It is 7 a.m. I am wide awake and almost giddy as I dash to get ready. Glancing out the window, I am struck by the beautiful beach down below. Glassy, turquoise waves are crashing against the beach and the warm salty air drifts against my face.
Bathing suit, check. Sunscreen, check. Nervous smile, check.
Rushing down the stairs, I collide into my sister, Sarah, who has a wide Cheshire-cat-like grin plastered on her face. There is only one thing that could make us this delighted so early in the morning: Today is the first day of our PADI open water diver certification course.
We eagerly chat about what is in store for us as we make our way down the winding path to the Go West Diving center. Sarah has experienced the underwater world of scuba once before but I, on the other hand, am a newbie. And as a newbie, I will admit I have a few butterflies bumping against each other in my stomach. Who wouldn’t? I mean, it is only slightly paralyzing to think about all of the what ifs when they all are answered with the same terrifying response of can’t breathe.
But, I soldier on because I am convinced this is going to be a wonderful experience. Plus, this is a mandatory certification in my life since my rugged, can-do-everything-he-tries husband is a certified cave diver, and I know diving is going to be something we do across the globe.
Approaching the dive center we spot Jennifer, our PADI certified diving instructor and personal emergency ripcord for the next three days. Immediately her friendly smile and slight Irish accent put me at ease.
“You girls ready to get scuba certified?” she asks. “It’s going to be fun. I promise.”
We set up at a picnic table overlooking the long pier that we are about to jump off and start drilling down the basics. Buoyancy, equalizing air pressure and the all-important hand signals are first, and then we labor through all of the equipment.
Before I know it, we are gearing up for our first dive.
My nerves have me repeating everything I was just taught over and over in my brain as I strain and struggle to get the black neoprene wetsuit just one more inch up my body. “This is harder than I thought,” I mutter under my breath. I certainly hope the rest of the tasks will not be so depleting.
Over the next three days I discover that learning to scuba dive is more than just depleting; it is also arduous and exhausting. However, it is also the most rewarding and satisfying three days of my life.
After all of the quizzes, underwater drills and fire coral (lots of painful, burning fire coral), we ascend on our first full open-water dive out to a gorgeous spot called Alice in Wonderland. Fifty-five feet below the surface, I swirl around to see what everyone is pointing at. Just as I do, a huge spotted eagle ray swoops above me as sunlight bounces off a passing school of fish. In this spine-tingling moment, I fall in love with diving forever.
Where to Dive:
The island has more than 40 spectacular dive sites to explore. But, if you have limited time to explore, then try these:
What: The Superior Producer, which sunk in 1977, has been rated many times as one of the Caribbean’s best wreck dives. The wreck can be accessed by shore or boat, and the entry is near the Holiday Beach Hotel.
Depth: 80-110 feet
Look for: Grouper, great barracuda, silvery tarpon, coral reef and anemones. Divers can also expect to see traces of the cargo, including jeans, and bottles.
Details: This dive is recommended for advanced divers only.
What: An expansive areas of coral flats named for the striking mushroom shaped coral formations. These shapes are the perfect hiding place for all kinds of small sea animals.
Depth: 30-55 feet
Look for: Giant moray eels, barracuda, porcupinefish, sponges, star coral, nurse sharks and lobster.
Details: Accessible by boat only.
What: If seeing as many different marine species as possible during your dive is your goal, then this is the spot for you. It is essentially a fish traffic jam.
Depth: 50-60 feet
Look for: Caribbean chromies, creole wrasses, southern rays, sea turtles, eels, coral reef, jacks and wild dolphins.
Details: Great for divers of all levels. Accessible by shore or boat.
Go West Diving
Where to Stay:
Kura Hulanda Hotel & Spa
The 80-room luxury boutique resort is nestled above the glorious St. Anna Bay in central Willemstad. The hotel is just a 15-minute ride from the airport and a five-minute walk to town.
Kura Hulanda Lodge & Beach Club
Reminiscent of a private island getaway, the hotel is a relaxing and alluring beachfront luxury retreat. It offers 74 villas, suites and guest rooms, most featuring living room areas and balconies or patios with stunning panoramic views of the ocean or gardens.
What to Take:
Seawing Nova Fins by SCUBAPRO $199
This fin has the power, acceleration and maneuverability of a paddle fin with the comfort, efficiency and effortless speed of split fins.
Legend LX Regulator by Aqua Lung $765
Includes a smaller Comfo-Bite™ mouthpiece and a lighter second stage to reduce jaw fatigue.
Delta Boots by SCUBAPRO $53
Easy-to-wear zippered boot in 5 mm thickness with an anti-slip, non-marking molded sole.
Orchard Rose Gold - 35 mm by Rumba Time $45
Durable, light-weight and water-resistant makes it ideal for the beach.
The Tilden Towel by Onia $120
One side is terry cloth trimmed with Onia’s signature fabric while the opposite side is the reverse.
Pioneer Wetsuit by Oceanic Starting at $299.95
Available in 3/2 mm, 5 mm and 7 mm thicknesses.
Tiger Blue Zip Clutch by KOZA $175
Helena Sunglasses - in Matte Blush Stripe by SuperDry $78
OCI Dive Computer by Oceanic $1,199.95
Linea Mask by Aqua Lung $95
Comfort buckle system prevents tangled hair and Advance Fit Technology creates a superior seal around the female face.