Diving in the Yucatan

Are you one of those people who have a few resort scuba dives under your weight belt, but have to go through the basics again and again every time you want to do some leisure diving?

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and experience some great scuba diving, while taking part in a fairly new and innovative scuba program called the SCUBA PASSPORT PROGRAM that allows new divers to get credit for their resort dives. My destination, the Riviera Maya area, which starts roughly eighteen miles below the Cancun airport, and stretches southward for seventy-five miles along one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. The natural beauty of this area offers a wealth of activities for all types of vacationers to partake in. Besides the clean, white sand beaches and world class diving and snorkeling which the area is well known for, the area also offers Eco-adventure sports, including cave diving, kayaking, mountain biking, great jungle hikes, bird watching, and visiting some of the greatest archeological sites in the world-the Mayan ruins. The numerous hotels in Riviera Maya run from small fishing shacks in the middle of no where, to magnificent five star resorts that can take care of any traveler’s needs. And they are all diver friendly.

I stayed at the Hotel Barcelo, a large, all inclusive resort with friendly service, lots to do, and a beautiful beach. The hotel has a wide and varied clientele, including many Europeans who seemed to really enjoy themselves.

But what I was really looking forward to do with my trip to the Yucatan, was continuing to learn how to dive, and hopefully get certified. I had only experienced scuba diving once before-a resort dive. But I immediately fell in love with the sport, and wanted more. It was when I got settled into the hotel and did some exploring, that I found out that the diving club at the resort-Dressel Divers Club-Scuba School International, offered a program called SCUBA PASSPORT PROGRAM, that is recognized by both SSI and NAUI. (PADI has it’s own program.) The SCUBA PASSPORT PROGRAM is for people who may be coming to a resort and thinking of trying scuba, but may not want or have the time to get fully certified. The beauty of the Passport Program is that after you complete it, you receive a booklet that is registered with both SSI and NAUI that allows you to enjoy scuba diving under the direct supervision of any active-status SSI or NAUI dive leader for up to 12 months. After that you can continue to keep your Passport active by logging more dives. And, you can use your Passport towards getting fully certified with either NAUI or SSI.

I liked the idea, considering the time factor I was dealing with. So early the next morning I walked down to the dive center and signed up. I was met by my instructor for the day, Eugene, a funny, outgoing South African, who was going to celebrate his 500th dive that day with me.

After signing all of the necessary papers, the day seemed to fly by. There were two class sessions with exams covering the basics of diving. Then two pool sessions, where I covered some basic diving skills I had learned on my first resort dive, and then a lot more. And then finally, two ocean dives. Eugene was always there with encouragement for me and the brother and sister team who were part of my group working towards their full certification. Eugene had a way of making us relax, and shaking our hands every time we answered or did something right. He had a nice way of drilling the info into us. A repetition teaching method that worked.

As I found myself climbing aboard the boat that would take us out to the second largest reef in the world–the Riviera Maya’s Great Maya Reef– I felt happiness over come me. I was really looking forward to this new activity that I had only experience once before. Plus, Eugene was teaching us the proper way to backroll off the boat to enter the water. I was feeling pretty cool right around then.

Both dives were down to about 40 to 45 feet. The visibility was spectacular, and the coral seemed to go on forever with caves all over the place. On both dives, immediately hitting bottom, Eugene would gather us around him and make us go through a series of skills-clearing our mask-sharing our octopus-and running through hand signals-then we went diving.

Coming in from our second dive, the sun just beginning to set, the Mexican navy coming up beside us to check us out, I felt like I had taken a big step forward in my diving skills. I was feeling more comfortable in the water, and was gaining more faith in my own abilities as a diver. I was ready for more.

The Yucatan offers not only some magnificent diving and snorkeling opportunities, with Cozumel a short boat ride away, and hundreds of dive locations along the Yucatan coast, it also offers a series of underground rivers accessed by cenotes (jungle sinkholes.) These underground water-filled tunnels go on for miles, and offer divers another whole world of beauty. Once considered sacred by the Mayans, these entrances to the spiritual underworld cry out for underwater exploration.

The Yucatan is a diver’s paradise, with some great restaurants and happening towns like Tulum and Playa del Carmen to relax in. A restaurant I highly recommend is Yaxche, in Playa del Carmen. It serves a very tasty Mayan cuisine.

If you are planning to go diving in the Yucatan, The Dressel Divers Club has locations all over Mexico as well as The Dominican Republic and Spain. They also have a diving program for kids so that whole families can dive together.

If you’re going to a resort anytime soon and plan to try diving, see if they have the SCUBA PASSPORT PROGRAM there. It’s a great first step to finding out about the joys of diving–and getting credit for it– and, a smart way to see if you like diving enough to want to get fully certified.

I can’t wait to dive again.

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