The world's best-preserved and least-visited museums are hidden beneath the waves. For many, the fascination of wreck diving lies in the exploration of underwater relics suspended in the silent depths of the open ocean. These wrecks often bear the scars of wars, accidents, or have been intentionally scuttled to create artificial reefs. While wreck diving requires an extra certification, it's worth the extra studying. Equipped with the knowledge to safely navigate these maritime time capsules, a whole new world of sunken ships, planes and even cars awaits. Whether you're an experienced wreck diver with a deep passion for these underwater treasures or you're on a quest to earn your coveted Wreck Diver Specialty certification, read on to uncover the world's best wreck dives.
1. SS Thistlegorm, Red Sea, Egypt
The jewel in Egypt's diving crown, the SS Thistlegorm is one of the best-preserved wrecks in history. Built in 1940, this 126-metre-long British-armed merchant vessel met its untimely end during World War II when a German bomber struck it. Today, this hulking time capsule rests at a maximum depth of 30 metres, 25 miles offshore from Sharm El Sheikh in the northern Red Sea.
As you descend into its labyrinthine interiors, you'll discover an eerie collection of wartime artefacts, from motorcycles to trucks and even a steam locomotive. Thanks to over 80 years underwater, the cargo hold has developed into an artificial reef for a plethora of marine life. Don't be surprised if you spot a curious Napoleon wrasse or an elusive lionfish peering out from behind a rusting truck.
2. SS Yongala, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Known as the 'Aussie Titanic,' Australia's SS Yongala is a 109-year-old passenger and cargo ship that met its doom in a cyclone in 1911. The wreck remained lost in the ocean for almost 50 years, until it was eventually found resting on the Great Barrier Reef in 1958.
Today, the SS Yongala has transformed into a thriving underwater ecosystem. The vessel is carpeted in hard and soft corals, and as you explore its ghostly corridors and decks, look out for huge schools of barracuda, giant trevally, moray eels, groupers, manta rays and enormous sea turtles.The wreck sits between 15-30 metres, so it's the perfect spot to hone your wreck diving skills or gain your Wreck Diver certification.
3. USAT Liberty, Bali, Indonesia
The USAT Liberty, located a few fin kicks from the shore of Tulamben in north-east Bali, is the most accessible wreck in the world. Another fatality from World War II, this US cargo ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942, and today, this 120-metre-long vessel starts at five metres before dropping to a maximum depth of 30 metres, making her suited to both snorkellers and divers alike.
Bali consistently offers excellent visibility for diving, but for the best conditions, explore the wreck at sunrise. This time of day illuminates the wreck in morning light and allows you to avoid the inevitable crowds that arrive from 10am. The wreck is broken up, creating swim-throughs that harbour all manner of fish life, from barracuda to bigeye trevally and Napolean wrasse. Keep a keen eye out for macro critters concealed in the crevices, such as frogfish and mantis shrimp. In the open water, you might also spot a turtle glide by.
4. Bianca C, Grenada
Resting a mile off the south-western shores of Grenada, Bianca C is one of the most famous wrecks in the Caribbean. Known as the 'Titanic of the Caribbean,' this luxurious ocean liner sank in 1961 after catching fire while anchored in St. George's Harbour. [li1] The Bianca C lies in depths of 30 to 55 metres, which, coupled with unpredictable currents, makes it one of the world's best wrecks for advanced divers. Divers who take the plunge can explore the railings and corridors along the broken-up decks, take a dip in the swimming pool, found at 38 metres, and work along the bow, finishing at the bow tip.
5. Fujikawa Maru, Truk Lagoon, Micronesia
Unless you're a seasoned war buff or wreck head, chances are you've never heard of Micronesia. Yet this island nation, scattered in the western Pacific Ocean, boasts the world's best World War II wrecks in Chuuk Lagoon (or Truk Lagoon). Over 60 wrecks scatter the lagoon at varying depths, ranging from cargo ships to Zero planes. One of the most famous wrecks, Fujikawa Maru, sits upright on the seabed at 30 metres, while her top sits at nine metres. As you descend, your first sight will be the huge gun on the bow, while circling the ship reveals an underwater museum of artefacts, ranging from airplanes and tanks to ammunition and the most iconic relic: R2-D2. While bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Star Wars character, this relic is an air compressor.