From Newbie To Finding Nemo: 7 Reasons To Try Scuba Diving In The Cayman Islands
Why scuba diving should be at the top of every traveller’s bucket list...
Scuba diving should be at the top of every traveller’s bucket list. You can swim up close to the world’s most incredible wildlife, get lost in a mesmerising underwater world and float about in zero gravity like an actual astronaut.
So what’s stopping you? Perhaps you aren’t sure where to start learning, or how long it takes. Are you worried that you aren’t a great swimmer? MTV started from scratch, from lessons in a swimming pool in the middle of London, to chasing turtles at a stunning scuba site the Cayman Islands – even finishing up with an underwater photography course with a legendary diver. Here’s why you should do the same (hint: it's not just about the 'gram, but damn, does it look good on Insta)...
1. You can learn at home first
Becoming a scuba diver is a bit like being a superhero: with great power comes great responsibility. To stay underwater for up to an hour at a time, you first need to do your homework – learning how to put on breathing equipment, tips to help a buddy in need, what to do if you’re low on air (pretty important, that one!), and hand signals to alert your friends when a beautiful fish swims by.
Once you’ve gained an internationally-recognised certification that proves you know how to look after yourself 18m deep, you can dive anywhere – and the real fun can begin. We headed to Oyster Diving Centre bang in the middle of central London, where a team of trained divers teach you safety skills in confined water. That’s a heated swimming pool, to you and me. They’ll set you written tests and ask you to complete set tasks until they’re convinced you in fact invented diving.
It’s never been easier (or quicker) to learn to dive. PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) offer an amazing eLearning system you can use on any tablet, PC or Mac, so you can read up, take your exams (yarp, there are exams) and complete fun quizzes in your own time. When that’s all done, you’re ready to try Open Water dives, which can be done in the UK (most likely a lake or reservoir – you WILL need a wetsuit) or on your holiday in the sunshine (err, that’s more like it). Guess which option we chose...
What's more, you can complete your certification ANYWHERE - your instructors back home can easily sign a referral form in your diving log book, which you can hand to any PADI dive centre around the world. When planning your next trip, you can research the best places to go diving, then rock up and finish your Open Water dives across a couple of days – the best way to start any holiday. There’s no better feeling than getting your certification, beer in hand, watching an amazing sunset – and it means you can explore deeper and further, the very next day. We chose the Cayman Islands, famous for some of the best dive sites in the Caribbean. Think dramatic drop-offs, stingrays and shipwrecks, surrounded by fish every colour of the rainbow.
2. Your notifications will be on FIRE
We took these snaps after just a day learning to play with a fancy digital camera underwater alongside world-famous diver Cathy Church (catch her at Sunset House resort, Grand Cayman), who taught us how to take the perfect snap of a Christmas tree worm, even calling over a tame squirrelfish to strike a pose. In just one day we learned how to reduce backscatter on our photos (annoying white dots have no place on social media), recognise the body language of underwater creatures and how to get a hermit crab to pop out and say hello (if he’s in a good mood that day).
We fully felt like David Attenborough as the likes starting pouring in. Not that we're bothered. Nope...
3. You'll make TONS of new mates
Aside from the fish, that is. Imagine meeting a gang of people just as adventurous as you, looking to explore the world and see unbelievable creatures doing their thing in the deep blue. You'll make unforgettable memories snapping a school of rainbow fish, or spotting a super rare filefish as it saunters by.
4. Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me
There is nothing like the peace and serenity of scuba diving. Entering a completely different world, away from mobile phones and annoying friends/parents/work/siblings/responsibilities (delete as appropriate) all you have to think about are the incredible scenes around you. We explored one of the world’s most unforgettable dive sites like Grand Cayman’s shipwreck USS Kittiwake, and Little Cayman’s Mixing Bowl and Bloody Bay Wall.
The latter boasts a shelf that literally drops off into the abyss (remember The Drop Off in Finding Nemo?). If you’re brave enough, you can swim over the edge, with absolutely nothing (expect your now uh-mazing buoyancy skills) to stop you dropping vertically into the deep, pitch-black unknown. Exhilarating doesn’t even cover it (and your dive instructor will make sure no one catches you in a big net, promise). We high-fived a mermaid statue that’s been on the cover of National Geographic (five points for guessing why only her nipples are free of algae *eye roll*), came face-to-face with reef sharks, followed turtles and parrot fish, watched an eco-friendly lionfish cull and even got caught in a school of cuttlefish.
5. Travelling gets a LOT more interesting
Planning your travels around amazing dive sites adds a totally new element to your trip, as you explore places you might not have considered before. You’ll look for crystal clear waters and beautiful wildlife, or perhaps chase elusive sightings of sharks and dolphins in their known hotspots. There are tons of hotels made by divers for divers, like our favourite Sunset House on Grand Cayman. We ate incredible curries, chilled by the pool and chatted to divers from around the world, who chose the hotel for its eco-friendly approach (no plastic straws, yasss!), great diving gear, experienced teachers and a beachfront bar to gossip over the day’s sightings with new friends.
6. There’s downtime, too
Scuba diving is nothing if not exhausting – and due to some gnarly nitrogen bubbles still dissolving in your blood (science geeks, listen up!) you have to plan in 12 hours’ chill time before you can step on a flight after a dive. That means plenty of sunbathing, shopping, or in our case, eating. You can burn up to 1,000 calories in just one hour’s dive – can there BE a better excuse to eat your body weight in lobster? We refuelled with fresh fish at Morgan’s Seafood Restaurant, drank infamous chocolate mudslides while lounging on hammocks at Rum Point and scoffed bucket loads of ceviche (the Cayman Islands is the ‘culinary capital of the Caribbean’, don’cha know).
On less lazy days, we explored Stingray City (a sand bar where hundreds of string rays pop up to say hello), toured a rare blue iguana sanctuary, rented jet skis at the nearby Marriot hotel and splashed about on a snorkel safari. We even took a helicopter tour, our pilot pointing out holiday homes belonging to Will Smith, Shaquille O’Neal, Julianne Moore, Vin Diesel and Morgan Freeman dotted across the ‘Beverly Hills’ of the Caymans. There’s never a moment to get bored.
7. You’ll learn a new skill for life
Now you know how to dive, you’ll be itching to explore the Big Blue any chance you get – and you’ll have tons of new friends to do it with. The diving community is super friendly, and there’ll be group trips taking place annually with any dive school you join at home or abroad. Online, you can track your dives, and fellow adventurers share tips and tricks to have the very best experiences. There’s a whole other world out there waiting – all you have to do is dive in.
MTV Travelled With Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, flying from London Heathrow to Grand Cayman via Nassau. Awesome hotels we checked out include Sunshine Suites (get the tacos at The Sunshine Grill) and Sunset House (home to insane diving spots) on Grand Cayman, plus the tranquil Southern Cross Club on Little Cayman.