Bucket List Underwater Attractions

Museums, sculptures, hotels, bars, wildlife – it can all be experienced underwater, allowing you to truly glimpse a different world, whether you decide to get wet or not.  Join us as we dive headfirst into these remarkable Global Bucket List Underwater Attractions. 

Underwater Sculpture Parks

British sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor took his art below sea-level, creating the world’s first underwater gallery in the warm Caribbean waters of Granada. The Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park opened in 2006, accessible by snorkelling, diving or glass-bottom boat. The 65 cement sculptures, mostly of people, covers an 800 square metre area and has been an environmental boon, relieving pressure on surrounding reefs.   Taylor followed this success with his Cancun Underwater Museum, using PH-neutral concrete to create 400 life-size human statues in the shallow waters of Cancun’s National Marine Park.   Both parks have become immensely popular with visiting tourists.

Poseidon Underwater Resort, Fiji

It took a few decades and many a foiled plan, but the world’s first luxury seabed hotel has opened inside a 5000-acre crystal Fijian lagoon. Unlike the research origins of the Jules Lodge, the Poseidon is a no-expense-spared underwater fantasy escape, complete with guests’ private 16-passenger Triton submarine (pilot training included), spas, six underwater restaurants and lounges, shopping, libraries and sports facilities. Elevators shuttle guests 40 feet underwater to 24 underwater suites and one luxury underwater villa. An acrylic viewing window in each room means the ocean literally surrounds you, and if you want to interact with the fish, simply push a button on your control console to automatically feed them. How much will this experience set you back? A special offer on the website currently advertises $15,000 per person for seven days and six nights.

Agnete and the Merman, Copenhagen

I’m drifting on a boat through the canals of Copenhagen on a glorious summer day. Citizens of the Danish capital relish their summer, walking the streets, enjoying a refreshment in the outdoor cafes.   As the boat passes under Højbro bridge, something catches my eye underwater. Could that be?   We stop the boat and reverse so I can get a better look. Originally submerged in 1992, the statue is a Merman and his Seven Sons, awaiting the return of their wife and mother, Agnete. In Danish mythology, she was an earthling who fell in love with a Merman, but went back to the land of her birth, never to return again.   Designed by artist Suste Bonnén, the sculpture is ethereal and distant, just like the characters in the tale it represents, and a wonderful example of underwater art.

Atlantis Submarine

If you fancy exploring the ocean depths without getting wet, then Atlantis Submarines are just for you. The company has safely taken over 13 million customers 150ft below the surface with operations in Hawaii, Guam, and Caribbean destinations like Aruba, the Cayman Islands, Curacao and St.Martin. In Barbados, I entered the white, tubular 48-passenger Atlantis III, eagerly watching the captain seated inside his cockpit bubble, like a character in a Jules Verne novel. With surprising manoeuvrability, we explored an old shipwreck, teeming with fish and marine life. I was fascinated to see how light filters the deeper you go, and how peaceful life below water can be.

 

World’s Best Aquariums

Aquariums are often the only exposure many kids and adults have to the world underwater, serving an important role in conservation, research and biology.   The world’s biggest aquarium is in Atlanta, Georgia, home to 120,000 animals and 500 species, scattered over 60 different animal habitats. Dubai boasts the world’s largest viewing window for its Aquarium, which no surprise, is located in a shopping mall. At the Sydney Aquarium, you can view sharks beneath a glass bottom boat, while London’s Sea Life lets you feed sharks, rays and catfish. Monterey has a million-gallon Outer Bay tank that houses blue-fin tuna, hammerhead sharks, and other creatures from the open ocean.   And let’s not forget the Vancouver Aquarium, consistently rated amongst the world’s best.

