Scuba Do: Learning to Dive in Cartagena de Indias

In case you haven’t heard, Colombia just received the Lonely Planet award as the number 2 country to visit in the world. Finally, this beautiful place is getting the props it deserves, and what better way to celebrate this declaration and also see the beauty of Colombia? Go below the surface with scuba diving.

New diver

Me as a brand new diver

Boasting a vastly diverse terrain, including an incredible coastline of brilliant blue ocean, white sand beaches, and coral reefs, as well as warm days and clear waters, Colombia is a diver’s paradise: a well-kept secret quickly becoming a must-see destination in the world of scuba diving. While it requires suitable training, special equipment and select terrain, diving is one of those activities that has the potential to make travel even more incredible.

Be gentle with beginners; they have great potential to be experts.”
Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!


Morning theory class at Cartagena Divers

Impressed by their facilities and friendly reception during an initial inquiry, the courage and curiosity to commit to diving were unavoidable, and in October 2016, classes began with Cartagena Divers. Although Cartagena boasts several reputable dive centers, Cartagena Divers was selected for the three P’s: price, professionalism and presentation. First, theory was learned reading the PADI Open Water Diver manual, and watching a three-hour long video of information, like how to manage your buoyancy control device (BCD), how to decompress your ears, and what to do in case of an emergency.

Learnng about Diving

Learning theory and dive table reading at Cartagena Divers

Next came practice: day one of diving began with a 7:10 a.m. launch in lancha Hatchi I from Muelle Navas in Bocagrande. Gliding over glassy waters, we settled along the edges of Isla Barú after about 20 minutes. New divers were told to jump in and swim five laps around the boat.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Mahatma Gandhi

7:10 am dock Hatchi I

7:10 am dock time for Hatchi I

Dog paddle, breast stroke, back stroke, side stroke, each motion brought memories of days spent snorkeling as a four year old in the crystal waters of Antigua. As the fifth lap ended, a sense of gratitude was felt for wonderful parents who encouraged swimming at an early age.

Ready to swim 5 laps? Why yes!

Ready to swim 5 laps? Why yes!

After the swim, divers joined Divemasters Daniel and Honor back on the boat, where they gave expert details about how to attach a BCD to a tank and adjust the air valve, as well as how to attach the equipment and manage each piece. Within minutes, the BCD was in place and inflated, and divers were making front-foot steps off the boat into the deep blue water.


Honor reviews tank safety with divers

It’s been said that the first plunge wearing an air cylinder is both exhilarating and intimidating, and that learning to breathe normally is sometimes a diver’s first personal lesson. While proper breathing initially may be achieved by simply floating face (mask) down in the water, nothing can prepare you for that feeling of having water all around you once you submerge.

Diving down

Diving down, swimming away from the rope

After a few minutes of floating, we made our initial dive by following a rope to the sea floor. While the urge to love diving from the very beginning existed, it was clear this would be an acquired adoration: everything underwater is so strange. You are surrounded by water, depending on a breathing device, aware of your being a visitor in the ocean world. Your body feels weightless and flexible, and you are among colorful corals and giant plants. Fish and other creatures notice you noticing them. While it is, to add a pun, breathtaking, it’s also a very unique experience.

Awesome video of Diving in Isla Barú featuring Henry Vergara

Still smiling after five laps

Exhausted but happy in this new adventure

Our group completed two 40-minute dives in the first day, swimming among beautiful tropical fish and over vast coral beds; the sea floor resembled a garden of submerged exotic vegetables: massive dark green plants waved like sea spinach, while large crinkly masses resembling purple kale and orange broccoli cascaded over jutting brown and caramel-colored reefs.

Working on my trim

Working on my trim

From a beginners’s point of view, Daniel was the perfect dive instructor: patient, encouraging, helpful, and a wonderful communicator both in and out of the water. Lessons learned onboard were managed with ease, including the vital hand signals, what to do if you lose air, and how to find proper trim and control buoyancy.

Although most of the Cartagena Divers courses may be completed in a short time, or while vacationing in Cartagena, living in the city meant the luxury of spacing out dives (practice) and exams (theory). The exams were not easy, but the information included in them is vital to having fun, safe dives.

Eyes up, cecking the depth

Eyes up, checking the depth

Perhaps the most difficult part of the exam was reading the dive table and calculating* the time you have to safely stay underwater. This fascinating, math-based tool proved to be worth learning, and, remarkably, a score of 84% was achieved on the first try. (*FYI, there are also wearable dive computers and online dive table calculators, both are really helpful).

Posing with a lap sandwich and boat rope

Posing with a lap sandwich and boat rope

After a successfulsecond dive, breathing more confidently meant exploring the unusual terrain with ease, and relaxing among the schools of colorful fishes. It was clear the learning had paid off, although it seems shipwreck diving is an acquired adventure for some.

OK I'll stick with fish and corals

OK no shipwrecks; I’ll stick with fish and corals

Swimming above and beside hulking masses of submerged, rusted steel sprinkled with barnacles, and numerous portals where fish darted in and out of darkness. proved to be a little too spooky for this beginner. Daniel showed concern for the hesitation to explore the wreck, which was met with reassurance that it wasn’t the dive, it was just the diver.

Temporary Card, Permanent Smile

Temporary Card, Permanent Smile

Receiving a PADI Open Water Diver certification feels like a great achievement in overcoming fears and doubts, a salt-watery step in the right direction and reason to travel more, explore new oceans, and experience all the greatness that lies ahead/below. Thanks so much, Cartagena Divers, especially Isabel, Alberto, Daniel, Angie, and Honor for helping this traveler mark another line off of life’s bucket list

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