Summer travel typically evokes images of lying idly on a beach without a care in the world. But we at Gadling are always keen to buck the trend and focus on active and experiential travel. In keeping with this theme, today’s column aims to get you out into the open water with a steel cylinder of compressed air strapped to your back.
If you want to catch a glimpse of the underwater world, then all you really need is a mask, fins and a snorkel. But to truly immerse yourself in what lies below, you will need to use SCUBA gear, not to mention first undergoing some structured training. Fortunately, planning a dive holiday is fairly easy regardless of your experience level.
Intrigued? Keep on reading.
If you’re new to the sport, we’ll first outline how you can easily get certified in just a few days. We’ll also give you some suggestions on how to find a reputable dive operator, and how to go about choosing your locale. And if you’re a seasoned vet – or you’re aspiring to be – we’ll finish by outlining ways of taking your passion to the next level.The Professional Association of Diving Instructors - or PADI for short – is the world’s largest recreational diver training organization. Their introductory course, dubbed Open Water Diver, can be completed in as little as three to four days, though it is not uncommon to stretch the training out to a week. In order to earn your certification card, you will need to pass a written test, and undergo training dives in both confined and open water.
Upon completion, your PADI card will allow you to dive anywhere in the world, with the condition that you don’t go deeper than the 60 ft threshold. Of course, if you want to experience the joys of deep diving (up to 120 ft), simply augment your training with the Advanced Open Water Diver course. There are also various specialty certifications for night diving, wreck diving, underwater hunting, cave diving and many others.
Prices for Open Water Diver courses vary considerably, but typically start at around US$400 excluding equipment rental. If you book a course in conjunction with your accommodation, you can expect significant discounts.
Operators typically rent all the necessary SCUBA gear – regulators (breathing device and hoses), buoyancy control devices (BCDs), weight belts and tanks – but you should invest in your own mask, fins and snorkel. Personal items such as wet suits and dive computers are also worth their purchase price. Dedicated underwater cameras are pricey, but waterproof camera cases for housing point-and-shoots are cheap and effective. Dive knives are not necessary, but they certainly make you look hardcore!
In terms of choosing an operator, check out PADI’s online dive shop/resort locator tool. One thing worth mentioning is that PADI distinguishes noteworthy operators with their signature ‘5 Star’ rating. The website also identifies career development centers, which are capable of training professional instructors and divemasters (more on this later).
Whether you plug in one of the fifty states, a Caribbean island or even a South Pacific atoll, you’ll quickly realize that PADI has tremendous national and international reach. Indeed, it is rare to find a corner of the world where PADI doesn’t have a presence, which means that wherever there is water, there will most likely be a dive operator.
If you want to narrow down the search a bit, consider other factors such as distance, weather, price and land-based tourist attractions. Seasoned divers often dream of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Egyptian Red Sea and the tiny Micronesian islands of Palau. But for those of us based in North America, don’t overlook the Florida Keys, Hawaii, California, Belize, the Bay Islands (Honduras) and even Cancun.
Beyond choosing a destination, it is also important to identify your desired budget level and demand for creature comforts. A good number of Padi 5 Star facilities are located in-house at top end resorts and luxury hotels. But there are just as many smaller mom-and-pop operators that cater to independent travelers and backpackers alike.
For example, compare the dive scene in two neighboring ABC Islands (Lesser Antilles), namely Aruba and Bonaire. At the former, most travelers check into their all-inclusives, and then arrange a dive package and equipment rental through the activities center. At the latter, you can literally rent your dive equipment along with your car, and then seek out some of the smaller operators at your own pace.
Already completed your Open Water Diver course?
Interested in taking your SCUBA hobby to the next level?
One of the best ways to maximize your underwater time is to book a berth on a liveaboard. These boats are somewhat akin to floating dive centers complete with equipment storage, air compressors and a full staff of diving professionals. On these excursions, you can easily rack up four to five dives per day, and access remote dive sites that are further out to sea.
Once you complete Advanced Open Water and the subsequent Rescue Diver course – in addition to logging sixty dives – you are eligible to sit for PADI Divemaster training. This professional rating allows you to supervise recreational diving excursions, and is the pre-requisite for becoming an instructor. If you’re interested in taking this route, dive shops the world over run internship programs that off-set the cost of training.
So, what are you waiting for? With the prospect of summer travel just around the corner, make this the year that you take your first plunge in to the blue abyss.
** Images were sourced from Wikimedia Commons Project **