learn to dive
Young female scuba diver swimming underwater below reef

Where Are The Best Places To Learn How To Dive And Get Certified

Picking the right place to learn to dive can be tough. Usually, as someone new to diving, you don’t have a lot to go on for judging a good school and instructor. If you are looking to find the right destination to get scuba certified, we’ve got you covered.

We’re going into the top five places in the world to learn to dive and what the top rated schools in each area are. Also, we’ll detail what you should look for in a good dive school and instructor.

What makes a good school and instructor?

Above all else, what makes a good dive instructor and a good dive school is the commitment that both have to safety. Nothing even comes close to this.

I say both, because you can’t just look at one or the other. Many schools will usually have an in-house dive instructor. In popular destinations though, you will probably learn under an instructor hired for a temporary period of time. Usually, during the high season for tourism in that country.

In a perfect world, dive schools would be committed to safety and there would never be dive accidents. We don’t live in a perfect world though. There are bad dive schools which hire good instructors and good dive schools which hire bad instructors. Ideally, you want to find a good school and learn under a good instructor.

Shouldn’t the instructor be the most important part? Not necessarily. The school is important because you will be using their equipment and facilities. Poor schools sometimes don’t take care of equipment properly. They also may not do their due diligence when hiring dive masters and dive instructors. It’s worth repeating, you need to check both the school and the instructor to make sure they are good to learn with.

It is also worth noting that there are bad schools and instructors all around the world. Some people believe if you go to an expensive resort in the French Riviera it will be better than a shop in Honduras. Not true. Wherever you decide to get your certification you will need to do your due diligence.

So, what makes a good school and a good dive instructor? You want to look at these factors before committing:

What Are The Best Places To Learn To Dive
Portrait of scuba divers checking their equipment

Dive Schools

  • Properly maintains and regularly updates equipment
  • Vets all instructors and dive masters and checks credentials
  • Maintanis boats and facilities such as training pools
  • Maintains air compressors and tanks and regularly inspects them
  • Enforces strict safety protocols and ensures instructors and dive masters do the same
  • Properly regulated by the countries government as well as with diving organizations

Dive Instructors

  • Proper certification and training through an organization such as PADI or SSI
  • Regular training to stay updated with new trends and standards
  • Proper adherence to safety protocols and standards
  • How long they have been certified

You want to pay attention to all the above factors before settling on a school or instructor. There are a few of these which you won’t be able to check. You most likely won’t know how valid an instructors dive licence is for example. or if the school is in compliance with proper laws and regulations. But, you can go online and see what other people are saying about a school.

I recommend you don’t put down money for a course until you are at the destination you plan on learning to dive. It is better to get there and talk to other divers and dive masters who know the area. If you are going to Koh Tao, for example, wait till you are on the island and talk to other divers. You want to ask about which schools are good and which are bad and where the best instructors are.

Try to stick to talking to dive masters or experienced divers. Divers who have just completed their training will recommend whichever school they used. This is helpful in figuring out the quality of service and facilities. But, they most likely won’t have any idea if the training itself was sub par as they have no benchmark to compare it to.

You want a place that will train you properly the first time. Poor training can instill bad habits which can later lead to serious injury, or worse. Also, bad habits instilled early on can take a long time to fix. So, it is best to go to a place that will train you properly from the beginning.

The best places to learn to dive

This list is based on a few factors such as cost, number of dive schools, and how good the destination is overall. The schools I will be recommending have been selected based on the above listed criteria. But, you still need to ask around and do your research when you get to the destination.

1. Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao has long been held as one of the best places in the world to learn to dive. Many people will tell you that because it is so popular, you should avoid it, but this isn’t the case. What you should avoid are dive mills which exist to crank out students and make money. It should be noted that dive mills exist all around the world. There are a ton of great schools around Koh Tao that aren’t dive mills.

What makes Koh Tao such a great place to learn is that it is one of the cheapest in the world. You can get certified here for half the price you would pay in other destinations such as the Bahamas. Even better, many instructors who work in other areas of the world travel to Koh Tao for the high season. It’s possible you will get an instructor that people going to more expensive areas pay double to learn from.

On top of the above benefits, Koh Tao is an incredible place to learn in terms of the scenery and atmosphere. You will be doing your first few confined water dives from a training pool most likely. After that though you will be diving right into the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand. These are some of the best waters in the world for diving and stay warm throughout the year. After you finish your certification you can visit other islands around the country.

Last but not least, I recommend you go through deep dive training or get an advanced open water certification along with your open water course. This will allow you to dive the best sites around Koh Tao and will give you more options when diving in the future.

Diving School Recommendation

I recommend Buddha View Dive School and Resort. I’ve been on more then ten dives with them and can vouch for their commitment to quality and safety.

I did not get a certification. Instead, i have done deep water training as well as open water diving with them. Each time the dive masters were properly trained and committed to a high standard of safety.

