Into the Deep in Mancora
Diving in Peru? It might not be one of the first adventure you associate with the country (the Inca Trail just steals all the thunder, doesn’t it?) but we’d soon discover it was an unexpectedly impressive one.
Originally we had attempted to dive in Lima, tempted by the offshore sea lion colonies. But the prices were ridiculously high and the conditions were poor, and in the end we were grateful we stayed on the surface. Luckily, our diving dreams were given a second chance when we arrived in Mancora and found Spondylus, the first PADI-certified dive center in Peru.
dive-centric graffiti around Mancora
Spondylus offers three main options for certified divers: (1) A two tank beach dive trip for 270 soles or $96USD (2) A two tank dive at an abandoned oil platform for 295 soles or $105USD or (3) A two tank dive to the Punta Sal reefs for 320 soles or $114USD. Obsessed with the idea of diving with the sea lions who often sun themselves on the oil rig platform, we chose the second option.
On the drive out to the dive site I marveled at the life story of our dive guide, Chak. He’s seven years into what he labels a “pretty slow,” completely unbroken journey from Mexico to Argentina. He has no plans to return to his native Spain before completing his mission, though two years ago his mother did break down and visit him in Panama. That is hardcore travel, ya’ll.
Soon we were bouncing along in an inflatable dinghy towards the platform. While I focused all my energy on a failed mission to not become motion sick, Anders narrated the trip with a running list of the various sea birds sailing overhead.
When we arrived at the platform I was in pretty rough shape but my mood was buoyed by the enormous sea lions lazing on the platform. Chak had told us they sometimes got curious and came down to say hi to scuba divers, and we were crossing our fingers for just that.
When I jumped in I felt a jolt through my body as the cold water seeped into my wetsuit. We knew the water would be chilly, but damn — at one point our dive computers read 63 degrees Fahrenheit! Chak was working with an Advanced Open Water student and gave Anders and I a lot of latitude due to our experience, which we appreciated. Still, there was a strong current, visibility was low and it was freezing — I didn’t stray far.
I think I could have handled the conditions much more gracefully had my camera not fogged uncontrollably, rendering it useless. I managed to salvage a few of the photos from the early moments of the fog-fest, but I was so frustrated underwater that when Anders signaled to me that he wanted to end the dive after 28 minutes, I was happy to ascend. Despite my training level and over a hundred dives (perhaps more, I gave up on keeping track!) low visibility makes me nervous and so combined with my extreme discomfort this wasn’t the most pleasant dive for me.
While I wouldn’t consider these photos to be up to my usual standard of underwater photography, they do give an idea of the eerie mood of this dive site.
Chak’s student was nearly a popsicle by the time we were back on the boat and refused to go back for a second dip. As I was dreading the idea of a surfing interval bobbing at sea, we were more than happy to agree to do our second dive at the Organos Pier.
While only a few degrees warmer, this dive was much more my style. The water was only a degree or two warmer but the current-free, shallow waters were far less intimidating. This is a fishing peer, so discarded fish bones and heads gave me the feeling of being in a fish graveyard at times — but there was also plenty of life. Huge schools of tiny silversides swarmed around us, pufferfish lurked behind every pier column, and teeny tiny stingrays darted out from the sand beneath us. The highlight was spotting five seahorses perched in the sea grass. Five!
This time my camera fogged within seconds and thus I barely bothered turning it on. Luckily, Anders was diving with his GoPro and despite the not film-friendly conditions he managed to put together a short highlight reel of our dives in Peru.
Overall, diving in Peru was better than I hoped and colder than I dared imagine. While Mancora isn’t going to make the cover of Scuba Diving magazine anytime soon, it’s a unique experience at a decent price — and um, did I mention the seahorses? If you’re someone who likes to dive in quirky destinations — Iceland and Cambodia have given me some decent diving cred — this is a must-do in Peru. Just double up on the wetsuits — trust me.
What’s the most offbeat destination you’ve dived in?
I would have thought the water was warmer… cool video though and great Seahorse picture! In the end, at least you got in a dive that was more suited to you.
Thank god for Photoshop… it definitely helped me salvage that picture despite the fog 🙂
Aw I’m disappointed that the sea lions didn’t come play! The Pacific is so beautiful and different from the Caribbean though and I’m sure it was worth braving the cold. I’m hoping to get some diving in when I visit Southern California this summer and fingers crossed the sea lions are around!
That’s on my bucket list someday, Laura! Check out the kelp forests… and I’ll cross my fingers for you and the sea lions!
