From sunken sculpture parks to drowned cities, we’ve pulled together six of the best underwater museums in the world. They’re not all for serious scuba divers, either – some can be spied from the wetsuit-free deck of a glass bottom boat. Here are the ones that made our shortlist…
MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte) is the king of underwater art galleries, decorating the seabed off the Riviera Cancun with over 500 sculptures.
It was originally the brainchild of Jason deCaires Taylor, who envisioned a sculpture park that doubled as a living, thriving reef. But now it’s grown into two underwater art galleries populated by giant hands, brass cars, crowds of lifelike statues, and a few dig-in-the-ribs political commentaries (including bankers with their heads in the sand).
The sculptures are eight metres below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, so scuba divers and freedivers with a good pair of lungs can get up close and personal. If you don’t fancy getting your feet wet, hop on a glass bottom boat from Isla Mujeres. As well as the seabed sculptures, you might spy green turtles and neon angel fish.
Museo Atlantico, Lanzarote
Museo Atlantico is another Jason deCaires Taylor invention. It’s the only underwater sculpture museum in Europe, sat just beneath the waves that hit the south coast of Lanzarote. The ocean here is crystal-clear – perfect for getting an unobstructed look at the sunken boats, brass cacti and even a selfie-taking couple.
One day, Museo Atlantico will have completely turned into an artificial reef. But right now, it’s new enough for you to see the little details – and to see the curious rays inspecting the fresh growth of coral and anemones.
P31 wreck, Malta
The P31 is wrecked just off the west coast of Comino, halfway between Malta and Gozo. The Malta government adopted this German minesweeper back in the nineties, when it was used for patrols and rescues. The tourist board then snapped it up, before deliberately sinking it to create a top-notch dive site.
It’s new enough for most of the body to still be intact, so you can explore the corridors below decks and practically sit on the captain’s chair. Plus, the neighbouring beds of sea grass reel in octopi and bright parrot fish.
You can combine a P31 dive with a trip to the Blue Lagoon on Comino. It’s one of the best beaches in Malta.
Christ of the Abyss, Italy
Beneath the turquoise waters of Liguria, Italy, lies the spectacular Christ of the Abyss. This towering statue is a memorial to sailors lost at sea, set under the watchful eye of San Fruttuoso Abbey. The rest of Portofino Marine Park is smattered with over 20 dive sites and wrecks, so scuba divers could spend a few days exploring the pristine waters of the rugged peninsula.
Port Royal, Jamaica
You might recognise the name Port Royal – it starred as the British naval base in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Back in the 17th century, Port Royal was filled to the brim with rum-swigging pirates. It also became a port of call for some of the British Navy’s most famous captains, including a young Nelson. It was during this time that an earthquake struck, sinking the prosperous city.
These days, the sandy Port Royal cays are rich in dive sites with suitably piratical names – think Drunken Man’s Cay and Black Tip. Reefs and shipwrecks are the theme here, and there’s even a shipwreck that archaeologists reckon is the skeleton of Black Bart’s ship, one of the most notorious pirates in history.
Montego Bay has some of the best beaches and hotels in Jamaica.Where to stay:
Baia Underwater Park, Italy
Baia is another sunken city just off the coast of Campania, Italy. Like Port Royal, it was an ancient party town visited by some of the most famous people in history – not least Julius Caesar, who is said to have had a villa here.
But how to get to Baia Underwater Park? Glass bottom boats float over this ancient Las Vegas. Or you could jump on a scuba diving trip and swim right up to the Roman statues and half-buried mosaic floors.