Mexico, Puerto Aventuras – Catalonia Yucatan/Planet Scuba February 2014
We went to Puerto Aventuras to take a cavern course, dive the cenotes and do some ocean diving. We had been to Catalonia Yucatan before but last time we dove with one of the large resort dive shops in the area. This time we looked for a better dive shop and one with good reviews and the type of dive training we were looking for. Plant Scuba answered all our emails quickly and actually read the emails and gave us the information about the course and diving that we asked for. Because of the amount of diving we planned on doing and because we had been here before we spent our non-diving days relaxing at the hotel and wandering the town. There are lots of trips to do from this area, Tulum, Coba, Xel Ha, Xcaret, etc. but we were here to dive.
Getting There and Back
We flew with Air Transat from Toronto to Cancun. Because we brought all our own dive gear, we booked first class with Air Transat which gave us a checked bags allowance of 40 kg. and a carry-on allowance of 15 kg. First class also has dedicated check-in lanes, priority boarding, free drinks and meals, real, tasty food plus large seats with lots of room - totally worth the extra money!! When you land in Cancun, clear immigration, get your bags, re-x ray all your bags, clear customs and then take your luggage outside and find the Nolitour rep. Do not bother with the hustlers inside the airport - go outside and find the reps in uniform and carrying signs with the tour operators name. You will take your luggage to one of the buses. It is about an hour to the hotel depending on how many hotels you stop at on the way. If you want, the rep. on the bus will sell you beer; just remember that one hour ride.
On the return, you call the bell boy or take the luggage down to the lobby of the Yucatan (Nolitours only picks up at the Yucatan lobby, not at the Riviera side). You get on the bus for the one hour ride, check in and spend a couple of hours at the Cancun airport. Which like every airport in the world has lots of over-priced shops, restaurants and bars. The Cancun airport is large and modern with decent restrooms.
We booked through Nolitours, as they were the only tour operator I could find that was booking the Catalonia in Puerto Aventuras. The Catalonia has two sides, the Yucatan and the Riviera Maya. If you book a regular room through Noli you will probably be on the Yucatan side, if you booked one of the privileged suites you will be on the Riviera Maya side. Both sides share all the pools, dining rooms, bars, etc. If you booked with Noli you will get 4 a la carte meals plus an invitation to the Noli BBQ meal (once per week). If you booked privileged you also get 1 free meal at the tapas restaurant. There are two buffets for dinner one informal, one classier, plus you can eat at the creperie. Be aware that the a la carte restaurants are not all open every night - plan ahead. Also, the reservation system was changing when we were there, so check on how you reserve for dinner. There are loungers around the pools and along the water but two areas are reserved. The bar and beach area at the south end of the resort are for the privileged bracelets only. Also, privileged guests could have a la carte breakfast and lunch in the Bellavista restaurant.
Note: There will be a bottle of water in your room when you arrive. Save this bottle and refill it at the pool bars or the Bamboleo snack bar. Do not leave empty bottles out or the maid will throw them out when cleaning the room.
Note: There are other Catalonia hotels on the Riviera Maya, when getting a taxi or bus back to the hotel back sure it is going to Puerto Aventuras.
Puerto Aventuras is a gated town and very safe, you will go through the gate (with guards checking in and out traffic) whether you are walking out to eat at Paco's Tacos just outside the gate or when you are driving out for a trip. When on a trip the driver will have a pass to get in and out. When walking the Catalonia bracelet will get you back in. Downtown is a 5 minute walk from the hotel. As well as lots of restaurants and bars the town also has a number of dolphin pens plus some sea lions and manatees. It is free to walk around and watch the animals and shows they put on. If you want a dolphin "experience" you can buy it at the office. Latitude 20 is right beside the dive shop and a great place for a beer or a meal. Say hi to the 3-legged dog for us - we called him Lucky, don't know what his real name is. There is a good liquor store on a corner of the main walking area, at least if you like tequila, rum, wine or cold beer.
Cenotes- All cenote dives in the Yucatan are guided by law with a max. of 4 divers to 1 guide.
We did the two dives at Dos Ojos with Davide as our our guide. Dos Ojos has great viz, pillars, stalactites, stalagmites, flow stone, pencils hanging form the ceiling, and interesting rocks and colours. There are 2 lines; the Barbie line - max. 25' for 45 minutes and the Bat cave line - max 35' for 47 minutes.
We did two dive trips with Markus as our guide. El Eden/Ponderosa has beautiful fish out in the open swimming area. In the cavern area is a beautiful green glow, light streamers, some beautiful "windows", some areas of blue glow, sun beams, a bright area with roots and fallen trees that make for good photos and a halocline that makes vision hazy at times. Under the halocline was nice warm salt water. Max. 44' for 60 minutes. Tajma Ha has stalactites, stalagmites, fossils, stalactites laying on the floor of the cavern, blue sun beams, a jungle room and a halocline. The jungle room is open at the top and the roots of trees hang down 20' to reach the water. We did 3 fairly tight tunnels with haloclines that sometimes make it impossible to see the diver in front of you - these tunnels can only done with a group of very experienced divers. Max.46' for 55 minutes.
