The island of Mauritius, located just off the east coast of Africa, might seem like just a speck on the map, but with more than 300km’s of picture perfect coastline the island offers some of the most perfect snorkelling conditions in the Indian Ocean. And with more than 200 dive sites, including coral reefs, shipwrecks, and dramatic drops, the underwater world offers unbelievable scuba diving opportunities for divers of every experience level. The best part of scuba diving is it’s so inclusive and doesn’t exclude anyone which is why I was so happy to see companies now provide plus size wetsuits too!
I had absolutely no diving experience when I was invited to take my first plunge into the underwater world of scuba with a Discovery Dive lead by Dodo Divers during a visit to the Zilwa Attitude Hotel back in May. I couldn’t have been more than 3 seconds into my descent into the waters surrounding Coin De Mire island before I knew that I had found a lifelong passion. As a yoga enthusiast, I found the experience of deep, continuous breathing and clear, unwavering focus on my body extremely relaxing and pleasant. Seeing the world from this new underwater perspective was something I knew I would never get enough of, and I before I was even back at the surface I had decided that I would work towards becoming a PADI certified diver as soon as possible.
Even though I live on the coast here in Cape Town, I wasn’t excited by the idea of doing my PADI Open Water Diver certification in the icy Atlantic. After researching tropical destinations around the world, I booked my ticket back to Mauritius, back to where my newfound passion for diving started. There were a few factors that made the decision an easy one; the island is just 5 hours from South Africa, Air Mauritius offers frequent flights throughout the year, South African passport holders can visit visa-free, Mauritian hospitality can’t be beaten and the Zilwa Attitude Hotel was calling my name.
Everything You Need to Know About Getting PADI Open Water Diver Certified in Mauritius
What is PADI?The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) is a recreational diving membership and diver training organization founded in 1966. There are more than more than 6,500 PADI Dive Centers and Resorts, and more than 135,000 PADI Professionals who have issued more than 25 million certifications around the world. The PADI System of diver education is based on progressive training that introduces skills, safety-related information and local environmental knowledge to student divers in stages. PADI courses are student-centered and provide maximum practice and realistic application.
What to Expect
The PADI Open Water Diver learning system involves three stages; Knowledge Development, Confined Dives and Open Water Dives. This comprehensive system really helped me to feel completely confident in myself, my understanding of scuba diving, my equipment and my instructor before we had our first dive. The comprehensive step-by-step system helped me to feel in control at every moment pf the dive, so I could relax and enjoy the experience.
What to expect from the PADI Open Water Diver course
In the Knowledge Development Section you learn all about your equipment and how it works, the science of how descending and ascending affects your body, how to handle various unlikely gear malfunction scenarios underwater and everything else you could possibly need to know before you take to the water.
Once you progress to the Confined Dives, you start putting your theoretical knowledge into practice in a pool with your instructor. In this safe and controlled environment, your instructor teaches you the skills you’ll need while you’re diving, tests your comprehension of the theory of diving and helps you build confidence in the water and in your equipment.
Open Water Dives
In the final stage, the Open Water Dives, you’re finally in the ocean. Your instructor runs through every important safety check with you and then helps you during every step of your descent, the dive and your ascent, so you’re never more than eye contact-distance away from them. Again, you run through the various skills you mastered in the pool, this time in the open water. And then you are finally free to enjoy the dive with your dive buddy and your instructor.
My Open Water Diver course took 3 days to complete. With my instructor right there, I felt extremely calm and safe as I descended into the ocean for my first Open Water Dive. I was confident in the knowledge that I had the skills to control my body and my gear and I had practiced things like retrieving my air supply if it ever left my mouth and putting my mask back on and clearing it of water in case it ever came off. Of course having the instructor right there to take control in case I ever started to panic or flail made all the difference to my first real dives.
