How To Plan For Your First Dive Vacation

You’ve received your open water certification and your ready to log some dives. The only problem, you don’t know where you should go. Maybe you’ve got a few weeks off coming up soon and you want to make a long trip with lots of fun dive filled days. Or, maybe you’re just looking for a quick weekend getaway.

Either way, whenever you go online to find the right place, it’s intimidating. We’re here to help. We’ll go through what you should consider when planning for your first scuba diving vacation. We’ll then go through some of the best places around the world to plan your first trip.

What Should I Consider When Planning My First Scuba Diving Vacation?

There are a few different factors you must consider before settling on the perfect place. These range from how long you have to dive to your current comfort level. The complete list of considerations are:

  • Length of vacation
  • Budget for vacation
  • Comfort level with diving
  • Other activities you want to do
Length of Vacation

This is a big one. You don’t want to travel from Chicago to Thailand if you’ve only got four or five days to spend on your vacation. You’re going to easily spend the first few days just getting there depending on how long your layovers are. You then have to plan for another one or two days to get back. After all the travel time is accounted for you may only have a few days to actually spend in the country. Not even enough time to get a dive in as you’ve got to travel to the islands.

You need to take into account not only how long you have but also flight restrictions after diving. You have to remember that you need to leave at least 24 hours in between when you dive and when you fly. This means your going to have to add a day after diving. This is one extra day that will be added to your total travel time. It’s also something that many people forget about the first time. Don’t make that mistake.

Your Budget

This one seems obvious but its a mistake many new divers make when they go on their first trip. You’ve found where you want to go and set up a budget for the trip. The hotel is perfect and the flights reasonable. Now then, what about everything else?

You may be surprised that the food budget in “cheap” countries can easily consume more than your flights and hotel combined. Add to that the cost of diving and any other activities you plan on enjoying and you can easily find yourself going way over budget.

Make sure to completely research any place you are planning on going to. You want to have everything planned out beforehand. Not so you can have some scripted vacation where you only do what is on your list. Instead, so that you know where your main budget is going. This will allow you to have some wiggle room when it comes to doing the other stuff you want. Which can include taking an extra scuba course or an extra day of diving.

Comfort Level Diving

This is one that many people don’t think about until it is too late. If you are planning your first diving vacation, chances are you aren’t the most seasoned underwater adventurer on the planet. Therefore, you want to travel to a place that has plenty of dive spots within your experience level.

Many people instead look at places they wanted to travel to for the above water sites and don’t think about how difficult the dives are going to be. Are there plenty of beginner dive spots? Are you going to be comfortable around all of the marine life, including sharks and potentially sea snakes? These are all questions to ask before you choose a destination.

Not all diving destinations are created equal. You can travel to Thailand and see tons of beautiful coral and some amazing underwater life without ever seeing a shark. Conversely, you can take a liveaboard to Cocos Island and plunge into some of the most shark-infested waters on the planet.

Make sure to take the depths and the temperature of most of the dive sites are within your skill level. We use the word most of the dive sites for a reason. If there are 20 sites in the area you are staying but only five of them are within your depth level and the rest too deep, you won’t be doing too much exploring. Conversely, if you have no experience with cold water diving, but you’re planning a trip to the United Kingdom, you will be in for a rude awakening.

Always plan your trips around your current skill level so that you can see the maximum number of sites possible.

Other Activities You Want To Do

This is another one that many people don’t think about when planning their first diving trip. Oftentimes, many people are so focused on the diving that they don’t think about what they are going to do above the water.

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Want to know a recipe for a really boring vacation? Plan a one week vacation to a small island where the only thing to do is dive, eat, and drink. Top that off with bringing the kids and you’ve got a sure recipe for disaster.

If you are planning a longer vacation, it is better to go somewhere where diving isn’t the only attraction. The flipside of this is if you are going to be on a liveaboard in which case most of your day will be consumed by diving anyways. But, this is probably not the case as a new diver.

Make sure that there are going to be other things for you to experience. Always make sure that you understand how the island works. This includes how late places stay open and what options there are for dining. We have heard many people complain about how boring their trip was because they had the wrong idea of the destination.

The Maldives, for example, can be a boring place after a few days if you don’t have the right mindset going into it. Most of the islands consist of only a few resorts and almost all of the shops and restaurants close at midnight. You won’t be having any late nights out and rarely will there be much to do beyond sitting at the beach or staying in your room. If you’ve planned a one week vacation around this, it can get old fast.

