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May 18, 2010 12:41 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend, my father, and I are going to take a trip together in September. My boyfriend and I are in our early 30s, fairly active, and are interested in beaches, ruins, rainforests/jungles, white water rafting, and possibly scuba diving. My dad is in his late 50s, quite overweight (like probably 150-200 lbs overweight), and enjoys luxury hotels, relaxing, and fun stuff that's not TOO physically taxing. I haven't seen him in a few years, but he may be interested in white water rafting and scuba diving, if his weight isn't an issue. We're looking at somewhere in Central America, most likely Belize or the Yucatan, but we're also considering Costa Rica and are open to other suggestions.

The questions:
First, would we all need to be certified to scuba dive? My boyfriend
and I are planning to get certified if we go to Belize, but would my
dad need certification as well? How do tour companies usually handle that?

Second, we want to have a mix of relaxing and active time, without
doing things that exclude my dad too much. Despite his weight, he's
typically quite energetic. Would he be able to do things like zip line
or caving if he's interested, or would his size preclude that? If his
size is an issue, would the Yucatan provide more options as a group
than Belize? I’ve heard about some beautiful, relaxing and fancy
places on Isla Mujeres…does Belize have similar places? Also, we're
worried that if we go to Belize we will feel guilty for not
"adventuring" a lot of the time. We're thinking that Mexico might
offer similar, but more relaxed, versions of what we could get in
Belize. Thoughts?

Third, what great experiences have you had in Belize, the Yucatan, or Costa Rica? We're interested in hearing what you loved and hated, and what you'd suggest for us.

Thanks for all your thoughts!
posted by odayoday to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You need to be certified to dive. You can often take a quick 3-day course tailored to tourists through resorts or local dive shops, where you'll get to dive a bit as part of the training and final testing - but you need to be certified if you're going to see anything cool with anyone reputable. Unreputable options highly, highly, highly discouraged. Diving is fun, but diving safety is serious business. Also - in my experience, it takes longer for people with higher body fat percentages to get the whole buoyancy thing down, and it's not much fun until you do. Snorkeling and skin diving is open to anyone and still very fun if you go somewhere with good water visibility; consider that as an alternative.

You may want to get your dad to talk to his doctor or otherwise assess his general physical state. Don't let him get stuck in a tight spot - and 90 feet underwater or underground is a pretty tight spot - because you or he overestimated what he was capable of.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:48 PM on May 18, 2010

Re Scuba - you can take introductory dives without getting certified. You'll likely watch a video, get fitted and take a test dive before you can make a real secondary dive with your teacher. The snag is while its great to just jump in, this is basically 1/3 of a true accredation, so if you do not complete your training and get accredited, you'll kick yourself later for squandering the great intro lead (financially and dive wise).

While I can't speak about Belieze, CR sounds like it would handle your situation very well. You can find pseudo-resorty places that offer ammenities but also a dose of spoofilated adventure. When I was in CR, I went cliff jumping and trekking through the Nicoya penninsula, adventures that an overweight gentleman would not be able to cope with, but everywhere we went, from insular areas near San Jose to resorty areas like Aerenal (the hot springs) offered pseudo-adventures wrapped into resorts, most likely easily accessible for those of more gentile inclinations (zip-shooting, siteseeing, offroading). I highly recommend it as it seems to be an equitable compromise for both of your situations.
posted by Hurst at 12:59 PM on May 18, 2010

Another vote that diving might not be a good idea for him. You think it would be easy to just float in the water, but even for an athletic adult (a) on the surface that equipment is pretty heavy and (b) it's easy to overexert yourself underwater... and that could have deadly consequences. I always ended my diving classes both exhausted and starving, and I'm pretty fit.
posted by sbutler at 1:01 PM on May 18, 2010

Zip lines have weight limits around 250lbs, IIRC.

I had a great trip on the Riviera Maya in Mexico. I'm also a big guy, though much younger than your dad. We snorkeled. It wore me out, but it was do-able and fun. Scuba diving sounds ambitious though.

