SCUBA certification in the Caribbean or Mexico
January 20, 2024 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I used to SCUBA dive quite a bit in different parts of the world. It's been about 25 years (!) since my last dive and I'm ready to have another go at it. I will get recertified since it's been so long. My 15 year old daughter will get certification for the first time.

We plan on taking the online course before arriving at the dive center--this seems to be the norm. Can you recommend a diving school in Cozumel, or other location in the Caribbean, that you have experience with? We are flying out of the midwest USA and Cozumel. seems like an easy flight compared to some of the other places, but I'm very open to Costa Rica, or on one of the islands if it has a good vibe meaning, not to commercial and expensive but also not too isolated or unprofessional. We're looking for easy diving in clear water rather than more challenging dives in deep or rough water. In addition to diving, we would like to stay in a hotel that is near restaurants and a town rather than being locked into a resort.
posted by waving to Travel & Transportation around Mahahual, Mexico (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I did my pool work locally, and then when weather didn't allow me to do my final dives in Northern California (in a drysuit), I did my checkout dives with what is now Nep2une Scuba Diving in Frederiksted St Croix. From their Facebook page it looks like there was a slight change of name, but it's many of the same faces. Been there and dived with them on two vacations.

The diving, and even just snorkeling, off the pier is pretty awesome (sometimes cruise ships come in and make the pier off-limits for diving). My morning checkouts I didn't even bother with a wetsuit, though I put one on for the afternoon. They also do various boat dives.

St Croix has the rich resort dryer side (Christiansted) and the rainy/less ritzy side (Frederiksted). The latter is more my speed. We "camped" at Mt Victory, platform tents with cots, shared communal kitchen. If you're renting a car you can easily get back and forth (these were both for large family gatherings, so we had a car or two to get around).
posted by straw at 11:52 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]

Near roatan is the smaller island of utila, and man. It will be hard NOT to get certified there. It's all they do!
posted by Acari at 12:19 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]

Cozumel features a lot of drift diving, which can be slightly challenging for someone new.

I'm not sure how easy it is to get there from the Midwest, but maybe Curacao? Really easy diving (and excellent snorkeling for off days). Curacao also has beautiful beaches and nice restaurants if you have any non-diving family along with you.

If it's just the two of you, I'll also recommend Bonaire. Not as much to do for non-divers as Curacao, but arguably some of the best diving in the Caribbean.
posted by JaredSeth at 2:41 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]

I'd go for Playa del Carmen. There are straightforward reefs off the beach for checkout dives, Cozumel and its incredible drift dives are a fast boat ride away, and there are freshwater cenotes close by. It would be tough to get more variation in a relatively small area!
posted by Ardnamurchan at 7:29 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]

Cozumel is great but the drift diving and deeper reefs make it a less than ideal choice for this first trip, in my opinion. If it were me, I would get as much training as I could locally, getting certified if possible. At least to do the pool work and then do a "warm water referral". I would not want to be rushed through certification while on vacation. What if you need to get a medical issue addressed? 25 years off, things are different, you'll have a dive computer, you probably don't have the raw athletic ability you did then, and you're responsible for a youth. It's a lot to take on and my guess is you'll enjoy yourself more the more practice you both get ahead of time. Playa Del Carmen seems like a good choice, easier diving and you could go to Cozumel if you wanted. Tons of great restaurants. It's pretty big, if you want something smaller Akumal is down the highway. You can almost certainly get a nonstop to Cancun and then taxi or van down along the Riviera Maya. I recommend against Tulum, very built up and resorty. Or you could go to Isla Holbox or Isla Mujeres from CUN. Very different vibe.
posted by wnissen at 9:47 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]

I got certified in Cozumel back in 2012 through Eagle Ray Divers. Yes there are places with stronger currents but there are plenty of shallow reefs with minimal drift. The water is always crystal clear there - it's a top 10 world dive site for a reason :)
posted by ananci at 9:43 AM on January 21

Seconding the warm water referral and having her do the pool work at home. It's more difficult to get to, but Bonaire is PERFECT for beginning divers, and safety will be top-notch.
posted by cyndigo at 1:53 PM on January 21

Whatever you do, don't take classes with Tulum Diving. They fled Seattle and moved to Mexico due to mounting legal fees after killing multiple students here in Seattle through what I, as a scuba diver myself, can only describe as extreme and unforgivable negligence.

(You do not lose open water students underwater. If, god forbid, your student has a medical event like a heart attack or pulmonary embolism or something underwater, the instructor should know exactly where the student is and bring them up to the surface for EMS to attempt to resuscitate them. To just randomly lose a student and then have no idea where they are until the fire department eventually finds their body... that should just never happen. It makes me so angry and sad that these people are still instructors.)

Happy to PM more about the best way to pick a safe dive instructor. People treat scuba like learning to snowboard but really it's more like learning to fly a plane. It's an amazing, fabulous portal to another world, I think it's amazing and I love it, and also we're not meant to be down there and so you wanna get excellent training so you can keep yourself and your buddies safe. Unfortunately, a large segment of the dive industry is in a race to the bottom. These kind of shops promote cheap-and-terrible training, and focus on making profit by churning as many students through the program as possible, rather charging more for excellent training. (They also focus on selling full kits of mediocre gear to brand-new divers who don't know what they actually need or want, so be aware of that too.) As a new diver, you don't know what you don't know. This makes it very tough for new folks to suss out what a responsible instructor looks like. Happy to PM more about my own criteria for evaluating instructors.

As far as actual recommendations: Buddy Dive in Bonaire is a fabulous dive shop for tech diving. No idea what their recreational / open-water level training program looks like, since I've done all my training at home in cold water, but I can ask around if you want more info on them!
posted by cnidaria at 10:58 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]

Yes, once you decide on a locale, come back and ask for a shop recommendation. There are definitely "bad" shops that no one should patronize, and lots of mediocre ones. It's hard to tell. For instance a "PADI Five-Star Resort" or shop is not, in any way, a well-reviewed business. It's given for selling a bunch of certifications, that's it.
posted by wnissen at 7:17 AM on January 25

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