The MEXICO Report
By Susie Albin-Najera
The country of Mexico offers some of the world’s greatest scuba diving with its warm climate, natural beauty and abundant sealife. There are many areas outlining the country where the professionals congregate, but one thing is certain, the Yucatan peninsula / Riviera Maya tops the list for the best scuba diving in Mexico.
Scuba Diving Magazine’s editorial director, Ty Sawyer says, “I love it. There is a great variety and lots of surprises, from the whale sharks off Isla Mujeres to the spotted eagle rays that carpet the wrecks off Cancun. Cozumel, of course, for the effortless drift diving and vivid reefs; the otherworldly feeling of the cenotes; the sea turtles and sharks off Playa Del Carmen and the undiscovered and little dived reef of the Chinchorro Banks.”
Hal Wells of Hollywood Divers in Los Angeles also prefers the Yucatan area. “My favorite area to dive right now is the Yucatan, from snorkeling with whale sharks in Holbox to offshore reef diving in Chinchorro Banks. Akumal and Tulum are the most popular for this moment in time and that is because of the good nearshore reef diving and cave and cavern diving.”
Upon visiting some friends in Mexico on a previous trip, we were lucky enough to discover the beautiful, quaint, cove-shaped town about 45 minutes south of Cancun, known as Paamul. The area is nestled in between Xcaret and Puerto Aventuras and offers scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, a restaurant, dive shop, accommodations and a pool available to residents, locals and visitors.
Perched on a white sandy beach, amid tropical lush surroundings with an uninterrupted view of the Caribbean’s turquoise waters, Paamul is home to Dr. Lester Willis, a retired oral surgeon from Texas and original owner of Scuba-Mex Dive Shop. The location is secure, serene and quiet, and about the only real sounds you will hear are the distant sounds of laughter coming from the scuba boats arriving back to shore from a day out under the sea.
Dr. Willis states, “After diving most of the coast from Cancun to Tulum, I decided that owning a dive shop was the thing to do. That was back in 1981. I found this area the easiest accessible and with the best reefs.”
Scuba-Mex is the oldest dive shop south of Cancun, Mexico with an impressive perfect safety record, not one diving accident in 21 years. The dive instructors are trained paramedics who constantly look out for your safety. First aid equipment and oxygen are kept on hand just in case of an emergency. Scuba-Mex Dive Shop has five dive boats and three compressors, so divers spend maximum time on the reef, not waiting for tanks to be filled or boats repaired. Plus, they have their own Nitrox fill system. Additionally, their dive equipment is all new and properly maintained.
Having logged more than 10,000 dives and 5,000 certifications, you could say that Dr. Willis has dedicated his life to the ocean. “Being a dive instructor certifier is not my profession, it is my passion,” he states. And about 14 years ago, Willis handed over his dive shop to family members as a wedding gift.
Since we were staying in Puerto Aventuras, and our friends were living in Paamul at the time, we spent most of our time in Paamul and at the dive shop as my husband, Rick is an avid diver. On our two-week visit, Rick dove with the Scuba-Mex team everyday, sometimes twice a day, and loved every minute of it. We played in the pool and relaxed as much as possible. Rick and I liked the fact that Scuba-Mex was (and is still today) family owned and operated and was a friendly and warm atmosphere. Everyone was ready to help make our experience a fantastic one.
A recent conversation with Dr. Lester Willis (previous owner) and John Everett (current owner):
What do you offer at Scuba-Mex?
LES: Snorkeling and scuba; the Resort Course for uncertified divers and certifications from Open Water Diver to Instructor level.
JOHN: Drift diving from the boat on any of our famous dive sights. We have eight dive sights within a five minute boat ride. If a boat ride is not your style, we can take you in the bay for a shallow dive. On request, we offer night diving and cenote diving. If you don’t have your own equipment, we can offer you a full range of rental gear. The price for a single dive is 39.00/US including equipment. At Scuba-Mex, our crew sets up your tank and carries it to and from the dive boat. We are famous for allowing our “computer divers” 70 minutes underwater. People on shore say they know when our dive boat is returning because they can hear the laughter before they see the boat. The comradery is outrageous as we share dive stories, digital photos and hot tea.