If you're not opposed to burning gas for recreation, ATV tours and waverunner rentals are both fun. I don't think weight would be an issue for either of those activities, but YMMV. Waverunners on the ocean can really beat you up--but it's a blast.
posted by mullacc at 1:06 PM on May 18, 2010

The Yucatan is much more touristy, but because of that, you can stay in one spot at a posh resort and do day trips to do somewhat adventurous activities, like zip-lining or cave snorkeling or ATV-ing.

In Belize and Costa Rica, you were either at the beach or you were inland at the more adventurous parts. They weren't that close. But the adventurous parts were better and more "real". Also the snorkeling in Belize was amazing. I didn't feel any need to scuba to see more.
posted by smackfu at 1:11 PM on May 18, 2010

Yes, you must be certified to go scuba diving.

In Belize, you could all go cave tubing, which is a lot of fun for anyone. Snorkeling, as smackfu says, is awesome. Transportation between the beach and the inland areas is easy, too.

The other choice, of course is to take a cruise, which would give your Dad the resort hotel feel, and offer a variety of activities at each port, so you can all choose what you want to do, together or separately.
posted by misha at 1:25 PM on May 18, 2010

You can do a "resort course" dive that includes a couple of hours of instruction plus a test dive. You'll only be going 40 feet down, but there's plenty of very neat stuff to see at that level.

Snorkeling in that region is great, too. I would love to be lazily swimming and snorkeling in a cenote right now.
posted by desuetude at 1:38 PM on May 18, 2010

Something to consider - if he's really 150-200lbs overweight he may have difficultly fitting in to any specialised equipment/outfits (wetsuits/harness etc) unless he brings his own
posted by missmagenta at 1:47 PM on May 18, 2010

Do you need to do all your activities together? Some dive operators are happy to have a snorkeler tag along in the boat and hang out at the surface. I got certified in Belize, on Ambergris Caye, and the barrier reef there has both great diving and great snorkeling. It kind of depends upon how much "together" time you all need to have.
posted by ambrosia at 2:27 PM on May 18, 2010

Thoughts on the whitewater idea, from a raft guide:

1) Whitewater rafting can be a recipe for heart attacks. Adrenaline + physical exertion + the shock of cold water .... and you'll probably be hours from definitive medical care.

2) If he falls out, it can be very difficult to get somebody that big back into the raft.

(I willingly took my own late-fifties, ~50lbs overweight father whitewater rafting, but did worry a bit)
posted by Metasyntactic at 2:30 PM on May 18, 2010

River tubing is the easy alternative to whitewater rafting. Less physical exertion.
posted by smackfu at 2:31 PM on May 18, 2010

I would suggest Costa Rica as well. It covers all of your bases well. Aside from being a beautiful and relatively clean country (crossing the border between CR and Nicaragua is like night and day) it has all kinds of scenery and adventure activities and beaches.

Also, when I was in Costa Rica it was possible for my girlfriend to do some snorkelling while I was down diving.

And I would echo what others have said, which is to not underestimate how physical diving really is. It's a deceptive activity. It looks so peaceful and calm, which is true. But there are huge safety concerns, which is why you always (always!) want to go with a reputable dive shop. Also, it's tiring! I chalk it up to the depth. We're just not that used to spending extended periods of time in a high-pressure environment. I'm usually exhausted when I finish a dive.

One suggestion I would make would be to see if you can get certified at home before you leave. That would allow to you spend as much time actually diving as possible, rather than spending a chunk of your vacation reading the manual, studying it, writing quizzes, and doing the four required dives for your certification. That whole process alone could take a week. When I got certified a few years ago I found an instructor who did all the grunt work with me back home, and when I got on my trip I just had to do the two open-water dives to complete the certification. And it really doesn't matter where you live, there will be some sort of dive shop offering courses or even just an independent instructor who might be able to help you. Check into it.
posted by fso at 2:38 PM on May 18, 2010

I've traveled to C.R. and did a 4 day PADI scuba certification on Caye Caulker, Belize. I've also traveled extensively around Mexico.

