Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Dive Operator: Scuba Caribe Rating: 3.5 Stars
In Playa Del Carmen we stayed at Riu's Palace Mexico Hotel. There was a dive operation conveniently located at the beach in front of the hotel. The dive center was Scuba Caribe which is also the company that we dove with in the Dominican Republic. If you read our review of the Dominican Republic operation you will find that we gave it only one star. I was concerned about diving with the same company after the horrible experience in the Dominican. However, our experience with Scuba Caribe in Playa Del Carmen made us realize that the unprofessionalism with the operation in the Dominican is not company wide, nor does it reflect the attitude of the company. The problems there are due to the instructor that is in charge of that particular operation.
The Playa Del Carmen operation had several instructors and divemasters. The person in charge of the operation was likely a diver but was always on shore at the dive center. Therefore, it allowed him to have better control over the operation since he did not have to split his time between diving and managing.
Although we brought our own equipment, we had the opportunity to see the rental equipment that was available. It was decent for rental equipment and far better than the equipment they had at their Dominican operation. The equipment seemed well maintained. We had planned on diving in some cenotes which are inland entrances to underwater caverns. The water in the cenotes is fresh water and typically has a temperature of about 60 degrees. Therefore, it is best to wear a thicker suit such as a 7mm suit with a hood. However, the dive center did not have 7mm suits for rent. Instead, they would rent a 3mm suit and provide another 3mm shorty over it. They also did not have any hoods. That would not provide a good diving experience as most divers would be cold with that set up. We had only brought 3mm suits as we had assumed that there would be 7mm suits for rent. We also had not brought hoods assuming they would be available at the dive center. Because of the lack of availability of proper suits, we passed on diving in the cenotes and chose to dive in the warmer waters of the reef instead. The lack of 7mm suits and hoods I felt was totally irresponsible of the dive operator. If the operator is going to offer dives at a particular location, in this case the cenotes, they need to have the proper equipment available for rent. I was quite flabbergasted that they didn't.
There was no dock and the water along the shore was too shallow for the boat to get close to shore. Therefore, divers had to wade in the water for about 100 feet in order to reach the boat. On the return it was required for divers to jump into the water and wade to shore. Several reviews that I read prior to travelling to Playa Del Carmen were quite negative due to this need to wade ashore. I have to disagree with those negative reviews. Certainly it is more convenient to have a dock available, but it is not uncommon to lack one. The wading in this case was necessary because the water is very shallow for a considerable distance from shore.
The boat was medium sized with no bathroom. It was capable of holding about 16 divers. Although not wide, the boat allowed for ample movement to get equipment ready. Fortunately, the dive sites were close by. Therefore, a bathroom wasn't necessary anyway. Although not a large impressive boat it served the dive conditions adequately, and in my opinion was a good dive boat at that locality.
The divemasters provided adequate dive briefings prior to getting on the boat. In the water the divemasters were ok with pointing out things to see, but I would not consider them great. Some were better than others. Limited assistance was provided getting divers in the water. More assistance was given getting divers out of the water. All of the divers, in fact, all members of the operation, conducted themselves professionally.
Dive times were spread out so that only one dive was done per boat trip. In otherwords, the boat returned and divers had to disembark after only one dive. If a diver was scheduled for two consecutive dives, the diver had to get off of the boat, wade to shore, wait on shore for a brief time, then re-wade back out to the boat for the second dive. Although at first, this seemed a bit odd, perhaps even ridiculous, there was some benefit to it. The crew had to exchange the tanks as the boat was not necessarily large enough to accomodate enough tanks for two dives. That takes some time and effort. Getting the divers back on shore allows the divers the opportunity to get refreshments and/or go to the bathroom. It also allows divers the opportunity to only go on one dive rather than having to do two. The first dive was generally at a deeper depth and better suited for more experienced divers whereas the second dive was adequate for any diver including novices.
For divers using their own equipment, the dive center gave the divers the option of keeping their equipment at the diver center where it would be hung up to dry. That was a nice option since the wet equipment did not have to be kept in the hotel room.
Although the dive center did provide instruction, they did not provide instruction for any specialty courses.
Overall I felt the Scuba Caribe operation in Playa Del Carmen is a good outfit to dive with. I give them 3.5 stars. I dinged them on the failure to have 7mm suits and hoods for the cenotes, the limited assistance, and the lack of a dock. All of those items were more a lack of convenience to the divers though rather than actual mistakes made by the company.