Helmet Diving in the Caribbean

We’re getting really close to the end of my list of suggestions for your travel bucket list.

In no particular order, my top 10 suggestions for your travel bucket list are:

  • Kayaking and swimming in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
  • Seeing the millions of monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico
  • Desert safari off-roading, camel riding, and dinner show in Dubai, UAE
  • The Grand Canyon in the USA
  • Superman zip-lining in the cloud forests of Costa Rica
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Ruins of the city of Ephesus in Turkey
  • Helmet diving in the Caribbean
  • Crossing the Andes
  • Sailing from Colombia to Panama through the Sand Blas islands

This week I’ll talk about¬†Helmet Diving in the Caribbean.

While I have spent most of my life on the coast and have traveled extensively in the Caribbean, I have never learned how to scuba dive and even when it come to snorkeling I’m a novice. However, with so much time out on the ocean and on beautiful beaches, I had to eventually see what was going on down below the surface so I decided to try helmet diving.

Helmet diving is a super cool experience where you are given a helmet that looks something like an astronaut’s helmet so that you can walk around underwater while still breathing completely normally. No need to learn how to scuba dive or even to breath through your mouth like you must while snorkeling. You just go about your business breathing normally but are under the sea and get to see all of the amazing fish and other sea creatures.

I don’t have any pictures of myself doing the helmet dive because I don’t have an underwater camera but you can see what it’s like here.

I did my helmet dive in Grand Cayman while on a cruise so I was met at the pier by the guide and we were taken out to our dive spot on a small boat. You don’t go super deep below the surface because 1) you don’t wear wetsuits and it would be very cold if you went too far down and 2) in order to allow you to breathe normally your helmet is connected to oxygen on the boat through a tube and you need to be able to walk on the sea floor. My guess is that we were about 40 feet beneath the surface, but I am pretty bad at estimates like that and could be totally off.

One by one, all of the “divers” climb down the boat’s ladder to the sea floor. The guides don’t put the helmet on you until the last moment, because it’s heavy, but as soon as you’re under water, you don’t even notice the weight. I can be a bit of an anxious person and definitely started to get a bit nervous as I waited for my turn to descend and while climbing down the ladder because it sways quite a bit in the waves. However, once I reached the bottom it was easy to relax and enjoy the view – perhaps a bit too easy because these helmets simply rest on your shoulders, they’re not air-tight, so if you lean your head too far forward or backward to look at something, water will rush in. It’s easy to correct by simply straightening up and there are guides in scuba gear with you to correct for you if you need assistance, but it’s still startling to be engrossed in watching a tropical fish and then all of a sudden feel your breathing space filling with water.

The tour I was on gave us quite a good amount of time on the sea floor to enjoy the experience and also allowed each of us to feed some of the fish a few times so they would come right up to you and take fish food out of your hand – some actually even pinch you a bit.

This was hands down one of the coolest experiences I’ve had because, before hearing about this, I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to see the fish like this without putting in the time to learn to scuba. You can find helmet diving tours all over the Caribbean and I highly recommend it if you ever have the opportunity.

Just one tip: the boat you go to the dive spot in is rather small and moves quite a bit in the waves so, if you’re prone to seasickness, make sure to take whatever remedy or medication works for you before you head out on this tour and ask to be one of the first ones down the ladder.

Bioluminescent Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico

Before the holidays I shared a list of some of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my travels that I thought some of you might like to add to your bucket lists for 2014. The first few Where in the World? posts of the new year will give you some details about the where/why/how of my suggestions.

In no particular order, here are my top 10 suggestions for your travel bucket list:

  • Kayaking and swimming in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
  • Seeing the millions of monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico
  • Desert safari off-roading, camel riding, and dinner show in Dubai, UAE
  • The Grand Canyon in the USA
  • Superman zip-lining in the cloud forests of Costa Rica
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Ruins of the city of Ephesus in Turkey
  • Helmet diving in the Caribbean
  • Crossing the Andes
  • Sailing from Colombia to Panama through the Sand Blas islands

Today’s post will be about the¬†Bioluminescent Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is actually home to more than one bio bay, but the one I visited is in Vieques, a small island off the northeast coast of the main island of Puerto Rico. A bioluminescent bay is a bay that contains dinoflagellates or micro-organisms that glow if the water is disturbed. The more dinoflagellates in the water, the stronger the glow, and the bio bay in Vieques has a very high concentration of these little guys.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of myself in the bio bay because when I went I didn’t have a waterproof camera. However, you can see how cool it is by looking at these images I found with a basic Google search by clicking here.

This is hands down one of the coolest experiences I have had and I would highly recommend it to anyone. The bonus with the bio bay in Vieques is that there are also flying fish in the bay, so as you kayak out you’ll see an amazing light show as the flying fish jump out of the water all aglow. When I went, it rained at the beginning of the adventure so the bay was completely lit up as the raindrops disturbed the water and made it look like a bunch of glittering diamonds were dropping into the sea around us.

In order to get to Vieques, you’ll need to head out to the city of Fajardo on the eastern side of the main island of Puerto Rico. From there you’ll either catch a ferry (the option I used) or a tiny private prop plane to get out to the island of Vieques. There are only a few options for hotels and restaurants available and there is really nothing to do on the island besides the bio bay itself except enjoy the beautiful Caribbean beaches, so you definitely don’t need more than a weekend here. I spent two nights on the island and it was the perfect amount of time.

You’ll want to book your bio bay tour in advance because there is limited space. The night of the tour (all tours are after dark so that you can see the glow, of course) you’ll meet up at the tour operator to get a little “safety training” before heading out. The bio bay is actually surrounded with quite a bit of vegetation and it’s super muddy and mosquito-filled where you actually enter the water, so it’s a little unpleasant for about 5 minutes or so as everyone hauls their kayaks to the water’s edge and gets in. Once you paddle out into the bay a bit though, it’s clear and gorgeous.

As you paddle, you will see the flying fish jumping around you and also see the glow around the kayaks and paddles themselves. Plus, I guarantee you won’t be able to resist sticking your hands in to see the glowing around your own fingers. The kayak out is slow and leisurely, probably because everyone is distracted by the glowing fish and paddles, so don’t worry if you’re not in the best shape. Eventually, the guide will have everyone stop and gather in a circle and will allow time for you to hop out of your kayaks and swim around in the glowing water.

Again, this was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in my life and I would absolutely go back and do it again. I hope you’ll consider adding it to your travel bucket list.