All their equipment was well maintained and they regularly update their equipment. They also have always made sure to verify my dive licence before allowing me on the boat. This is a major plus in my book as it means they probably do the same when hiring staff.

One final point I like about the dive school is that they have you clean the equipment you use after each trip. This does a great job of instilling good habits in new divers.

Best Sites to Dive After Certification

  • Sail Rock (with the deep dive training)(Video)
  • Chumphon Pinnacle (with the deep dive training)(Video)
  • Twin Peaks (no deep dive training needed)(Video)

2. Utila Island, Honduras

best places to learn diving
Utila Island, Honduras

Utila Island is Central America’s answer to Koh Tao. Like the Thai island, it is one of the cheapest places in the world to learn to dive. You can learn throughout the year as the water is consistently warm. There are also many amazing sites to explore once you complete your certification.

Like Koh Tao, dive instructors and dive masters from all over the world come here to work during the high season. This is usually from November to March. This means you can find top notch dive instructors but won’t have to pay the high prices.

Utila Island also has a great atmosphere above the water. You can find accommodations for a wide range of budgets and there are plenty of options for food. Combine this with the crystal clear waters around the island and you have a great combination for getting your open water diver certification.

Diving School Recommendation

I recommend Underwater Vision Dive Center. They are a medium sized school located on Utila island which is good. Sometimes, when schools get too large, they turn into dive mills.

The school is reasonable in terms of pricing. They aren’t the cheapest on the island but they aren’t the most expensive. For an open water certification, you will still pay less than other destinations.

I’ve only dove with them once in 2018. They were extremely professional. The dive master was both knowledgeable of the area and enforced all safety protocols. She even provided a quick review before diving and tested us to ensure we were fully prepared. This can go a long way in ensuring a safe and problem free dive.

Their equipment was well maintained and their facilities well taken care of. I would have no problems diving with them again and feel comfortable recommending them.

As with Koh Tao, I recommend you go through the deep dive course along with your open water certification. If you have the time, it is worth considering going through advanced open water training. This will open you up to deeper and more advanced sites around the world.

Best Sites to Dive After Certification

  • CJ’s Drop Off (with the deep dive training)(Video)
  • Stingray Point (no deep dive training needed)
  • Blackfish Point (drift diving, no deep dive training needed)

3. Isla Colon, Panama

Best places to learn how to dive
Isla Colón, Panama

This is one of my favorite islands in the world. You can find everything from great diving to surfing. The best part, it’s less known than other places in the world such as the Thai islands or many parts of the Caribbean.

The island is part of the Bocas Del Toro archipelago and is the main island. You can easily get here via flight from many of Panama’s airports, including Panama City. There are also regular ferries which launch from the mainland.

You won’t find as many dive schools around Isla de Colon as you will in Koh Tao or Utila. That’s okay though because the two schools I am going to recommend will have you covered.

Diving certifications here are a bit more expensive than Koh Tao or Utila Island. But, you will still pay less than in many other popular diving destinations around the world.

Isla Colon is great for visitors of all budgets. The one thing I will say is that food is quite a bit more expensive in Panama than destinations like Thailand. But, you can still have a great time on a small budget and enjoy the various activities the island has to offer.

Diving School Recommendation

I actually have two recommendations for Isla Colon. I first visited this island in 2015 and dove with La Buga dive center. To this date it was one of my favorite dive centers ever. The staff they have at La Buga is top notch.

All their instructors and masters were well qualified and dedicated to safe diving. Their equipment was well maintained and they spared no expense in keeping it updated. This also extended to their boat and facilities which were all new at the time I was there.

The reason that I am recommending two schools for this island is that one thing I liked is no longer there. One of the things that made La Buga awesome at the time was one of their dive instructors, Tony Stead. He has since gone on to start his own school on the island, Panama Dive School.

Tony is a great instructor who has high safety standards. But, what makes diving with him great is that he has an amazing personality. He’s one of those people who gets along with everyone and makes you feel comfortable from the moment you meet him. A great trait to have for someone you are learning from.

Best Sites to Dive After Certification

  • Hospital Point (no deep dive training needed)(Video)
  • Manuels Wall (deep dive training needed)
  • The Playground (no deep dive training needed)

4. Bali, Indonesia

best places to learn diving
Beautiful seascape on Nusa Dua beach in Bali. Indonesia

It goes without saying that Bali is one of the most popular places for diving in the world. For good reason. You can find everything here including wrecks, giant marine life, and beautiful reefs. If you get an open water certification, why not get it where you can do some amazing diving afterwords?

Bali fits in with the other places on our list as being both a cheap place to dive as well as travel. You can find accommodations fitting a wide range of budgets from cheap guest houses to 5 star hotels. The food around Bali is also known for being both cheap and tasty.

Like Utila and Koh Tao, dive instructors come here from all around the world during the high season. Usually, between the months of May and September. This is when most people visit and dive instructors can find regular employment. You can find many of the same instructors that frequent expensive destinations.

