Dive Cozumel 2016
A First-Timer’s Impression
By Arnie Warshawsky
So I decided to take the plunge and join Dennis and company in Cozumel over the Christmas vacation. Living in Hawaii, as I do, there is little need to go elsewhere to find warm water diving—unlike the denzians of Monterey Bay and vicinities. But there were things to take care of even before I left. I coordinated with Patti to arrange hotel accommodations, get airport recommendations, get local info and find a room mate for the trip. Patti handles everything so smoothly, I thought I was dealing with a top notch vacation planner. With Patti’s arranging, Jono and I shared the room next to Dennis and Patti—prime location indeed. And did I mention cheap?
Of course coming from Hawaii, a longer airline flight was to be expected, but it really wasn’t too terribly bad—and Dennis told me my airfare was even cheaper than his—go figure airline pricing. I flew from Honolulu to Los Angeles, connecting to Houston, and connecting once more to Cozumel. Air schedules matched so well that I was able to meet Dennis, Patti, and Jono in the United Airlines club in Houston. After arriving at our hotel, Dennis and Jono immediately got some welcome scuba tanks and jumped into the ocean. I took a nap.
The town is laid out in a simple grid with the first two or three streets that front the waterfront (and cruise ship terminals) chock full of U.S. and U.S.-style restaurants with U.S. prices. Go a couple of blocks inland and the prices drop significantly—and the food gets better. I thought that the streets were quite clean. There were a number of interesting murals. The two here are from a construction zone across from our hotel and in the town square, respectively.
Our hotel, Hotel Barracuda, is located just a short walk from Dive Paradise. “Apple” Applegate, an Aqua Tutus-trained diver runs the operation. As you can see, the hotel has a very nice pool with swim-up bar. The lounge chairs are often populated with cruise ship crews—really buff guys and gals.
Dive paradise has a fleet of 14 boats, so she can accommodate pretty much anything anyone desires. Morning dive charters are two-tank affairs, usually from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm; afternoon charters are one-tank dives from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. One-tank night dives can be scheduled upon request, and they generally depart at 6:00 pm. Except for Sunday when another dive location becomes available, the dives are all located within the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park (Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel). Dive sites are liberally spread running along Cozumel’s western coast. Since most of the hotels are at the northern end of Cozumel and the current usually runs from south to north, the dive boats typically sail south to drop off divers who drift dive either the walls or the reefs back towards the north. Currents are brisk posing a particular challenge to photographers who want to linger to take shots.
I found less trash in the water here than I usually do back home in Honolulu. Not being an expert, I saw what I think of as typical Caribbean underwater environment: colorful fish, abundant soft corals, sponges, sea fans, and tiny nudibranches. I found anemones all over the place, but nary a clownfish to be found. There were moray eels and snake eels, large eagle rays and small stingrays, nurse sharks hiding and cruising, all kinds of angel fish, and many toadfish. I was particularly taken by the many angel fish that are all over the reef. I even saw angel fish cleaning parasites from turtle shells. I am a beginning underwater photographer. I shoot with a modest housed Canon G12 camera with a pair of Inon strobes. I took lots and lots of images—then I threw most of them away. But even then I was left with hundreds of okay images. One thing that did surprise me was that very few of the divers I encountered brought cameras. Maybe they knew about the current and decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
For me, each day began early with a 7:00 am breakfast at the Rock ’n’ Java Cafe, which is located next to Dive Paradise and just a short walk from the hotel. After breakfast it was back to the hotel to get the dive bag and camera and get ready for the morning dive boat. The hotel has a small wharf where the dive boats tie up, and a fresh water rinse pool for the aftermath, so the logistics are pretty simple. Dive Paradise staffs its boats with extraordinary divemasters. They all speak English, are uniformly friendly, and quite helpful. One of the Dive paradise divemasters in particular, Juan, has an incredible eye giving him the ability to find tiny things—no mean feat with the current ripping along as it does: Crabs and nudibranches so small that I had trouble seeing them even with Juan pointing directly at them. One other thing I should mention is the special relationship that Dennis has with the Dive Paradise staff. They all seem to love Dennis because they know that if there is a problem, Dennis will help out. We all know that Dennis is a very competent, alert diver.
Each dive runs about an hour. The first dive of the day is usually a wall dive with the depth limited to around 80 feet or so. The second dive is usually a shallow reef with a maximum depth of about 60 feet. Everyone does a drifting safety stop at the end of each dive. Between dives we switch over to our second tank, eat a few snacks, drink some water or soft drinks, and generally relax as the boat continues north to the next dive side. Afternoon dives are also inside the marine park, but not as far south as the morning dives. On this vacation, I went on two night dives. They tended to follow the same regimen as the afternoon dives. All the dive boats in Cozumel seem to like to go to the same spot for night dives, so it is very easy to accidentally switch groups and end up on the wrong dive boat. On the night dives we got to see a lot of sleeping parrot fish, free swimming morays and snake eels, hunting octopus, porcupine fish (puffers) and crabs and lobsters galore. It is traditional to tip the divemaster staff after each trip. A good rule of thumb is $5-$10 per tank. Plan ahead and bring lots of five or ten dollar bills earmarked for tips since getting change tends to be problematic.
Oh, I ought to mention the food. Breakfast was usually at Rock ’n’ Java Cafe , lunch was deli sandwiches and beer (we bought our provisions at the Walmart-style Mega market across from the hotel)., and dinner was at a local restaurant. As our unofficial trip leader, Dennnis asked for suggestions, but we always put it back on him. Over the years, Dennis and Patti have discovered a large set of excellent local restaurants. I continued to be amazed at how many proprietors fondly remember Dennis when he shows up—and he only comes out to Cozumel once a year. In fact, even the taxi drivers remember him. But back to the food. In a word, terrific. As were the drinks—mostly Margaritas, beer, and Piña Coladas. Besides the expected Mexican cuisine, we also had opportunities to eat traditional Mayan foods. And the moles were to die for. With a single exception, and that was a new restuarant for everyone, service was prompt and friendly. No problems communicating either. We would generally gather around 6:00 pm, go to Dive Paradise to arrange for the next day’s dives, and then wither walk or grab a taxi (mostly vans) to get to the evening restaurant.
I had a wonderful time and am already looking forward to next year’s trip. I can understand why this trip has become an Aqua Tutus must do. If you haven’t gone on this Christmas time trip to Cozumel, you should plan on doing it soon. Bring lots of five dollar bills for tips to the divemasters.