But, if your going to be in Thailand for a week and can spend a few days on one island and a few on another then go to a large city, that might not be as bad. Always plan accordingly and take into account more than just diving.

What Are The Best Destinations For Your First Scuba Diving Vacation?

Now that you know what to take into consideration for your first dive vacation, let’s take a look at which destinations fit some of these criteria. We’ve laid out some of the best destinations around the world listed by continent.


1. Thailand

Ao Nang Beach in Krabi Thailand

Thailand is a large Southeast Asian country with diving on two coasts. You can choose to explore the Gulf of Thailand, an excellent choice for new divers, or the Andaman Sea for the more adventures. The country is known for being a cheaper travel destination. Though, in recent years the costs have risen significantly, especially in the main city of Bangkok. This is a great destination for first-time divers looking for a variety of marine life and coral. With over 1,400 islands scattered throughout both coasts, you can spend months exploring the area.

  • Best Time for Diving: March to September is best for diving the Gulf of Thailand with April to November being better for the Andaman side.
  • Budget Level: $$
  • Optimal Vacation Length: At least 8 days
  • Diving Level: Beginner to Advanced Divers
  • Places to Dive: Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Phuket, Similan Islands, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lipe

2. Indonesia

Underwater shot of the vivid coral reef in tropical sea. Bali Barat National Park, Indonesia

Just south of Thailand spread throughout the Indan and Pacific Oceans, is Indonesia. This is widely regarded as the best area of the world for diving. It is located in the middle of what is known as the coral triangle. An area that encompasses most of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. There are over 17,000 islands that make up the continent and, with the world’s fourth-largest population, plenty to do both above and below the water. Indonesia is known for having everything from robust coral fields to giant marine life including sharks and whales. There are great places to dive for both beginners and advanced divers.

  • Best Time for Diving: May to September tend to be the best time of year for diving Indonesia. The waters are warm throughout the year and you can dive here year-round. But, May to September tends to have the calmest waters.
  • Budget Level: $
  • Optimal Vacation Length: At least 8 days
  • Diving Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Places to Dive: Bali, Lombok, Raja Ampat, Komodo Island, Java

3. Philippines

Aerial view of beautiful bay in tropical Islands with very white sand. Boracay Island, Philippines.

The Philippines is quite similar to Indonesia in many ways. It is a nation composed of over 7,000 islands located in the Pacific Ocean. It is also inside of the Coral Triangle and another top destination for scuba diving. You can find a variety of giant marine animals along with smaller reef fish. The coral fields around the Philippines are some of the best in the world and many of them still largely intact. As with Indonesia, there is something for everyone here both above and below the water.

  • Best Time for Diving: November to May is usually the best time to dive the Philippines. This is when the water tends to be both warm and clear. Other parts of the year usually have more rain, which can attract larger fish but will also reduce visibility due to runoff.
  • Budget Level: $
  • Optimal Vacation Length: At least 8 days
  • Diving Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Places to Dive: Apo Island, Boracay, Malapascua, Anilao, Donsol, Dimakya Island
  • Central America and the Caribbean

4. Belize

Ambergris Caye, Belize
Ambergris Caye, Belize, with Barrier Reef, Aerial View, Western Caribbean

Belize is world-renowned for gorgeous reefs and crystal clear waters. It is also home to probably the most recognizable diving destination in the world, the Great Blue Hole. Divers from around the world travel here to conquer the blue hole. But, this isn’t something for your first trip. It takes a while to get to it and this dive site is a deep one. In fact, as a new diver, you won’t even be able to go deep enough to make it into the actual hole. But, there are tons of other locations around the coast that make for amazing diving for beginners. It’s also an easy country to get to from the United States and quite cheap compared to many other popular locations in the Caribbean.

  • Best Time for Diving: April through June is usually the best time for diving in Belize. This is going to be the time of year when the water is the clearest and calmest and the temperatures the best.
  • Budget Level: $
  • Optimal Vacation Length: Around 4 days. Longer if coming from somewhere other than the United States or surrounding countries. Belize is a small country so you won’t need as long as many of the others on our list. Depending on where you are coming from, travel time will be most of the trip. From the United States, it won’t take longer than 4 to 8 hours to fly there depending on where you are flying from and if you have any layovers.
  • Diving Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Places to Dive: Ambergris Caye, Placencia, San Pedro, the Great Blue Hole, Hoi Chan Marine Reserve
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5. Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio - Costa rica
Manuel Antonio – Costa rica