We dove with a dozen or so Sea Lions off of San Miquel at Point Bennett if memory serves. We did this off a live aboard, bur several boats do this island as a day trip. We did not see Sea Lions (diving) on other islands we visited.
The channel islands offer great diving but plan on 7mm wetsuits, or if you are experienced dive dry for better comfort. Water Temps in the summer month of July were a balmy 58F.
Love your diving blogs. keep em coming. jan
Thanks Janice! I should have plenty of diving posts after this trip to Panama is over.
WOOHOO!! Underwater photographs are back! Despite being a non-diver (at the moment) the sea calls to me so I have really missed your aquatic adventures. So this was a very exciting post for me! Its a shame it wasn’t all you hoped it to be, but seahorses are so majestic and strange that I would be totally giddy if I saw one…let alone five! Xxx
I’ve been missing my aquatic adventures, too! 🙂 The seahorses and stingrays totally made this dive for me. Stay tuned for plenty more dive posts from Panama!
Damn those photos are nice. I’ve been using a gopro but the photos just aren’t as sharp as yours
We did use GoPro to film the video, though!
Yaaay under the sea!!! The seahorse pic is my favourite 🙂 Shame about the sea lions. It wasn’t diving but recently I was in Jurien Bay (about 3 hours north of Perth, Australia) where you can snorkel with sea lions and they will come and play with you! If you find yourself in Oz you should check it out.
I totally saw that picture on your blog, Michelle — ON MY BUCKET LIST!
I really love your underwater adventures, they were the first reason why I followed your blog and they were my major motivation why I moved from Vienna (Austria) to Singapore now (Yeah two weeks ago) and already finished my PADI Open Water Theory part this week 🙂 And I think I will LOVE diving! So a million thanks for beeing a huge motivation for me 😉 Sounds really cheesy, but I had to say it… Keep up the amazing work – love it.
Wow Claudia, you just made my morning! I’m so happy to hear all that 🙂 Congratulations on starting diving, girl! Keep it up!
I love diving photography, even better when it is done in places that I will likely never see.
Thanks for sharing!
You’re welcome, Ron! I feel the same way… wish I knew about more diving blogs!
Yay! So glad for a diving update… it has been way too long (especially since Tony & I haven’t been under the waves since September…). That said, i can’t say that Mancora is vaulting to the top of my dream dive destinations… 65F is way too cold (how am I ever going to dive Iceland?!?) and I don’t like poor vis high current sites much. I did appreciate the gloomy, spooky atmosphere you managed to capture, but I think the only thing that would really have made this must-dive for me is if the sea lions had come out to play!
I guess you have to be pretty darn lucky (or dive the site a million times like an instructor would). Ah well! Diving with sea lions remains firmly on the wish list…
I love your photos…especially the sea horse, the bubbles…It sounds cold!
It was indeed! And thank you! Seahorse was my fave 🙂
I know you were disappointed, but I thought the location looked fabulous.
Hoping to finally do a dive course when we get on this trip and get into some Caribbean waters.
Until then, there’s always the snorkal!
And if you ever need any confirmation that your underwater pics are quality, check out mine! 😉
LOL, just realised how I spelled ‘snorkel’
I wouldn’t classify myself as disappointed! Maybe I write too harshly…. We were bummed the sealions didn’t come play and the first dive wasn’t my fave, but it was still fantastic to be back in the water.
Seahorses! I’m not sure it’s so far off the beaten track, but I went diving off Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam. Decent visibility but a strong current. We saw a lot of nudibranchs and a couple box fish which was pretty cool. Shallow though so nice long dives. Brrr don’t like cold! Haha. Peace and love!
I’m bummed I didn’t make it to Phu Quoc when I was in Vietnam. You just gave me another reason to return!
Ahhhh I LOVE the seahorse!!!!!!!
There were so many, it was magical! You would have loved it 🙂
Oh man, just last week in souther Sri Lanka it was nudifest. About 6 of the plumpest, weirdest little guys ever. Plus a boat full of really nice other folks doing a DSD who were so excited to get underwater photos from me. Massive fail.
So the guy in the dive shop asks me for 100rupees. Brings back a packet of those dog food snacks, removes the little silica gel packet, cleans it with a tissue, and says here, put this in there. So I did. No more fog, and very happy dog near that dive shop. But we didn’t go back to the nudi site. Next time..
hi wes, where in sri lanka did you stay? I “lived” in Hikkaduwa awhile back and loved the diving there.didn’t see any nudibranches, though.
