Let’s talk about diving, and all the way in which I plan to part with my money in the next year via this very pricey hobby. Basically this post is part brain dump, part desperate plea for help.
I have some very big decisions that I would like you to make for me I would like your input on.
First of all, I have dropped some serious cash recently on dive gear. I skated by for nearly three years with freebies and handouts, but I finally had to throw down some cash and buy some big girl stuff. What pushed me over the edge was the equipment grant money from the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame. In March I ordered both a regulator and a dive computer, which I can’t wait to show you when they arrive. Then, in a fit of total self-indulgence, I bought a completely luxurious and expensive wetsuit that I want to wear everyday for the rest of my life. I brought it to Thailand and dove with it only twice (sob) before shipping it home with my BCD and other gear, and I’m still awaiting our reunion. This little shopping spree cost me a cool $750 without even taking into account the grant money. So, um, yeah. Once all this gear is in my possession there will be a full post about it (with gratuitous wetsuit photos of course) but I just wanted you to understand the frame of mind I’m in. Okay, maybe you get one teensy wetsuit preview.
While my previous paragraph doesn’t really show it, I am a frugal gal. I broke my shopping addiction years ago and now I rarely buy physical things. There is an exception, however, and it is cameras. Every once in a while I just get an itch… and that itch is for an upgrade. I upgraded my dSLR just about a year ago (you can see what I use now on my gear page) so my land camera is safe… for now.
Underwater I use Canon PowerShot SD1300 with a Canon Underwater Housing. Every underwater photo you’ve ever seen on this site has been taken with that camera, so it has served me well for two years! I’ve been very happy with the macro shots its produces… however I’m ready to start shooting wider and shooting some video on the same dive. I just booked a day of diving during my upcoming trip to Iceland (I am exercising extreme restraint in not using all caps here, which should tell you how excited I am) and I think this is going to be very wide-angle kind of diving. So, considering underwater photography is a big part of this blog and my freelance writing, I think it’s definitely time to upgrade! I would love to add a strobe to the mix too but right now I think that is going to wait for when Christmas time rolls around. Unfortunately I have the common limitation of a very small budget, at least when it comes to the camera world.
Here are my two options: Canon G12 or the Canon PowerShot S100.
Unfortunately I am one of those psychotic people who going into research overload and puts themselves into an information coma when trying to make a decision. So far Scubaboard members seem smitten with the Canon S100, while Amazon reviews are being far more kind to the G12. They are both around $400. (I hope to sell my old setup for around $250*, which will make this a fairly affordable upgrade for me.)
It seems the S100 has lens error issues, though it has a significantly faster focus and is more compact. The G12 seems to have the best image quality but a slow focus and wide-angle issues in most underwater housings. Ah yes, housings. Once I decide on a camera, I need to then pick a housing system! I’ve loved my Canon housing so far but have been reading some really bleak reports of flooding in these new models (~$250). Next up on the price scale is Ikelite housings (~$325-$650) but the one time I tested their housings I hated the buttons. Then comes the universally beloved Recsea housings ($879-$1099) which might as well cost my weight in narcotics for how not-in-my-budget they are.
So, um, suggestions? Recommendations? Words of wisdom? I’ll take anything.
As I mentioned I need to make a big decisions soon about where to complete my PADI Divemaster Training. At the end I will be able to take certified divers on fun dives and assist on courses, though I will not be able to certify new divers (that requires the next step, becoming an instructor). It’s a major investment in time and money (costs range from $800-1800). The course can be completed in as little as six weeks but I plan to allot three months as I will be blogging and doing freelance writing and design work throughout.
My biggest requirements are a balance of fantastic diving and a youthful, fun lifestyle. Which is to say I don’t want to do it in Koh Tao, where the lifestyle is fantastic but I’m not excited by the diving** and I don’t want to do it in some remote Caribbean island were the diving is mind-blowing but the mood is relaxed retiree. Does that make sense? Here are some of my initial brainstorming ideas:
• Hawaii: This is the US option. I have friends and family here despite never having been. I hear good things about the diving and love the mix of big city living and remote island adventures. The cost of living does give me major pause.