Note: On all the cenote dives the depth of the dive varied up and down so divers with sensitive ears make sure to take your Sudafed. Viz was 200' plus (except where one group had stirred up the silt) and water temp was around 77 degrees.
Ocean- We did two days of "ocean" diving in the Caribbean Sea. The diving was done from pangas which are about 20' long with benches down each side and with a small sun shade. To dive from the pangas, you suit up before getting in the boat, carry your gear out to the boat and set up your tank. To enter from the panga you do a back-roll into the water. To get back on the boat you take off your fins and climb up a ladder. The boat moves to the second dive site and if there is time, stops at a beach during the surface interval. The first day we dove the C-56 wreck and Luna Reef from Puerto Morelos. The second day we dove the Mama Vina wreck and Baraccudas Reef from Playa del Carmen.
The C-56 is a former mine sweeper and still has her deck gun on the bow. There can be strong currents in this area so this dive is for advanced divers only. The water was a beautiful blue colour and the surface current was very strong but we had a mooring line for decent/ascent. The current was mild on the wreck. We penetrated the wreck, following the guide line from bow to stern. There are two large engines in the wreck, the wheel is in place, lots of valves and the deck gun in the bow. Outside the wreck we saw a large school of "white" fish off the bow, lots of fish under the grid on the stern, 2 spotted eagles rays off in the murk, lots of 3 to 4" growth on the wreck, as we were leaving the bow a large barracuda, a pair of grey angels and some ocean triggers swam by. Max. depth 90' for 35 minutes and 40' viz.
Luna Reef is a crescent shaped reef with areas of soft corals, white sand and crannies for the fish to hide in. It was a nice fishy reef. We saw lots & lots of sharp-nosed puffers, spotted and honeycomb cowfish, streams of creole wrasse, lobster, assorted butterfly fish, spotted moray and 2 spotted eagle rays off in the distance. Max depth 41" for 53 minutes and 60' viz.
The Mama Vina is a former shrimp boat that is now covered with colourful growth. Because of the strong currents on the wreck we did a negative descent and descended quickly to drift right to the wreck. It is a small steel ship with not much penetration but the second room was full of glassy sweepers. There is beautiful black coral growth at the back of the wreck where you can get out of the worst of the current. It was a hard swim back to the bow of the wreck where we started a second circuit of the ship. There was a green moray at the bow and trumpet fish, Spanish hog fish and a few garden eels off in the sand. Max depth 83' for 37 minutes and 100' viz. We had better than normal viz. for this site.
Barracudas Reef is a finger reef, you swim around the tips where the current is and into the fingers where there is little current and all the fish are hanging out. We saw lots & lots of french grunts and pork fish, some caves were filled with them. We saw large barracudas out over the sand, scorpion fish, Townsend/blue angelfish baby flounders, flamingo tongue, sea cucumbers, nice barrel sponges, honeycomb and scrawled cowfish, small gold moray, lobsters, juvenile angelfish, a large anemone with an arrow crab on it and oysters. We saw a HUGE green moray in a cave, over a meter long and head about a foot across but no one was willing to get to close to him! A wonderful fishy reef to end out diving in Mexico.
Note: The water temp was about 80 degrees top to bottom on all ocean dives. Our guide was Issac and his knowledge of the sites and love of diving made for great diving.
Course- We took the cavern course with Markus and had a challenging but fun time. Learning to dive in doubles, using a reel, learning the cave diving kicks and learning how to assemble and use all the special cave gear was a lot to learn in a short time. Markus was knowledgeable, helpful, patient and never laughed at us once. Thank you Markus for a wonderful experience. We plan on practicing what we learned at one of our local dive sites this summer.
Dive Shop – Planet Scuba
We picked Planet Scuba because we were looking for personal service and a more flexible dive shop than one of the large resort shops. Plant Scuba answered all our emails quickly, actually read the emails and gave us the information about the course and diving that we asked for and put together a package that included only what we wanted to do. The dive shop is a five minute walk from the hotel and they will pick you up and drop you off if you want. The shop is very new and spacious. They do not currently have their own compressor and tanks but plan to in the near future. They get their tanks from a local supplier and supply air tanks or FREE Nitrox for Nitrox divers. The routine is to meet at the shop. Check all your gear is there and get on the truck. For boat dives, you have a briefing at the dive shop and then head off to whichever town the boat is at. For the cenote dives you head off to the cenote and get your briefing once you get there (if there are too many divers at the planned cenote, another cenote will be selected). For courses, there may be a lesson at the shop and then off to the dive site for practice and a dive(s). The rental gear for the cavern course was all in perfect condition and all gear was thoroughly explained. After the dive, you drive back to the shop, rinse and hang up your gear, then go next door for a beer! The shop provides water and pop for the dive as well as a chicken roll and a banana for lunch. Markus was a good and patient teacher. Markus and Davide were good guides for the cenotes and Issac was a great guide on the ocean dives.
The best question is would you go somewhere again? The answer is yes, the resort was nice, the food was good, the people were friendly and the diving was good (both cenote and ocean). Planet Scuba was a good choice and they would be good for both beginner, advanced and cavern/cave divers. For non-dive days there are all kinds of trips to ruins, snorkeling, parks and the kayaking Sian nature reserve. Next time we will make it Coba and Sian.