 

Underwater Dining, Maldives

Surrounded by the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives seems like the right spot to find an underwater restaurant. Heck, the islands are only three metres above sea level, to begin with.   Eat with the fish at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island’s Ithaa restaurant, which sits five metres below the sea, enclosed in clear acrylic walls providing patrons with a 270-degree underwater view of the ocean around them. Also in the Maldives, the Anantara Kihavah Resort offers underwater dining in its signature Sea.Fire.Salt.Sky restaurant, which allows guests to also enjoy the sea breeze in a rooftop bar. Meanwhile, the Huvafen Fushi Resort has two of its eight spa treatment rooms underwater, the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

Photo: Nadia Aly

Best Dive Sites

Scuba divers know there’s no shortage of underwater attractions around the world. Just about every site has something to offer, whether it’s shipwrecks, reefs, marine life or caves.   Some of my favourites: Diving the freshwater limestone caves, or cenotes of Mexico is truly another world, with stalactites and stalagmites reflected by sunlight in crystal clear water. The coral reefs surrounding Palau have made the island one of the world’s top scuba destinations. Belize’s Blue Hole is another diver favourite, an almost perfect circular cave that descends 135m into the deep. Diving with the world’s biggest fish – the whale shark – is best done in the Philippines or off Koh Tachai, Thailand. Some of the best wreck diving is off Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Australia. You don’t have to look too far to find sensational diving. The waters off British Columbia offer some of the world’s best cold diving.

Herod’s Harbour, Israel

It’s one thing walking amongst the ruins of ancient temples, but how about swimming through the streets of a 2000-year old city?   King Herod opened his harbour in Caesarea, once the most important cities in the world, in 10 B.C. Today the remains of the great harbour sit six metres underwater. With waterproof maps and a handy guide, snorkelers and divers can visit the 36 numbered exhibits, following ropes tied to poles on the sea bed. You’ll pass giant anchors, ancient marble columns, and even a sunken Roman vessel. From here, head south to the Red Sea Star, located in the resort town of Eilat. This underwater bar and restaurant offer panoramic views of marine life in the Red Sea, and you can stay perfectly dry while you enjoy them.

Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu

I’ve been collecting postcards from my travels for years, but they don’t get more unusual than this. Fifty metres offshore from Hideaway Island near Port Vila is the world’s only underwater post office. Over 100,000 people have swum to this branch to post special waterproof postcards, which are “stamped” underwater using an embossing tool. The branch is manned for an hour each day by one of four scuba-diving postmen.  A flag flies above the underwater booth to let swimmers know when it is open for business. If snorkelers cannot reach the booth, situated 3m underwater, the postmen will gladly retrieve your mail from the surface. Now that’s service!

Watersport with a Bajan Legend

Yes, please! It says much about Barbadians, or Bajans, if you prefer, that their be-all, end-all answer to a question, a statement, a polite request or a loud proclamation is “Yes, please!” The sovereign country has a history stretching back to the 1550s, and a proud culture that has developed through the constant movement of people, tossed together like the soup a surfer might find within the big waves of Bathsheba— a history of slavery, religion, colonialism, uprisings, cricket and roundabouts. Today, a dreamy blue ocean continues to crash against some of the world’s most exclusive resorts and luxurious homes built for the rich and famous. All well and good, but our bucket list is looking for character, which brings us to Bajan national hero, world-champion freestyle windsurfer and island legend Brian Talma.

Having the shaggy-haired, bright-eyed and deeply tanned Brian Talma teach us watersports is like having Tiger Woods give us putting tips. Wide smiles are cracked across the island at the mention of Talma’s name. And when Talma himself smiles, which is just about all the time, his teeth twinkle like piano keys in a New Orleans jazz bar. Over the course of his 25-year career on the worldwide pro circuit, Talma has become the go-to guy for anyone delving into beach culture. At home in Barbados, he operates de Action, a brightly painted little surf shop offering rentals, lessons and a sweet place to catch the action on Silver Sands Beach.
“Action!” It’s Talma’s mantra, bookending his sentences. “Action! We should always choose a life of action!” I’m motivated to learn about new trends in watersport from this living legend, swept up in his wave of enthusiasm. When I tell him that I hope to freestyle windsurf (never tried), kitesurf (never tried) and stand-up paddleboard (never tried) on the same day, he plays a toothy tune with those ivories, followed by a deep belly laugh. Action is definitely in the winds.

