Diving the Great Blue Hole of Belize is not to be missed if you ever find yourself in Caye Caulker. It’s mysterious, eerie, and a unique experience that you’ll never forget.
I recently got a job as a divemaster on a liveaboard in Hawaii and one of my guests told me I absolutely had to dive in Cozumel when I told her about my upcoming trip to Playa del Carmen. Because she and I bonded overseeing dozens of dolphins together along the Kona coast and that she has over 2,000 logged dives – I felt her word could be trusted.
Diving the cenotes should be on your list of things to do in Playa del Carmen if you’re a diver. It’s a very unique experience to see the cave formations that have been around for thousands of years and Playa del Carmen (Riviera Maya) has some of the best in the world.
Diving with mantas is among one of the ultimate bucket lists for divers and why so many passionate divers come to Komodo Island, but how about swimming with 150 of them?
I started my morning with Wicked Diving on their boat, Charlie, with about a half dozen others who signed up for this full-day excursion. We were already off to a good start seeing dolphins playing in the water on our way to our first dive. We don’t always see a lot of dolphins around here so it was a nice surprise to see them from a close distance as they passed our boat.
We just finished up our second dive at Batu Balong, one of the best dive sites in the world, and were on our way to Makassar Reef (also nicknamed “Manta Point”), a dive site northwest of Komodo, known for finding mantas hence the nickname.
Our captain and some of our boat crew noticed something in the waters about 100 meters in the distance, and we notice there are about a dozen mantas. Our captain decided to turn the boat around, and that’s when we saw a long stretch of about 150 mantas. We watch the mantas from the second level deck of Charlie, and we are ecstatic. Everyone runs to grab their cameras and watch them in awe as they form a line behind each other looking like aquatic birds.
About ten minutes pass and we decide to keep going but continue to keep seeing mantas everywhere. I want to jump in! Everyone wants to jump in, so the captain and our dive instructor make the call to turn around and allow everyone to grab their mask and fins and hop in!
One of the Wicked staff members joined the boat trip today on her day off has never even seen a manta. This is someone grew up on this island, works in a dive shop, and barely snorkels. She escapes through travel books like the works of Paulo Coelho. Can you imagine the joy she felt not only seeing her first manta but hundreds let alone being able to go out and swim with them?? I’m pretty sure I can vouch for her by saying this is one epic moment in her lifetime.
Or could you imagine a couple who traveled from the other side of the world with only one dream to see a manta and then gets to see an entire sea full of them? Hell, even our dive instructor was ecstatic and said the last time he saw something like this was a year ago.
We all jumped in, and the captain was guiding us about the proper direction to go in, and once we found their path, it was craaaazy!! They were in every direction! On either side of me, below me, coming at me! There was one manta ray that was literally swimming 6 inches below me and so close to flapping it’s wings on me if I didn’t move. I remember coming manto y manto (er, I mean, mano y mano. hehe) with one manta ray with its mouth wide open. I’m thinking, “Oh sh#t! What if stay in place? Will we have a head-on collision?” Naturally my instinct was to get the hell out of its way.
After about twenty minutes of being able to snorkel with these beautiful creatures, we get on the boat and head to our last dive at Manta Point.
We gear up, take a giant stride into the water, and descend into a drift. Sure enough, mantas are passing by in several directions. Not quite as many as our impromptu snorkel session, but still incredible to see and a different experience. You get to study their bellies as they pass you from above in twos, fours, and sixes or lean close to the ocean ground steadily watching them circle around you.
After experiencing an epic day with nature’s playground, it was no surprise that at the end of our trip back to Labuan Bajo that we were gifted with a beautiful sunset and three eagles passing in the distance. Incredible day!
I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last month with the Wicked Diving Komodo team working on my certifications from Advanced to Divemaster. It was nearly 15 years (yes, that dates me!) since my last dive and now I get to immerse myself fully at one of the greatest dive locations in the world (raise the roof!).
Because it had been so long since I’ve been back in the diver life, I had a lot of questions. What is a BCD and regulator again?? Octo-what?? I hope I don’t have any trouble equalizing. But then one of Labuan Bajo’s finest instructors, Marsel, introduced me to the underwater world again with a few simple steps in a refresher course, and since I put my mask on the right way, I knew I was off to a great start!
Our first dive was in Siaba Basar, also nicknamed Turtle City, and it was pretty easy-peasy for beginners. I’m feeling like a natural. Fins are appropriately placed on both feet, and I remembered how to breathe without using my nose again. We saw a some tropical fish and my confidence is up. In other words, I got this! Like a true champ.
Now that I’m feeling all mermaid status, it was time to step up our skills and visit a more interesting site – one with [drum rolls] MANTAS! I’ve never seen mantas before, so I know this is going to be freaking awesome!
On our way to our second dive, I hear Ilham, one of the other dive guides, screaming, “Whaaaale shark!!!” We all run to the side of the upper deck and see a baby whale shark swimming next to the boat. “Stop the boat!” The guides grabbed their masks and then jumped into the water without hesitation. I’m watching from above and then I see other divers following suit. I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity and jump on the whale shark party train with only my mask being able to see it for the last 10 seconds before it drifted deeper into the sea.
At this point, we’re feeling ecstatic. We get back onto the boat and continue to our second dive site before mantas came flying out of the water from a short distance away. Now I’m even more mindblown. What an incredible thing to witness and we’re not even in the water yet! This is surely a good sign.
Everyone is pumped and eager to get in. Andreas, one of our other dive instructors, was trying to give us a dive briefing, but we couldn’t help but take our attention off of him to see the mantas flying from different directions. But once he said the sooner we get through the briefing, the sooner we can see these mantas underwater, he had our undivided attention.
The second dive was at Makasar Reef that is known for being a cleaning station for Mantas. It started off with a light drift dive. I’m trying to be cool and mimick Marsel’s perfect buoyancy looking ever so relaxed and keeping my arms in place instead of like an amateur doggy paddling under water. I think I did okay!
We passed along some brown bamboo sharks, sweet lips, Little Nemo, and even unicorn fish – but it wasn’t until we saw four mantas between 3-4 meters circling that we decided to lay low and observe these majestic creatures for about 10 minutes.
Nothing compares to the very first time seeing a manta ray – especially when it hovers so close above you that it could touch you. I remember being in awe as we watched these guys get closer and closer to us, one of them even spouting out something from it’s rear in sets! I’ll let your imagination run wild with that one. At that point, aside from nature’s sense of humor, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. No other world existed but this one at this very moment.
We have one more dive for the day, and we ended it at Tatawa Besar. This was another low-key drift dive with plenty of coral to see. We saw both white tip and black tip sharks, Hawksbill turtles, and many other great marine life. A nice and relaxing way to end the day after being filled with so much excitement as we chase the sunset back to Labuan Bajo.