The World’s Top Underwater Wonders

Delve deep below the surface and discover these underwater wonders around the world
Delve deep below the surface and discover these underwater wonders around the world | © Cultura Creative RF / Alamy Stock Photo
Stephanie Stafford

Sunken cities, subaqueous forests, petrified figures of the watery underworlds – the legends were true. Plunge into the blue depths with the world’s most staggering underwater wonders – from the Cancún Underwater Museum in Mexico to Cleopatra’s Palace in Egypt.

The best way to access these subaquatic marvels is by boat. Hire a vessel for the day through SamBoat or book a multi-day trip with Dream Yacht Charter – no experience necessary.

1. Cancún Underwater Museum, Mexico


Fish swimming around underwater sculptures of people at the eerie Cancún Underwater Museum
© Jason deCaires Taylor
Standing still with eyes closed, the subaquatic museum’s stone inhabitants wait patiently in their eternal limbo. In the clear waters there’s an eerie quiet, just the sound of clicking pebbles. The older statues’ faces have eroded, their mournful expressions now recalling the ashen corpses at Pompeii, as corals steadily colonise bodies and mask their faces. More than 450 figurative sculptures have been installed in the underwater museum since sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor co-founded it back in 2009, off the coast of Cancún, Mexico. Before the creation of the park, the island’s marine life had been dwindling, the coastal region having been ravaged by severe storms. The sculptures have provided the structure necessary for corals to return to the area.

2. Lion City, Qiandao Lake, China

Architectural Landmark

An aerial view of lush islands in Qiandao Lake, with a boat cruising through the water
© Keren Su/China Span / Alamy Stock Photo

This is China’s own Atlantis. The grand city of Shi Cheng, also known as Lion City after the Five Lion Mountain that rises up behind it, was once a cradle of wealth and power in the eastern province of Zhejiang. In 1959, the decision to build a new hydroelectric power station was made at the expense of the city. An artificial lake was constructed, and the ornate metropolis slowly filled with water. Submerged in the blue waters of Qiandao Lake, the city remained forgotten until recently, when divers in the area rediscovered it. Elaborate sculptures and engravings decorate the buildings, which remain remarkably intact.

4. Christ of the Abyss, Italy

Architectural Landmark

The underwater statue of Christ of the Abyss, with his arms raised up, near Portofino in Italy
© Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Submerged in the Mediterranean Sea, just off the Italian Riviera near the glamorous seaside town of Portofino, a giant Christ reaches out with open arms skyward, offering a benediction of peace. The 2.4m-tall (8ft) statue that is separated from the surface by 17m (55ft) of sea, was created by Guido Galletti in 1954. It is said to be located near the spot where inventor Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian to try out scuba diving equipment, died on a sub-aqua dive in 1947.

5. Baiae, Italy

Historical Landmark

A diver swimming over a submerged ancient Roman mosaic near Naples, Italy
© Anbusiello / Alamy Stock Photo

The city of Baiae was the Monte Carlo of Ancient Rome, a place of parties and hedonistic pleasure. It was favoured by famous figures of antiquity, with emperors such as Nero, Cicero and Caesar all spending their leisure time at the famed seaside resort. Following the sacking of Baiae by the Saracens in the eighth century, the city fell to ruin and rising water levels eventually swallowed it up. Today, the ancient city ruins can be visited in one of the world’s few public underwater archaeological parks, just off the Bay of Naples.

6. Pavlopetri, Greece

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

A rocky beach and turquoise water near the ancient Greek city ruins of Pavlopetri in Laconia
© Nikos Pavlakis / Alamy Stock Photo

At 5,000 yeas old, Pavlopetri in southern Laconia, Greece, is the oldest submerged city in the world, dating back to the Bronze Age. It was discovered in 1967 by oceanographer Nic Flemming, and in 2009 investigations began into the history and development of this now-submerged ancient town. The archaeological site is awash with a wealth of artefacts, and the BBC created a digital recreation of how the city might have once looked.

7. The Sunken Forest, Lake Kaindy, Kazakhstan

Natural Feature

Trees submerged in a lake with turquoise water, with the tops sticking up, at the Sunken Forest in Lake Kaindy, Kazakhstan
© Tom Till / Alamy Stock Photo

Lake Kaindy, in the Tian Shan mountain range, was formed in 1911 after an earthquake caused a tremendous landslide to block off part of the gorge and act like a dam. With nowhere to drain, rainwater collected and gradually submerged the spruce tree forest that grows in the ravine. With just their tops peeping out, the spruce trunks grow below in the icy waters.

8. Cleopatra's Palace, Egypt

Architectural Landmark

View of The Citadel of Qaitbay, a 15th-century defensive fortress established in 1477 AD
© Julia Chan / Alamy Stock Photo

Sunken in the waters off Alexandria in Egypt lie the remains of Cleopatra’s Palace. Queen Cleopatra, the last female pharaoh, became a legend through her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony. She supposedly committed suicide by letting a snake bite her breast. Her palace at Alexandria and the rest of the city were engulfed by the sea after a series of cataclysmic earthquakes and tsunamis in the fourth and eighth centuries. A French archeologist, Franck Goddio, and his team discovered the site in the 1990s. Among the huge limestone blocks from fallen buildings, divers have found coins, tiny amulets, jewellery, rings, glassware and hairpins, as well as two perfectly preserved sphinxes, the spiritual guardians of Cleopatra’s temple.

9. Ocean Atlas, Bahamas


A diver swims next to the large stone statue of a kneeling girl, called Ocean Atlas, near New Providence in the Bahamas
© Jason deCaires Taylor

Craning her neck to gaze upward, a girl kneels on the sand bed. Aptly named Ocean Atlas, she calmly bears the weight of the sea on her shoulders. At 5.5m (18ft), she’s the largest underwater sculpture in the world, dwarfing the snorkellers and divers who come to New Providence in the Bahamas to visit her. Designed by underwater sculpture artist Jason deCaires Taylor, her texture is roughened to encourage coral to take up home on this gentle giant.

10. Port Royal, Jamaica

Historical Landmark

Once known as “the wickedest city on earth”, Jamaica’s sleepy fishing town of Port Royal had a notorious reputation as a pirate’s paradise. This West Indies port had its heyday in the 17th century. But disaster struck in 1692, when an earthquake destroyed the town, plunging it to the depths of Davy Jones’ Locker for good. Now, the bars and brothels where all manner of debauchery was committed have become archeological treasures and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Through the eerie waters, you might still glimpse the ghosts of treasure hunters and buccaneers swigging rum round a tavern table; or the ladies in their fine crinoline dresses swanning arm in arm with British naval officers, enjoying a last night before setting sail for the New World.

Sail to these mesmerising underwater spectacles by chartering a boat through SamBoat. Alternatively, book a week-long sailing adventure with Dream Yacht Charter.

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