When most of us began our diving journey, we envisioned ourselves in turquoise waters, exploring vibrant coral reefs and swimming through shoals of shimmering fish. That, and hanging out on a white sand beach, sipping on coconut water during surface intervals (go on, tell us we're wrong). There's something so mesmerizing about coral reefs, that no matter how many times you've been coral diving, you keep coming back for more. Having travelled around the globe, diving in world-renowned spots including Indonesia and Egypt, we've come up with our top contenders for the best coral diving in the world:
Tubbataha Reef, Philippines
As part of the Coral Triangle, the Philippines had to be on our list of the best coral diving in the world. With over 7,000 islands, the Philippines has dive sites left, right, and centre. And Tubbataha Natural Park in the Sulu Sea is a particularly special one. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the park spans 96,828 hectares, and is a haven for marine creatures and sea birds.
Tubbataha is only accessible by liveaboard (part of what makes this dive site so special), and the diving season is a brief window from March to June, due to rough seas at other times of the year. Inside the park, you'll discover two large atolls (aptly named North and South) and a smaller reef, the Jessie Beazley Reef.
Thanks to its remote location, Tubbataha's reefs are in great condition (despite recent bleaching events), supporting 360 species of coral and 600 species of fish. The Jessie Beazley Reef in particular is fantastic for coral diving, with some beautiful Acropora and Porites species. If that wasn't enough, it's also a hotspot for whitetip and blacktip reef sharks, with occasional sightings of pelagic species such as manta rays, eagle rays, hammerhead sharks and thresher sharks.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
No list of the best coral diving in the world would be complete without including Indonesia. Indonesia (another member of the Coral Triangle) has countless coral reefs. You'll find them hidden away on remote islands that are hard to reach, or mere steps from the shore in famous tourist destinations like Bali. Our go-to for coral diving in Indonesia is Raja Ampat, a group of far-flung islands on the western tip of Indonesia.
Raja Ampat has earned its reputation as a diving mecca with over 500 species of coral (40 that are endemic to the region) and a jaw-dropping 3,000 species of fish. Cape Kri is hand's down the most famous dive site in the area, and holds the record for the most fish species recorded on a single dive: 374!
While Raja Ampat is known for its soft corals (it's home to huge gorgonian sea fans and a large variety of mushroom corals), hard coral fans won't be disappointed, as Raja Ampat has ten times the number of hard coral species than the Caribbean.
Red Sea, Egypt
A little closer to home, the Red Sea in Egypt is a firm contender when it comes to the best coral diving in the world. One of the 'Seven Wonders of the Underwater World', the Red Sea is home to 1,100 fish species (an estimated 20% are found nowhere else in the world, such as the Red Sea Pipefish and the Picasso Triggerfish), and over 200 species of hard and soft coral.
Hurghada is one of our favourite areas to dive in the Red Sea. It's a great jumping-off point for Egypt liveaboards and a good base for day trips to the Abu Nuhas wrecks and the Giftun Islands. Just off the shore at the Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh, there's a fantastic house reef with healthy corals, reef fish, as well as larger species like sharks, dolphins and blue spotted rays.
Otherwise, small Giftun Island, around 60-minutes by boat from Hurghada, is one of the best sites in the area for coral diving. A fun drift dive for experienced divers, you'll pass along a vertical wall that, at its shallower depths, is known as the Gorgonian Reef (thanks to its abundance of swaying sea fans).
Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea
In the marine biology community, Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea is fondly nicknamed the Coral Crucible. With a name like that, it's no surprise that it's home to some of the best coral diving in the world. This tiny area, around the same size as California, is home to roughly 400 species of coral, 860 species of reef fish and ten species of cetaceans.
Not only is Kimbe Bay a part of the Coral Triangle, but 60% of all Coral Triangle reef species are found in its waters. There are a variety of dive sites (each as impressive as the last), with brightly coloured corals, anemones and a bounty of reef fish. If you're one for wreck diving, 'The Zero' - a wreck of a Japanese Aircraft - is a must-dive, it's surrounded by coral bommies and hosts several species such as gobies, lobsters and eight-banded butterflyfish.
Feeling inspired to visit the best coral diving sites in the world? Get in touch with our team to learn how you can see these incredible diving destinations on your next dive holiday.