One final thing that makes Bali great is that you are a boat ride away from thousands of other islands. There are over 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia. If you have the time, get your certification and experience some of the best diving in the world.

Dive School Recommendation

For Bail, I recommend Adventure Scuba Diving for your open water certification. I have done a few open water dives with them and had an excellent experience both times. They were always professional and their staff knowledgeable of the local dive sites.

There were dive instructors here from all around the world. If you do not speak English you may be able to find an instructor that teaches in your language.

I found the equipment at Adventure Scuba Diving to be well maintained and always up to date. Both of the times I dove with them were in early 2018 and the equipment was no more than a few years old. This is a major plus as there are many schools which try to get by using old equipment. This increases the likelihood of equipment failure and accidents over time.

You are definitely going to want to get deep dive training here along with your open water. If you have the time, going through the advanced open water certification will be even better. Especially if you plan on diving in other places in Indonesia.

As I said, Indonesia has some of the best diving in the world with giant marine life and untouched reef systems. Many of the best sites are only open to advanced divers due to strong currents and their depth.

You can still dive some great sites with only an open water certification. But, you will have access to everything with the advanced certification. Or, at the very least, with the deep dive training.

Best Sites to Dive After Certification

  • USAT Liberty Wreck (no deep dive training needed)(Video)
  • Crystal Bay, Nusa Penida Island (deep dive training needed)(Video)
  • Manta Point, Nusa Penida Island (deep dive training needed, strong currents)(Video)

5. Dahab, Egypt

the best places to learn diving
Dahab Beach

The red sea is a world class diving destination. You can find some of the best coral fields in the world. Mix this with the splendor that is Egypt and you have one of the best places around to learn to dive..

Dahab is generally more expensive than other destinations in the world. But, it is still cheaper than you will pay in high end locations such as Spain or the Cayman Islands. You can usually bet on it being about a hundred dollars more than open water courses around Koh Tao and Utila. The tradeoff to this is that you are in one of the best countries in the world for tourism, Egypt.

Learning in Dahab gives you the added benefit of having tons of things to do both above water and below. To top it off, Egypt, like many other destinations on this list, is a great place for divers of all budgets. You will be spending more than in Indonesia or Thailand, but the trip can still be done on a reasonable budget if you choose.

Dive School Recommendation

For Dahab, I recommend Poseidon Divers. I’ve had nothing but good experiences the time I dove with them in 2017. They meet all the requirements laid out above and have an excellent track record when it comes to safety.

As I’ve said before, you are going to pay more money to learn to dive in Dahab. But, it isn’t going to be significantly more than Koh Tao or Utila. Poseidon Divers is average price compared to other dive schools around Dahab.

When I dove with them, all their equipment was well maintained. Their dive masters were all well qualified and knowledgeable of local dive spots. From my experience, they upheld the highest standards of safety.

Dahab is another destination I would recommend going through deep dive training. Or, even better, getting you advanced open water certification. Some of the best diving spots are at depth. The primary one being Dahab Blue Hole. But, be careful, this spot has a dark history in the dive community.

Best Sites to Dive After Certification

  • Dahab Blue Hole (deep dive training needed)(Video) This is considered the most dangerous place in the world to dive. Not because there is an inherent danger. But, because many people try to dive through the arch on regular air. The entrance to the arch is at 55m (180ft) and is 30m (98ft) long. Many people have died trying to swim through the arch. Do not attempt to this. Especially, as a new diver. You need deep dive training before going down into the hole.
  • Ras Abu Galum (deep dive training needed)(Video)
  • Moray Garden (Video)

Bonus Site: Learning to Dive in Your Hometown

This is a big one that many people overlook. If you live in a medium to large city it probably has a dive shop with a well qualified instructor. Even smaller towns near well known dive spots will usually have a shop with an instructor.

This is actually how I learned to dive. Before going on my first vacation to Panama, I took an open water course with a local dive instructor. It was actually one of the best decisions I’ve made when it comes to diving.

Because there isn’t the same demand as in a larger diving tourism destinations, I was able to do the class one on one. This gave me the ability to learn information better than I might have if I was doing a class with five other people.

There are great dive spots all over the United States and other countries where you can learn to dive. As I said above, the best part is you will most likely be the only one in the class. You will get the full attention of your dive instructor and can learn at your own pace.

Don’t discount learning from a local instructor. Especially if you will be going on a diving trip in the near future. You may be planning on learning to dive when you first get on your vacation. But, wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t have to spend the first four days going through open water training? Instead, you could land and be ready to start diving from day one.

I will say that learning from a local dive shop is almost certain to be more expensive. I paid double for my open water dive training than I would have if I had learned in a place like Koh Tao. The trade off, as I’ve said, is that you will get the complete attention of your instructor and you won’t have to waste days on your vacation.

In Conclusion

What do you think? Did we leave any locations out you feel should be on this list? We love to hear from new and experienced divers. Let us know in the comments section what you think. Or, if you have any experiences at one of these destinations let us know. You never know who you could help by sharing your experiences.

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