Costa Rica has the best of both worlds. It is bordered to the east by the Caribbean sea and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. For large marine life, you can tour the pacific side and for robust coral fields, you can’t go wrong with the Caribbean. There is an abundance of dive sites around the country. Because it is a smaller country, similar to Belize, you can easily get anywhere in well under a day by bus or car. There are dive sites for beginners as well as more advanced divers. In fact, one of the most renowned diving destinations in the world, Cocos Island, is located 594km (369m) off the western coast. Jacques Cousteau is quoted as saying this was the most beautiful diving destination in the world. A word of advice though, skip out on Cocos till you have significant experience. Especially, diving with sharks.

  • Best Time for Diving: December to April is the best time to dive Costa Rica. The rest of the months tend to have more rain and less visibility. If you want to see larger pelagic species, the rainy months will be a better time to dive. The increased nutrients in the water provide a rich habitat for these larger species to feed.
  • Budget Level: $$
  • Optimal Vacation Length: 5 days is fine if you are coming from the United States or surrounding countries. If you are coming from other parts of the world then make sure to account for travel time.
  • Diving Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Places to Dive: Catalina Islands, Cocos Islands (by liveaboard), Cano Island, Limon, Playas Del Coco, Manuel Antonio National Park, Herradura

6. Bonaire

Bonaire, Caribbean
Underwater shot of Hawksbill turtle in coral reef with other fish, horizontal, Bonaire, Caribbean

Bonaire is part of what is known as the ABC islands. These are the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. All three are constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and all three are located to the north of Venezuela in the Caribbean. Bonaire is one of the best destinations on this list for a first time diving vacation. It is small and easy to travel around by car. You can plan a few days vacation and easily hit up the major destinations. Also, for more advanced divers, you can visit the islands east coast which is known for its choppy and exposed waters. The payoff is that this part of the island has more pristine coral fields due to being less explored.

  • Best Time for Diving: Because the island is well protected, you can dive Bonaire year-round. May through August tends to be windier. You may also experience some light showers during the rainy season between November and January. But, water temperatures and visibility tend to be consistent year-round.
  • Budget Level: $$
  • Optimal Vacation Length: 4 days if coming from the United States or surrounding countries. If you are coming from somewhere else in the world such as Europe or Asia, make sure to take into consideration the added travel time.
  • Diving Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Places to Dive: The primary diving areas are on the east coast. Due to the way Bonaire is shaped, the east coast is protected from the rough waters of the Caribbean. As a new diver, we recommend that you stick to this area for diving. You can easily reach all of the dive spots by car.

7. Mexico

Yucatan mexico
Tulum mayan ruins on the sea in yucatan mexico

Mexico is the largest country in Central America and, like Costa Rica, is bordered by both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This makes it an excellent place to see a wide variety of giant pelagic species including sharks, whale sharks, and others. You can also see some colorful and robust coral fields throughout. One thing that makes Mexico unique to divers are cenotes. These are pits where the limestone has caved in exposing the groundwater underneath. But, don’t worry about these quite yet. You need to have some cave training before you think about diving cenotes.

  • Best Time for Diving: May through September is the best time for diving on the Pacific side. You can dive the Atlantic side year-round as it is better protected.
  • Budget Level: $ – $$$
  • Optimal Vacation Length: At least 6 days
  • Diving Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Places to Dive: Yucatan Peninsula, Guadalupe Island, Isla Mujeres, Playa Del Carmen, Los Cabos

8. Bahamas

Tiger shark at Bahamas

The Bahamas is an island nation in the Caribbean. It is composed of over 700 islands and is one of the prime diving and vacation destinations in the Caribbean. The sky is the limit here and you can find everything from cheap accommodations to ultra-expensive luxury resorts. The diving here is also some of the best in the world. You can dive in crystal clear turquoise waters with giant pelagic species and multi-colored reef fish. There is plenty to do both under the water and on land so make sure you plan ahead so you can do everything you want.

