 28 metres below the surface of the sea, it’s also accessible to snorkelers and tourists in glass bottomed boats.
Temple Of Doom (Cenote Esqueleto)
Looking a little like a skull, Mexico’s “Temple of Doom”, aka Cenote Esqueleto, is an apt name as one of the most hazardous and intricate dive sites in the world. This cenote is incredibly dark, disorientating and dangerous.
Divers are asked to stick to sunlit areas to be safe, and take extreme care as many passageways are tight and narrow. It’s very easy to become lost in Cenote Esqueloto, and many divers have run out of air trying to find their way back.
Not hazardous enough? There is also no access ladder at Cenote Esqueleto, meaning those keen to reach the intricate cave network that lies far beneath the surface have to take a giant leap of faith right at the beginning.
However, the Temple of Doom rewards courageous divers with its fascinating deep and complex cave formations, boulders, and stalactites.
The Ghost Fleet Of Chuuk Lagoon
Chuuk Lagoon is hard to beat. Located in the remote Central Pacific in Micronesia, underwater explorers flock here to see the world’s largest ghost fleet. Known to some as ‘the Japanese Pearl Harbour’, what awaits beneath the surface is truly unique and difficult to put into words.
There was once an impenetrable Japanese naval base here, but as World War II approached its end, the stronghold was destroyed in a devastating attack known as Operation Hailstone. In total, the United States destroyed 16 warships, 32 merchant ships and 25o aircraft.
Nowadays, wrecks litter the lagoon’s sand-covered floor, filled with marvellous marine life, and beckoning divers with their long-lost treasures. Look out for the San Francisco Maru, a vast cargo ship that still has three tanks on deck. Haunting and exciting in equal measure, this is a dive site that is not to be missed.
The Wreck Of The USS Saratoga
Submerged 50 metres beneath the calm ocean surface at beautiful Bikini Atoll, the wrecked USS Saratoga draws divers keen to explore its historic hull.
This ship boasts a fascinating back story. It was an aircraft carrier that saw significant action during World War II, torpedoed by a Japanese submarine following the Pearl Harbour attack, before taking part in the legendary Battle of Iwo Jima.
Ironically, the Saratoga was eventually sunk by the United States as part of the nuclear weapons tests, called Operation Crossroads, that took place here in the 1940s. It has sat peacefully at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean ever since.
Because its final resting place isn’t too far from the surface, the Saratoga is accessible to recreational divers, who head here to see the wreck at close quarters. There are other dive sites in the area, best accessed via the Marshall Islands, but there’s no question that the Saratoga is the most popular of all.
Christ Of The Abyss
For avid divers or anyone interested in underwater exploration, Christ Of The Abyss is a must-see dive site. Located in the shimmering Mediterranean, between Camogli and Portofino on the Italian Riviera, this is a sacred spot for scuba divers.
Found 56 feet beneath the sun-kissed surface, this is a peaceful place indeed. Measuring eight feet from head to toe, Guido Galletti’s submerged bronze statue offers a benediction of peace, its head and hands raised towards the skies above.
Placed at the spot where Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian to use scuba equipment, died in 1947, Christ of the Abyss has stood here since 1954, beckoning those keen to pay their respects. Similar statues can be found in waters around the world, but the purists always head here to see the original and the best.
The Pyramids Of Yonaguni
Located off Ryukyu Island in Japan, Yonaguni’s mysterious pyramids have baffled scholars ever since being discovered in 1986.
The area has long been a popular dive site due to the graceful hammerhead sharks that glide through the waters here. But in the decades that have passed since the massive stepped monoliths first came to light, divers have had another reason to take the plunge and head down to the captivating depths.
Some think that the pyramids are natural, with the strong underwater currents having shaped the soft sandstone over thousands of years. Yet there’s a growing belief that this is, in fact, a ‘Japanese Atlantis’, an ancient lost city, sunk by a powerful earthquake two millennia ago, and preserved forever beneath the lapping waves.
Regardless of their origins, Yonaguni’s popular pyramids demand to be explored. Ranking amongst diving’s greatest discoveries, this is a must if you love exploring historical dive sites.