• Bay Islands/Corn Islands: There are the Central America options. I’ve been to the Bay Islands and while I wasn’t totally smitten to the point of wanting to live there, I know that it would be very familiar (it’s kind of the Koh Tao of the Western hemisphere) and I would have insta-friends as this is a common spot to do your Divemaster. I also think I might be able to convince family and friends to visit. The Corn Islands have always fascinated me but I think they might be too sleepy. My concern with the Bay Islands is I would go here because it’s a familiar area of the world and not because I feel passionate about it.
• Columbia/Venezuela: This is the South America option. I hear great things about the atmosphere on the Caribbean coast of these countries, but I don’t know much yet about the diving. I love this idea because I could practice my Spanish and head to a new exotic part of the world that I’ve always wanted to go to. I get kind of giddy thinking about this option.
• Indonesia/Philippines: If I’m heading back to Asia to do this, I’m heading to one of these two countries. Obviously I’d have a lot further narrowing down to do! I know that I would be able to find a great combo of diving, lifestyle and cost here.
• Mozambique: Yes, there is an Africa option. Mom, stop crying. I’ve heard almost unbelievable stories about the fantastic diving off Tofo, but I don’t know nearly enough about the lifestyle/cost, or frankly, the safety.
You might notice there is no European option and no Caribbean option. I would have definitely considered Spain or other countries, however I will be missing the summer season there. As for the Caribbean I don’t think I will find the lifestyle and atmosphere that I am looking for there (though I do love the diving!).
That is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m just getting started! You may have noticed I’m awful at decision-making so expect some reader polling in the future (after all, I let you guys pick my destination before!)
Do you have any suggestions or ideas? Any insight on the places I’ve listed here? Please decide my life for me! Haha just kidding but not!
*If you are interested in purchasing my underwater camera+housing or the housing alone, please contact me for details. The current model setup sells for around $380, while my exact model sells for $430. So $250 is a steal! This is an amazing camera for getting started and you simply won’t find a better price.
**Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Koh Tao. But outside of a few spectacular dive sites, it’s really for beginners… hence it’s reputation as a training mecca. Plus I’ve already dove it intensely while working as an underwater videographer. I’m ready for something new, something that will blow me away!
My only advice / suggestion is to wear the cute wetsuit every day for the rest of your life
Wait till you see it in person now that I’m skinny again. Wooo! Please arrive soon, wetsuit…
Unfortunately, I’m absolutely no help here because, as you know, I’ve never been diving, and Tony is the on who is the camera expert in our relationship, so I always ask him what we should do in these types of situations. But I do think you absolutely need to go somewhere where you can where that adorable wetsuit every single day! Super cute!
If I were trying to choose where to dive, I would probably go with Indonesia/Philippines, but that’s only because that’s the one area you mention where I have plans to visit in the near future and have actually heard that diving is really wonderful! I’m sure that diving in Hawaii is really great, but perhaps that’s a place to hit up after you have your certification when you can actually train and teach people (i.e., when you have money coming in) because I’m sure living costs are high there.
That is a good point about the money, Steph. Luckily I make most of my income online through this blog and through freelancing so I will continue to have some income throughout the DM course. But still, Hawaii might be best for when I’m also making money with diving!
i got certified in Tofo and I loved it there. It’s pretty peaceful there, so not a lot of distractions. This company was super professional and is teeming with knowledgeable staff:
Matt! I’m so glad I know someone who’s been to Tofo. I’m definitely going to pick your brain at TBEX. Do you know how the internet connectivity was? Was there a party scene at all?
You’re right about the feeling that the Corn Islands might be too sleepy. And Little Corn, which has the better vibe, only has electricity for a few hours a day, and that’s the only time the patchy satellite wi-fi is available – not the best condition for freelance work…
We keep hearing good things about the Philippines and the amazing dive spots there… we can refer you to someone who went diving there, if you’d like?
Hmm, well you confirmed my fears about the Corn Islands, but it’s good to start narrowing things down via process of elimination! And I’m still really excited to visit there someday.
I’d love to hear from someone who’s been diving in any of these locations recently… feel free to pass my contact info along, and thank you!
You haven’t been there, it’s cheap, it’s a fun place to be young in, there is good diving.
