Yep, there are rumours going around that Mexico is one of the most superb destinations in the world for scuba diving. And while we didn’t really plan much in advance concerning what to do on our year-long honeymoon, I was determined to tick one thing off my bucket list – “LEARN TO DIVE”. And since we had already tried surfing for the first time on the Pacific coast of Mexico, in Puerto Escondido (spoiler alert: went pretty well until I was hit in my head with a surf board), why not choose Mexico for another “first time experience”, right? Upon thorough research ( aka googling Where are the cheapest accommodations during Christmas in Mexico?) we decided on scuba diving in Cozumel.
Jeez, sometimes we do get lucky – only after booking our place did we realize that Cozumel is famous for the most beautiful coral reefs and is one of the best spots for scuba diving in Mexico (if not in the world).
FUN FACT 1:
Bojan wasn’t really into the idea of scuba diving so to change his mind I arranged a “discover dive” before our honeymoon. Our friend is a scuba diving instructor, so we went to Croatia a few weeks before we left home to experience firsthand what diving looks like. Since it was already October and it was windy, cold and there were huge waves out in the sea, I totally chickened out and waited on the shore. So much for my enthusiasm.🙄 After a short dive, Bojan commented: “Umm, it’s ok. But I’m not gonna go run out buying the equipment or anything like that.”
Well, fine for me for now, level 1 of persuasion completed.
HOW TO CHOOSE A SCHOOL FOR SCUBA DIVING IN COZUMEL?
Well, that’s an easy one! Snorkelling & scuba diving is THE thing around here and you’ll find more than a 100 (or so we were told) diving centers on the island and usually they offer everything from exploratory dives (you don’t need a PADI certification for those) to PADI scuba diving courses and diving packages.
We did some research online and then visited a few of them when we arrived at Cozumel to check their equipment, packages and prices. The prices for the Open Water Diver course ranged between US$ 400-450, so we had our choice of places.
But, on the recommendation of the hostel, we contacted Benjamin from Benji Divers, a German diving instructor who has been living on the island for the past few years (and was previously a diving instructor in Playa del Carmen, Mexico & Utila, Honduras as well). Although a freelancer, he worked in collaboration with Barefoot Dive Center at that time* which we can definitely recommend due to excellent equipment and friendly staff.
Benji is, er – in short, hilarious. Super easygoing and chill (that’s what you are when you spend all your days in shorts and flipflops, duh) but with an extremely professional (German?!) approach and will not let you out of his hands until you master everything you need to know. Nope, I am not getting paid for telling you this. I genuinely liked the shit out of this guy (but er – not in a weird way, gotcha?!). Ahh, and he gave us a discount too! 😆
*Latest FB posts from Benji show the underwater world from LaPaz, Mexico, so it’s highly possible he migrated there in search of some fascinating
mermaids fish. Anyhow, if you have scuba diving in Cozumel on your mind, contact him just in case – he might still be around there.
Some of the other dive centers that have good reviews (and we checked them as well), were:
- Scuba Life Cozumel
- Deep Blue
- Blue Magic Scuba
- 2tank Dive
WHAT DID THE PADI OPEN WATER DIVER COURSE LOOK LIKE?
DAY 1: BACK TO SCHOOL
Benji brought us our PADI Open Water Diver Certification book to the hostel, and on the first day, we had to read a few chapters on our own. The book consists of 5 chapters and unfortunately, nobody can escape some theory beforehand. Bojan was, er – aghast, since he was under the impression that his days of formal education were over and he wouldn’t need to read another book in his life.
(Mind you, dive centers usually have classrooms and it’s possible you’ll take lessons there!)
DAY 2: TO THE BEACH
First off, we gathered our diving equipment at the dive center and prepared a so-called “scuba taco” (because what else will you call anything that resembles a roll in Mexico , right?).
We cosied up at one of the diving centers at the beach and started with lessons – we talked about everything we had read the day before – about breathing, buoyancy, equipment, hand signals and so on (and on and on…). At first, you may feel a bit overwhelmed!
