For the vast majority of us, excluding base jumpers and astronauts, diving is the closest we'll get to flying. Beyond the sheer magic of floating weightless, there are the stellar views - from thriving coral reefs to caves and wrecks, multi-coloured marine life to silvery pelagics of the deep. Of course, it helps if the water is crystal clear. Luckily for you, we've scoured the Seven Seas in search of the clearest water. Read on to discover the dive destinations with the world's best water visibility.
Mexico's cenotes are famous for their astonishingly clear water. These sinkholes are formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock, which exposes the groundwater beneath. Many of these sinkholes are filled with rainwater that has been filtered by the ground, making the water so clear it feels like you are skydiving. While Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is pitted with some 7,000 cenotes in all shapes and sizes, El Pit has some of the world's best water visibility. The entrance to this cenote, a small turquoise pool, is hidden in the rainforest. While the entrance may be small, the cave beneath is colossal. Diving in the morning allows the shards of light to pierce through the entrance, illuminating the entire cave, which is adorned with stalagmites and stalactites.
For Europeans, the thought of seeing pelagics often conjures thoughts of distant destinations in Asia or the Americas - but never Europe. However, a chain of volcanic islands roughly 1,000 miles from Portugal is teeming with larger life. While local sites around the islands host an array of macro life, it's the summer months when Formigas and Dollabarat, positioned between Sao Miguel and Santa Maria, come alive with some of the world's best water visibility. These underwater pinnacles attract manta rays, mobulas, sharks, big-eyed tunas, wahoos and vast schools of swirling barracuda.
Jacques Cousteau initially brought Tikehau into the spotlight when he described it as being richer in marine life than any other lagoon in French Polynesia. Decades later, the sentiment still holds true. Within the atoll, Shark Hole is regularly touted as one of the best sites in the world. The site is characterised by a vertical break in the reef where divers can see hundreds of sharks, barracudas, tuna and squirrelfish in 30 metre visibility.
Another freshwater entry, Iceland's Silfra fissure is the only place in the world where you can dive between two continents. Located in Thingvellir National Park, the fissure marks the divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and is filled with freshwater from the nearby Langjökull glacier, one of the largest glaciers in Iceland. The water here regularly exceeds 100 metres, and the water is so clear that you can take out your regulator for a quick sip - it's the best water you will ever taste.
Diving in the Maldives often involves plenty of marine life in crystal clear waters. The Maldives' turquoise lagoons are famous for having some of the world's best water visibility, making them ideal training grounds for novice divers honing their skills throughout the year. Meanwhile, the channels separating the atolls boast excellent visibility during the northeast monsoon season. Between December and March, strong currents rip through the atolls from east to west, creating excellent visibility along the eastern atolls. No matter where you dive, expect to see a huge number of sharks in 30 metre visibility.
The Red Sea, Egypt
The Red Sea is world renowned for its gin-clear water, which has less plankton compared to other seas. Combined with minimal rainfall and a distinctive underwater topography featuring steep drop-offs, canyons, and deep water circulation that effectively removes suspended sediment, the underwater visibility often extends to an impressive 60 metres.
As for the diving, this narrow strait caters to every interest, from the WWII SS Thistlegorm wreck to thriving coral reefs, which, incidentally, have also contributed to the crystal-clear visibility by filtering the water). For fans of the big stuff, the Red Sea offers megapods of dolphins, manta rays, reef sharks, whitetip and blacktip sharks, hammerheads and more. For the best visibility, visit between December and April.
The Cayman Islands
There are no mountains or rivers in the Cayman Islands - which is great for visibility. With no run-off, the Cayman Islands boast some of the world's clearest waters. Typical visibility ranges from marvellous to outstanding, often reaching 18 to 30 metres, providing an HD view of the surrounding reefs. Bypass busy Grand Cayman and venture to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, both crowd-free Caribbean islands with world-class diving. In particular, Little Cayman boasts the world-famous Bloody Bay Wall, a vertical drop-off that plunges nearly 1,000 metres into the deep and is regularly patrolled by grey reef sharks, spotted eagle rays and nurse sharks.