Cayman Islands Feature

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Learn to Dive in the Caymans

Diving is an exciting experience that does not have to be strenuous or stressful. Almost anyone can enjoy scuba, and it's easy to test the waters via a three-hour resort course costing $120 to $150, including one or two dives. After a quick rundown of dos and don'ts, you stand in the shallow end of a pool, learning how to use the mask and fins and breathe underwater with a regulator. The instructor then explains some basic safety skills, and before you know it, you're in the drink. The instructor hovers as you float above the reef, watching fish react to you. Don't worry—there are no dangerous fish in Cayman, and they don't bite (as long as you're not "chumming," or handling fish food). You can see corals and sponges, maybe even a turtle or ray. It's an amazing world that you can enter with very little effort.

The resort course permits only shallow, instructor-guided dives in Cayman's calm, clear waters. The next step is full open-water certification (generally three or four days, including several dives, for around $450, less as part of a hotel package). This earns you a C-card, your passport to the underwater world anywhere you travel. From there, addicts will discover dozens of specialty courses. The leading teaching organizations, both with their adherents, are PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) and NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors), affectionately nicknamed "Pay and Dive Immediately" and "Not Another Underwater Idiot" (those are the polite versions in scuba's colorful slang). Worry not: Cayman's instructors are among the world's best. And the water conditions just might spoil you.

Technical Diving

Technical diving refers to advanced dives conducted beyond the 130-foot depth limit—requiring a decompression stop—or into an overhead environment. DiveTech's Nancy Easterbrook compares it to "scaling a sheer cliff face. It takes practice and determination." The courses and equipment are also much more expensive. Terms you'll soon hear are Nitrox, Advanced Nitrox, Normoxic, Trimix, and Advanced Trimix. These all enable divers to explore deeper depths safely at greater length. Nitrox, for example, is highly oxygenated nitrogen (32% as opposed to "normal" air with 21%), which enables you to dive for a longer time before reaching decompression limits. Nitrox invigorates you, reducing fatigue after dives. Rebreather diving (Closed Circuit Rebreathers or CCR) is another popular way to extend dive time, up to three hours 100 feet down. You breathe warmer, moister air (reducing the chance of chills at lower depths). As a bonus, denizens of the deep are less wary, as there are no bubbles.

Updated: 2014-07-25

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