I doubt your father will be able to dive. At least, he won't be able to get certified. From the PADI medical questionnaire: "To scuba dive safely, you should not be extremely overweight or out of condition." There's a lot more [pdf].

If he can't scuba with you, a trip to the diving regions of Belize won't be much fun for your dad. You won't see much of him - certification is an almost all day affair for those 4 days. And it's work. Plan to study some in the evenings. Don't plan to love your training dives. It's interesting, but the fun comes after your certification. In my opinion, it's a waste to spend so much time getting certified if you're not going to spend the next 5 days diving for pleasure. Once again, though, you'd be gone most of each day while you do that. And there's not much else for your father to do while you're gone. Caye Ambergris is set up for tourism, but there are no real beaches, most of the reef snorkeling is away from the shore, and the resorts don't compare to what you're used to in Mexico.

As far as Costa Rica goes, I only visited the Osa Pennisula and the area around the Monteverde. Both had very rugged terrain, which could be a factor for your father. C.R. is very mountainous, and although I only visited a small portion of the country, I got the impression that this is true in many parts. I assume the Caribbean side must be pretty flat, at least. But you can get that same Caribbean resort experience in Mexico. The whole fun of Costa Rica is to pretend you're David Attenborough while rushing after howler monkeys swinging through the canopy.

If part of the reason to go is to spend time with your father, I'd suggest a large resort in Mexico where you can do some snorkeling, some resort diving, some sailing, etc. They'll have a bunch of things your father will enjoy and be capable of doing with you. Scuba in Belize and trekking rain forests in Costa Rica, not so much.
posted by centerweight at 2:45 PM on May 18, 2010

Seconding what fso said about doing the SCUBA certification coursework ahead of time at home, and then do the certification dives on your trip. Front-loading the coursework gives you more time to enjoy diving.
posted by ambrosia at 3:11 PM on May 18, 2010

Response by poster: Okay, upon reconsideration, maybe my dad isn't quite as overweight as I could be more like 100 extra pounds. I asked him and he said he would be interested in both scuba diving and rafting. So, if we choose Belize, I've gotten the impression that the beaches are not really white sand, relaxing, postcard-type beaches. Is that correct? Also, we'll have about 10 days there. In that time, will we be able to dive in atolls and cayes, see Mayan ruins and rain forests, and relax together? We're thinking maybe 3 days diving, 3 days of touring in rain forests and ruins, and 4 days to hang out, shop, etc. Could we do that in Belize, or are the things we're interested in doing too far away from each other?
posted by odayoday at 4:57 PM on May 18, 2010

Just tossing this out there, but you say you haven't seen your dad in a few years and it seems the vacation interests of you and your boyfriend differ from his. You may want to try to find places that offer both kinds of activities as a compromise. A place where dad can get his luxury and relax and where you and your boyfriend can take a day trip alone to do something more adventurous. Spending 10 days with him could be a lot for not seeing him in years, so planning ahead some separate days might be a good thing; everyone gets to do what they want and some alone time as well.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:33 PM on May 18, 2010

There are definitely white sand, relaxing, postcard-type beaches in Belize. I stayed on Ambergris Caye back in 2004 and thought it was quite pretty. I haven't dived there (I visited before I was certified), but I thought the snorkeling was great. Lots of stuff to see in the shallow water.

I would suggest not doing your 3 days of diving back to back. Alternate diving and relaxing days. Diving can be quite tiring, especially before you've gotten the hang of maintaining neutral buoyancy. It's a lot more relaxing once you've gotten a handle on that.

If you're interested in Mayan ruins, consider a side trip to Tikal (in Guatemala, but a short flight from Belize) . It's much more impressive than the ruins in Belize. If you want to stay in Belize, perhaps Lamanai would be a good site. I stayed at the Lamanai Outpost Lodge some years ago and liked it.
posted by aneel at 12:32 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

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