Panic attacks & an angry octopus: Getting dive certified in Colombia

dive certification colombia

If I’m being honest, I never had it my head that I needed to go diving.

It wasn’t something that crossed my mind and was not something I had ever had on any sort of bucketlist.

When my friend, an avid diving fan, arrived to Colombia and enthusiastically encouraged me to go on a dive, I leapt at it as a chance to try something new.

I did one Discover Scuba course in San Andreas, a Colombian island off the coast of Nicaragua, and of course I was hooked.

I loved being under the water, I loved how terrifying it was and how proud I was that I didn’t bail after the five minutes of sheer panic I experienced going down for the first time.

And so it was only a few weeks later that I decided I would get my full PADI Open Water Diving Certificate and as it turns out there is no better place to do it than Colombia!

What does a diving certificate mean?

dive certified colombia

Being a certified diver means you can dive anywhere to a depth of 18 metres in open water. From the moment you get certified, you are free to go diving with any PADI certified dive centre (basically any dive centre in the world) and you will experience all the beauty of underwater sea life. 

If you wanted to do any more complicated dives such as a wreck dive or a night dive, you will need to get an Advanced diving certificate following your Open Water certification.

If you are not sure if you would be that into diving, you can do what is called a Discovery Dive. A Discovery Dive involves a two-hour crash course in diving as well as time with diving equipment in a pool. You will then get to go on a real-life dive in the ocean with your diving instructor who will guide you every step of the way.

Why Colombia?

dive certified colombia

For me, I just happened to be in Colombia at that time!

However, I was incredibly lucky because it turns out that Colombia is not only a beautiful place to dive but also one of the more cheaper places to get certified.

I completed my Discover Scuba course for around 150,000 COP ($50) and then paid a further 500,000 COP ($167 for my full certification). No matter how much you pay for your course, you will also need to pay the $62 USD to register with PADI, get your dive log and your certification card. 

I completed my course with a great school in Santa Marta called Santa Marta Dive & Adventure which included a shallow dive on Taganga beach as well as two incredible dives in Parque Tayrona.

So what happened?

dive certified colombia


Normally an Open Water Certification course takes three days but seeing as I had done a Discovery Dive, I was allowed to complete the course in two days (though they were two exhausting and very jam-packed days).

I arrived in the Dive Centre at 7.30am to begin my course which involved watching a very long and arduous PADI training video. I had to answers questions on various sections which was then marked by my instructor.

Following nearly four hours of videos (!!!), we got suited up and drove to a nearby swimming pool. Here I had to complete about fifteen or twenty different ‘skills’ under the water. 

This involved being able to clear water from my goggles, take my goggles off underwater, give and receive emergency oxygen, practising emergency ascension techniques and much more. When I got back to the centre I had to complete further tests.

Day two began at 6am as I had to complete three dives to get my certification (I had done only one on my Discovery Dive and you have to do four dives to get certified). First, we went to a local beach and did a shallow dive to 5 metres where I had to complete all the skills I learned the day before in the actual ocean. 

Then we headed out on a boat to complete two more stunning dives outside Tayrona National Park. Here I learned more final skills as well as hand signals while also getting to just enjoy my dives!

Then, after being truly exhausted by the two days, I had to return to the dive centre to complete more final tests before being officially certified!

And how was it?

dive certified colombia

On a leash.

Ah, the good stuff.

I was so excited to get back in the water after my first dive in San Andreas. But I may have been a little bit over enthusiastic. 

Thinking I was already an expert diver, I started racing through the skills my lovely instructor gave to me on our first dive in Taganga.

When I had to remove my goggles underwater at the beach, I whipped them off without focusing on my breath. Water filled up my nose but instead of pushing the water out and completing the exercise I started to panic and couldn’t steady my breathing. I still had oxygen but my body was panicking.

It is the closest thing to a panic attack I have ever experienced and of course, was made ten times worse by the fact that I was underwater. Thankfully, we were only five metres deep so I was able to ascend to the surface quickly and easily. It would not be so easy at 18 metres or deeper, which is a thought that still scares me. 

dive certified colombia

It took me a while to recover. My lovely instructor, Leo from Santa Marta Dive, was a gem and allowed me to wail and cry and panic for about twenty minutes before I caught my breathing, went down again and completed the skill with absolutely no issues.

On the second dive of the day, as soon as we descended we happened upon an octopus who had just caught its lunch. Having been interrupted, he started to retreat, a large fish visible under his tentacles. Then, perhaps realising that this is in fact his turf and not ours, he sidled up a rock until he was about eye level with us like a drunk person picking a fight with a nightclub bouncer. 

And I will admit that I was a little bit intimidated but I don’t think I will ever forget it! 

On Open Water Dives you will see lots of amazing vegetation, lobsters, coral, colourful fish and if you are lucky some other cool animals.

If you are considering a diving course in Colombia, I would highly recommend Leo from Santa Marta Dive & Adventure or even just a Discover Scuba course to figure out if you will like it. Most dive centres will give you a discount on your certification if you have completed a Discover Scuba course. 

Following your Open Water certification, you can go more advanced by taking the next courses or start diving on your own with your own dive computer.

My other advice would be to never underestimate being under the water and leave the octopuses alone!

dive certification colombia

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