Diving in Playa del Carmen

Dive #29: July 24, 2014

Dive Site: Chunzumbul Reef, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Depth: 40 ft

Dive Shop: Scuba Playa, Calle 10 Btwn 5th & 1st Ave., Playa del Carmen

Highlights: First dive outside of Tobago, first dive without Undersea Tobago and I got to do it with my best friend!

To say I was apprehensive diving without the amazing, attentive team at Undersea Tobago is an understatement. While I know they’ve taught me everything I need to know to handle myself underwater, it still seemed intimidating to fly to another country and put my life (and the life of my friend Melanie) in the hands of absolute strangers. At first, we approached the tour operator located at our hotel for a recommendation and he pointed us in the direction of a larger dive operation that didn’t sit too comfortably with either of us. Melanie would have been doing the Discover Scuba course with about 8 other students and it didn’t seem like the ideal situation. So, while walking along 5th Avenue we saw the Scuba Playa sign and decided to inquire about their offerings.

Best. Decision. Ever!

After a conversation with Pablo we immediately felt at ease as he assured us the DSD exercise would have a ratio of one instructor to about 4 novice divers and the open water dives would have a ratio of one instructor to about 5 divers. After a night of consideration (and TripAdvisor research where we discovered their sterling 5-star rating) we booked our sessions for the morning after my 30th birthday (great way to celebrate!).

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Mel gets ready to head into the water for her first full open water dive!

Luck remained on our side as that morning the other two people signed up to  dive canceled and Melanie was the only person in the DSD session. She had  a successful run with Stein – a really attentive, thorough and  patient instructor – and then it was time for us to head out into the brilliant  blue waters off the coast of Playa del Carmen. It was like our very own private  dive tour as we were the only people on the boat and the only divers in the  water at Chunzumbul Reef.

If there was ever an occasion I regretted not bringing my camera, this was it.  (Why didn’t I bring it? It was a hassle to travel with and because of the level of  equipment there was a high chance I’d have to pay customs fees). Easily the  clearest water I’ve ever had the pleasure of diving in. Visibility was an  estimated 82 ft! Before this trip I couldn’t even imagine what that would look like but now that I know, I’m not sure how I’m going to readjust to the average 30-40 ft we usual enjoy in Tobago. I’ll manage somehow though. Don’t really have a choice.

Within 10 minutes of descending Stein pointed out a massive loggerhead turtle, a truly rare site in such shallow waters. S/he was chillaxing on the ocean floor cool as ever and we hovered above her (I’m convinced it was a female) for a few minutes, primarily because I was too fascinated by her size to move on. Turtles are by far my favorite creatures to observe in the water and this is by far the largest I’ve ever encountered (possibly 5 ft long but I could be exaggerating because water magnifies and my imagine/memory tends to scale things unintentionally). If for some unfortunate we had to end the dive right then I’d still consider it the best dive ever!

Apart from the loggerhead Stein pointed out 2 large lion fish that he later told me they’ve taken to eating as a method of control; 1 barracuda, 3 lobsters and we spotted a baby flounder perfectly hidden in the sand. Naturally, in addition to those highlights were the most beautiful coral formations and commonly spotted reef dwellers, including a large school of seemingly motionless French grunts. They fascinated me because it really appeared as if they were standing at attention, all facing the same direction, staring at/worshipping some invisible sea creature under the ledge but of course the true reason was much simpler and more rational: they were seeking shelter from the current.

We explored the reef for 47 minutes before it was time to ascend and guess who had no problems on the 3 minute safety stop? Yours truly. Handled it like a pro without assistance from Ellis (or Stein in this case) and then it was back on the boat for a brief surface interval.

Melanie, Stein and me at the Scuba Playa dive shop after two amazing dives!
Melanie, Stein and me at the Scuba Playa dive shop after two amazing dives!

Dive #30: July 24, 2014

Dive Site: Jardines, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Depth: 40 ft

Dive Shop: Scuba Playa, Calle 10 Btwn 5th & 1st Ave., Playa del Carmen

Highlights: Most beautiful reef I’ve ever seen! Period.

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Me, looking pretty goofy, before heading into the water.

Mel didn’t make this dive with us so Stein and I crossed what literally looked  like  a garden of coral on our own. Whether I was looking ahead or behind me,  the reef seemed to go on forever with visibility at 65 ft. Sea whips and  common sea fans were everywhere and bluehead wrasses, parrot fish,  squirrelfish and angelfish were darting in and out and around them making  me feel even more like a character in The Little Mermaid than usual (True  Story:  I sing ‘Part of that World’ every time I’m on a dive).

Thanks to Stein’s keen eye I saw my first ribbontailed sting ray! It was resting  in the sand almost indiscernible until we got in closer and it gave us a little  wave of its tail (possibly in greeting, possibly as a warning to stop blocking  its  light). Between the two of us we also pointed out 2 spotted moray  eels  (one at  least 6 feet long); a giant green moray eel stowed away under a  ledge with yet another school of grunts just chilling out as still as ever,  staring at him (or her?); 2 more lion fish (not a reason to rejoice), 1 lobster and 2 grown flounders feeding on the ocean floor.

Both dives were such amazing, spectacular, unbelievably breathtaking experiences with a professional well equipped dive crew – from dive master to boat captain and skipper. We were well prepped topside and given a fantastic tour underwater. I couldn’t have been happier with my first international dive and I wish I could find a Scuba Playa dive shop at every new dive destination I visit!

I highly recommend this operation to novice divers, as well as those with experience.

Thank you Scuba Playa for a spectacular experience and for the photo feature on your Facebook page!

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