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The Best Destinations for Underwater Photography

Where to encounter the rarest and most impressive subjects, from ghost nudibranchs to humpback whales.
By Brooke Morton | Updated On September 10, 2022
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The Best Destinations for Underwater Photography

frogfish bonaire marine life travel

Frogfish are a reliable macro photography favorite on the reefs of Bonaire.

Barry Brown

1st Place Winner: Caribbean and Atlantic

1. Bonaire

For underwater photography newcomers, it’s hard to beat Bonaire’s ideal conditions. “It’s basically a gigantic swimming pool,” says Guillermo Alcorta, the photo pro at Buddy Dive Resort.

There’s no need to fight waves on the surface, and at depth, no struggle to hold a position while tinkering with a shot at sites such as Tolo, Alcorta’s favorite for scenic wide-angle compositions thanks to its combination of hard corals, soft corals and sponges.

As for macro subjects, the possibilities are endless, from seahorses to frogfish. “I’m a frogfish lover, and this year we’ve been lucky, finding them in couples and trios and even groups of five, all in the same spot,” says Alcorta.

As for the best site, “Something Special has such an easy entry, and it’s been a favorite for years and years,” says Alcorta. What’s more, the majority of images in the Bonaire edition of the REEF Fish ID book series were taken at that particular site—inspiration indeed.

Readers Picks


  • Buddy Dive Resort, Bonaire

  • Carib Inn, Bonaire

Eden Beach Resort, Bonaire


  • Buddy Dive, Bonaire

  • Carib Inn Dive Center, Bonaire

  • Divi Dive Bonaire
Toucan Divers at Plaza Resort, Bonaire

  • VIP Diving, Bonaire

  • Wannadive Bonaire at Eden Beach Resort

1st Place Winner: U.S. and Canada

2. Florida Keys

The good news for divers driving to the Florida Keys is there’s no limit to how much you can pack: Go ahead and bring all the lenses—you’re going to need them.

“You get everything from small, macro subjects like corkscrew anemones with Pederson cleaner shrimp all the way up to eagle rays,” says Jeff Gneiser, owner of Amoray Dive Center, part of Amoray Dive Resort on Key Largo.

Eagle rays can be seen any time of year, but the biggest numbers appear in early summer. Goliath grouper, nurse sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, bull sharks and turtles round out the mix of big animals commonly seen on Key Largo and throughout the Keys.

Readers Picks


  • Amoray Dive Resort, Key Largo, Florida Keys

  • Courtyard by Marriott Key Largo, Florida Keys

  • Holiday Inn, Key Largo, Florida Keys

  • Marina Del Mar, Key Largo, Florida Keys


  • Captain Hook’s Dive Key West, Florida Keys

  • Horizon Divers, Key Largo, Florida Keys

  • Rainbow Reef, Key Largo, Florida Keys

3. Bay Islands

The island of Roatan, Honduras, has it all: wrecks, reefs and muck diving.

Wrecks such as the Mr. Bud, a 75- foot cargo ship, underwater since 1995, serve as shelter for jawfish, peacock flounder, sailfin blennies, Atlantic longarm octopuses, purple-spotted sea goddesses, and a wealth of other small-scale life.

“You can completely geek out on wide-angle and all kinds of reef scenes,” says Stacy Lewis, general manager of CocoView Resort on Roatan.

For bigger marine life, go west, where schools of larger fish, such as mature grouper, tend to congregate.

What’s perhaps most surprising to divers, even those who have explored Roatan before, is the muck diving. Lewis and the dive crew at CocoView have only recently started diving a 45-foot-deep site called French Key Cut. It’s there that in the past year Lewis has found more than 22 dwarf frogfish among the algae and the coral rubble. “The site doesn’t look like it has much going on, but it’s amazing what you can find,” he says.

Readers Picks


  • Anthony’s Key Resort, Roatan, Honduras

  • CocoView Resort, Roatan, Honduras

  • Mayan Princess Beach & Dive Resort, Roatan, Honduras

Turquoise Bay Dive & Beach Resort, Roatan, Honduras


  • Anthony’s Key Resort Dive Shop, Roatan, Honduras

  • Barefoot Divers, Roatan, Honduras

  • Dockside Dive Center at CocoView Resort, Roatan, Honduras

Subway Watersports, Roatan, Honduras

  • Utila Lodge Dive Center, Honduras


Roatan Aggressor, Honduras

1st Place Winner: Pacific and Indian

4. Indonesia

There’s a reason photographers who travel to Indonesia never forget their dive guides’ names. In this critter-rich destination, the better the eyes of your guide, the better your image haul—and trip satisfaction.