The PADI Open Water Diver Certification
With your PADI Open Water Diver certification, you can dive to 18m anywhere in the world. Your dives are logged online and can be accessed by any PADI Dive Centre, making it really easy to stay on top of your diving history. Personally, I would most likely not dive without a dive master (absolutely terrified at the thought) BUT this qualification means that I can dive with any qualified dive buddy, anywhere in the world. Most people prefer to dive with dive centres as it makes the experience much more enjoyable; you have the local knowledge of the best spots and you don’t have to invest in (and travel with!) all that gear. Now that I’m qualified, I can’t wait to start planning trips to diving destinations all over the world, and probably doing my Advanced Open Water certification (which expands your skills and allows you to dive to 40m) within the next 18 months.
If you are travelling to do your PADI Open Water Dive course, you have the option to do the Knowledge Development online, before you travel. This will save you time once you get to the destination, so that you can go straight into the confined water dives and ultimately have more time for fun dives once you’ve completed the course.
Once you’ve chosen your destination and dive centre, they can send you the details for the PADI eLearning Program, which consists of 5 modules. After reading through the material in each module, you watch a video recap of the information and then complete a knowledge review and finally a quiz, which gets recorded.
Once you have completed all 5 modules, you take one final quiz on everything you have learned. Your results are sent to your dive centre and when you arrive, you go straight to the pool with your instructor. You can do the Knowledge Development modules as quickly or as slowly as you like, but be aware that you will need access to the internet to progress through modules and make sure to allow yourself at least 2-3 full days to get through all the information.
PADI Diving Centres in Mauritius
Dod Divers is a 5 Star dive centre in North Mauritius, with a team of passionate and professional instructors who offer both recreational and technical courses and diving. I think that the instructor can absolutely make or break your experience, and their teaching sets the tone for your diving journey going forward. Especially if you are nervous or have specific concerns like your ears, or claustrophobia – having the right instructor, who can guide you through these concerns and help you find your confidence is probably the most important element of your whole course. I honestly can’t say enough good things about my instructors Anthony and Nadeem.
They were thorough, patient and easy to understand and I felt not only prepared, but completely safe while diving with them. Especially for nervous divers or people who are a little afraid of water, diving with an instructor who makes you feel like they are capable of getting you out of any situation safely is absolutely vital. Dodo’s boat, dive centre and equipment are all spotlessly clean, well-maintained and top quality, which really set the tone for my overall experience.
Dodo offers 2 dive trips per day, to any of the 27 dive sites they frequent (depending on the weather and conditions). Whether you’re an absolute novice diving for the first time, or an experienced diver wanting to do something more technical, the team can tailor their offering to your needs. Dodo is the only Technical Dive centre in Mauritius and they offer the equipment and expertise required for more complex dives. Anthony, the Technical Director is a GUE Instructor (Global Underwater Explorers is a scuba diving organization that provides education within recreational, technical, and cave diving), supported by a team of highly skilled, passionate technical divers. So if you’re a first-time diver travelling with a more experienced diver for example, you can both have a great time diving at your own experience level.
Rose, the Managing Director who runs the whole operation at Dodo, is so lovely and helpful and made my whole experience very easy to plan and manage from start to finish. My interest in diving was ignited by the Dodo team and I am really happy that I had the opportunity to learn more from them. They say you never forget your first breath underwater, and that is absolutely true, so make it count!
Getting to Mauritius
Air Mauritius flies direct from Cape Town, Joburg and Durban several times a week. You can also book with South African Airways, but their planes tend to be older and less comfortable. Some flights booked on Air Mauritius are codeshare flights (which means you end up on a South African Airways plane) so I’d recommend booking your flight directly through the airline or with a travel agent to ensure a comfortable flight and that famous Mauritian hospitality.
Getting to Dodo Divers
Dodo Divers offer free transfers in the North Coast (Grand Baie, Pereybere, Cap Malheureux, Grand Gaube) and from anywhere else on the island at an additional fee. For more info on their transfer service, have a look at their website.
