Discover Scuba Diving in Bocas del Toro with La Buga Dive School!

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Discover Scuba Diving in Bocas del Toro with La Buga Dive School!

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Bocas has plenty of water sport activities to offer. If you are not the type for surfing because it is too physically demanding (or the surf happens to be flat - in Bocas think September and October), I highly recommend trying scuba diving or snorkeling.

When the waves in Bocas del Toro are going off like this, I really can't see myself going out for a diving trip... but that's just me. I'm totally aware of people being addicted to scuba diving just as some of us are addicted to surfing.
When the waves in Bocas del Toro are going off like this, I really can't see myself going out for a diving trip... but that's just me. I'm totally aware of people being addicted to scuba diving just as some of us are addicted to surfing.

At Habla Ya Spanish School in Bocas del Toro we work closely with Bocas Dive Center and La Buga, which is a PADI 5 Star Dive Center. In this opportunity I was able to experience firsthand La Buga's special Discovery Dive. This dive is customized for those who are not yet certified (like me!) and wish to get a real feel about what diving is all about. Another great thing about this half day dive is that it can count towards obtaining your Open Water PADI Certification. It also doesn't hurt that the cost of this dive ($65) can be discounted from the cost of the PADI Certification ($250), which is usually a 3 full day course (our Spanish students can do it in 6 half days in order to not miss out on their Spanish lessons!).

So last Saturday I was finally able to dive for the first time in my life! Truth told, I had been postponing it for a while. Almost a year ago I was invited by the owner of La Buga, Ricardo Porras, but the waves have been so good as of late, that I always kept coming up with "surfing" excuses, but in the spirit of trying new things, I made up my mind and gave it a go. I really didn't know what to expect. As I already mentioned, I had never gone diving before, so except from snorkeling it was a completely new experience for me.

La Buga Dive Center is located right over the Caribbean Sea in Bocas Town
La Buga Dive Center is located right over the Caribbean Sea in Bocas Town

When I arrived at La Buga I was nicely received by dive instructor Jill and first had to fill out some forms. Safety goes first so I had to answer several questions about my health (fortunately I don't have any problems yet... that I know of!!!). After that, Jill turned on a DVD and handed out a new paper with more questions to answer... sort of a test this time, and told me to answer it after watching the video, so I started to say to myself, when are we going on the boat??!!! But the short 20 minute video lesson was well worth it and I was definitively a lot more prepared for what I was about to encounter. It also helped calm my nerves that several other people arrived to also have their first dive.

So Jill went through the questions to check that I had understood what I had seen and handed me a pair of fins and a diving mask - not more, for now. I didn’t notice that meanwhile more people where getting on the boat. There were about ten people waiting just for us to jump on the boat. Loaded with gas tanks we headed towards the “Barco Hundido”, a wreck about 10 meters below the surface situated on Isla Colon's most southerly point. I was excited! It didn’t take long, just a few minutes until we arrived. The weather was perfect, the water clear and calm and I was looking forward to getting in.

It was a good group of us that headed out diving. At the front of the boat that's Jill, my lovely diving instructor
It was a good group of us that headed out diving. At the front of the boat that's Jill, my lovely diving instructor

After putting on the equipment (weight belt, vest, masks, gas tank), Jill explained to us the final instructions and what we were about to do. I sort of felt that I had no idea about how to dive, but they reassured me that it was all about enjoying your surroundings, staying calm, and just breathing as normal!

Three very important things to remember besides the hand signals are:

  1. How to put the breather back to your mouth if it falls off (we practiced by taking it off for a few seconds and then putting it back on)
  2. How to clean your mask when it gets steamed
  3. How to handle your buoyancy

Now it was the time to get into the water - we plunged backwards off the boat (just like in the movies!). The heavy weights on me were a strange and unfamiliar feeling and it took a while to get used to them. My companions followed and plunged backwards off the boat too.

We looked at each other and just had to laugh because to be honest we looked pretty silly (or maybe we were just a bit nervous). All our other companions (who were already certified) started their dive and Jill helped us by pulling us a little bit, directly to the bottom. I felt the pressure in my ears so I started to equalize (extremely important so that your ears don't hurt!!!), and then Jill and I hit the ground. We were kneeling face to face to each other. Jill started to show us what we were supposed to do and I patiently watched all of her movements. The same exercises we did on the boat. I followed her instructions and did quite well (at least I think I did).

I was stoked for doing all the basic diving stuff right!
I was stoked for doing all the basic diving stuff right!

Once Jill was done with me and made sure that I knew what I was doing, I took a real look around for the first time and enjoyed seeing all these fishes, jellyfishes and pipe corals on the ground. It was just beautiful! While it was time for my companions to follow Jill's instructions, I tried to move a little bit, still a little uncomfortable with my weight belt and the gas tank on. A few meters away I reached the artificial reef where all the others were already diving around. A wreck of an old landing craft which was intentionally sunk in 2000.

The colors down there are just amazing. It's like being a different world!
The colors down there are just amazing. It's like being a different world! Photo by Alex Lindbloom from Bagus Images

Strewn with mussels, algae and crawling creatures the shipwreck gave a perfect picture of the underwater world. We dove all around it and could even see a toilet hanging loose from the bottom of the ship. I forgot the time and even the fact that I was underwater - breathing! Leaving the ship wreck we explored more reefs that stretched around the area. I was just amazed of the colorful scene surrounding me.

Unfortunately air doesn't last for ever so it was time to go back up. Then we headed to another spot where the experienced divers got in for a second round. Even though I wasn’t able to join them for a second round of diving, I didn’t want to leave and took the opportunity to snorkel for a bit. But like everything in life, when you are having a good time, time flies so we headed back and arrived at La Buga again, took out the equipment and enjoyed a shower on the docks. Needles to say, after all this activity I had built up quite an appetite and decided to enjoy a really nice burger at La Buguita (the restaurant of the Dive Center).

Awesome burger prepared by Chef Jose at La Buguita... I loved it!
Awesome burger prepared by Chef Jose at La Buguita... I loved it!

I loved this wonderful trip to the underwater world as well as the kind and friendly staff at the dive center. Jill is a passionate diver, taking her job with enthusiasm, professionalism and responsibility. This is certainly a must do thing if you're in Bocas del Toro and have never gone diving before... and if you've had, I was told that in Bocas del Toro you will find 95% of the coral species that live in the Caribbean, so you really shouldn't miss it!

LEARN MORE ABOUT BOCAS DEL TORO, PANAMA'S TOP BEACH DESTINATION... »

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Search our blog if you're visiting Panama! From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss, you'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while in our country! We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years and nothing beats local knowledge from the locals themselves.


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