After a few more hours of theory (but I don’t mind a class with an ocean view!) we were ready. We prepared and checked our equipment, stuffed ourselves in the neoprene (THE most embarrassing part of scuba diving) and loaded that 15 kg (30-something pounds) of equipment on our backs.
One last “buddy check” and it was time for our first beach dive.
The instructor will always explain in advance what will be going on during the dive – with hand gestures included so that you are not completely lost in the water when they are waving something at you. Well, you might be slightly lost anyway, but don’t worry, it’s gonna get better. Nope, I wouldn’t happen to know anyone who was completely lost anyway. Absolutely not. Negative.
The sheer calmness that captures you when you sink under the surface and the feeling that everything around you moves in slow-motion are mesmerizing and I was spellbound from the first moment on (Yes, I’m sure a hungry shark doesn’t move in a slow-motion, but let’s not focus on this detail, ok!?). If it wasn’t thrilling enough already, a huge eagle ray came floating by and circled us once or twice, moving elegantly with those wings like birds in the sky. Yes, in slow-motion.
So, despite the pile of new information and *somebody* being completely lost, I dare to say our first dive was a relatively successful and memorable one!
DAY 3: “WHAT IF”s
Some more theory and even more practice!
For the third day of the course, we went back to the beach, where we went through the remaining 3 chapters of theory and put them into practice during two beach dives.
In particular, this part covers many examples of “what if”.
So, what if something goes wrong – if you are left without a mask, if your vest can’t inflate, if the regulator does not work properly or if THE worst-case scenario happens – you’re out of air and too far away from your dive buddy (which should never happen under normal circumstances!). Jeez, it’s still not the end of the world, but I surely don’t want this ever to happen!
DAY 4: TIME FOR SOME REAL ACTION!
On the last day of the course, two open water dives waited for us. Now s*** was about to get real!
While *one of us* is more of the theoretical type, Bojan is much better when it comes to practice. He was totally relaxed and could hardly wait to jump into the water while I quietly sat on the ship and watched the other divers, who seemed to me like a bunch of professionals.
“Are you nervous?” he said. “I can tell because you are quiet and pale like a wall.” Yes, thanks sweety, this is EXACTLY the pep talk I needed (gulp).
Benji then explained where we would dive and what the dive would be like. Upon noticing the state I was in, he added: “Do not worry, it’s gonna be aaa -mazing.”
Yeah right. Or I’m gonna end up without air and suffocate and die or even worse, I am gonna be eaten by a shark. ALIVE. And THEN die.
FUN FACT 2:
When I was young I spent most of my time during our family vacations in the sea with a snorkel on my head. Not that there is much sea life on the Adriatic coast but I was perfectly happy with observing those pretending-to-be-dead sea cucumbers and collecting empty seashells from the sea bottom.
That was until a movie called Deep Blue Sea came out.
If you haven’t watched it yet, I strongly suggest you – don’t do it.
Nope. Aaa-ah. Or you’ll end up like me, being terrified of the ocean for the next 15 years or so. I was so scared that something will grab my leg I went only so far from the shore that I could still feel the bottom under my feet and even then I was nervously looking around, expecting to drop dead any minute. #stupidmovies
It wasn’t until 2014 when I went snorkelling on Gili Trawangan in Indonesia – and by snorkelling, I mean hovering in water so shallow I had to be careful not to scratch my knees – that I sorta got excited about underwater life once again. The colourful corals and cute Nemos did their job and the bucket list idea was born.
Mind you, I am still slightly freakin’ out if Bojan swims too far away and start to feel nervous if a needlefish gets too close. I mean, who knows what that bastard is plotting, lurking around there just below the surface and following your every move with those big bulging eyes. Don’t make eye contact Sandra, just don’t make eye contact… *making eye contact, obviously*
Where was I? Oh, our diving instructor saying it’s gonna be amazing.
