Grab Your Scuba Gear—These 11 Attractions Can Only Be Seen Underwater

lion underwater sculpture

Photo: Elkman | Flickr

Instead of navigating overcrowded Pompeii, why not explore another intriguing ancient city—resting just five to 15 feet underwater off Naples. You’ll be snorkelling past eerily beautiful mosaic-floored villas at Italy’s Parco Archeologico Sommerso di Baia in no time.We’re just beginning to appreciate the depth of the ocean’s wonders, as demonstrated by film director James Cameron’s recent seven-mile free fall to the lowest point of the Mariana Trench, roughly 50 times the size of the Grand Canyon.

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While Cameron’s not eager to promote deep-sea tourism, inspired travellers might be surprised by how much we already have to gawk at below the waves. The coolest underwater attractions include ancient ruins, World War II shipwrecks, art, and kitsch—and you don’t necessarily need to be a scuba diver to enjoy them.

Swimming in Belize’s Blue Hole or sidling up to whale sharks make for memorable excursions, but those kinds of natural phenomena and wildlife are a whole other story. Instead, we’re highlighting the surprising array of man-made attractions under the sea that don’t depend on Mother Nature (unless you count an earthquake or two).

See the full list of attractions over at Travel + Leisure >
Whatever your snorkelling or diving ability, there’s something to see off the southern coast of the candy-coloured island Curaçao. A submerged tugboat is easy bait for beginners, while the more advanced can dive deeper to reach car piles about 90 feet below the surface. These ’40s and ’50s models were junked in an ill-conceived attempt at reef building. Where sea life didn’t quite flourish, photo-ops do: you, behind the wheel of a rusty Chevy.

You don’t need to get wet to enjoy Florida’s campy Weeki Wachee Mermaid Show, whose synchronised swimmers have been donning fabric tails since 1947. Another kind of artistry is on display at Cancún’s Underwater Museum, which opened in November 2010 with hundreds of sunken life-size human figures. Corals are gradually transforming these statues into living reefs to haunting effect.

Google has even turned its attention underwater, partnering in the Catlin Seaview Survey, which maps the ocean floor in the vein of Google Street View. And even if Cameron won’t expand the tourist offerings, you can bet Sir Richard Branson will, with (what else?) Virgin Oceanic, testing now.

But there’s no need to wait. Take the plunge now to explore these cool underwater attractions—it’s a brave new world down there.

Museo Subacuático de Arte, Cancún, Mexico

Parco Archaeologico Sommerso di Baia, Pozzuoli, Italy

Pompeii doesn't have the lock on ancient Italian trauma. Thanks to bradyseism--the gradual raising or lowering of earth due to filling magma chambers--the neighbourhood of Baia, 30 minutes west of Naples, now rests in about five to 15 feet of water.

Guided tours for both snorkelers and divers cover eight underwater (and four terrestrial) sites like Villa Protiro and Portus Julius.

Intricate black-and-white mosaic floors, loose statues, and frescoes mingle with sea stars and anemone shoals... for now.

As recently as 1984, the sea floor raised six feet.

Truk Lagoon, Micronesia

At the top of even the most casual wreck enthusiast's bucket list, Truk (a.k.a. Chuuk) was the forward stronghold of Japan's Imperial Navy during World War II before it was bombed into oblivion in February 1944.

The coral-encrusted ghost fleet (some 60 ships, 275 aeroplanes)--with gas masks, ammunition, guns, and bones still rattling inside--litters the sandy floor at an average depth of 65 feet.

The lagoon's calm waters host reef sharks and a rainbow of fish, as seemingly in paradise as the divers photographing rusted artillery tanks aboard the San Francisco Maru and the shattered hulk of the I-169 Shinohara submarine.

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Neptune Memorial Reef, Key Biscayne, FL

Port Royal, Jamaica

Yonaguni Monument, Okinawa, Japan

A sport diver tracking hammerhead sharks in 1987 discovered a megalithic temple 82 feet under the East China Sea: solid rock slabs, carved with near right angles in a stepped pyramidal structure; ancient walls and water channels; stone tools and carvings.

Or did he? Japanese scientists proclaimed it the Lost Continent of Mu. Dissenters chalked it up as a unique, though natural phenomenon, like the basalt columns of the Giant's Causeway.

What's not up for geological debate: the flights of fantasy you get from diving here.

Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu

At the world's first underwater post office, 150 feet out and nine feet down off marine sanctuary Hideaway Island, it's not slow-moving lines of humans you have to contend with but schools of shimmering fish.

Cyclone Jasmine damaged the structure in February 2012, so for now scuba-gear-clad mailmen have been replaced by an unmanned yellow post box; about $4 still gets you a waterproof postcard mailed anywhere in the world.

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Weeki Wachee Mermaid Show, Spring Hill, FL

Fed by the massive Weeki Wachee Springs, the Mermaid Show theatre an hour north of Tampa is an aquatic cousin to the terrestrial tackiness of road-trip classics like South Dakota's Corn Palace and Route 66's dusty concrete dinosaurs.

Campy, you betcha! It's a slice of Americana layered on thick.

And yet, in the right mood, its old-time charm and balletic prowess--and occasional stage crash by a pirouetting manatee--is enchanting nostalgia, an act largely unchanged since pretty girls first donned fabric tails in 1947.

Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail

Stretching 120 miles from Key Largo to Key West, this aggressive artificial reef program supplements the area's shallow, fish-filled reefs and wrecks of early 1700s Spanish galleons.

Free dive logs highlight the main sites, such as the massive radar dishes of the 524-foot-long missile trackerUSS Vandenberg, host to an underwater photo exhibit.

North of Key Largo, near Miami, The Spirit of Miami--an entire Boeing 727 jetliner sunk in Biscayne Bay in 1993--was subsequently lost during a tropical storm and rediscovered in multiple pieces in 2010.

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Vaersenbaai Car Piles, Curaçao

Divers know the candy-coloured island of Curaçao for the Marine Park all along its southern coast, offering easy shore dives and snorkelling, sheer drop-offs, and coral bays.

There are wrecks for beginners (a cutesy tugboat) and, for the more technically skilled, car piles roughly 90 feet down.

Classic rides from the '40s and '50s were junked in Vaersenbaai along with cranes and construction equipment in an ill-conceived attempt at reef building.

But where sponge and coral didn't quite flourish, photo-ops do--namely you behind the wheel of a rusty Chevy.

Pharos Lighthouse and Cleopatra's Palace, Alexandria, Egypt

Although plans for an underwater museum seem to have sunk, divers can still peer through the murky shallows of Alexandria's Eastern Harbor (about 15--20 feet deep) to glimpse wonders from the ancient world, including 56-ton massive granite blocks believed to be from the Pharos Lighthouse.

Treasures from Cleopatra's royal boudoir, destroyed in earthquakes and tsunami in A.D. 365, include headless sphinx, carved parts of a broken sarcophagus, and plenty of amphora.

Elsewhere in the bay, a World War II--era plane and Roman merchant vessels molder.

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