Authored by Jyotsna Ramani
Experiencing underwater life never ceases to inspire and amaze. Offering an entirely different pace, human beings have long been enchanted by the blue silence, surrounded by marine life.
It is true that some of the coolest places on the planet are under water. There are hotels, shipwrecks, temples, museums, restaurants and other underwater sites around the world that are worth diving and snorkeling for.
While the list of exceptional underwater experiences seems as endless as the great depths of the sea, we’ve put together our favorites; some the top sites to don a full face snorkel mask and explore underwater life.
Top Places to Travel for Exceptional Underwater Life
Cancun Underwater Museum, Mexico
Cancun Underwater Museum is one of the largest and most ambitious underwater art exhibitions in the world. It boasts over 500 life-sized sculptures by English sculptor Jason deCaires, and was created to save the nearby coral reefs from mass tourism by providing an alternative destination for divers.
The Museum’s main aim is to demonstrate the interaction between art and environmental science and form part of a complex reef structure for marine life to colonize and inhabit whilst increasing biomass on a grand scale. All of the sculptures are fixed to the seabed and made from specialized materials used to promote coral life.
The total installations occupy an area of over 420sq meters of barren substrate and weighing in at over 200 tons. You can choose to snorkel, or appreciate the museum on a glass bottom boat.
Image credit: Ratha Grimes
Orda Cave, Russia
The Orda Cave is a gypsum crystal cave found underneath the western Ural Mountains in Russia. It is one of the longest caves in the world, stretching for over 5.1 kilometres with around 4.8 kilometres over the overall length being under water.
Above ground it looks like a grassy hill, though once you submerge yourself below the surface it is made of cathedral-like walls with crystal clear water. Divers have a visibility of over 50 yards (46 m) making it an ideal location for photography expeditions.
Ithaa Restaurant, Maldives
Ithaa is one of the most exciting restaurants in the world, located below sea level at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. Guests descend along a spiral staircase that takes them underwater, and here they find themselves surrounded by a striking panoramic view of the marine life.
While it claims to be 100 percent safe, there’s nothing like dining beneath the visible sea to make you wonder how thick the glass of your aquarium-like walls actually is, and whether or not it’s been built to fully withstand the pressure!
Located on the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, this restaurant features a 270-degree view of the sea above you. You enter the restaurant at the end of a jetty, and if you want to stay all night, you can rent the restaurant as a guest room, as well.
Hit Play for a Tour of the Restaurant
The Underwater City of Shi Cheng, China
Shi Cheng is an entire city underwater. 400km south of Shanghai, in the Zhejiang province, this Chinese city was flooded in 1959, then forgotten. It was unseen for decades, sitting 40m under Qiandao Lake.
“Often called the “Atlantis of the East”, the underwater city of Shicheng is a magnificent, mysterious time capsule of Imperial China.” Built over 1,300 years ago, divers can witness ancient architecture from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368 to 1912), and a jaw-dropping labyrinth of adorned temples, memorial arches and dragon carvings.
The city is a unique paradise for divers, and most of its buildings and walls are perfectly preserved; the water actually protects it from wind, rain and sun erosion.
Maui is a classic destination for fun in the sea, and what makes it so special are the abundance of snorkeling sites around the island. Maui has more miles of swimmable beach than any other Hawaiian island, and an average year round temperature of 75-85°F.
Get your best full face snorkel masks ready and explore the marine life among the nooks and crannies of the lava rocks. You need only go a few meters down under to look at coral, eels, fish and sea turtles.
Of the approximately 7,000-8,000 humpback whales surviving today, around 3,000 winter in Maui’s waters. The diversity of marine life at Honolua Bay specifically is second to none.
Atlantis the Palm, Dubai
One of the most stylish ways to enjoy the underwater life is in the UAE at Atlantis the Palm, Dubai. This hotel offers one of the most mesmerizing aquariums in the world; the Lost Chambers.
Sharks, stingrays, piranhas, lobsters, and the tiniest of seahorses are just some of the creatures you’ll come face-to-fin with in this spellbinding underwater world. Designed around the theme of the Lost City of Atlantis, the underwater tunnels serve as an immersive experience into a lost civilisation of ship wrecks and ruins.
You’ll encounter the most amazing and colourful collection of underwater life in 10 beautiful chambers. There are over 20 marine life exhibits in this aquarium where you can interact with some of the creatures, with programs allowing guests to swim among them, or feed them.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
What makes Great Barrier Reef special is that it is the largest coral reef in the world. Made of approximately 3,000 individual reef systems, it is the most iconic destination for diving and snorkeling, and home to a myriad of marine species.
The exceptional beauty of this marine wonder attracts thousands of snorkelers and diving enthusiasts every year. This delicate coral blue piece of nature can be seen from space, and is the largest living structure in the world.
It has been given the much deserved status of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is undoubtedly one of the most exquisite things I’ve even seen.
Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Florida
Located in the lagoon at Key Largo Undersea Park, Jules’ is the world’s only underwater hotel! Situated off the continental shelf of Puerto Rico coast, the region is a famous underwater habitat in Florida, and guests have to scuba dive 21 feet just to enter the lodge!
Diving through the tropical mangrove habitat of the Emerald Lagoon is quite an experience. Even from the outside, Jules’ big 42 inch round windows cast a warm invitation to come in and stay a while, relax and get to know the underwater world that so few of us have even visited.
There are more than 20 underwater rooms, bar, conference room, spa, library and even a wedding chapel. In addition to overnight stays in the lodge the park offers great SCUBA training.
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