Yo caty. I live in Colombo. Hikkaduwa is the worst diving I’ve done in 7 countries. Unless you’re right into rocks where once coral lived. Maybe you got taken to a secret spot by cowboy beach boys. Lucky you.
The wrecks off Galle are good. There are one or two sites off Unawatuna that scrape past the ‘worth diving’ threshold. The north east sucks ass for standard rec diving. It breaks my heart to see dead rocks.
I was also recommended to try mini tampons! I’m going to bring some dog food and some tamps on this trip I’m heading out on now, just to be sure…
Love your diving posts. I remember when yóu posted about this on facebook. I went diving in Portugal at that time and it was also 63 F and I had to wear a shorty over a long wetsuit and I was so uncomfortable.I also got seasick on the dinghy on the way to the second dive side. I’m really looking forward to diving in australia and bali this year. Hope the temps and vis will be much better there as I also get freaked out when the vis is bad. (For my open water I had to do swim 20m using my compass and then come back using the compass. I thought I did well until I returned and couldn’t find my instructor. I was sooo scared…turns out he swam behind me because he wasn’t sure I would know how far 20m is…)
Definitely head over to Gili and try the diving there if you have time, Caty! Visibility is amazing and water is nice and warm!
Oh that is awesome! I would have been flipping out to see the seahorses! Lucky. Looks like such fun. Minus the temp, of course–I’m a warm weather girl. Okay hot–some people call warm weather what I call cold weather. 😉
I know how that goes! I’m often in a sweater when everyone else is in t-shirts!
The cold and low visibility would freak me out too. Shame about the camera, but I love your sea horse photo.
It’s definitely the best of the bunch! Even made it into Photo of the Week lineup that time around 🙂
Some things: I’m glad to know a seasoned pro like yourself still gets seasick, even though I feel terrible for you for feeling that way. There’s nothing worse that tempers the mood of a pending dive that extreme nausea.
Also, like you, I’ve done upward of 100 dives and still get extremely nervous in foggy conditions. I’ve only ever had vertigo once in terrible vis conditions in Cabo when I was caught up in a snapper torpedo, but I freaked out and surfaced once I lost my group.
Like I said before, we finally started using little silica packs in our housing, and it’s eliminated all fogging. Try it if you haven’t already!
Lastly, seahorses! One of the species that has continued to evade me! JEALOUS.
For me seasickness is rare but when it hits, ugh — well, you know. And seahorses are amazing little creatures. Good luck with the hunt!
My boyfriend is a dive master. Hopefully we’ll go for a very long trip by land with many dives on the way!
Seahorses! So cool! Fun to see them getting pushed around by the current underwater too. I would’ve needed a dry suit or something for water that cold, haha, you’re a brave girl. I love when someone can still find the good parts even with less than ideal circumstances.
I definitely think a semi-dry suit would have made this more enjoyable. I can’t believe we were only wearing 5mm!
DAMN! 5 seahorses?! Doing my DM in East Timor at the moment and we’ve just had a thorny seahorse and common seahorse arrive at a site….I’m happy with 2 😉
PS – wanted to watch the video, but I’m lucky if this post makes it through!
Ah, I know how that goes! Bookmark it to watch when you’re home… it’s a goodie 🙂
Thanks for the great dive report, we are heading to Peru later this year and wanted to dive somewhere on the mainland to get our foot in before heading over to the Galapagos. This looks great and love diving around piers and the like.
It was a fun day out, Dante! Definitely worth it for passionate divers, and a great warm up for the Galapagos. Enjoy!
“Despite my training level and over a hundred dives (perhaps more, I gave up on keeping track!) low visibility makes me nervous and so combined with my extreme discomfort this wasn’t the most pleasant dive for me.”
Are you being serious? You are just out of the novice level and already you gave up on keeping track? 63 degrees is cold? Please, keep this kind of talking for the moment you passed a few thousand dives. You are setting other beginners on the wrong track with this kind of talks. What’s wrong with you Padi nitwitts?
Sven, your comment is seriously rude. I didn’t “give up on keeping track” because I felt like I was a diving rockstar, I stopped logging my dives long ago because I’m scatterbrained and record everything I do for a living and didn’t feel like writing down one more thing. I’ve blogged before about how I regret.
And yes, to a girl who has done 95% of her dives in the Caribbean or Southeast Asia, 63 degrees is dang cold. I didn’t realize training levels effected one’s temperature preferences.
By the way, most recreational divers would feel grateful for the opportunity to reach a hundred dives, as I do. What’s wrong with you diving snobs?