Full disclosure: I have been on a windsurfer before. At the age of five, I would lie between my dad’s legs on his long board at the local dam. My dad embraced windsurfing when it first arrived on the scene, and every weekend, I’d spread out at the back of his board, a true windsurfer’s child. Shortly afterwards, my dad moved onto his next fad, cycling. The windsurfer gathered dust in the garage.
Cut to Brian, a man who has windsurfed some of the world’s biggest waves, showing me how to pull up a sail. Roger Federer might as well explain how to hold a tennis racket. I barely stand up and immediately the wind hits the sail, blowing me toward the next island of St. Lucia. Brian swims after me, laughing loudly, ready to gather me up when I inevitably wipe out. Whatever. Windsurfing is old news. On the beach are Canadians learning how to kitesurf, an exploding sport fast gaining converts around the world. Silver Sands Beach, they tell me, is one of the best kitesurfing destinations in the world. Talma, of course, mastered the sport years ago.

When kitesurfing, you’re connected via a harness to a large stunt kite, capable of rocketing you across the waves and launching you 9 metres into the air. All you need is a board, a power kite, waves, wind and a certain amount of lunacy. I know three friends mad about kitesurfing. They’ve all broken bones and twisted knees, yet continue to love it.
Controlling and harnessing the wind, directing the kite, relaunching from a crash and cresting over waves is not something you learn to do in a couple of hours. Kitesurfing enthusiasts in Barbados typically spend two weeks—renting houses or staying in hotels around Silver Sands Beach—learning just the basics.

Brian explains the appeal of the sport: “Action! You can do anything you want, man, there’s no limit when it comes to kitesurfing. Ready for your crash course? Action!”
He starts me off on a small stunt kite, showing me how to swing it in a figure eight to get power, keeping it steady directly above me, sort of like neutral gear in a car. I barely get the hang of it as the midday sun, my sweat and my cheap sunblock stings my corneas. Brian brings out the big kite with the hesitancy of a Ferrari owner slipping the keys to a learner driver. I watch as he demonstrates his control, the big kite powerful enough to blow him to Bridgetown. It costs $1,500 for the kite alone, so he’s rightfully worried I will end up slamming into a building in the nation’s capital. Brian hooks me into the harness, and within seconds I crash the kite hard into the beach, feeling the bone-cringing slam of material on sand. Fortunately, these kites can take a pounding. We launch it again, and I crash it again. It’s disheartening to be so uncool next to the coolest cat on the island.

When I finally get the kite under control, I try a figure eight and immediately get dragged across the white sand, like an ant holding onto dental floss in a hurricane. Twisted on the ground, I turn to Brian.
“I’m sure your local emergency room is busy enough. Let’s move onto stand-up paddleboarding.”
Heck, everybody’s stand-up paddleboarding! Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Aniston, Pierce Brosnan, Matt Damon, Kate Hudson, Owen Wilson, Sting. Perhaps it’s a prerequisite to look like a movie star. The sport involves standing on a long, customized surfboard, oar in hand, riding offshore currents and surfing onshore waves.

Brian demonstrates. Relaxed, his back is straight and shoulders are square. He looks as comfortable standing on water as he does on land. I hoist myself up, bent over like a hunchback, slipping and sliding, wobbling and wiping—much to the amusement of all on the beach. I hope they laugh at those damn celebrities too.
Nobody in their right mind should attempt to learn three watersports in one day, let alone sports that require hours of practice just to reach beginner level. But it did provide a great excuse to hang out with a legendary character like Brian Talma. If you’re looking to tick a few watersports off your bucket list, Silver Sands Beach, Barbados and Brian’s de Action shack will put the wind in your sails.