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A first-timer’s scuba report from Puerto Vallarta:

"Blowing Bubbles" in Banderas Bay

Viki McIntyre


Friends of mine have been scuba freaks for years, hauling their gear with them on every trip to various scuba vacation hot spots around the globe. At parties and get-togethers, they always ask why I don’t join them. I have to admit that their tales are enticing…gorgeous clear waters, brightly colored fish, and tranquil interactions with under-sea nature have made me consider it more than once. And while I’m a good swimmer and the stories sound wonderful, somehow ‘the Scuba bug’ just never bit me.


scuba diving Puerto Vallarta MexicoUntil, that is, a recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The itinerary for our first full day included a day cruise in the bay which in addition to stops at several remote beaches for swimming, hiking, and horseback rides, included a stop at the rock formation known as ‘Los Arcos’ (“The Arches”) where we were encouraged to don snorkels, masks, and fins and swim with the fishes for a half-hour or so. (I should note that my previous experience with snorkeling involved viewing lots of bare sand, occasional rocks, and a few fish darting out of my path so quickly they were merely unidentifiable blurs.) While I was inspired to get into the water if only to have a refreshing dip, my view on underwater sports was in for a drastic change.


Los Arcos is officially a wildlife preserve and is visited by several boats every day, so the fish have learned not to fear our presence. While not coming up to look me in the face, they nonetheless were within easy view, showing their bright yellows and blues in a display I had only seen from the dry side of an aquarium! The crew encouraged close encounters by tossing breadcrumbs into the water, causing schools of flashing creatures to zip past me for a bite. I was amazed at the variety of life here…huge schools of tiny silver fish, groups of half-a-dozen vividly striped fish the size of my hands, and larger solitary swimmers circling slowly beneath my goggles. This is the point at which I think I may have caught 'the scuba bug’.


Puerto Vallarta Mexico scuba divingThe following day I sought out a scuba program that would let me take the plunge with tanks to support my lungs for longer and deeper excursions. I found a program called ‘resort qualification’ which, after a short day of instruction and practice in one of the hotel’s swimming pools would allow me to take closely-supervised ‘open water’ dives with a small group. The instruction is fairly basic and straight-forward…learn how to put on your gear, swim to the bottom of the pool, remove and re-insert the breathing apparatus to your mouth, and hand signals to your dive-buddies and instructors. The first rule of scuba turns out to be pretty simple: “Keep breathing”. I thought that sounded ridiculous until I discovered my own natural tendency to want to hold my breath while under water…a tendency which quickly changed after my first trip to the bottom of the pool. I wasn’t the only one in my group to find that this was a new way of thinking, but we all adapted easily.


The next day we had a little refresher practice, then hopped into a boat for our first real underwater adventure. Our destination was again Los Arcos, but this time we headed for a side of the rocks less visited by the snorkeling boats. After a short time on the surface getting used to the gentle currents and re-checking all our equipment, it was time to start ‘blowing bubbles’ as my friends call it. It’s a pretty silent world beneath the surface, except for the sound of your own breathing, but while your ears aren’t working much, your eyes go into overdrive! We all stopped our descent at about 15 feet and began exploring along the walls of rock and coral to discover a wealth of sea-life the snorkelers above were missing. Literally hundreds of tiny fish swimming in and out of crevices and coral branches move with the natural rhythm of the currents, and showing all the psychedelic colors of a tye-died T-shirt.


scuba Puerto VallartaAs we descended a bit more, we found starfish languidly moving among the rocks, crabs and lobsters scampering across shallow sandy patches of ocean floor, and larger spotted fish swimming round us for an inspection and hoping for a treat (chunks of dinner rolls provided by our instructor). I remained motionless, suspended in the water (an amazing feeling of weightlessness) for a while near the mouth of a small cave, simply enjoying the solitude and watching the colors of languid fish in the coral. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a glittering school of sardines that split their school to swim around us. One of them didn’t quite make it…like a rocket; a hungry fellow shot out of the cave, nabbed one, and retreated. A living example of the big fish analogy!


Nearly an hour later we returned to the surface, clambered into the boat, and all began shouting at each other at the same time. “Did you see that red fish?” “Oh my god, those blue and yellow striped ones are amazing!” “I felt so free, like I was flying!” The adrenaline level was definitely running off the charts with this group of newbies, so when we got back to shore we all settled into beach chairs around a bucket of cold beer to share stories of our various sightings again.


Shortly, however, we found that we were all completely exhausted from the energy spent swimming and the drop in adrenaline that follows a couple of cold Coronas. No matter, we were in Puerto Vallarta, and the concept of ‘siesta’ lives on. I took my nap under a palapa on the beach, and dreamed of my next excursion. Later I made friends with a group of experienced divers who regaled me with their tales of dives at other locations around Puerto Vallarta, and by doing so insured that I’ll be returning to enjoy them as a fully certified scuba diver. While I’m only ‘resort-certified’ from this trip, I’ll be taking the class to be fully certified shortly, and I’ll finally be able to participate in ‘bubble-blowing’ vacations with my friends!


Scuba and Snorkel excursions to a variety of excellent dive sites around Banderas Bay are available, as well as Scuba classes for beginners, resort certification, full certification, and refresher courses. Snorkeling does not require any training.



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