Go to the place that makes you giddy!! But yes, I have heard the Philipines is amazing. Tough choices hey?!
These are definitely luxury decisions to be making! But yes… I need to go somewhere that gets me excited!
Hello! I’m a reader from the Philippines, so I would definitely recommend that you come visit my country! 🙂 The people are warm and friendly, the culture is rich and diverse, the cost of living is low, and there are lots of amazing diving spots to choose from like Malapascua in Cebu, Coron in Palawan, and Apo Island in Dumaguete. If you do decide to come here, I’ll even tour you around! Would love to meet and go diving with you!
Hi Ivy! I’ve heard so many good things about the Philippines! How is the weather from Sept-Nov and from Jan-March?
September, based on the past few years, is usually typhoon season. Oct-Nov has sporadic rains and the temp usually goes down although it does get kind of humid sometimes. Jan-March also gets showers now and then but it’s generally warmer this time of the year (especially in March) because it leads up to our summer season (April-May). Between the two, best time to come visit (w/ diving as your primary activity in mind) would be Jan-March in my opinion 🙂
Thanks for the info Ivy! I remember reading in the past that the real peak weather season in the Philippines is quite small, which is too bad!
Of the two cameras I would opt for the Canon S100. It’s a really good compact for the price and very pocketable for those times on land when you don’t want to lug your DSLR around. It has good image quality, manual controls and RAW. This camera has already garnered a good reputation with underwater photographers, as has also the Waterproof Case WP-DC43 (currently $219.95 on amazon.com).
I have played around with both cameras and found the G12 to be more bulky and less comfortable to handle. I suggest next time you pass a camera store have a hands-on and see what grabs you.
Destination dilemma time. For a cheap location, fantastic diving and a youthful, fun lifestyle I think that the Philippines would hit the spot. Beautiful islands above and below water. Tops Thailand in the marine stakes. Palawan is paradise.
And once qualified as a divemaster…off to Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Eritrea and Egypt.
There’s a good list of operators on this site https://www.scubatravel.co.uk/scuba.html
Mark, I really appreciate your input on the cameras! Like I said Scubaboard pretty much had me sold on the s100 but then it had a really high percentage of negative Amazon reviews and someone at one of the big underwater photo stores told me their customers were having major flooding issues with the new Canon housings! So that threw me for a loop because I really dislike Ikelite and can’t afford anything above those two. He also told me the G12 is a far superior camera, and I always read it has the better image quality. That alone would sell me on it but I’ve heard tons of complaints about it being too slow underwater. Eeek! I always freak out about decisions like this. It’s great to hear your recommendation though!
Just an update to confuse you! The new ‘must have’ compact point and shoot is the Sony RX100. Prices seem expensive at the moment, but although some reviews in the UK quote around £500+ a quick search on the web produces prices of around £420.
Here are a few reviews:
As yet no ‘cheap’ underwater housings and Sony don’t seem to produce their own yet. But I guess as the camera has just been released one shall have to wait for the demand.
Just to confuse you…
Actually, I ended up buying the Canon s100! I’ve been thrilled with it so far, but hopefully this suggestion can help someone else looking for an underwater camera…
Congratulations! It would be great to hear your thoughts on the S100, after some underwater use, via a review in a future post.
I’d love to buy your camera but unfortunately I don’t see any diving in my near future! =( But I really love your wetsuit, I totally understand why you wanna wear it everyday! Hehe wet-suit up! =) Mh tough choices about the divemaster certification I would vote for Mozambique! You would be so close to South Africa and it is by far the most beautiful country I ever visited!!!Well I actually lived in Pretoria for 3 months. So I don’t have any tips for diving but I do have some about safety there. If you follow the locals advice you should be fine. I even did a one week road trip from Cape Town back up to Pretoria and I never felt unsafe.so don’t let that hold you back. If you need info about diving in Mozambique I could ask some of my friends there.But anyway I am sure you will have a wonderful time where ever you end up and I can’t wait to read all about your adventures!
Hey Caty, great to hear about your safe and lovely experience in Africa! I am definitely curious to learn more about Tofo and what it would be like to do my DM there, so if you have any friends there please pass along my info! I appreciate it!