You know what?
He was ABSOLUTELY right.
I somehow managed to overcame my fear and made that awkward “step forward” from the deck into the water with the “help” of one of the sailors on the boat (aka he gently pushed me into the water when I was hesitating on the deck a moment too long).
From that moment on, everything was great.
I put a regulator in my mouth, squeezed the air out of the vest and slowly sank below the surface. With the first “yoga breath” (during the dive it is important to breathe slowly and deeply, so basically scuba diving is a yoga class lol) the last snippets of fear disappeared and by the time we reached the bottom I was so relaxed that even Gandhi would probably be immensely proud of me (*not exaggerating at all*).
Scuba diving in Cozumel really is beyond awesome.
The coral reefs are incredible and form structures that are at least as interesting as thousands of colourful fish swimming around you. Nevertheless, it’s still unbelievably cool when you see morays peeking out of their holes like an old cranky lady from behind the curtain or enormous turtles and eagle rays lazily floating around. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any nurse sharks, which are pretty common for that area, but both dives were amazing anyway and we certainly couldn’t believe that 50 minutes can pass so quickly! It seems that time underwater runs differently since we felt like we’d been “down there” for a maximum of 20 minutes.
Btw, see what’s going on here? From “Omg, a shark will eat me!” to “Ooo, I wish we’d seen those cutie pies!” in the span of a day. That’s what scuba diving in Cozumel will do to you, so think twice before you decide to pursue a new hobby.
And when we were going back to the coast, Bojan said: “This was really awesome. Thank you for convincing me to do the course.” No problem darling, it was my pleasure. (Level 2 of persuasion: completed. Mission accomplished. 😁)
Check this video about our diving in Cozumel!
At the end of the course, there was a test that you must complete to obtain a PADI Open Water Diver Certificate. With the latter, you can dive to a depth of 18 m anywhere in the world.
Benji also explained to us about the “next level course” (Advanced Open Water Diver), where you have to complete one dive up to 30 m during the course, and you can also choose between specific types of scuba diving – such as night dives, shipwreck diving, etc. I looked at Bojan and saw his eyes light up.
Here it is, I thought to myself, he’s in love. 😊
Hey, since I’m super nice, I’ve also got some useful info for you if you’re considering scuba diving in Cozumel:
HOW TO GET TO COZUMEL
Cozumel is Mexico’s biggest Caribbean Island near the eastern coast of Yucatan Peninsula, just opposite the famous resort town Playa del Carmen. While planning your scuba diving in Cozumel, you have two options – going there by plane or by ferry.
Cozumel International Airport is located in the proximity of the main town on the island, San Miguel. While this is the most convenient way to go there, plane tickets can be slightly expensive. But you never know, so check Skyscanner for offers.
Flying to Cancun International Airport is a cheaper option. There you take a bus to Playa del Carmen (approx. 60 – 90 min) and immediately after you’ll step off the bus there’ll be
a few a bunch of people trying to sell you ferry tickets to Cozumel Island*. We didn’t fly to Cancun since we were already in Mexico (here’s our one month Mexico itinerary if you’d like to see where we were!) but we did return a rental car there and then took a bus to Playa del Carmen.
We asked around a bit, haggled (there’s no such thing as budget traveling without haggling!) and at the end got our ferry tickets from one of the street sellers for a slightly lower price than the official one (You can buy a ticket at one of the booths just in front of the ferry station as well). Yaaay!
Be sure to buy an open date return ticket – you know, in case you decide to prolong your scuba diving in Cozumel or fall in love with a cute Argentinian guy there and choose not to go back for the whole summer. Or something like that.
Ferries leave every hour or so and you’ll be at Cozumel in no time.
