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5 Best Locations In The World To Earn Your PADI Hat

The Secret Traveller

Learn To Dive


By The Secret Traveller

Never dived before? No worries. Earning your PADI (that’s Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Open Water certificate requires no experience. As long as you’re at least 10 years old and in good physical shape, then you’re ready for your first underwater adventure! Also, you should be able to swim. Pretty important that last one.

The PADI program provides a background of education, experience, equipment and environmental conservation designed to prepare even the most unseasoned landlubbers for a plunge into the deep blue. But where should you go? It’s a totally different world under the sea, with prevalent conditions, quality of operators and local wildlife (see sharks) varying greatly between destinations. Short of being chased by a Great White down a 300m sinkhole, you want your first time to be as memorable as possible. Check out these top picks for where to earn your PADI.

5.  Malaga, Spain


The rocky coastlines of Spain are home to some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, both above sea level and below. Take your pick from the two British run PADI-accredited dive schools, located at Marbella and Torremolinos, both of which are very reasonably priced. There’s six main dive sites visited by the schools, including the wreck at Gibraltar, Marbella and La Costa Tropical.

La Costa Tropical is Europe’s first National Marine Park, and it’s a definite highlight. Not only does visibility often exceed 30m, water temperatures can be as warm as 29°C. There’s a plethora of fish to see, and dolphins frequently visit the dive site.

Out of the water the food in Malaga is not to be missed, and with hundreds of chiringuitos (fish restaurants) lining the beach, you won’t find fresher fish than that! 

4.  Lake Atitlan, Guatemala


If you’re looking for a memorable first dive, you can’t look past Lake Atitlan. Take a volcanic crater, fill it with water, fish and crabs, then place it 1,500 metres above sea level. You can take your PADI open water divers course here, but for the more advanced there are seven dive sites, featuring flooded buildings, volcanic rock formations and advanced wall dives. And if that wasn’t enough, you’ll struggle to find a cheaper place to become a certified diver, with four-day courses costing as little as $250.

Lake Atitlan is far removed from the tourist traps of Central America, and you can still stumble across authentic Mayan villages. Tourist accommodation is scarce, but the local hotel is also run by the diving school, so you don’t have far to trek back to your digs after a day at the lake. 

3.  The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is not only the largest coral reef system in the world, but the largest living structure on earth. It contains over 29,000 individual reefs and 900 islands, so there’s bound to be something that tickles your fancy.

There are many PADI certified dive schools that frequent the reef, most of which are based around Cairns and Port Douglas, and you’ll have a ton of options to choose from, including land based learn to dive courses or liveaboard boat trips. These PADI courses don’t come cheap, but the breathtaking colour of the coral will soon force you to forget that hole in your wallet. 

2. Koh Tao Island, Thailand

Koh Tao

Named after the turtles found residing on and around the island, and with a main beach boasting over 30 dive shops, you know there’s something worth seeing underwater at Koh Tao Island. And with over 50 dive schools, you’ll be spoiled for choice as to who to learn to dive with. Open Water PADI certificates can be earned over four days and cost as little as 9,800 THB (that’s a touch over $350). The water averages a steamy 29°C all year round, and there are little to no currents to speak of at most of the dive sites.

The downside? Koh Tao hands out the second most PADI certificates of any spot worldwide, so you’ll hardly be Christopher Columbus in this respect. 

1.  Gili Islands, Indonesia 

Gili Islands

Unspoiled. Remote. Relaxed. While the Gili Islands doesn’t offer the range of dive sites Koh Tao does, or the sheer amount of coral as the Great Barrier Reef, its relative quiet and learner-friendly dive spots make it the perfect place to earn your PADI. If you're not sure who to learn with, check out manta dive, a highly reputable local dive school.  

Accessible via a short speed boat ride from Kuta, the Gili Islands is an underwater paradise, featuring over 20 dive sites packed with turtles, stingrays, white tip reef sharks and thousands of species of fish. The smaller class sizes ensure you get the best experience possible when learning to dive. You can complete your Open Water course over three or four days, and you’ll be able to enjoy dives at Shark and Manta Point. 


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