I don’t want to complicate things even more, but have you thought about the Canary Islands? Technically part of Europe, but they are far enough south to have year-long diving (That was the main reason my Dad moved out there, as he’s a Dive Instructor)
I’m not sure how cost effective it is, compared to some of the other places, but they’re beautiful islands and you’d get to speak Spanish!
So cool to have a dive instructor for a Dad 🙂 You must have gone on some great vacations, eh? I considered Ibiza because I really enjoyed the diving I did there and thought it would be a fun place to live but I believe I’ll be missing peak season for all the Spanish islands, and I want to be somewhere lively 🙂
Yep, you’ll definitely have missed the main peak season… but I hear the grannies still like to party off season =)
I’ve still to be bitten by the diving bug unfortunately, my asthma when I was younger was too bad to dive. But when I head back to Europe it’s one of the things on my list!
Of course without knowing the extent of your asthma its hard to comment but I will tell you I have met people who do dive with asthma! It is a challenge though, especially to find a school that is willing to work with you.
Yeh, that’s why I never really bothered and stuck to snorkelling. However, as my asthma has pretty much disappeared I’m going to get checked out by a dive-doctor my dad knows. If he say’s I’m good… one of the perks of having a dive-instructor Dad is not having to look for a school, just a flight to Tenerife!
The Philippines are the reason I want to learn how to dive. I’ve heard that there are a lot of amazing wrecks there to see.
I quite enjoy wreck diving, thought I’ve only done minor wrecks in the Cayman Islands, Thailand and Malaysia. They are fun to dive, hard to photograph!
Ummmm why don’t I look that hot in my wetsuit? You have some great equipment girlfriend!!! I say the Philippines!
Andi, you should buy one! I’m going to link in my next post but they are called Swish Suits. I’ve seen them on a few people now and they are universally flattering. LOVE IT!
Mozambique! Oh my goodness just the sound of it, ‘Oh, yeah I live in Mozambique’. Indonesia is beautiful and cheap, but steer clear of Kuta and surrounding areas unless you want to be submerged in a sea of overweight, arrogant, sunburnt Australians wearing bali braids and Bintang singlets. Other than that, Indonesia, because then you are only a hop, skip and a jump away from Sydney. xx
Ha Sam you made me laugh out loud re: Kuta. And yes, I have the same feeling about Mozambique. I feel like you get bonus points for having done your DM in AFRICA!
what a great number and quality of responses!!! You rock, Alex!!!…..Love….Dad
Thanks Dad 🙂
Ooooooooh, choices, choices! I am heading back to Roatan the first week of August to start my DMT and do the IDC…so I would of course say Roatan 🙂 you’ve been there, but you know the diving is amazing and it’s a great place to do your training. Otherwise I would vote for the Philippines! That’s next on my list. And you have totally inspired me to revisit the Swish wetsuit – I had my eye on one for quite awhile but it’s a bit out of my price range and I was nervous about buying online without seeing how it fit, but it looks amazing!
Hey EM, so excited to read about your Roatan experience! If I were to go back to the Bay Islands that would be the one I would choose. But in a way like I said, its so similar to Koh Tao that I think I need something different. As for the Swish Suit, I bought mine when it went on sale on Amazon for $250, and Amazon has free shipping both ways and no return charges so I actually ordered two sizes, ha! Favorite purchase ever but really glad I caught that sale or I might not have ever pulled the trigger.
Where in the world did you get that adorable wetsuit? What brand is it? I’m completing my dive master internship starting February 2013. So exciting. I too have been looking into getting a G12. Good luck on your adventures.
Hi Tara! It’s called a Swish Suit… They normally go for $350 (yikes!) but I bought mine when it went on sale on Amazon for $250. I also considered Roxy wetsuits, which were BEAUTIFUL but just as pricey.
Where are you doing your DM?