Amami Oshima, Japan
Like underwater crop circles, these mysterious ‘sand drawings’ confounded scientists for a short time. Discovered during a routine dive off Amami Oshima in southern Japan, wild theories abounded.
Measuring six feet in diameter and found 80 feet beneath the ocean surface, no-one could explain their origins. Further dives soon revealed the reason, however. This has nothing to do with aliens, but the explanation is no less fascinating.
The rippling geometric patterns are, in fact, created by small puffer fish, who toil to fashion intricate designs on the soft ocean floor. Scientists have discovered that these delicate ‘drawings’ help the puffer fish to attract a mate, as well as providing a safe place for eggs to be laid.
It’s a beautiful sight and an incredible discovery. Preparing to dive in Japan? Be sure to look out for the puffer fish — and their amazing underwater artworks.
The Lion City — aka Shi Cheng — was once a major metropolis, an economic and political powerhouse in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, its ancient buildings attractive and its influence great.
That all came to an abrupt end in 1957, when the powers-that-be here decided that a vast hydroelectric power plant was needed. Its inhabitants evacuated from their homes, Shi Cheng was submerged at the bottom of an enormous man-made lake. Out of sight and out of mind, it was soon forgotten.
Divers rediscovered ‘China’s Atlantis’ almost five decades later — making this a popular spot indeed for those with a penchant for underwater adventures. Lying 130 feet beneath the surface of picturesque Lake Qiandao, the city’s haunting streets and buildings remain intact, drawing those keen to explore Shi Cheng’s long-forgotten corners. Had it not been for curious divers, this historic urban centre might have been lost forever. Will you be brave enough to explore this underwater ghost town?
Weligama, Sri Lanka
If you’d like a chance to swim alongside beautiful sea animals, it’s time to take a trip to Sri Lanka.
The so-called Pearl of the Indian Ocean is a diver’s paradise where stunning marine creatures of all sizes can be found. But there is nothing to be found in the captivating depths here to beat the breathtaking Blue Whale. Measuring up to 30 metres from head to tail, and weighing as much as 170 tonnes, this is an immense beast indeed.
It is stricly forbidden to dive with Blue Whales in Sri Lanka, but lucky divers might be able to see one from afar.
Picturesque Weligama is the place to go for anyone keen to experience an underwater encounter like no other. Eels, Sea Turtles and Manta Rays graciously swim in these waters, however make sure to research the best season to not miss the big sea animals.
Wreck Of The Titanic
Having slipped beneath the ink-black surface one night in 1912, Titanic lay undisturbed on the frigid ocean floor for almost three quarters of a century. Rediscovered during a secret operation in 1985, divers have longed to explore the renowned wreck ever since.
Getting there is the problem, with Titanic’s holed hull lying more than two miles down in an unpredictable part of the Atlantic that is almost impossible to access. Yet plans are afoot to resume exploration, using special submersibles to transport those with the means to a dive site like no other.
It was an oceanographer called Robert Ballard who located the wreck in the 1980s, but the costs and logistics involved have made return visits problematic. With Titanic disintegrating, those keen to follow in Ballard’s footsteps know that time is running out.
If you’d like to see it, it will cost a fortune. But with Titanic’s bow, deck and bridge to explore — as well as a vast debris field strewn with historic artifacts from that fateful voyage, those who can afford it might consider it a price worth paying.
The Cathedral, Australia
Divers have long known about The Cathedral, an immense cave network on the picturesque Tasman Peninsula. But so vast is this awe-inspiring underwater world, exciting new discoveries are being made all the time.
The site was formed over thousands of years, with fresh water filtering through the soft limestone, before rising to the surface under pressure, eroding great chunks of stone in the process.
The result is spectacular, with intricate passages aplenty, and the chance of yet another amazing discovery waiting around each and every corner. The latest find has been dubbed ‘The Chamber of Secrets’, a cavernous expanse that has yet to be explored fully.
The Piccaninnie Ponds cave system is so huge that no-one knows what else might be hidden down here. It’s perhaps no surprise then that intrepid divers are drawn to Southern Australia to swim in its waters. However, after a series of non-qualified diver accidents, access to them is now strictly controlled.
Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park
There’s nowhere on Earth quite like the haunting Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park. Located off Grenada’s popular western shores, divers take to the warm Caribbean Sea to catch a glimpse of the strange underwater world that the British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor created here in 2006.
