The Advanced Open Water Diver certification gives divers more freedom on their dive holidays. Being certified to dive deeper opens up a whole world of new dive sites to explore across the planet and can allow you to enjoy underwater experiences that were previously off-limits. Aside from the delights of the deep, you will also have the chance to get your head around the seemingly unfathomable dive compass while mastering three other diving specialities, such as wreck, drift and night diving. If you're ready to take the next step on the dive ladder but are unsure about which direction to point your compass, here's our round-up of the top five destinations to get your advanced certification...
The Great Barrier Reef (GBR), off Australia's east coast, is perhaps the world's best-known coral reef system and offers excellent conditions for learning to dive or furthering your training with the advanced course. Clear, warm waters and gentle currents allow you to focus on the task at hand, and once you've mastered the skills, there's ample opportunity to explore healthy coral reefs laden with marine life.
Lizard Island, in tropical Queensland, is one of Australia's best destinations to get your advanced certification. The dive sites are less crowded than those closer to Cairns, and you will have some of the GBR's most-coveted dive sites right on your doorstep: Cod Hole and the Ribbon Reefs. At Cod Hole, groupers the size of small cars make learning Fish ID easy, while Ribbon Reef offers a heady mix of shallow and deep sites perfect for mastering your navigation skills, night dives and deep dives.
Tropical water, WWII shipwrecks, majestic manta rays and superb visibility - all within the world's most biodiverse marine environment,the Coral Triangle - makes it impossible to leave Bali off the list of top destinations to get your advanced certification. The warm and gentle waters off Tulamben, located in northern Bali, are ideal for a navigation dive, while the world-renowned USAT Liberty shipwreck lies just yards from Tulamben's black-sand beach, covered in colourful soft corals and swamped with fish life.
Padang Bai, along the island's eastern coast, is perfect for critter hunting during a Fish ID dive, where you can tick off pygmy seahorses and frogfish. Meanwhile, over in Nusa Penida you can learn the nuances of deep and drift diving while adding manta rays and mola mola to your logbook.
If you feel the Caribbean calling, you may want to add Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to your list of potential destinations to get your advanced certification. The Riviera Maya stretches along much of the Yucatan Peninsula's Caribbean coastline and offers a variety of dive sites as part of your advanced training.
Near Playa del Carmen, you can practice your Fish ID skills while encountering bull sharks and nurse sharks. Venturing out to Cozumel Island allows fun drift dives whilst seeking out splendid toadfish, groupers and jacks. For the crème de la crème of advanced diving, the cenotes are hard to beat. These inland sinkholes, filled with gin-clear freshwater, are lined with ancient stalagmites and stalactites, earning them a cult-like following among cave divers. While you can't venture too deep into the cave system (there's a speciality course for that), there's ample opportunity to explore as part of your Advanced Open Water Diver certification (as long as you are 18 or older).
Thanks to year-round sunshine, superb visibility and short flights (for northern Europeans, anyway), Egypt's Red Sea is one of the most popular destinations for advanced divers. Divers keen to experience the best of the Red Sea's diving while gaining their advanced certification should beeline straight to Hurghada.
Located south of the Suez Canal, Hurghada's gentle currents are ideal for learning the basics of drift diving, while those looking to add the Underwater Naturalist specialty won't be disappointed with the megapods of friendly dolphins at Dolphin House. Hurghada also houses the world's most famous WWII wreck: the SS Thistlegorm. This coral-encrusted freighter wreck, still carrying trucks, motorcycles, rifles and Wellington boots, is hard to beat for your first wreck dive.
The Philippines comprises over 7,000 islands, providing ample choice for divers scouting destinations to get their advanced certification. However, one island in the Visayas region of the Philippines has an ace up its sleeve that may just tip the scales. The small island of Malapascua, located at the northern tip of Cebu, is the only place in the world with daily thresher shark sightings at Monad Shoal.
Completing your deep dive at Monad Shoal will require an early start, but diving with circling thresher sharks at sunrise more than makes up for it. Closer to shore, shallow sites carpeted in soft corals are great for mastering your navigation skills. As for night diving, Lighthouse Reef offers the rare chance to see mandarinfish mating rituals, as well as seahorses, moray eels and octopuses.