Are you keen for some underwater encounters with magnificent sea creatures like whale sharks and turtles? Do you long to get up close to vivid corals and lost shipwrecks? If so, then it’s time to learn to dive!

To rent gear and scuba dive independently, you’ll need to gain your Open Water Diver (OWD) qualification. There are many different bodies that award OWD status, including a PADI diving course (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and BSAC (British Sub Aqua Club).

I’ve cherry picked some of the best ‘Dive Meccas’ for beginners to gain their Open Water qualification. Your exploration of the underwater world begins here!

1. Learn to dive in Dahab, Egypt

Learn to dive in the colourful Red Sea

Egypt is only a short hop from the UK and a great place to spend some time learning to dive. What makes this destination great is the sheer ease; all the dives are from the shore which is simple and makes the whole experience very enjoyable. There are no lengthy boat trips, which keeps the cost down. After the day’s diving is done, you can stroll along the promenade and sample any number of local restaurants, smoke a shisha and relax for the next day’s diving.

Getting here: Fly into Sharm El Sheik, and then it’s a 2 hour transfer to Dahab.

2. Learn to dive in Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao is a great place to learn to dive

I think I’ve met more people who have learnt to dive in Koh Tao than anywhere else in the world. This sleepy little island in Thailand boasts upwards of 30 dive shops with classes running on a daily basis. There is a wide range of languages spoken, so even if English is not your first language that’s no problem.

You get a huge range of wildlife here from the littlest fish right up to massive whale sharks. Although you’ll need to take a boat, the dive sites are only a short distance away so you can have a morning in the classroom before heading out in the afternoon to splash around.

Getting here: Ferry from Koh Samui, Koh Phangnan or the mainland

3. Learn to dive in Cairns, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is rightly the most famous dive destination in the world

The Great Barrier Reef is probably one of the most famous destinations in the world for diving, and rightly so. The joy of learning to dive here in Australia is that you get to experience staying on the boat (‘liveaboard’).

You’ll start off on land in a pool and class room, before heading out for three days on the reef bunking up in a yacht, with plenty of time to talk over your dives and what you have seen with your new dive buddy friends.

Quite simply, this is one of the best ways to go diving; wake up and eat, then dive, lunch, dive again, afternoon snack, dive… I think you get the idea, what better way is there to embark your diving hobby?

Getting here: Flight into Cairns or travel overland to get here

  • Pro Dive Cairns, price: From £477
  • Best time to go: All year round. Although December to May is the wet season, it’s the right time of year to get great deals. June to November is the dry season, but it is a busier time to be out there.
  • Look out for: Nemo, or Anemone Fish

4. Learn to dive on Roatan Island, Honduras

There's great diving to be had in laid back Roatan Island, Honduras

If you’re headed to the Americas, why not consider a learning to dive in Central America? This spot in Honduras is similar to Koh Tao - a laid back, chilled out island with a large number of dive resorts and shops to choose from.

Here you have the choice of shore dives or getting out on a boat for day trips to reach the dive sites that are a little further away. Here the underwater life is pretty special with loads of the usual suspects on the reef, along with a whale shark season which is well worth combining with your trip.

Getting here: Flight from Dallas, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, San Francisco or Toronto. Alternatively travel through Honduras and get a ferry

5. Learn to dive in the UK

Yes you read correctly, there are a couple of key reasons that I would suggest a local British dive shop.

Firstly, if you’re only away for a short trip, you may not want to spend hours in a classroom whilst on holiday. Why not use your weekends and get the boring stuff out of the way before your trip? Secondly, diving in the UK with a thick wetsuit and poor visibility actually makes you a better diver in the long run - imagine heading to warmer, clearer waters on your trip to a spot above where you can see for 30-50m?

I have chosen these based on experience and what else is on offer other than the diving. Each has some great underwater life for you to see and experience.

Best value places to learn to dive

If you just want to learn to dive for the best price possible, irrespective of the quality of the dive sites, I recommend the following destinations:

1. Magnetic Island, Queensland Australia

Learn to dive on Magnetic Island before heading north

Although there are only a few dives sites close by, the main reason to learn to dive on Magnetic Island is the price. You could learn to dive on a budget here, before making your way north to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef for something like this Barrier Reef & Whitsundays adventure.

A PADI qualification in Magnetic Island costs around £180 (May 2015).

2. Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao is smaller than the other islands along the east coast

This spot in Thailand is not only one of the best dive sites; it’s one of the best value – the sheer number of dive shops on this little island they all have to be competitive and offer people something extra.

Learn to dive packages are very common so get your accommodation included with your diving, I have seen packages under £250 to achieve your PADI qualification here, like this Learn to dive Koh Tao package.

3. Cebu, Philippines

One of the few places in the world where you can easily see Thresher sharks

The Philippines is often neglected on the list of dive destinations as it can be a little tricky to reach some of the surrounding islands that are the best diving. That said, the effort certainly pays off as there are so many great things to see underwater including one of the few places in the world where you can easily see Thresher sharks – which Sara blogged about here.

A PADI open water dive course in the Philippines costs around £240 (May 2015).

4. Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras

Utila is a backpacker's haven!

This spot is a backpacker’s haven with plenty of dive shops as well as budget accommodation. The demand for diving here is high and the shops have to be competitive and you would be able to arrange a dive package here.

A PADI open water dive course in Honduras costs around £200 (May 2015).

Interested in booking a diving course as part of your trip?

If you’d like to plan in some time to get PADI qualified whilst on your trip, I can help you find somewhere and book a course - just contact Graham. I can explain what types of creatures you’re likely to see and when and help you plan the best trip at the right time of the year!

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