  • Best Time for Diving: November to May is the best time for shark diving, the main attraction for divers in the Bahamas. While there are plenty of reefs to see around the islands, this is one destination where the marine life is the star.
  • Budget Level: $$ – $$$
  • Optimal Vacation Length: At least 6 days
  • Diving Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Places to Dive: Nassau, Eleuthera, Abaco Cay, Grand Bahama, Bimini, Andros, Exumas, Cat Island, San Salvador Island
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9. Spain

Columbrete Islands, Spain
Columbrete Islands, Castellan de la Plana, Spain

Spain may not be the first place you think of when looking for diving destinations. But, it has a little something for everyone. It’s a phenomenal destination for diving both open oceans as well as the more tame Mediterranean. You can find exquisite islands surrounded by clear turquoise waters and reef-lined coastlines. One of the things that make Spain such a great first-time diving vacation destination is that there is so much to do both below the water and above. You can enjoy the yacht lined waters of Majorca or visit one of the main cities of Barcelona or Madrid. There are three coasts that divers can enjoy including the Atlantic to the east and north and the Mediterranean to the south.

  • Best Time for Diving: The Mediterranean can be dived year-round. The Bay of Biscay, bordering northern Spain, should only be attempted in July or August when the waters are warmer. The bay can become extremely cold and choppy outside of these months.
  • Budget Level: $$ – $$$
  • Optimal Vacation Length: At least 4 days if coming from Europe. If you are coming from the Americas or Asia then make sure to take travel time into account when planning.
  • Diving Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Places to Dive: The Canary Islands, Columbretes Islands, Costa Brava and the Pyrenees, Balearic Islands, the Bay of Biscay, Cabo de Palos.

10. Greece

Lesvos Island
Lesvos Island is populer tourist destination in Greece.

This is another prime diving destination for European divers looking for their first diving vacation. Divers from around the world can enjoy here but may need to plan a few more days for their trip in order to get there. Greece is lined with crystal clear blue waters that are good for diving throughout the year. Like Spain, diving isn’t the only thing to see here. When you get tired of what’s under the water, you can enjoy the historic sites on land. You can see some unique dive sites in Greece. This includes elephant cave, where an entire elephant skeleton was found.

  • Best Time for Diving: The summer months, between June and September, are the best time for diving. These are the warmest and dryest months of the year and will provide clear and well-lit waters.
  • Budget Level: $$ – $$$
  • Optimal Vacation Length: At least 4 days if you are coming from other European countries. If coming from the Americas or Asia, make sure to plan extra time for getting there.
  • Diving Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Places to Dive: Crete, Lesvos, Corfu, Santorini, Zakynthos, Chios, Mykonos

What are some final tips for planning your first scuba diving vacation?

Don’t wait until you get there to find a dive center

It is important to do some research before you go to find a few dive centers that interest you. You want to check their reputation and see what others have said. Make sure they have dive masters that speak your language and that they will be going to dive spots within your skill level on the days you will be there. Find at least three dive centers that interest you and visit them when you arrive at your destination. After that, you can pick the exact center that is right for you.

It is best to have everything planned out ahead of time

Whether you are the type of traveler that likes to fly by the seat of your pants or an OCD planner, make sure to plan ahead of time. You are traveling primarily to dive. The last thing you want is to be stressed out when you are diving because you can’t find a good hotel. Make sure you have everything planned out well in advance. So, if anything does happen on the trip, it won’t impact your diving and won’t take away from your peace of mind.

Make sure that you buy some kind of insurance

Diving can be dangerous. Especially, when you are a beginner and more prone to making mistakes. Most likely, you will be completely fine. But, when things do go wrong for divers, they can be extremely expensive. Especially, if you have to be airlifted or taken by speed boat to the nearest hospital. Diving is a specialized sport and the treatments for diving-related injuries also specialized. This translates into being quite expensive. Especially, if you have to travel a long distance to get to a proper facility and doctor. These are expenses you don’t want to take care of out of pocket so make sure to buy diving and travel insurance.

Make sure and bring your own mask, snorkel, and fins

You are going to want these pieces of equipment at the very least for diving. But, they can come in handy when you also want to do some snorkeling. Take it from us, the rental equipment you get from shops in popular destinations is crap. The masks are either too big or too small and the snorkels will usually be cheap and leak. Bring your own equipment instead so that you can enjoy both diving and snorkeling.

In Conclusion

Planning your first diving adventure can be intimidating. But, it can also be fun and exciting at the same time. We’ve laid out quite a few of the best first time diving destinations around the world. These are by no means the only places great for first-time divers. If you put in the time for research you can find many excellent places to make your first trip. Just follow the tips we laid out above and make sure to plan accordingly.

Do you have any experience diving in any of these locations? Maybe you have some recommendations that would help out your fellow divers? Let us know in the comments section what you think. We like hearing from divers just like you.

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