Take Muji, an underwater guide with 15 years of experience at Wakatobi Dive Resort on Sulawesi. Muji excels at pointing out phenomenal finds. A few weeks ago at the dive site Dunia Baru, it was a Lembeh pygmy sea dragon, a species only discovered in 2006. “This was a first for me and the highlight for my underwater photography,” says Robert Keuzer, a guest of the luxury resort.

Beyond just the pygmy seahorses, Indonesia’s list of critters is endless, from several species of fire-colored flasher wrasses to the blue-ringed octopus. “That’s the thing about Indonesia and especially Wakatobi: You can’t help but be surprised on every trip because there are always new things to be found,” says Karen Stearns, marketing manager of the resort.

Readers Picks


Wakatobi Dive Resort, South Sulawesi, Indonesia


Wakatobi Dive Resort
 Dive Center, Indonesia


  • All Star Aurora, Indonesia

  • The Arenui, Indonesia

  • Dewi Nusantara, Indonesia

  • Pelagian Yacht, Sulawesi, Indonesia

green sea turtle Hawaii

Green sea turtles make for agreeable photo subjects in Hawaii.

Jennifer Penner

5. Hawaii

There’s a danger to shooting macro photography on the Navy tug off the island of Oahu. Narrow your mental and camera focus too much and it’s easy to miss the moment when something big passes by in the background. “The coolness factor of the tug is that it’s right next to a ledge,” says Brian Benton, owner of Dive Oahu. Just an eighth of a mile away is a deepwater corridor where mantas, humpback whales and whale sharks pass.

The encounters might be too quick for composing a photo of both the wreck and pelagic, but not so fast that the sighting can’t be captured on memory cards at all. The whale photo ops are most frequent during season, September to April. After all, says Benton, “It’s not hard when your visibility is 100 feet on most days.”

Readers Picks


  • Big Island Divers, Hawaii

  • Dive Maui, Hawaii

Dive Oahu, Hawaii

  • Jack’s Diving Locker, Hawaii

  • Kona Diving Company, Hawaii

  • Kona Honu Divers, Hawaii

  • Maui Dive Shop, Hawaii

  • Maui Diving Scuba Center, Hawaii

  • Maui Dreams Dive Co., Hawaii

  • Seasport Divers, Kauai, Hawaii

whip coral Philippines dive travel

A tiny whip coral shrimp crawls on a whip coral in Anilao, Philippines.

Efren De Los Santos

6. Philippines

Muck meets reef in the macro photography mecca that is the Batangas region of the Philippines, a two-hour drive from the capital of Manila.

Nicknamed the Nudibranch Capital of the World, Anilao is famous for sea slugs along with a host of rare critters, including rhinopias and the mimic octopus. Rarer still, yet found here regularly, is Melibe colemani, also known as the ghost nudi, a dorid species whose body looks like nothing more than a skeleton made of gossamer netting. Then there’s Miamira alleni, a sea slug appearing to have sprouted stalks covered in bubbles, mimicking carnation tree corals.

As for where to find it all, Dood Santos, in-house scuba instructor for Buceo Anilao Beach and Dive Resort, says, “For muck diving, you can’t beat the site Saim-Sim. Here you can find different kinds of frogfish, octopuses— maybe the blue-ringed octopus if you’re lucky—ghost pipefish and many more.”

Readers Picks


  • Atlantis Dive Resorts, Puerto Galera and Dumaguete, Philippines

  • Atmosphere Resorts & Spa, Dumaguete, Philippines


Philippine Siren, Philippines

Caribbean and Atlantic

  1. Bonaire

  2. Bay Islands

  3. Cayman Islands
  4. Belize
  5. Bahamas

  6. Mexico
U.S. Virgin Islands
  8. Curaçao
Turks and Caicos
  10. Cuba

Pacific and Indian

  1. Indonesia
  2. Fiji

  3. Palau

  4. Philippines

  5. Truk Lagoon

  6. Maldives
French Polynesia
  8. Galapagos

  9. Hawaii

  10. Australia

U.S. and Canada

  1. Florida Keys
  2. California

  3. North Carolina
  4. British Columbia
  5. Great Lakes

What Is Readers Choice?

We’ve averaged reader survey results from 2020, 2021 and 2022 to bring you the Best of Readers Choice awards. Here we feature some of
the top-rated destinations in the world, along with the winning resorts, operators and liveaboards serving those areas, listed in alphabetical order. For more: /readerschoice