There are plenty of popular places with gorgeous coral reefs. Of course, major hot spots like the Great Barrier Reef usually come to mind when you think of a beautiful place to explore underwater. But there are many places to which you can travel that are less crowded and still offer spectacular opportunities to swim with colorful and exotic aquatic life.
Most Americans probably associate the Caribbean with the U.S. Virgin Islands, but don’t forget that there are other territories in the tropical region, too. In particular, the British Virgin Islands (BVI). If your focus is about underwater discoveries, and you don’t want a long flight, then Anegada should be at the top of your list. The island is relatively flat and is best known for its coral reefs. Of the more than 50 islands that comprise the BVI, Anegada is the only coral island. Swim with tropical fish, stingrays or enjoy snorkeling up close with the coral.
But Anegada isn’t just about the underwater highlights. The island also showcases a rich history centered around its Arawak Indian origins. Another major highlight is that the island’s surrounding waters are full of historic wrecks from Spanish and British galleons as well as American privateers.
Explorers who prefer their destinations unspoiled often head to the South Pacific. The region is full of remote locales that prioritize pristine nature — so much so that many islands such as Rarotonga don’t even have traffic lights. Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands. Even though it’s also the most populated island in the chain, it provides one of the best opportunities for travelers to get close to nature. And that includes coral reefs and a volcanic mountain.
Best of all, Rarotonga’s relatively small size makes it easy to navigate. Even their official tourism website proudly boasts that you can get from any point on the island to another in no more than 45 minutes. And if you get tired of soaking up nature, mingle with friendly locals, immerse yourself in the culture, and even partake in the vibrant nightlife after sunset.
Let’s stick to the South Pacific. History buffs — especially of the World War II variety — should put New Britain at the top of their wander list. The island is segmented into two provinces, East New Britain (ENB) and West New Britain (WNB). Both provinces are vastly different from each other. If you prefer a more modern experience, then head to ENB where you’re more likely to find European expats. But if you like the road less traveled, WNB is the better choice. WNB features untouched and immersive nature with a very low risk of coming across other tourists. Bonus: the Gazelle Peninsula is home to countless World War II shipwrecks.
American Samoa is an archipelago with five islands, and best of all, two coral atolls. If you’re dying for the opportunity to see diverse aquatic life, American Samoa won’t disappoint. The surrounding waters are home to 950 fish and 250 coral species. Just note that you should be an experienced diver if you attempt to scuba dive or snorkel around American Samoa. While it’s a popular tourist destination, there are very few guided diving tours available. So, getting to the best spots can be challenging because of multiple transfers. Additionally, you’ll need to bring your gear since renting anything other than tanks will be impossible.
Most people associate Easter Island with the iconic Moai statues, but this Chilean island is ideal for scuba diving, too. Regardless of your diving skills, you won’t find yourself lacking thanks to the countless coral reefs, exotic fish, and underwater caves. Be aware, though, that diving is heavily regulated on Easter Island. Many of the best diving spots are restricted to people with a valid Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) license.
As an example, Hanga Roa Bay is limited to licensed PADI divers. But if you are a PADI license holder, you’ll be treated to submerged Moai statue recreations 20 meters below the ocean’s surface. If you prefer a guided tour, then Easter Island offers four diving centers where you can secure diving excursions throughout the day.