There’s a circle of life-sized human figures, all holding hands, that can unsettle the unprepared, whilst other attractions include ‘The Lost Correspondent’ — a man sitting at a desk, working on his typewriter — and ‘Man on a Bike’ (no explanation necessary).
This is all on the ocean floor, remember, but if it all seems a little silly, Taylor’s work is serving a useful purpose. Enhancing the native reef and encouraging marine life, the ocean is claiming this artificial environment as its own, a little at a time, and more and more creatures are making their homes amongst the sculptures. It makes for a fascinating dive and no matter how often you visit, there’s always something different to discover down here.
The Underwater River
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula features amazing dive sites. Here, porous limestone that lies beneath ground level and prone to sinkholes, have flooded and filled with water over time. These holes are called cenotes and one of them in particular demands to be explored. It’s known as Cenote Angelita (Little Angel) and the discovery that has been made down here is remarkable.
In ancient times, the Maya people believed the sinkholes to be sacred places. Here, gifts would be given to the gods, so finding an ancient artifact is always possible in Yucatan’s fascinating cenotes, but at Angelita, the best discovery of all has been a natural one.
It’s an underwater river that flows deep beneath the sinkhole’s surface. The science is complicated and the concept surreal, but you don’t need to understand it to enjoy it. The underground river was discovered by amateur divers, and there’s a good chance that further secrets are down here, just waiting to be found.
The Lost City of Heracleion
Divers spent decades searching for Heracleion, a vast ancient city, rumoured to lie beneath the shimmering ocean surface, not far from Egypt’s picturesque coastline. Lost for thousands of years, people thought it was a myth, a legend hinted at in rare scrolls and texts.
But in 1999, French archaeologists found Heracleion’s ruins some six kilometres from the Alexandria shoreline. It was a remarkable discovery that has seen countless treasures recovered from the deep.
Some 64 ships, 700 anchors, innumerable gold coins and giant statues, some still intact, are amongst the items retrieved from a city believed to date back to the 12th Century BC. Even more impressive is the massive temple discovered down here, an awe-inspiring place that demands to be explored. Divers have made some incredible discoveries over the years, but few can rival this. Unfortunately, recreational diving is not allowed at Thonis-Heracleion, but research divers and underwater archaeologists consistently excavate and find new artifacts at the site.
The Great Blue Hole
Divers have long known about the huge marine sinkhole, aka the Great Blue Hole, that lies close to Lighthouse Reef, an atoll 70km from Belize’s sun-kissed shores. Experienced divers come from around the world for this “dive bucket list experience”.
Indeed the visibility in these turquoise waters is like no other, and allows divers to be marvelled at cave formations and diverse marine life underwater. Higher up, life abounds with sharks, turtles and colourful corals amongst the spectacular sights to be seen.
But diving in the Great Blue Hole doesn’t come without risks. Upon reaching 90 metres, there is a thick layer of toxic hydrogen sulfide, described as a vast “floating blanket”. Beneath this, there is nothing to see other than long-dead crabs and a so-called ‘conch graveyard’.
Divers discovered here small stalactites, suggesting that this was once a huge dry cave, most likely formed during the last Ice Age, some 14,000 years ago.
Um El Faroud Wreck
Officially a man made dive site, rather than a natural beauty, the Um El Faroud that can be found off the southwest coast of Malta most definitely doesn’t lack any beauty despite being deliberately created.
Um El Faroud doesn’t represent the name of the area. Instead it’s the name of a 10,000 tonne British built, Libyan owned fuel tanker vessel, that in 1995 suffered a gas explosion during routine maintenance work whilst dry docked in Malta. It was so damaged as a result that it could no longer sail, and was purposefully sunk, or ‘scuttled’ in nautical terms, to its final resting place at the bottom of the sea close to Wied iz-Zurrieq.
But that’s not the end of the story. In 2005, the ship was damaged further by a violent sea storm and was split in two, making it an even more interesting dive site! Home to tuna, squid and barracudas, the ship sits 36 metres down and 200 metres from shore.
Experienced wreck divers can follow the inquisitive fish as they enter the wreck, which still remains upright on the sandy seabed despite all that Mother Nature has thrown at it.
