Every diver is different. There are divers who travel far and wide in search of the next best wreck to explore, those who can't get enough of megafauna or 'the big stuff', then there are those of us who can't keep our eyes off the seafloor, searching for the extraordinary, tucked away within crevices or hidden within plain sight.
For macro divers, it's almost hard to describe the excitement we feel when we spot a pygmy seahorse camouflaged against a gorgonian sea fan, or a colourful mantis shrimp nestled in its burrow. Of course, some dive locations are so rich in marine life that all you have to do is open your eyes to spot something exciting, and with that in mind, we've come up with our definitive lift of the best macro diving in the world…
Unsurprisingly, the majority of our top picks for the best macro diving in the world are within the Coral Triangle, Anilao being the first one. Anilao may not be the most exciting place in the Philippines above the water, but beneath the surface, it's widely regarded as 'the nudibranch capital of the world'.
Anilao is estimated to contain hundreds of nudibranch species, including Halgerda batangas, first described in 2000, and named after the region (Anilao is in Batangas). Aside from ostentatious nudibranchs, it's not uncommon to spot hairy frogfish, blue-ringed octopus and mantis shrimp in Anilao's many dive sites.
There are roughly 40 dive sites in Anilao, some of our favourites being Twin Rocks and Anilao Pier. Twin Rocks is one of Anilao's most popular dive sites, named after the two rocks found at the site. With a maximum depth of 16 metres, it's a good site for beginner and advanced divers, with critters such as porcelain crabs, mantis shrimp and endless nudibranchs to be found.
For night dives, Anilao Pier is our first choice in the area. Once the sun sets, this shallow pier muck site is host to worms, shrimps and a range of nocturnal fish.
Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea
While the majority of Papua New Guinea's dive sites could easily qualify as some of the best macro diving in the world, we've chosen Milne Bay thanks to its combination of amazing muck sites and coral reefs (both of which host an abundance of photograph-worthy critters).
In fact, Milne Bay is home to two spectacular muck and coral reef sites, Dinah's Beach and Deacon's Reef, which remarkably are within a stone's throw of one another.
Dinah's Beach is actually the home of muck diving, dating back to the 1980s when a group of divers decided on a whim to explore this shallow silty site, and in doing so, discovered a wide variety of creatures and a new 'genre' of diving. The site is a sandy slope, with most of the critters found at around ten metres. There's plenty to keep macro divers happy, such as harlequin shrimp, orangutan crabs and frogfish.
Deacon's Reef nearby is a mixture of pristine reefs and large pelagics, such as manta rays, hammerheads and whale sharks. While it's easy to get distracted by the vibrant colours and exciting creatures overhead, if you keep your head down and your eyes peeled, you'll spot leaf scorpionfish, frogfish and all manner of other marine animals hidden away within the coral.
Lembeh Strait, Indonesia
Our final contender in the Coral Triangle is the Lembeh Strait in Indonesia, a long and narrow strip of water that separates Lembeh Island from the mainland. Renowned for its excellent muck diving, the strait doesn't have the best visibility (the average visibility is around ten metres), however, this generally isn't a problem for macro divers and budding photographers.
There are more than 30 dive sites along the Lembeh Strait, most of which are muck, sand, rock or rubble. Although there are a few nice coral reefs here and there, it's the muck sites that really steal the show.
With an abundance of interesting creatures such as pygmy seahorses, bubble-coral shrimp, decorator crabs and ornate ghost pipefish, it's no surprise that the Lembeh Strait makes our list of the best macro diving in the world.
Mafia Island, Tanzania
Lastly, we have Mafia Island, a gem in East Africa when it comes to diving. Mafia Island is the largest marine park in Tanzania, and home to a variety of ecosystems, from coral reefs to seagrass beds.
While the area is renowned for humpback whale and whale shark sightings, Mafia Island is also home to some stellar muck sites, with some of the best macro diving in the world. We particularly love Nudi City, Tom's Garden and Frogfish Town.
As its name suggests, Nudi City is a top spot for photographing colourful nudibranchs, as well as dragon sea moths, flatworms and sea hares. Tom's Garden is a mixture of seagrass beds and sandy patches, with several species of seahorses to discover, and Frogfish Town is (surprise, surprise) a fantastic site for seeing the elusive frogfish.
If we've inspired you to check off some of the best macro diving sites in the world from your bucket list, get in contact with a member of our knowledgeable team, who can help you plan the perfect itinerary for your next diving holiday.