Altitude Diving in Central America


Volcanic scene

Volcanic scene

If you want to earn another dive certification, or merely want the experience of diving in a volcanic lake, then consider Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.  I know what you are thinking.  Diving in the lake?  When the reef is so close by?  Why?  Visit ATI Divers at La Iguana Perdida and you will be convinced, as I was.

I was hesitant.  I dive and teach in the Bay Islands of Honduras.  So why on my weeks vacation,  why would I dive?  in a lake? Breathing underwater is breathing underwater, and well that is what I do.  So after talking with super lake enthusiast, instructor Ollie, I was convinced.  Of course I should dive in a volcano!  The next morning we gear up in 7mm wetsuits-yikes!

Dive site map.

Dive site map.

It had been years since I had been diving in water less than 80 F/26 C.  I had forgotten how long it takes to suit up with all of the extra neoprene including booties, gloves, and hood.  The water was not THAT cold (70F/21C), but I am a wus.

Our first dive was meant to be a wall with a swim through at 85ft/26m.  As we back rolled off our skiff and began to descend, Ollie called the dive at 60 ft/18m as there was a layer of silt that cut visibility from 6 ft/2m to 2ft/0m).  So alas, I did not get my swim through but that is the situation anywhere you are diving as conditions change, so does your dive plan.  We made our way along the rocky wall looking in the crevices for crabs and in the reeds for fish.

Altitude diving at Lake Atitlan.

Altitude diving at Lake Atitlan.

There are not too many fish in the lake.  Back in the 1950’s black bass were introduced to the lake for fisherman.  Little did they know, the bass would take over and destroy not only the indigenous fish but one species of bird as well.  You can still find the rare Ciclid, Bluegill, Black Bass, and Crappie.  See the descriptions on ATI Divers website.

After 30 minutes I was cold and had seen what I felt was enough.  But then again I am a spoiled diver and that is usually my max time anyways.  I could tell Ollie was still wanting another half an hour.  But he obliged and we surfaced.  Feeling refreshed and relaxed from being underwater, we headed back to La Iguana for hot tea and a surface interval in the warm sun.  An hour later we gear up again for our second dive.  This one was a little further away by boat, we roll of into a swimming pool.  Yes.  Since the lake has risen near 20 ft/8m in the last few years, several lake front homes, terraces, walkways, and a swimming pool, are now underwater.

Feeling the thermal HEAT

Feeling the thermal HEAT

We played around the pool and terraces for a bit before moving away from shore to the fault line to look and feel for the heat.  Soon Ollie had me looking at hot water coming out of the lake bottom.  We felt around in the silt and rocks to feel for the hottest spot.  This was a wake up call for me.  I knew I was in volcanic lake but it did not hit me until I felt the heat of the magma below coming out of the earth that I was DIVING IN A VOLCANO.  That realization was cool and crazy at the same time.  We finished our dive playing with crabs, fish, and beer bottles.  The physics of diving at work-great divemaster trick to put in the bag.  Thanks Ollie.

If you are a diver or if you are planning to become a diver, consider Lake Atitlan.  It is one of the cheapest places in the world to learn to dive.  And as Ollie mentioned, once you master the lake, the Caribbean will be a piece of cake.

Contact La Iguana Perdida for more info http://www.laiguanaperdida.com/.  Stay onsite and save.  Choose from a variety of rooms, dorm to upscale private.  

Lake Atitlan sits at 1,562 m (5,125 ft) and is 340 m (1,120 ft) deep.  Perfect place to get your Altitude Diver Specialty.

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