Top Dive Sites in San Andrés
I wasn’t sure what to expect for diving in Colombia. After reviewing Trip Advisor, the location of dive shops, and their websites, I contacted Banda Dive Shop in San Andrés. They confirmed that they offered two-tank morning dives with a surface interval on the boat which included water in a bag and a small snack. In addition, all equipment was provided. The boat included a small canopy, captain, and 1-2 bi-lingual divemasters for 8-12 people. The price, at around $65 per day, was far less than most diving locations around the world.
I arrived at the dive shop at 8 to fill out the paper work before the scheduled 8:15 departure time which morphed into 8:45. The paperwork was the most informal I had ever seen which basically included a waiver and a blank for my certification number. Illnesses and the number of dives were of no importance in Colombia.
I was one of two Americans on the boat. Most everyone else was from South America aside from one gentleman from Belgium. The crew prepared our gear and loaded it on the boat from the dock at Hotel Lord Pierre. Misael, the lead divemaster, indicated where we should sit and beyond that, there was hardly any instruction.
The weather was windy in San Andrés, thus creating rough conditions at times. As such, we motored around to the west side of the island to dive. As the boat began to slow, I pulled on my wetsuit, strapped on my fins and slipped into my BC. There was no rinse bucket for masks, so the crew squirted dish soap on our lens and rinsed it in the Caribbean before handing it back for us to strap on. After inserting the regulator into my mouth, I did a back roll into the water and grabbed hold of the mooring line to keep from floating away from the boat in the moderate current.
As Eric was the only other American on the boat, we worked out that we would be dive buddies, since no other instruction had been give. There was no dive briefing, no hand signal discussion for underwater, no nothing! This seemed very unusual to us, but no one else seemed to blink at the informality. Once we were all in the water, Misael gave the signal to descend, so Eric and I decided we’d figure it out as we went along.
Reggae Nest was an out and back dive. We dropped down to 65 feet, floated with the current first and followed the reef to our left. Misael consistently scanned the water for us and kept us in a compact group. After about fifteen minutes, we turned back toward the boat and followed the reef on our right shoulder. It seemed to me we were returning somewhat early, but I chalked it up to having to swim against the current on the return. In reality, one diver breathed through his air quickly, and our dive was cut to only 41 minutes. Boo!
The reef was in fantastic condition with lots of fern-like coral. While there wasn’t an abundance of marine life, we spotted the typical tropical fish like a puffer, a trunkfish, squirrelfish, a spotted moray eel, and a spotted drum. Misael asked how I liked the dive, and I said it was good but short. That’s when he told me a fellow diver was short on air, to which I responded, on many of my other dives we are allowed to circle underneath the boat while inspecting the reef. He told me I could do that on the next dive, but we didn’t talk about it on this one.
At the end of the dive, we stripped off our gear and handed it up to the crew before we climbed up the ladder to load the boat. Without a rinse bucket, we stuck our masks and cameras under the bench and were promptly treated to water in a bag (never seen that) and an extremely sugary fruit cube for our surface interval. We got one of each. The fruit cube, maybe one square inch, was dulce de guayaba or guava paste which we later found had 30 grams of sugar!
Our surface interval was short as we motored to the next dive site location, Bajo Bonito.
We had a much longer and shallower dive this time…49 feet and 54 minutes. The water temperature and visibility were nice. I can’t say this dive was very exciting to me until we saw a free-swimming Sharptail Eel which I had never seen previously. The thin, grey snake-like eel with large white spots slithered across the sand while occasionally stopping to camouflage himself beneath floating sea plants. This was an exciting find on an otherwise dull dive featuring some Christmas tree worms, butterflyfish, a lizardfish, and a cute blenny that poked its head out of the coral.
As usual, beneath cloudy skies, I was cold and happy to get back to the dock by noon. This was some of the fastest two-tank diving I have ever done. It was nice to have the afternoon free for exploring (more on this in another post).
The following day, the wind continued, as such we motored around the north side of the island to the west once again. This time, we started out on Wildlife.
This was another out and back dive along a lovely reef. We dropped down all the way to 87 feet. I was happy when we returned at a shallower depth with more light and marine life, though we were still a bit deep as the top of the reef started at 40 feet. Here we saw a grey angelfish, parrotfish, and a couple of queen angelfish (one of my favorites). There were also lots of lovely sponges and some of the biggest lionfish I have ever seen. In fact, there was at least one HUGE lionfish on every dive.
It’s my understanding lionfish don’t belong in the Caribbean and hurt the reef. As such, in Mexico, they kill them and feed them to groupers. This was not the case here in Colombia. I was wondering if the lack of fish was due to these lionfish or if it was due to fish being the locals’ source for meals. Though most people don’t eat the tropical fish, just snapper and such.
We dove 51 minutes before surfacing which was a pretty good length considering the depth. Our group of twelve was split into two, so perhaps we got in the group that conserves their air better.
Our second dive today was at Barco Hundido, a wreck dive. I normally can’t stand wreck dives, so I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it might have been one of my favorites.
The ship was huge and MANGLED! It wasn’t just a boat sunk for marine life. It was a true shipwreck, and it was completely collapsed and destroyed from the rough water. What made the dive even better was the marine life. There usually isn’t much around a shipwreck, but the ship was close to the reef, so we saw a variety of creatures. An ENORMOUS moray eel hid in a dark crevice of the ship on the sandy bottom.
There was a huge school of fish tightly formed in a ball. Serge, from Belgium, who we learned spoke English on our second day, swam into the ball. Eric followed. This fish separated into two schools and swirled back together. It was so cool. In addition, I spotted my first cleaner shrimp of the trip. I like the little stuff and almost always find them, but they eluded me in Colombia. Eric found a nice ray buried in the sand too. This was quite an enjoyable dive in shallow water, 42 feet. Again, we were back by lunch in time to explore.
On my final day of diving the winds calmed so we dove sites closer to San Andres. This was also the first time we got a dive briefing which was before we embarked. Perhaps it was because there were only five divers and we all spoke English.
First, we went to La Montanita which obviously appeared to be named for the mountains (or small cones) of sand that peppered the ocean floor. It was pretty cool looking. Again, the reef was in great condition, though there were not many big fish…just tiny things. Eric spotted a large crab. I found two tiny ones including a mantis shrimp which are always a pleasure to see. There was also a giant moray eel. I think I got some good pics, but I didn’t take them off my camera, and on our “dry day” before flying out, it fell off our golf cart as we were driving around. I lost my photos and camera…bummer!
The pyramid is Misael’s favorite dive site. I believe it is due to the abundance of marine life, sea anemones, rays, shark and eel. It is an extremely shallow dive with lots of light, so I was excited for my photography. With the moderate current and the disturbed sand, however, I could tell many of my photos weren’t going to come out so I stopped snapping pics and just explored. In the end, it didn’t matter since I lost my camera anyway! Uniquely, this reef as it relates to coral and sponge life was probably in the worst shape of any of the other dives, but had the most fish. Go figure!
Overall, I wouldn’t say the SCUBA diving was spectacular in San Andrés, but I’m glad I went. Coming from the USA, if I were to come again, I wouldn’t bother with my gear (aside from my mask, fins, and wetsuit). None of the South Americans did as Banda Dive Shop provided great equipment. In fact, Federico, an Argentinian who spoke English and befriended us for my pictures, said that he went to all the dive shops around San Andres and picked Banda because they had a boat and the equipment was in the best shape. No matter what, it was nice to enjoy a beach vacation! ETB