108 different destinations, 245 liveaboards and more than 750 different dive centres and resorts – a total of almost 17,000 individual nominations were made by DIVE’s readers during the 2021 DIVE Travel Awards. From all over the world, scuba divers have picked their favourites – and their choices reveal the depth and spread of excellence in the dive travel industry.
Our poll shows the loyalty many divers have for their favourite operators both on land and in liveaboards. It also shows the sheer scale of the dive industry in Indonesia; with so much excellent diving it is only to be expected that there are so many excellent operators spread across the vast archipelago.
Check out the Top 10 winners in each category. There are plenty of previous winners and some interesting newcomers. We would like to thank all our voters for supporting the dive travel industry, particularly in these difficult Covid-19 times. And we all look forward to returning to our favourite destinations and operators next year!
MORE DIVE TRAVEL AWARDS
Best scuba diving destinations
Indonesia takes the top spot for the fifth consecutive year. While we can’t say that this was entirely unexpected, we also can’t say that it is entirely undeserved. Indonesia is the world’s largest island nation, and it it is the beating heart of the Coral Triangle with a wealth of biodiversity.
During the DIVE Travel Awards, many people nominate individual locations as their favourite destinations, rather than the nation as a whole. We have to round these up under the umbrella of the country to prevent Indonesian regions from taking up all the top spots on the table, but this year we have been able to look at the regional breakdown more closely.
Raja Ampat was, by far and away, the most popular region in Indonesia, followed by Komodo, Bali (including the Nusa Islands) and North Sulawesi (including Lembeh and Bunaken National Park), with the Gili Islands in fifth place. Each has its own individual character (and, indeed, could be broken down even further), but with so much to see and do across all of them, it’s no surprise that Indonesia takes its much-deserved crown once more.
Egypt retains the second place it has held each year since 2019, and while that may not, on the surface, indicate much progress, it has taken the position with a significantly larger percentage of the vote than at any other time in the past. From a total of 108 different destinations – after being collated into countries, that is – Egypt took just under 17 per cent of the overall vote, more than half of Indonesia’s 30 per cent.
Egypt’s success is all the more remarkable given that prior to the pandemic, the nation was still recovering from a massive drop in tourism over the preceding four years. The country’s success in recent years is partly due to the outstanding loyalty of its visitors who, year after year, return to diving hotspots in Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada, Dahab and Marsa Alam – plus a wide range of excellent liveaboard itineraries – to dive in the deep blue Red Sea.
Egypt is the birthplace of many a love affair with scuba diving. It has a mixture of everything from entry-level easy to advanced and challenging, slack currents to high-energy drifts, macro critters to pelagic visitors, all just a short hop from most of mainland Europe. Part of Egypt’s attraction is undoubtedly its convenient location – but only a part, the rest belongs to the environment and the well-oiled machine of its scuba diving business.
Making up the Top Three for the second year running, Malaysia has long been a popular diving destination, but with a much smaller presence on the world stage than its neighbours, even though the diving is comparable. Many people like it that way – smaller dive centres in idyllic locations where you don’t have to fight your way through another five groups of divers from competing businesses.
Sipadan and Mabul islands are the most well-known of Malaysia’s dive spots, but Tioman and Perhentian Island, where visitors can choose between consummate luxury or a more chilled and budget-friendly backpacker vibe, are becoming increasingly popular.
The diving is relatively tranquil when compared to other locations and there is much in Malaysia to be enjoyed by divers who are taking their first steps into the water, or experienced divers looking for critters and coral, especially turtles. If you like turtles, there are dive spots in Malaysia where you will encounter more turtles during a single dive than some divers spot in their whole scuba diving careers!
The Complete Top 10 scuba diving destinations:
- Solomon Islands
Best scuba diving liveaboards
Coralia returns to the top spot in the 2021 DIVE Travel Awards after being crowned as winner in 2019, placing first that year alongside her owners Papua Explorers in the dive centre and resorts category. Although Coralia slipped down the rankings (but remained in the Top Ten) for 2020, this year she took first place after the first month of voting, and duelled it out with Bilikiki over the next six months, swapping places before taking first place and holding onto it for the rest of the competition. A classic Phinisi design with eight spacious cabins, Coralia runs a series of itineraries from her base in Raja Ampat, covering Komodo, the Forgotten Islands & Banda Sea, Alor, Halmahera and Cenderawasih Bay.
