24th Nov 2012 7:18pm | By Helen Elfer
Sinister wrecks, rainbow-coloured reefs, sociable sharks, luminous sea life and a host of natural wonders can be explored in flippers
All you can hear is the sound of your own slow breathing. Lurid yellow, orange and pink fish flash by, like tiny electric bolts.
Your flippers gently brush against the tips of swaying tropical plants and with each metre you swim deeper, there’s another underwater scene, each one more mesmerising than the last. Welcome to the world of scuba diving.
Whether you’re totally hooked on discovering rare marine life, into photographing surreal coral formations, or are planning your very first dive and just don’t want to get chewed up by a shark, we’ve got the perfect diving destination for you here.
From Mexican coral reefs to Second World War shipwrecks in Egypt, to the cutest collection of tropical baby fish you'll ever see in Mozambique, these are the kind of underwater adventures that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
What: There’s something about the idea of exploring decades-old shipwrecks that captures the imagination.
Perhaps it’s the eerie serenity when once the wreck must have been a scene of chaos – or maybe we’ve watched Titanic too often.
The SS Thistlegorm, near Egypt’s popular dive resort Sharm el Sheikh, is one of the world’s most famous wreck diving sites.
The British Merchant Navy ship was heading from Glasgow to Alexandria in 1941, bringing supplies to the Allied Forces stationed there, when it was sunk by the Germans near Ras Muhammad in the Red Sea.
The ship was carrying everything from rifles to jeeps and wellies, all of which now sit at the bottom of the ocean, including the ship itself, complete with the hole where the bomb exploded.
Divers can explore around and inside the silty wreck, using torches to illuminate the rusty artillery and armed vehicles.
Venturing inside a wreck can require extra training, so check what qualifications you need before you book.
Visibility: Up to 30m
What: It’s a brave (or barmy) diver that goes in search of sharks – did you not watch Jaws as a kid?
But if you’re one of these adrenaline junkies, and your idea of a great diving trip involves coming face to face with the toothy grin of one of nature’s most bloodthirsty species, then the place to do it is the southern Bahamas.
You won’t find many tour operators eager to take groups swimming with man-eating beasts, but if that’s really what you want, Divequest runs trips here where there are occasional sightings of deadly bull sharks.
Thrill seekers, be careful what you do with this information.
Otherwise, head to Elephant Head Rock in Thailand, where the kinds of sharks you’ll find – black tip, white tip and leopards – aren’t dangerous to humans, but are still exhilarating to swim near, if a little intimidating.
As well as the sharks, you’ll also be able to see blue-ringed angelfish, triggerfish and bicolour parrotfish. Those who choose to descend further will be rewarded with glimpses of snapper and yellow goatfish, too.
What: Even the most “been there, seen that” divers still get a little misty-eyed when anyone mentions Palancar Reef.
It’s off the southwest side of the island of Cozumel, part of the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, in Mexico.
It has four of the most spectacular coral reefs in the world, as well as being home to home to sea turtles, rays, nurse sharks, barracudas, moray eels, lobsters, crabs and a kaleidoscope of colourful fish.
The Palancar Caves are the most famous because of their huge brain corals and swim-through tunnels.
Palancar Horseshoe is an alternative formation of huge corals, or you can venture to Palancar Bricks, which gets its name from the red bricks that were dropped into the area by a capsized barge in the Fifties.
The coral and sponges here are captivating and there’s a chance you’ll also get to see some turtles as well as stingrays.
This area is an excellent place for first-time divers to dip their toes in the water, so to speak.
Palancar Gardens is a shallow diving spot with mellow currents, and is so pretty it’s been nicknamed the ‘underwater Garden of Eden’.
You’ll see rock buttresses covered with sponges, hydrocoral and gorgonians, as well as tropical fish such as queen angels and, if you’re really lucky, giant sea turtles.
It’s also an excellent place to practice your underwater photography – the diving itself is quite straightforward, the water is clear and the colours and shapes to be seen are nothing short of inspirational.