There’s nothing like being totally at peace with the world, with only the sound of your own breath and heartbeat, as a scuba diver. Completely surrounded by water -- the depths of our planet can offer unparalleled adventure with endless curiosities.
Connecting with the endless blue ocean is not out of your grasp. There are plenty of organizations that will help you obtain a diving certification abroad or even connect you with marine conservation initiatives.
If you aren’t sure where to start, here are some options for scuba diving trips and courses abroad that can be part of your underwater gap year!
What kinds of courses and programs are available?
Scuba Certification Courses
If you aren’t already certified to scuba dive, there are numerous options for you to begin this adventure. There are several types of certifications offered. PADI is the global standard, but it’s worth noting that many are recognized as perfectly valid, SSI being the most common alternative.
The average length of a intro scuba diving course is 3 or 4 days. This includes 2 days of classroom and shallow water training followed by 2 days of open water training and four dives. This can be done in an intensive weekend or spread out over several evening or weekend sessions.
The seasonality of diving courses only depends on location. Most warm areas offer certification year-round. Students may want to research monsoon seasons in their intended location of training as visible species may vary.
Instructor and Internship Positions
If you’re looking to travel more long term, there are other creative ways to continue exploring the underwater world. Working at a dive shop can be a way to obtain dive discounts and earn some extra cash, while becoming a divemaster and learning to instruct others in scuba diving. It is the most common way to feed the diving addiction.
Divemaster training is typically conducted as an internship with a dive shop. You must have already completed the three preceding recreational qualifications and an Emergency First Response course, and then you can start your internship.
Note: Depending on your home university students can even earn college credit for taking a dive master course!
A great way to put your new scuba skills to use is to participate in a marine volunteer project. This can be a great way to connect with the underwater world and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to sustain an ecosystem. Popular options are sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica or great white shark conservation in South Africa.
The sky is the limit in terms of location, but you often have to pay a significant sum to participate. This is so that the organization can put their funding towards operational costs. For that reason, think of this opportunity as a chance to give back and not be a burden to an organization on the ground. Of course, verify the quality of the organization before you go and speak with previous volunteers about the nature of their day-to-day activities.
A few marine conservation organizations that offer dynamic volunteer opportunities include:
Where to Go
So, where are some of the most affordable locations to scuba?
The most well known affordable option for scuba diving and certification programs is Kao Tao, Thailand. Because of its low cost and high-profile, many young travelers and backpackers choose to do their Open Water qualification here.
Shallow waters, a lack of currents and plenty of quality dive schools at attractive prices make Koh Tao particularly attractive to beginners. Of course, all these factors mean that you are often learning in large groups. Proceed with caution as it’s described as a “conveyor belt of backpackers”.
Utila Island is one of the cheapest locations in the world to receive your certification, costing approximately $290 USD. However, the island is difficult to get to and though the course is affordable, housing and transportation run a bit higher than Thailand.
If you can get there, expect to spend time on a quirky little island expat paradise with some of the best diving in Latin America. Not to mention, it’s an excellent place to see whale sharks -- I guess we could also say the island is a little rough around the edges.
Although Malawi is a landlocked country in the heart of East Africa, it too has some affordable scuba diving options. Lake Malawi, a UNESCO world heritage site nearly the size of Belgium, is full of shipwrecks and tropical fish to dive and explore. Gappers can find incredibly affordable dive certifications here for around $210. Although there may not be quite the variety of wildlife, Malawi offers an affordable option well off the beaten path.
The Red Sea offers dives that are some of the world’s best. Egypt is known for its incredible biodiversity around the Sinai Peninsula and opportunities for every level of diver. As tourism has decreased in recent years, discounts on scuba diving courses are fairly easy to find.
Brazil’s scuba capital is Fernando de Noronha and it has grown in popularity throughout the years. Unbelievably beautiful and known as one of Brazil’s top eco-tourism destinations, you can swim with turtles, dolphins, and much more. The islands limit the number of visitors so you can feel that you have these gorgeous blue waters all to yourself.
North Carolina, U.S.A.
The “Graveyard of the Atlantic” offers unparalleled shipwreck diving. In the early days of WWII U-boats left the ocean littered with merchant ships. The water is quite cold in the winter but the summers bring glimpses of both tropical and game fish.
Need to Know
Regardless of how you choose to spend you underwater gap year, it is critical that you choose to dive sustainably and support organizations who are working to preserve our underwater ecosystems. As you travel you will often here the common creed: “Take only photographs and leave only bubbles”
Be sure to use a responsible operator who dives to help preserve and understand the environment in which they operate. Once you arrive ask lots of questions, verify their standards of equipment, dive in small groups and make sure you avoid operators who are baiting wildlife.