When to Go
Mauritius has a tropical climate and mild weather year-round, so there isn’t really a bad time to visit. From May to December the weather is cool, dry and sunny with average temperatures between 21°C – 25°C. December to April is the rainy season with average temperatures between 24°C – 31°C. Tropical cyclones can sometimes hit the island in the months between January and March. October is generally the month with the least rain, especially along the west coast where sunny weather is almost guaranteed. During the winter months, the east coast is battered by wind, while the west coast is calm. In terms of budget, it’s best to visit outside of the school holidays and during the shoulder season.
Where to Stay
The Zilwa Attitude Hotel is located right next door to the Dodo Divers dive centre on the North Coast. Dodo Divers do offer accommodation for budget travellers, but if you’re making a trip of your diving course, you might want to spend a couple of days on either side relaxing, surrounded by island luxury. My course was 3 days long, so I booked a 7-day trip to give me some time in the sea, sun and sand.
“Zilwa” means “islander” in Creole, and the property is really built around the island life. It’s laid-back luxury all the way, with architecture that draws inspiration from traditional Mauritian bungalows and the indoor-outdoor lifestyle of locals. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, but I honestly spent most of my down-time between dives either on the beach, in the sun, or in the pool. Zilwa is a family-friendly hotel, but there are adults-only pools and enough private spaces for kid-free travellers.
All-inclusive is the way to go! It’s actually the most budget-friendly way to do any resort holiday, as ordering off the menu every day can really add up! There are 7 restaurants on the property, offering Chinese, Indian and traditional Creole cuisine, a beach BBQ buffet with a view of the ocean, a street-food concept restaurant offering light snacks and the main buffet restaurant offering something different every night of the week.
There are also two bars (one of which is a boat!) and a beach bar service, where bartenders are not shy with the cocktails! It’s so good to have nothing to worry about and to be able to just enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner without a care in the world and of course have as many glasses of rosé and piña colodas as your heart desires.
Just off the beach at Zilwa is a small island called Gran Zil, where you can have lunch and feel like you’re a modern day island explorer. Swim, suntan on a tiny private beach, explore the island, have a beer and enjoy a huge, delicious BBQ lunch prepared right there under the palm fronds. It’s an unforgettable experience!
Attitude hotels are all about the real Mauritius, the “otentik” Mauritius, which is why they encourage guests to head out and explore the island. The hotel offers a Mauritius Immersion experience, which invites you to visit Goodlands, a typically Mauritian village 10 minutes from the hotel. They also offer a variety of Otentik Expriences, ranging from Creole cooking lessons to dinner in the home of a local. These experience are so much fun and provide a really good excuse to get out of the sun for a little while.
What it Costs
Average estimate per person, all inclusive, for 7 nights, based on the exchange rate at the time of my trip (3 – 10 September 2019)
- Flights: From R6500 (My flight was R10 600 because I booked last minute, but you can pick up flights for much less, based on when you’re flying and how far in advance you book. Sign up to the Air Mauritius and Travelstart newsletters to stay up to date with flight specials and discounts)
- Accommodation: From R2500 per person per night all inclusive (Room rates depend on when you travel, so if you’re working with a tight budget, try to book outside of peak season and school holidays. The best place to book is directly through the hotel website, where you can score deals like 25% off last-minute bookings, discounted long-stay bookings and South African rates)
- PADI Open Water Diver: From R7000 including all equipment, manuals and required dives
- Airport transfers: From R1000 each way (You can grab an official taxi at the airport or request a transfer booked by the hotel)
- TOTAL: R33 000 (7 nights, all inclusive)
I hope that I’ve answered any questions or fears you might have about doing your PADI Open Water diver in the beautiful, warm waters of Mauritius. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave in them in the comments.
*My accommodation and diving course were hosted by the partners mentioned, based on my previous relationship with them. I did have the necessary funds at the time to pay for the trip, which I do believe is reasonably priced based on the offering.