This blog post deviates somewhat from my usual guide on traveling. Instead, this is about my experience in scuba diving in general.
Although I’m not a regular diver, I did dive around 17 times in 3 different countries. As a beginner scuba diver, it is important to choose the site to dive, and who to dive with (for safety reasons).
The first time I dove was at two different sites in Great Barrier Reef at Australia: Port Douglas and Cairns. Since I didn’t have my license at the time, I could only do the Discover Scuba Dive program. In my opinion, if you aren’t a serious diver, or you just want to try it out, this is the perfect program. It is quick enough that you don’t need to invest a lot of time and money, and safe enough that a dive master/instructor would accompany you throughout your diving journey. While I was diving in Port Douglas, the staffs were quite professional. We went through the basics, such as hand signals and recovering the regulator. The diver to staff ratio was very low, which means you do get a semi-private lesson (good deal). This is because Port Douglas is not as popular compared to Cairns but you still get the full Great Barrier Reef experience.
The first time that you dive will be one of your unforgettable experiences. The moment when you could breathe underwater should forever fuse in your memory. If you don’t feel comfortable, you could either hold onto the diving instructor, or simply voice your concern and switch to snorkeling instead. No one is forcing you to dive but I would urge you to at least try it.
I have a greater description on my first dive in this blog: http://www.walkinmyshew.com/single-post/2014/09/21/Great-Barrier-Reef-First-ScubaDiving-Experience
Then, of course, my second diving trip was in Cairns, Australia. That site is a complete contrast compared to Port Douglas. First of all, there were too many tourists, which means not enough attention from the diving instructor. Second, the instructors didn’t seem all that professional. If this were to be your first dive in Cairns, you would be scared because everything (procedure, education, time devotion) seems to be one class lower than the folks in Port Douglas. Anyhow, that was just my experience. Obviously, the over-crowdedness in Cairns contributed to this concern. Nonetheless, Great Barrier Reef is just as beautiful, but unfortunately dying. When I went to the Reef, it was year 2014. From what I know, climate change has killed a lot of the corals in the Reef. According to the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence, 30% of the corals disappeared between March and November 2016. That is a ridiculous figure.
This article says it all https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/18/world/great-barrier-reef-coral-dying-climate-change/index.html
I urge you to check out the Great Barrier Reef while you still can. It may be gone sooner than you think.
Oh, I should also let you know that you should protect yourself from sun burn whenever possible during scuba diving. I recklessly didn’t do enough to protect myself and got a massive sun burn on my thighs. I learned sun burn the hard way.
A year later, I went on another diving trip. This time, it is in Cancun Mexico. Before going to Cancun, I researched multiple diving sites and found a few gorgeous hidden gems in the Yucatan area. Unfortunately, most diving places require at least the PADI Open Water license. As I didn’t have any PADI licenses, I could only do the basic discovery type of scuba dives. This is when I discovered the Underwater Museum MUSA at Isla Mujeres. I dragged my brother (who has never done scuba diving) with me and registered for 2 dives.
Needless to say, it was an interesting dive because rather than seeing fish, you are seeing sculptures and statues. A more detailed description of that trip is in this blog: http://www.walkinmyshew.com/single-post/2016/1/9/Cacun-Underwater-Museum-MUSA
I would say that the only difference is that the ocean in Mexico has stronger waves. It is recommended to take some sea sickness pills (i.e. gravol) before sailing out to the ocean.
If you realize that you like scuba diving after your first Discovery trip, there are a lot of reasons why you should get the PADI Open Water license. For instance, as I said before, there are many beautiful diving sites that require this license at a minimum. Without the Open Water license, you can’t even dive at all on your own. A lot of the hidden gems don’t offer the Discovery type of dives. Second, if you’re into shipwrecks or caves, you have to have at least the PADI Open Water license. Sometimes, they may even require you to have a more advanced license (like cavern or wreck).
To get the PADI Open Water license, you need at least 3 days to do it. After the 3 day program, you need at least 24 hours before you fly again. This is for safety reasons because nitrogen gas can be trapped inside your body and flying to a different altitude can cause nitrogen gas bubbles to form inside your body.
The chart below shows the PADI course progression chart to become the ultimate master scuba diver!
Three years after Mexico, I finally got my chance to get the PADI Open Water license in Dominican Republic. My first day was to watch 5 video to learn about the academic skill sets that are required for this license. For your information, you could finish this at home and skip this part when you are in overseas. Then, the next 2 days you will be diving in the open water ocean to perform certain tasks, such as removing your mask, regulator, putting on your BCD underwater and helping your buddy breathe underwater.
It was a fantastic experience and I’m glad I did it with a real coral reef site. Alternatively, you could get your license in the city at home, like in Toronto. However, I must tell you that the experience isn’t as pleasant. For instance, your “open water” dive would be done in Tobemory. Even during July, the lake temperature is cold and you have to put on your head gear for scuba diving. The water is murky and there is certainly no coral reef. If you are going to get the license anyway, why not do it with real fish and coral reef under the warm sun?