Win a trip to dive the Great Barrier Reef

Diving the Great Barrier Reef with PADIPADI, the Professional Association of Dive Instructors, is closing in on a very impressive milestone, and to celebrate they’re giving away a very impressive trip. The organization that has trained more scuba divers than any other, is now approaching their 20 millionth certification, and the lucky person who earns that distinction will win a trip for two to dive Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Last week, PADI launched its “Countdown to 20 Million” campaign, installing a counter on its website to indicate how close they are to the magic number. As of this writing, they are still more than 46,000 certifications away from the winner, but considering there are over 6000 PADI dive centers and resorts world wide, it seems likely that that number will drop quickly. It should also be pointed out that the contest is open to any certification, so whether you’re a beginner who is just getting started, or a long time veteran looking to pick-up some new skills, you’ll be eligible to take home the prize.

And what a prize it is! The person who earns that 20 millionth certification will receive round-trip airfare to Cairns, Australia, four nights stay in a resort located in Queensland and an additional three nights stay aboard a dive boat. Also included will be all equipment rental, including dive computer, a one hour low level reef flight for checking out the area from the air, and the opportunity to dive up to 11 times. If that wasn’t enough, the winner and their guest will also visit the Daintree Rainforest (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), visit an Aboriginal village, and a “Cuddle a Koala” experience.

If you’ve ever wanted to get dive certified, or already have your certification but want to brush up on your skills, now is the time. Find a PADI site near you and go earn that cert. Who knows, you might even win a great trip to the Great Barrier Reef in the process.

A few years back I had the opportunity to visit the GBR and spend a few days on a live aboard ship. I can tell you that it was a spectacular experience, and while I only snorkeled the area, it was none the less one of the most amazing places I have visited. The reef is truly a wonder to behold, the amount of beautiful sea life that you’ll find there is awe inspiring. If you haven’t been there yourself, then you really should add it to your list of “must see” places. You will not be disappointed.

Bali company offers ‘best dive job in the world’

Continuing the recent spate of “best job” offerings that began with Australia's tourism efforts, the Indonesian-based company Blue Season Bali is offering the Best Dive Job in the World which will give one lucky winner the chance to live in Bali for seven months while undergoing training to become a PADI dive instructor. That training alone is worth more than $15,000.

The contest, which began this past Saturday and runs through February 28, 2011, is a simple one to enter. Interested “applicants” can either submit a one minute video or a 500 word essay answering the question “Why I want to change my life and become a PADI Instructor.” Once the contest closes, Blue Season Bali will review all the submissions and select one winner to join them in paradise.

The contest is open to anyone who will be 18 years of age, or older, when the contest closes on February 28th. You don't even need to have any dive experience to win, just a love for water, an adventurous spirit, and a willingness to work and play hard, while learning new skills that could lead to a new job and a major change in your lifestyle.

The actual prize consists of the PADI instuction of course, but also seven months single accommodations in Bali, a full compliment of scuba gear, certification and exams that are fully paid, unlimited diving for seven months, and much much more. To review the entire package, click here and to learn more about the contest, watch the video below.

[Photo credit: Scott Sanchez via WikiMedia]


In the Heart of Central America: Diving the Bay Islands of Honduras

Honduras’ Bay Islands – the large islands of Roatan, Utila and Guanaja, plus Cayos Cochinos and the Swan Islands – sit about 40 miles off the coast of the mainland in the Caribbean Sea. While the islands are as beautiful as any others in the Caribbean and offer long sandy white beaches, turquoise water, and lush jungle landscapes, the biggest draw for most visitors is the area’s superb and low-cost diving.

Most visitors stay in Roatan, the largest and most developed of the islands. Home to about 35,000 people, it is the most-visited spot in Honduras. Flights take about 15 minutes from La Ceiba – as soon as the plane rises above the clouds, it starts its descent to the island – or an hour from San Pedro Sula (including a brief stop in La Ceiba). The flight on Taca Regional costs about $90 from La Ceiba or $250 from San Pedro Sula. There are other flight options, but for a fearful flyer, Taca’s modern planes were the most attractive.

