“Did you see that?” remarks my energetic dive instructor as he points to a pelican on the horizon. “It’s an expert fisherman,” he continues. “They can see a school of fish from way above, swoop down and can last several minutes under water while they try to capture lunch.” Just past breakfast with bread and coffee, the feisty pelicans are fighting to defend their catch from frigatebirds – also known as ‘pirate birds’ – as we drift away from the idyllic bay of Taganga.

We have been in the boat for a very short time and already I know more about the area than I do my own country’s geography. This is my first diving trip and I was nervous. My instructor however is full of fascinating facts that put my qualms to rest. During the boat ride we pass dry landscapes with orange and brown vegetation. I am told the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain greatly influences the marine and terrestrial magic of this beautiful area; as she gracefully extends her arms around Santa Marta and slyly disappears into the Caribbean sea.

The Sierra is a condenser which forces moist winds from the interior to drop rain on the southern face of the mountain. This leaves dry, refreshing winds reaching Santa Marta, influencing planting life and creating seasonal dry forests. When the winds change and blow back onto the land from the Caribbean, moisture once again changes the hues of this desert; and with every drop of water, bright broccoli-looking flora sprout up in the hills.

Colombia may not be as publicized or popular in the diving world with countries such as Thailand or Austra- lia, but you will not be disappointed with a diving experience off Santa Marta. Besides the beautiful beaches of Tayrona, the National Park’s sea bound- aries include abundance marine life. It is important to realize that every dive company dives within the Parque Tayrona limits, so it doesn’t matter where the actual company is based.

We reach the dive site, surprisingly close to a beach. I am carefully assisted with my equipment, and go under. Don’t think that the murkiness of the waters will negatively affect your dive. The water has a lot of nutrients that allow basic food chains to exist and be seen while diving. The growth of phytoplankton and zooplankton (micro plants) provide food for bigger marine life.

The vital question before making your choice of who to dive with is what are your expectations and goals from the dive? If meeting people and diving in big groups is your aim, then a company in Taganga will suit your pocket and expectations. Reef Shepherd, Calipso and Octopus all offer a variety of courses (from PADI courses to advanced diving excursions). All the equipment is well- maintained and the friendly staff will answer any questions or concerns. If underwater photography interests you, Reef Shepherd offers a course as well as, a specialty course in nitrox diving. In El Rodadero you will find Tienda de Buceo offering all PADI certification courses.

If your idea of a dive is personalized and educational, I recommend Quimera Divers. Based in Santa Marta, this group of marine biologists focus on creating awareness of the importance of how knowledge goes hand in hand with conservation of marine ecosystems. The dive experience is enriched with meticulous explanations and information key to any diver with a passion for understanding what thrives in the depths of our seas. Although prices vary according to each dive center, becoming certified as a beginner can cost you $600,000 pesos, half the cost of getting a similar experience in nearby countries, such as Panama and Honduras.

I never imagined that in one day I could learn so much about the sea and how I can recognize and differentiate between animals, soft and hard corals. Scuba diving was not created to be an extreme sport. Rather, it is meditative, where your soul connects with nature and takes hold of your senses. All worldly distractions disappear and your body and mind concentrate solely on the breathing that disrupts the submerged silence and your eyes panoramically absorb different shades of blue and green and light reflected off brightly-coloured fish and corals.

You are weightless and flying in the midst of little atoms of oxygen and hydrogen. Your only mission is to breathe calmly and enjoy the magic of an underwater garden. My perspective of the sea has changed as a result of diving near Santa Marta, and I feel motivated to discover more as to inspire others to start caring about our oceans. It’s best to do some research before taking the plunge though, because it’s one decision that will change your life forever.

Poseidon Dive Center: 57-5-4219224

www.poseidondivecenter.com

Tayrona Dive Center: 57-5-4215349

www.tayronadivecenter.com

Octopus Dive Center: 57-5-4219332

www.divecenteroctopus.com