The Sweepstakes Shipwreck
200 feet below water in the Fathom Five National Marine Park lays the Sweepstakes shipwreck. The Sweepstakes (also now affectionately known as Sweeps) was a Canadian two masted schooner built in 1867.
Carrying a load of coal, it was damaged off Cove Island in August 1885 where it then sank in shallow water. The following month it was towed by tug into Big Tub Harbour where it was discovered that the ship sadly wasn’t worthy of repair.
The decision was made to strip it of its load and anything useful, before being sunk in the harbour, where it remains to this day.
Accessible and visible to tour boat passengers, snorkelers and divers alike, the Sweepstakes Shipwreck is one of the most visited of several wrecks in the Fathom Five National Marine Park in Tobermory in Ontario.
With its hull still intact after all this time, the wreck lays majestically in the water, and its partially remaining bow is visible from the surface of the water. It also holds the accolade of one of the best preserved Great Lakes schooners from the 19th century still in existence and is well worth exploring.
Gili Meno Statues
Described as ‘hauntingly beautiful’ by Lonely Planet, the Gili Meno Statues are to be found off the coast of Gili Meno island in Indonesia, between Bali and Lombok. Sculpted by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, these beautiful statues comprise of 48 life size human figures, arranged in a circle, the outer ring standing as couples embracing, the inner ring curled together, but all looking inwards towards the centre of the circle.
Over time, this sculpture will gradually take on the role of home to coral and sea life, but will still be recognisable as a ring of humans even as the coral reef it will become. In fact, each piece was cast from a real person, and is made from pH neutral, environmental grade concrete that supports the delicate ecosystems of coral reefs.
The Gili Islands are a beautiful place to visit, and a diving trip to the Gili Meno Statues is a must. Even though this is a manmade dive site, we simply couldn’t leave it off our list of incredible dive sites since it’s so beautiful and so dedicated to helping to save nearby coral reefs. Visible to both snorkelers and divers, and surrounded by tropical fish, there’s something for everyone as you swim these pristine, warm waters.
David Copperfield is famous worldwide for his magic, but even more intriguing than his illusions and storytelling, is the Musician dive site in the waters that surround his private islands in the Bahamas. The Musician is a man made, life size sculpture of a mermaid sitting and staring longingly at a baby grand piano.
She sits majestically, 15 feet below the surface of these stunning, crystal clear waters, atop pristine white sands and is said to be beckoning divers to the piano to play her the tune she so longs to hear.
Commissioned by Copperfield, world famous British underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor created this stunning sculpture as a ‘quirky surprise’ to the small number of exclusive guests Copperfield has visiting him on his island. But never fear, you don’t have to be a mega rich, famous friend of this A lister, as boat trips are organised from the shores of nearby islands so that us mere mortals can catch a glimpse of this aqua beauty.
Made from stainless steel, the Musician is best explored when the waters are still, as the strong currents in the area can stir up the white sand from the seabed, obscuring her beauty. Accessible to snorkelers as well as divers, she’s a must see if you’re in the Bahamas.
Staniel Cay Plane Wreck
Close to Staniel Cay Airport in the Bahamas, the Staniel Cay Plane Wreck dive site is surrounded in dastardly intrigue as well as beauty. Easily accessible (one of the most easily accessible plane wreck dive sites in the world, actually) due to its shallow location in these stunning turquoise waters, this dive site is just half a mile from shore.
The beauty of this wreck turned artificial reef is the way that Mother Nature has just continued to go about doing her thing. The plane is now home to many different species of both coral and fish, and is a lasting reminder of the power of nature to adopt a home even in such shallow waters.
But the dastardly intrigue comes from the reason this plane is in the water in the first place, just six feet below the surface. This plane belonged to a drug smuggler ferrying his load of marijuana from Columbia to Miami. It was the 1970s and the reign of Pablo Escobar was at its height and planes used to stop off at the tiny Staniel Cay Airport at night.
Running out of fuel, this plane didn’t quite make it, and it’s thought that both pilot and passenger perished because they couldn’t escape the plane through the mountains of marijuana on board. Now it’s a popular tourist spot, looking for the ghosts of an era long passed, but still holding its cards close to its chest.