Direct flights from the US are offered by several airlines. Taca arrives from Miami on Saturday and Sunday and Continental arrives from Houston on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and from Atlanta on Saturdays. Even if you are flying within Honduras, it’s wise to know the large carrier schedules as lines at the airport can triple at times when flights to the US depart.The island is accessible by ferry as well. The Galaxy Wave carries up to 460 people at a time, takes just under an hour, and costs about $50. Private yacht charters are also available for $50 per person each way. Unfortunately, there is currently no land or air connection (unless by charter) between Roatan and Utila. You’ll have to backtrack through La Ceiba.

Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands, but it is still quite small at about 30 miles long and 3.5 miles across at its widest point. At certain spots along the main road you can actually see the Caribbean Sea on both sides of your window. The island’s east side is much more undeveloped than the west, so if you are looking for a little bit of nightlife to go with your diving, stay in West End, a small one-lane collection of open-air restaurants, bars and shops that are just a few yards from the beach. Be sure to try some of the island’s fresh-from-the-sea seafood like shrimp, lobster and conch.

Roatan recently completed a new Port, located near the island’s capital of Coxen Hole, a collection of brightly-colored homes that house most of the island’s residents. The houses were painted so vibrantly so that early postal workers could identify houses that didn’t have addresses. Letters were simply addresses to Name, color of house, Coxen Hole. During high season, cruise ships will be docking every day (even twice a day sometimes) so steer clear of this otherwise mostly residential area if you want to avoid crowds. If you are arriving via cruise ship, you can book activities in advance and hop in a cab at the Port. Cab fare to most destinations on the island’s west side will cost under $10 each way. Just negotiate your fare before getting in.

There are over two dozen dive companies operating on Roatan. One of the most popular is Anthony’s Key, a full-service dive resort that’s been in operation for over 40 years. Rooms are located in wooden cabanas that are a short boat ride across the Lagoon from the main grounds and accommodations include three meals per day. Seven-night high season dive packages start at $2000 and include all meals, three days dives, two night dives, and additional excursions.

For kids and adults, one of the most exciting aspects of Anthony’s Key is the on-site Dolphin encounter. During the summer, the resort, in cooperation with the Roatan Institute for Marine Science (R.I.M.S.) offers kids the chance to be a dolphin trainer, with a week-long Dolphin Scuba Camp. The also offer dolphin encounters, dives, and snorkel activities. During the dolphin encounter, guests learn all about dolphins, how they interact, feed and survive in the wild. They can pet the dolphin, watch it perform tricks, and mug for the camera as the dolphin gives a soft, wet kiss on the cheek.

Snorkelers can swim freely with the dolphins, watching as the dolphins swim around and below them and play with one another. Dolphin dives are also available. During the dives, the dolphins are released into the open water and then interact with the divers near a shallow reef wall. At the end of the dives, sometimes the dolphins come back to the enclosure and sometimes they don’t. If not, the dolphin trainers say, they’ll always come back with the next boat.

If you’re looking for cheaper accommodations than those offered by Anthony’s Key, stay in West End and arrange for dives with a tour operator. In West End, you can also hit the beach, rent a jet ski for the day, or just relax with a few Salva Vida beers and some live music as you watch the sunset at places like The Dive Bar.

For divers on a budget, or those who want to get certified, Utila may be a better option than Roatan. Like Roatan, the waters around Utila are teeming with life. Divers can often encounter whale sharks, dolphins and manta rays as they swim along reefs and around shipwrecks and deep drop-offs. Both islands have easy access to the Mesoamerican reef, the largest reef in region. It’s over 1000km long and is home to over 500 species of fish, 1000 manatees, and several species of dolphins.

Known as the cheapest place in the world to get SCUBA certified, Utila is home to several operators offering very attractive prices. One dive with the Utila Dive Center is $35, a package of ten dives is $250. They also offer courses to become a certified SCUBA instructor. Rooms at the attached Mango Inn start at $10 for a dorm room to $70 for a deluxe room for two. Three nights in a deluxe room with PADI certification is $339 per person.

With beautiful beaches, some of the best and cheapest diving in the world, delicious fresh seafood, and a laid back lifestyle, the Bay Islands are the perfect place for dive enthusiasts and budget beach-bums to enjoy the Caribbean.

This trip was paid for by the Honduras Institute of Tourism, but the views expressed are entirely my own.

You can read other posts from my series on Honduras here.