When I first started visiting Ambergris Caye, my coworkers had a Sunday morning ritual to do what tens of thousands of visitors every year come to Belize to do – dive. Even though they completed dozens, if not hundreds, of dives in the Belize reef, they set aside time every weekend to explore the vibrant marine life, because every dive is a different experience.
They’d always gush about the colorful underwater animals they’d encounter and the new friends they met on the boat. Although I didn’t consider myself the best candidate for being a diver (not-so-strong of a swimmer and prone to motion sickness), I was curious. I decided it was time to bite the bullet and take a dive course…
A sea turtle glides away from us during our dive off of the coast of Ambergris.
I will never forget that day. It was a bone-chilling December afternoon in New Orleans. Goosebumps ran through my body as a winter draft carried through the house. I packed my bathing suit and fins in a bag and asked myself, “Why am I doing this in the winter?!”
I registered for a weekend intensive course at a dive center in the area and was going to be spending the following two and a half days learning how to master the art of diving. I wasn’t excited…I was nervous. Really nervous actually, to the extent that I contemplated not going. Growing up, I was the lagging student in swim classes and to-date still haven’t perfected the doggie paddle. But my sister pushed me out the door and waved goodbye.
We spent time in the classroom learning the importance of each diving technique, and the rest of the time was spent in the pool (INDOORS, phew!) putting these skills to the test. After successfully completing the textbook portion and pool skills, the next step to get certified was to pass the open water test. The open water test consists of five separate dives in an outdoor body of water to assess the different skills learned. They mentioned that the next weekend trip was in April to a quarry in Florida. A chilly, murky body of water where a thick wetsuit, and perhaps even a dry suit, was required. I was heading to Belize the following week and, I think you’d agree with me here, I decided that jumping into 83-degree, Caribbean waters wetsuit-free would be the more enjoyable option.
An extremely memorable dive with singing dolphins. Click here to see a video!
I mentioned the upcoming trip to my dive instructor and he said to me, and I’ll always remember it, “If your first open water dive is off the coast of Ambergris, you’re going to be spoiled for the rest of your dive career.” Not truly understanding the full scope of that comment, I nodded and he continued to tell me about his trip to the island a few months earlier. He took a dive group to the island for a week-long dive excursion. He gushed about Elvi’s Friday night buffets and the Belizean breakfast at Caroline’s Cooking and, of course, the diving.
If you think you’d like to get dive certified, do it during your tropical holiday. It’s typically more cost-efficient and can be completed in a shorter period of time. In Belize, let’s say, for one person to get his/her PADI certification, it typically costs about $300/pp USD, including the textbook, classroom session and water skills, the five open water tests, and use of equipment. Children 10+ years old can get certified, and there is no age limit for seniors (just need to be healthy and mentally aware). So, bring the whole family! You’ll need about three days to complete everything, and at the end, you’ll have your official card.
If you’re not a diver, or even a water bug, here is my invitation to you. Go on a snorkel trip off the coast of Ambergris Caye, Belize, to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. All you need to do is put a life vest on your chest, face mask in the water, and you’ll see incredible sea life directly below you. From sea turtles to stingrays to my personal favorite, parrotfish (below – disclaimer: not my photo).
Here’s the favor I’d like to ask you and your friends. Whether you’re enjoying the reef in Belize or are underwater elsewhere, be co
nscientious of what’s below and around you. The reefs around the world are in danger, and to best preserve our beloved underwater habitats, we need to be aware of the best practices.
Your tour guides will typically educate you about the best water etiquette, and in the meantime, here are a few great tips that can help you to be a diligent steward. Also, here are the best-rated sunscreens from PADI.