Bilikiki has been a regular favourite in the DIVE Travel Awards, having placed in the Top Ten since 2018 but without managing to break into the Top Three – until now! Bilikiki has been operating in the Solomon Islands for almost 30 years and has a well-deserved reputation for comfort, safety and service. Offering trips from seven to 14 nights around the Florida and Russell Islands, Marovo Lagoon and Mary Island, itineraries include five dives per day for up to 20 guests accommodated in ten air-conditioned ensuite cabins. All trips start and finish in Honiara, the capital of the Solomons and home of the international airport. Bilikiki operates in a way that benefits people in local communities by paying to dive on the ancestrally owned reefs and buying local produce from islanders.
Dewi Nusantara has placed in the Top Three since its 2018 win, this year gathering just enough votes to outpace its joint third-place liveaboard Nai’a, in the 2020 DIVE Travel Awards. Named after the goddess of the Indonesian archipelago, Dewi Nusantara is a 58m, three-masted schooner sailing through the heart of the Coral Triangle, with itineraries including Raja Ampat, Ambon, Banda Sea, The Forgotten Islands, Halmahera, Ternate, Triton Bay, Cendrawasih Bay, North Sulawesi and beyond.
The complete Top 10 destinations:
- Dewi Nusantara
- Mermaid II
- Mermaid I
- Nautilus Explorer
- Sea Hunter
Best dive centres or resorts
Taking the 2021 DIVE Travel Awards crown this year is Elite Diving, a small, multi-award-winning family run-business based in Sharm-El-Sheikh, founded in 2005 by Alun and Moyra Evans, and now supported by their son, Gwyn (aka ‘G’) and his wife Valeria (aka ‘V’). Elite placed third in the 2020 DIVE Travel Awards, and we remarked at the time that it was a moment of ‘great significance’ for a small business to have pulled through the problems that Sharm has faced since 2015, even before the stranglehold of pandemic travel restrictions. Where other, larger, centres have been forced to close their doors – some of them forever – Elite Diving’s loyal customer base has seen them not only continue as one of Sharm’s best-loved dive centres, but crowned as well-deserved winners of the DIVE Travel Awards.
Papua Explorers were 2019 winners of the Best Dive Centre or Resort category, sharing top spot with its liveaboard, Coralia, which has taken first place in the Best Liveaboard category for the second time this year. Papua Explorers is a small eco-resort based on Gam Island in the Dampier Strait of Raja Ampat and – judging by the number of votes it has received each year – is very well-supported by its customer base, especially valuable during the difficult times of the last few years. The resort was founded not just as an environmentally conscious scuba diving operation, but one which works together with local communities to minimise the impact of environmentally damaging activities and train the indigenous population in roles that will bring them better incomes, and provide a better and more sustainable environment for the development of the local biodiversity.
Scuba Junkie took first place in the 2020 DIVE Travel Awards, garnering so many votes between its Sipadan, Komodo and Penida centres that we combined them together to stop them blocking out the Top Three! Scuba Junkie has, over the years, become a well-known name within the scuba diving community, but the individual centres which operate under the Scuba Junkie banner have – like other dive centres in these awards – commanded an immensely loyal following in their own right. Scuba Junkie Komodo placed in ninth this year, and although the Nusa Penida branch which shared the 2020 award fell just short of the Top Ten this year, it still retained a solid position within the overall Top 25. Scuba Junkie Sipadan was the first of its dive centres, established in 2004 as an environmentally aware scuba diving operation, since when it has grown into its own resort.
The complete Top 10 dive centres or resorts:
- Elite Diving, Sharm El Sheikh
- Papua Explorers, Raja Ampat
- Scuba Junkie, Sipadan (& Mabul)
- Dive Ninja Expeditions, Cabo San Lucas
- B&J Dive Resort, Tioman Island
- Scuba Seekers, Dahab
- Siladen Resort & Spa, N. Sulawesi
- Uepi Diving Resort, Solomon Islands
- Scuba Junkie Komodo
- Volivoli Beach Resort / Ra Divers
Thank you to everybody who nominated, voted and campaigned on social media for this year’s DIVE Travel Awards! Let’s make sure that we continue to support ALL of the scuba diving destinations, liveaboards, dive centres and resorts that we can, and visit them in person as soon as the remaining travel restrictions are lifted.
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