When you do a google search for “scuba diving in Playa del Carmen”, “dive centers in Playa del Carmen” or “dive shops” or any other scuba diving related querie, you get hundreds, if not thousands of hits. Obviously, you are not going to contact every single website that you come across, because, well, you have better things to do! However, it is very important that when you are planning your vacation to Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya as well as any other destination where you plan on doing some (or a lot) of diving, you do some research.
What do I mean by research? Very simple. There are some questions you should always ask any potential dive operator.
- Do you have a physical dive shop?
- Are you/your guide/instructor a Mexican citizen, and if not, are you legally allowed to work in Mexico?
- How many years have you been in business?
- What are your group sizes, diver:instructor ratio?
- What is the experience of the instructors/divemasters that work for you?
You are probably scratching your head at some of these questions. There are good reasons why you should know the answer to these questions.
- If the operator does not have an actual shop, and is just some person selling trips/courses from his/her computer, then what guarantees do you have that your reservation will be honored, deposits will be safe, and that you will have a safe place where your equipment can be stored if you will be diving for several days? An established dive center will give you all those and more.
- If the operator is not a Mexican citizen and is not allowed to work legally in Mexico opens you up to all kinds of trouble. Imagine you are heading off to the Cenotes with this great person who has a beautiful website, talks a big game about his/her thousands of dives, charges very little in comparison to others, and then you get pulled over. Well, it turns out your guide has no permits to be transporting you, has no permits to be working in Mexico, and now, the vehicle you’re in as well as everything in it (including your personal equipment) will be subject to seizure by the authorities. Also, there is the issue with liability and insurance.
- We all started our business at one point. So a new shop does not necessarily mean that the shop will not be just as good, or even better than one that has been around for decades. However, a shop that has been around for a few years probably has a better track record than a new shop.
- Some dive shops are all about maximizing profits and minimizing expenses, and this is not always better for you, the customer. This holds true both in Playa del Carmen as well as the rest of the world. It is not uncommon to see an Open Water Diver class with 8 or more students and just one instructor. Or a combined group with several open water diver students, a couple of advanced open water diver and perhaps a rescue student and one instructor (and maybe a dive master assisting). This is unacceptable even in the best of conditions. An instructor should never have more than 4 students at once, and they should all be doing the same level of training. The same goes for leading dives. Groups should not be larger than 4 divers per instructor or dive master, and they should all be of similar experience and training levels. Mixing groups is just not acceptable.
- Again, we all started as instructors or dive masters at one point. With little experience, and fortunately, someone cut us a break. Some of us were certified divers for a long time, and even worked as dive masters for many years before we decided to become instructors, however, the world has changed a lot in the past 10-15 years. We live in a world of “instant gratification”, and unfortunately this has also transferred onto the diving industry. One of the bigger agencies allows many of their larger affiliated centers to conduct what have been commonly become known as “zero-to-hero” programs. In these programs, they basically take you from being a non-diver (or one with little experience) all the way to open water scuba instructor level in a year or less. You probably ask yourselves what the problem is with this… well, the main problem is the lack of experience. You see, most recreational scuba diving training agencies require that to become an instructor, one has to have a minimum of 100 logged dives. 100 logged dives may seem like a lot, but in reality, it isn’t. Especially for someone who is an instructor. When you choose an instructor, you want to make sure that your instructor has lots of experience in as many different environments as possible (be it tropical reefs, cold lakes and quarries, caves, wrecks, cold water reefs, etc).
These are just some of the things you should be asking before booking dives or scuba diving courses not just in Playa del Carmen, but all over the world. This information will not guarantee that your vacation will be flawless, but I can promise you that if you know all of this beforehand, you will save yourself a whole lot of headaches and heartache.