Alex! I’m doing my DM in Roatan. I haven’t spent any time there, but it just feels like a good landing place and a friend recommended a shop there. Any previous diving I’ve done has taken place in Belize or the chilly Pacific Northwest. In Roatan, I’m hoping to network and land a diving gig elsewhere, but I’m actually certifying beyond DM and going for OWSI or MSDT. I’ve heard that it makes you more employable abroad (I don’t have an awesome blog to support myself). I went through the worst break ever this year too. He thinks my idea to dive and travel is crazy, but I know it’s what I HAVE TO DO! 🙂
Roatan is a great place to do a DM for sure! Check out my posts about Honduras if you haven’t already, we had SUCH an amazing time there. An MSDT can be helpful but don’t worry about rushing it and PLEASE don’t pay anyone for the “privilege” to work for them and build up your certs… that is one of my biggest pet peeves in the diving industry. At that point you are a professional and they should be paying you. Such an awful scam. Anyway, one thing that will ALWAYS help with diving jobs is having another language, so if I were you I would hold off on the MSDT for now and instead focus on taking spanish classes while you are in Roatan doing your DM. Good luck! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help, I’ve spent a lot of time learning a lot about the dive industry….
Have you considered Egypt / Sinai / Red Sea? I was planning on scub diving from Dahab early next year, and have read some great reviews!
I did briefly consider that region, however I think it’s a place I’d prefer to go as customer or perhaps an employee, rather than a student 🙂
I think you should do Philippines. They are very welcoming to travelers, so many islands to explore, it’s so vast that so much of the diving there is unknown, lots of shipwrecks, English is practically the native language and the women are beautiful. Oh wait, that last one was my reason for going.
The only problem you may have with the PH is the diet. You think you gained weight in Thailand, wait until you taste the PH diet.
Have you thought about using a GoPro HD for underwater video?
Another vote for the Philippines! Everything you say is very true from what I’ve heard. So you liked Philippine food better than Thai food? Then yes I might be in trouble! As for the Go Pro, I’ve definitely toyed with the idea of one… however I can’t really get past the point that there isn’t a viewfinder!
I LOVE that wetsuit! Reminds me of the bodysuits in the movie Tron. But, I’d need a full version because I’m a wimp underwater and get cold. 🙁
I didn’t realize the camera you used underwater was so small. I’m even more impressed by your photos now – it really is the skill of the photographer and less the camera I think.
I have no idea where you should go next but I have been intrigued with the Philippines for a while now. I think someone else mentioned it in the comments but I’ve also read the internet on the Corn Islands is sketchy. (Per what I’ve read by Rob at Stop Having a Boring Life.) Wherever you go, I’ll be reading! 🙂
Thank you so much for my underwater photo compliments, Cat! I’m still selling that camera by the way, in case you are interested 😉 I actually met Rob this month at TBEX and we talked about the Corn Islands! At this point I’m pretty seriously considering Colombia, actually…. can’t wait to see what actually ends up happening!
G12 is a far superior camera .. just love mine
Thanks for the tip! I actually went with the S100 and I love it so far, but I’m sure I would have been happy with either camera!
Bali, most definitely.
1. Great diving variety; big pelagics, macro, corals, wrecks, drift, etc, etc, etc.
2. Great night life; big clubs, small clubs, laid back barefoot little bars, fancy wine bars, lounges (go to the legendary Kudeta right on the beach for their famous sunset sessions), restaurants…
3. Tons of activities other than diving; cultural tourism (traditional dances, Hindu temple festivals, traditional villages, etc), surfing, biking, spas, spending a night or two in Ubud (Eat, Pray, and Love), hiking up Mount Agung, walking among green rice fields, white water rafting, etc.
4. Bali is not a small island, but then again it is not super big, you can drive from one end to another in under six hours. This means all the above activities can be reached easily, no need to board ferries or planes.
5. Great friendly people. To generalize a bit, Asians are warm and friendly people, but the Balinese are truly amazing. Unlike other places, years of high tourism onslaught have not diluted their traditional culture and genuine hospitality.
6. Gateway to other great diving destinations in Indonesia, easy to get flights to Komodo Island, Raja Ampat, Bunaken – Lembeh, etc.
Should you decide on Bali, I’d be happy to answer any question.
Btw, I am not affiliated in any way to any dive center in Bali or Indonesia.