*It’s also possible to buy combined bus & ferry tickets (ADO company is the best in Mexico) but since those are usually slightly more expensive, we bought our ferry tickets separately. Ya’ know, budget travelers and all that (er – budget travelers who spent a few hundred dollars later the same day for a PADI course. #priorities)
WHERE TO STAY IN COZUMEL
Well, you’ve come for scuba diving so chances are, you won’t be spending too much time at the accommodation anyway. But I guess it never hurts to feel comfortable where you sleep, right?
Since we were there during Christmas and we only decided on scuba diving in Cozumel two weeks before we actually went there, umm – to say our options were limited is an understatement. 😀 However, we managed to get a room in a funky, artsy villa for a few nights, which was a bit further away from the city center and after a few nights we moved to another place, just a block or two away from the dive center.
HERE’S WHERE WE STAYED
La Casona Art & Recycling – the first place we stayed at. We liked the big & well-equipped kitchen, the cosy living room and the big table in the garden where we spent evenings together with fellow travelers. The downside was we had to rent a bike every day (but they have cute ones!) and there was only cold water in the shower from time to time. The atmosphere is friendly and you get a feeling that a few travelers have been just kinda, er – living here for quite some time. 😀
Hostelito Cozumel – this downtown hostel had simple and even slightly more *rustic* rooms, but it was clean and the shower in our private bathroom was working properly, which does matter a lot when you try to get that sneaky salt out of your hair. The outside lounge area and a terrace top with deck chairs were perfect for an after-dive beer or two and the hostel features a pool with a cute swing (You bet I tried to strike a pose for the gram! Nope, it didn’t work out for me. It kinda sorta never does, I should have learned that by now.)
SOME OTHER OPTIONS IN COZUMEL
Backpacker’s Budget: Backpackers praise 2tank Dive Hostel – while its rooms seem a bit dark and basic, it’s a good place to go if scuba diving in Cozumel is the only thing on your mind! They have this cool option where you get a free night in their dorm if you scuba dive with them and that’s what we’d probably choose but all the rooms were sold out when we were there.
Somewhere in the middle: Ah, if we’d only had more flexible budget *sighs*, we’d stay in one of the places like Casa Isabella (was totally eyeing this one when searching for a place to stay in Cozumel!) or in a boutique hotel with a sea view – um, this one’s literally named “A Sea View Boutique hotel” (Oh my, in this case, I wouldn’t need to go to nearby Starbucks for a coffee with a view!)
Feeling swanky? In this case, Casa Frida will feel like home (just love their garden and can totally imagine posing for “that’s my office today” photo there!) or you can choose one of the resorts by the ocean which has diving services on site – like this Coral Princess Golf & Dive Resort for instance.
FUN FACT 3: Cozumel is one of the most famous cruise ports in the Caribbean and over 3 million tourists visit it every year (huge cruise ships are parked in the bay all the time). What do they do in Cozumel? They walk from the ship and over a covered pier to the shopping center and then to the exit around which hundreds of stands with souvenirs and restaurants with abnormally high prices (from a backpackers’ perspective, that is) are strategically placed. So – they’re spending money. I guess.
Ok, ok, won’t be judgy here, we all have our own priorities! It just happens that ours are adventure, food & booze. But you never know, perhaps a few years along the road, I’ll be the one on that cruise ship, channelling my inner princess with a fifth margarita in my hand. 😳
SCUBA DIVING IN COZUMEL – FINAL THOUGHTS
Unexpectedly (*ekhm*) we found a new hobby and it’s probably only a matter of time before Bojan comes up with the idea of buying diving equipment (this is, if our apartment will be big enough because right now we have a whole room dedicated only to sports equipment and it’s already freakin’ full).
Anyway, we can’t wait to explore the underwater world and the Advanced Open Water diving course is already on our bucket list! Oh, and so is diving with pregnant bull sharks in Playa del Carmen, mind you. #havefunordietrying
PLANNING A TRIP TO MEXICO? Then you might also like…
- 4 days in Mexico City
- What to do in Oaxaca, Mexico: 25 awesome things
- Our Mexico Travel Budget Breakdown
- From Chetumal to Flores in One Day
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