Cozumel Mexico: Aldora Divers
Aldora Divers, Cozumel and the Aldora Villa
by Peter Bucknell
There are many dive operations to choose from in Cozumel. If you choose to dive with Aldora, you'll thank yourself. Let me tell you why:
The staff of Aldora know that their customers are fiercely loyal because of the excellent level of service that they provide. I spent a week interviewing their clientele, diving and dining with them, and they all raved about the way they are looked after. They swear by this operation.
The staff takes care of your dive gear for you at the end of each dive day. All you need to do is put your mask, fins, BC, regs and other gear in the provided mesh bag and leave it on the boat, taking with you only your computer and wetsuit. Next morning your gear will be rinsed and drip dried, ready in it's mesh bag and your B.C will be on your first tank. Amazing right?
They'll provide appropriate blends of Nitrox for the planned dives: 36% for the shallower dives. The gas fills are done by the Aldora staff with their own compressor, unlike the other dive operations who have to rely on a third party. So you can be confident that the gas is good. Aldora can provide any gas you are qualified to breath, from air all the way up to 40%, and 'Memo' the boss is also know to take care of customers with rebreathers too with 100% oxygen. Aldora also has pony bottles: 30 cu ft.
Aldora uses high pressure steel tanks with larger volume capacity: 120s and 100s, which give customers longer dives and an extra margin of safety, and the opportunity to wear a little less weight. I enjoyed having an average of seventy minutes per dive and depths occasionally visiting down to 130 feet.
They also have steel 80s.
Diving groups are small and experience levels are matched for each boat so you don't get stuck with divers from the wrong end of the scale. This is extremely advantageous as you're never restricted to dive sites or bottom times inappropriate for you. If you are a new diver you can rest assured that they will take good care of you and take you to sites and depths that keep you safe and in your comfort zone.
One morning the North wind had begun to blow and all the dive operations were forced cancel their dives for the day. Aldora was set up to get us in the water, diving something new and interesting. They keep boats on the other side of the island and have previously explored some of the relatively unknown reefs, and have even found some very old canons that lie intact just off the coast.
Boat diving happens each morning and afternoon with night dives normally scheduled for Wednesday and Saturday unless a group of four or more has special requests.
They'll pick you up at designated spots depending on where you stay. Villa guests are picked up in front of the Villa which is very convenient.
Bottled water is handed out regularly and coats are provided on the boat if you are feeling chilly. With dives that average seventy minutes, two to four times a day, it pays to keep warm when you get back in the boat.
Aldora has several small boats that are comfortable for six divers and guide, and a large boat which can handle larger groups. The twin engine setup on the dive boats is a safety feature that many of the other dive ops' boats do not have.
All told, it's a first class dive operation.
Wetsuits: shorties 3mill Mares
Regulators: Scuba Pro
Fins: full foot
The Aldora Villa
The Villa is a separate business from the dive operation but the two are closely connected; the owners (Dave and Memo) are old friends, both of whom I found myself on a dive boat with one afternoon which was good fun as they are both characters.
If you are diving with Aldora Divers, you can stay at the Villa.
Some Canadian friends of mine discovered the Villa after being royally screwed by an all-inclusive hotel establishment, and asking at the dive shop for recommendations, they found themselves in entirely more suitable digs.
The Villa offers a personal touch. After a couple of days there you'll feel like family.
Conveniently, it is just over half a mile North of town, and the are bicycles and locks provided free for guests. Expeditions to favorite local restaurants with other guests are common, and staff will often be available to drive you and even join you! I loved going to El Pique for Tacos with the staff and locals.
Taxis are always available of course and are around $5 to the center from the Villa.
The Kitchens in the bigger rooms are sufficient to prepare your own feasts at home. The manager or one of the staff will be happy to take you to the supermarket for supplies.
Each room is equipped with at least a refrigerator, coffee maker, internet, cable TV, and purified water. Wireless internet is included. I found that the wifi was better than at home! Telephones in the rooms are IP phones; there are direct numbers for each room that can be called free from the United States.
Right out front of the Villa there is some shore diving/snorkeling and tanks are available for free at the Villa. Be sure to look at night for the octopus that lives under the dock.
There is a salt water pool which can be used for buoyancy checks, confined water training, testing out your new computer or seeing if your camera housing leaks. The pool is handy if you are an instructor bringing students, or you are going to learn to dive.
Rooms vary in size and price. They are all clean and comfortable, and some of them are 'condo-esque', and good for small groups.
I loved staying at the Villa, and made a few friends with whom I stay in touch. I recommend it whole-heartedly.
Pete Bucknell's Tips:
Expect a courtesy call from the villa manager a few days before you travel.
He'll be happy to answer any questions or provide for any special needs.
Regulators: Yoke or DIN are both fine.
Just a light mesh bag for your wetsuit.
Check water temperatures for the time of year, and don't be afraid to go with a heavier choice of wetsuit, as the dives are longer than you may be accustomed to. I dived with a group who were sporting everything from rash-guards to a 7 mill for a water temp of 79 F in January.
Change money when you get here, but get advice from the manager on where to do it. There are some scams to avoid.
I used $US for the week I was there without suffering financially.
Airport ground transportation:
The resorts are not allowed to pick up their guests at the airport, so get a ticket at the ground transportation desk, being sure to avoid the time-share people as you walk out, as they will whisk you away for 2 hours of salesmanship before delivering you, annoyed to your accommodation.
Settle in, and then the Aldora guys will drive you to the dive shop for registration. bring your certification card and insurance card.
Some rooms are equipped with a full kitchen, so they'll offer to take you to the supermarket. No need to buy water, that is provided in all the rooms.
When eating out, go with the restaurant suggestions in the room information folder, and don't be afraid to mix in other guests. After all you're all members of the Aldora club now.
Sometimes the Aldora Villa will put on a BBQ and cook Lionfish and crab found on recent crab-grab dives.
They'll call you a cab, it's $13.
Put batteries in your checked luggage as they don't seem to allow them in your hand luggage.
The guides will ask for requests after looking at conditions. It's always a safe bet to let them go with their instincts, but if you have requests, don't be shy. They'll do their best to accommodate.
Being certified for Nitrox before you go is a good idea, although not vital. I was usually diving with an all Nitrox boat. Talk to them about certifying you if you are not. All levels of instruction are available, right up to assistant instructor.
If you are there between December and late April, try the 'Eagle Ray Dive', which is a short boat ride from the Aldora Villa. You'll settle on the sand at 80 feet and wait for them to circle past. It's quite magnificent as you will see in the video. Hopefully you'll be lucky and get a big squadron as we did.
Bullshark season is the same as the eagle ray dates and take place at Playa del Carmen.
Whale shark season is June to late Aug: only snorkeling.
Tip the dive master on the day: $5 per tank or more if you can afford it. It's much easier for them than tipping at the end, and they'll appreciate it.
Cenote Diving: Aldora delivers your equipment to the pier where you get the ferry.
Safety is priority number one at Aldora. Oxygen is kept on hand on every boat, and the Aldora Villa has a Doctor on call for any medical issues you may have.