Hi, Thanks so much for this answer! I’m actually leaning towards Bali or one of the Gilis, for so many of the reasons you listed here. However, my biggest problem is that timing-wise, I’m looking at doing a big DM/travel trip January-April, and I’ve read that’s the worst weather time for Bali! If only the weather Gods would cooperate with my schedule…
Im in the exact same predicament. However being an Aussie i would not recomend bali in the slightest. To visit for a short period of time, sure. There is great diving specifically with mantas and around the gili islands. Bali mainland is frought with disease and corruption – the police target foreigners. It pains me to say i had a family friend catch legionnaire’s disease from the air-conditioning in her resort; she passed away. Another individual i know caught AID’s.
This is not to put you off going to bali, going for a couple days is fine to get the feel of it (its incredibly cheap, and full of life) but for the 1 – 2 months youd probably like to spend doing your DM, i wouldn’t recommend it.
Ive been looking into south america.. venezuela, belize, playa del carmen (I love mayan history and diving the crystal clear fresh water cenotes would be unforgettable). I think playa would have a decent nightlife, same with venezuela.
I havent been to utila or honduras so i was also contemplating these 2 islands, but ive heard alot of mixed reviews seems like abit of a gamble. You only do your DM once!
Mozambique – Tofo seems like a small town deffinently not fraught with nightlife, i also here theirs people looking to rip you off around everycorner. But the diving is great and its all about experiencing africa.. seeing the mega fauna.. living with the african people. Ive been to Africa myself and am heading over to egypt this year…
Which leads me to… Red sea egypt: Now this is another wildcard but one ill be able to.. its a tourist hotspot frequented by europeans; particularly polish, russians, and the english. I hear its like the Bali of egypt. Warm waters, and decent nightlife could lead to a great DM experience. (ill see this all myself and get back to you in the next couple of months)
Ive left out south east asia.. why? well south east asia IS beautiful and cheap. Like yourself i fell in love with koh tao and i am so tempted to go back there to do my DM. However to settle into a place for 2 months id like somewhere intriguing with completely different culture that i havent experienced before.
Lets face it… Your in the water for a short amount of time compared to the amount of time you spend on land. It has to be a place that will keep you excited and bring you out of bed with a smile on your face. To me a nightlife is really important as i love meeting new people and living it up when i can, yet its just important to have heeps of marine life, clear vis, wrecks and preferably deep caves.
Ive got flexibility from Nov onwards to feb. Preferably i wanted to do it in december.. this limits the amount of places to do it however the above mentioned are warm year round, even in rainy seasons. If i was looking at doing it in June – july next year i probably would of been leaning towards greek islands, spain.
– just another hopeful, confused young and passionate diver trying to find the perfect diving, nightlife and mentally and emotionally stimulating country to do my DM!
If youd like to get in touch or if you have any recommendations im best contacted by email
Hey Max, thanks for this comment! And I have your email in my “to reply” folder…
I am still considering Bali, although I should be more specific that I would head to the Gilis! I’m so sorry to hear about your friend, its always terrifying to get ill abroad. However, AIDS can certainly be contracting anywhere in the world, especially many of the countries we are considering for Divemaster courses.
I definitely agree with you that you’ve got to love the place and you put it well when you say more time is spent out of the water than in it! I think you would like the lifestyle in Utila but the diving was pretty on par with Koh Tao. So many decisions! Right now I’m focused on making my plans for the fall but pretty soon I need to begin investigating all this again…
Thanks for the reccomendation! I read up some more on Utila and have seen many people refer to it as” koh tao style atmosphere/nightlife with more challenging diving”. Would you agree? Also i see youve been to the bahamas. How would you compare the nightlife and scuba diving in the bahamas to utila? Cheers
Well, I only did two dives there so I’m not the best source but I’m not sure I would say it was any more challenging than Koh Tao… But a definite yes to the similar atmosphere/nightlife. The Bahamas are a totally different animal, much more touristy. They are very diverse and every island is different but I don’t think you’d find what you are looking for there.
Not sure if you have already reached your decision, I would recommend:
Utila – my BF trained there, great atmosphere, cost effective and free dives for life. This means you can complete you 60 dives there or go on to train as an instructor in one go and complete all your dives too (though I imagine you have already completed your dives).
Curaçao with Ocean Encounters, let me know if you need an intro
Thanks Selena! I’ve considered Utila as I really loved visiting there but I think I’ve decided that I’m ready to go somewhere new…