Scuba diving has long been the domain of adventure-seekers and adrenaline junkies. Luckily, many of the world’s best scuba destinations also offer topside adventure. If you, too, thrive on the extraordinary, each of these countries is an excellent spot to get the most out of your vacation. Here we’ll look at five of the best dive and topside destinations, defined not only by their world-class dive sites, but also by terrestrial adventures to match.
This nation comprised of more than 17,000 islands boasts some of the best dive sites on the planet. Some highlights of this spectacular archipelago include the wreck of the USAT Liberty in Tulamben, Bali, Komodo National Park and Lembeh Strait. The Liberty was an American cargo ship that saw action during both World War I and II before succumbing to Japanese torpedo fire off the Balinese coast in January 1942. Nowadays the ship is an impressive (and popular) dive site, accessible to divers of all certification levels. Komodo National Park is famous for its teeming reefs and magnificent pelagic encounters, including reliable manta sightings year-round. If you’re more into macro, head to Lembeh Strait, the muck-diving capital of the world. Here, you’ll see rare species including tiny cephalopods, pygmy seahorses and frogfish on a daily basis.
Indonesia’s rugged landscape is home to 13 percent of the world’s volcanoes so mountain climbing attracts adrenaline junkies. Two of the archipelago’s most impressive peaks are Mount Bromo and Mount Rinjani. Indonesia is a favorite among surfers as well. Each of its main islands provides ample waves for everyone from absolute beginners to pros. Indonesia is also filled with weird and wonderful wildlife. Adventure-seekers will find no greater terrestrial thrill searching for rare species like the endemic Komodo dragon, found only on Komodo and Rinca Islands within the eponymous park. The orangutan population has faced decimation largely due to our consumption of palm oil, but you can still find some of these beautiful creatures in the jungles of Indonesian Borneo.
Costa Rica has always featured highly on adventuresome divers’ bucket lists. A wealth of dive sites litter both its Pacific and Caribbean coasts, not to mention the legendary Cocos Island. On the mainland, Isla Murcielagos, or Bat Islands, offer perhaps the country’s most exciting dive sites. Here, divers have the chance to get up close with the resident bull sharks. Cocos Island, though, is in a class of its own, and is well worth the 300-mile journey from the mainland. Towering pinnacles emerge from the deep blue, creating great upwellings of nutrient-rich water. This, in turn, attracts a staggering amount of pelagic life. One never knows quite what to expect out in mid-ocean, but Cocos is particularly famous for its incredible shark sightings, boasting a plethora of different species. Whales, rays, dolphins and game fish are also common here.
Costa Rica’s magnificent beaches and lush rainforests provide opportunities for adventure at every turn. Canopy zip lining has become the defining pursuit of this country’s tropical interior. Whitewater rafting is also popular in Costa Rica, and one of the best places to try it is the beautiful (and in some places, intimidating) Pacuare River. There are plenty of opportunities for trekking too. Explore the elevated cloud forests of Monteverde in search of the elusive sloth. Scale Cerro Chirripo, the highest mountain in Costa Rica. On a clear day, climbers can see both coasts from Chirripo’s summit. Other Costa Rican adventures include windsurfing on Lake Arenal and surfing the beaches of Guanacaste province.
South African diving has to be some of the most adrenaline-fuelled on the planet, characterized by an abundance of seriously big sharks. In False Bay and Gansbaai, you can come face-to-face with great whites, but true adrenaline junkies are likely to prefer the shark-diving sites of Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks. Here, divers can encounter tiger sharks, bull sharks and many other species outside of a cage, an experience that is both exciting and authentic. From June to July, South Africa is also home to the Sardine Run, quite possibly the most exciting marine wildlife phenomenon of all. During the run, countless sardines migrate north along a narrow corridor of cool Cape water in a gigantic bait ball. A melee of predators follows, including sharks, dolphins, seabirds, whales and game fish.
Game viewing in South Africa is both some of the best and most affordable on the continent. Self-drives are the best way to see the Big Five: lions, leopards, rhinos, buffaloes and elephants. South Africa is also home to the world’s highest bridge bungee jump, at Bloukrans Bridge on the border of the Eastern and Western Cape. South Africa is also blessed by endless stretches of isolated beach, perfect for horseback riding, blow-carting, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding and much, much more. For those who truly want to experience the best of both worlds while on vacation, this remarkable country is also home to Tiffindell, one of only two ski resorts in Southern Africa.
The Red Sea is every diver’s dream, combining warm waters, unparalleled visibility, and thriving marine life. Liveaboards are the best way to make this dream a reality. Most itineraries focus either on the northern or the southern Red Sea. In the north, highlights include the Straits of Tiran and the Ras Mohammed National Park, both of which offer magnificent reefs that positively teem with life. In the south, a favorite site is Elphinstone Reef, famous for regular sightings of oceanic whitetips. Of the Red Sea’s many wrecks, the most famous is the SS Thistlegorm, sunk in 1941 by two German bomber planes.
There’s equally impressive wreck diving on the Dunraven, the Chrisoula K, the Carnatic, and Giannis D. The Red Sea is also home to one of the world’s deepest blue holes. Near Dahab, it’s accessible to recreational divers via the famous Bells to Blue Hole dive route.
Egypt is steeped in history and culture. Dramatic landmarks and natural features are a perfect playground for any intrepid traveler. Although the pyramids at Giza are undoubtedly the country’s most iconic feature, the Sinai desert also offers many opportunities for adventure. Quad-bike and 4×4 safaris are an excellent way to experience the desert in all its arid glory. For a more authentic taste of desert life, adventure-seekers should try a mounted camel-trek. You’ll see the desert’s spectacular dunes and canyons in much the same way as the Bedouin people have for thousands of years. Egypt is also home to the Nile. Although it is primarily the domain of larger cruise vessels, it is possible to go sailing on its historic waters.
When it comes to diving, few places in the world offer as much diversity as Mexico. From the colorful reefs of Cozumel to the high-octane pelagic action of the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico offers something for every diver. Off the Yucatan Peninsula, Isla Mujeres acts as an aggregation site first for Atlantic sailfish between February and March, and later for whale sharks between May and September. On the west coast, Guadalupe Island offers the very best in great-white cage diving, combining crystal clear water with some breathtakingly huge sharks.
Socorro Island in the Revillagigedo Archipelago is also famous for its creature encounters. You can swim alongside manta rays, sharks and even humpback whales during their annual migration. The Yucatan also offers spectacular cenote diving, whereby qualified divers can explore the peninsula’s fascinating subterranean rivers. The Baja California peninsula offers more pelagic action at Gordo Bank, sea lion encounters at Los Islotes and reefs pulsing with life at Cabo Pulmo Marine Park.
On the mainland, Mexico’s terrestrial adventures are just as varied and exciting. The Yucatan’s subterranean rivers create intricate cave systems, which are perfect for spelunking and caving. The Cancun region is also famous for watersports of all kinds, particularly kitesurfing and parasailing. Mexico has a fascinating past, too. Adventure-seekers can experience a different kind of thrill as they explore the ruins of the Mayan civilization. Many of these ruins are still hidden within the tangle of the encroaching jungle, which makes a visit feel like traveling back in time. This country’s beautiful mountain regions also offer ample opportunity for outdoor adventures. Extreme kayaking, horseback riding and zip lining are just a few options.