Do you have to be a certified diver to go on a dive?
LES: No. We offer a quick lesson/Resort Course. You are accompanied on the dive by an instructor who will hold your hand if necessary and make your experience safe, fun and comfortable.
LES: Thousands of fish of many varieties, turtles, moray eels, beautiful coral and much, much more. We are constantly surprised by what might appear. We have spotted an amazing yellow ringed seahorse in one of our locations. Here lately, we are seeing the beautiful lion fish which have recently invaded our coastline.
JOHN: Anything and everything in the Caribbean Sea. If it’s a night dive, you can count on an octopus or two.
Who comes to Scuba Mex, tourists, celebrities (or how do people discover you?)
LES: Divers are allured by the dive publications and tourists guide books We have been featured in “Lonely Planet”, “Skin Diver Magazine”, “the Miami Herald”, “Fodor’s”, etc. but mostly it’s just “folks” drawn into the open arms of Paamul. Once you arrive in Paamul, it’s not easy to leave. In August, we seem to have a flux of European divers. And, we have celebrities: Tim Allen, Fernando Carrillo, Dale Ernheardt Jr.; your husband – Rick Najera and the famous Mexican rockers from Mana – just to name a few and we are honored but to tell you. But the truth is, the real “rock stars” are the sea creatures!
JOHN: Most of our advertising appears to be by “word of mouth” from other happy divers.
How long have you been diving?
LES: Since 1970.
JOHN: 40 years.
Along with Paamul, what other locations have you scuba dived in Mexico?
LES: Too many to list.
JOHN: The entire Yucatan peninsula; the west coast around Acapulco; the coast near Huatulco and many of the cenotes.
What are your top five favorite scuba spots in Mexico ?
LES: Paamul is so much better — there is no comparison.
JOHN: 1) Paamul 2) Paamul 3) Paamul 4) Chincharro 5) Cozumel (North end).
What is the most fascinating sea animal or creature or ‘thing’ you’ve seen underwater?
LES: Almost everything under the water is beautiful in its own way. We are constantly amazed. We do what is called a drift dive which means we follow the current — usually from south to north. One day last week, the current was going the opposite direction than usual and we had high fluctuations of water temperatures, i.e., 86 one minute then dropping to 82 and back again. The marine life reacted too because we saw sponges spawning — something we might get to see in springtime. It looked like little stacks of smoke coming from the sponges. On that same dive, we swam through a wall of glass fish protecting a giant grouper in a cave. We are always amazed.
JOHN: My personal favorites are the octopus and the whale sharks.
How do you feel (what is it like when you are underwater?
LES: Great! When you’re 76, it’s a time when all your aches and pains go away; a time of tranquility.
JOHN: The most relaxed a person can be.
Can you give two interesting, fun or exciting stories of any dives lately or in the past?
LES: Yes . . . I saw one of my instructors breathing ‘mouth-to-mouth’ with a turtle for more than 10 minutes. And then there was the time Tim Allen got to touch a whale shark. Tim was on his second training dive.
JOHN: Discovering new residents on the reefs (the lionfish). And diving with old and new friends.
How many dives have you been on? Or did you stop counting years ago?
LES: I have one award for 10,000 or more logged dives but that was many years ago. I have stopped counting.
JOHN: Tens of thousands.
What advice would you give to a beginning diver?
LES: Take your dive class seriously. Diving is a very safe sport if you follow the rules. You are dealing with the laws of physics and they apply to everyone. If you break them, there will be serious consequences. Even though PADI and SSI allow a student ratio of eight students to one instructor, at Scuba-Mex all instruction is done on a one-on-one basis. If we have eight students, we put eight instructors in the water with them. Yes, we have eight instructors.
JOHN: Get out there and learn to dive safely . . . then, just do it with all the new friends you have just met.
Scuba-Mex Dive Shop
Paamul, Q.R. Mexico
Janet Willis, email@example.com
Dive Reservations and information:
Contact: John and Debra Everett
888-871-6255 (Toll Free in the US)
984 87 5 1066 (In Mexico)
Accommodations and Packages:
**A special thanks to our friend Glenda Gabriel for providing the beautiful photos.