Carol Haugen // © 2017 Carol Haugen
Feature image (above): The Cayman Islands are popular for diving in the Caribbean. // © 2017 Creative Commons user katiethebeau
The clear-blue waters of the Caribbean are ideal for exploring the underwater world of scuba diving, and Carole Haugen can help dive enthusiasts do just that.
As of May 2006, Haugen has worked as an independent travel consultant specializing in scuba for Altour Las Vegas, an independently owned travel management company. Though she organizes trips to a variety of dive destinations, Haugen is especially well-versed in the Caribbean waters and can accommodate both beginner and advanced divers.
Haugen shares how she got started in her career and why the Caribbean islands are a must-visit destination for scuba divers of all skill levels.
How did you end up specializing in scuba diving vacations?
My husband and I bought the dive store where we learned to dive. For the first few years, I worked in a retail agency to learn all I could about the travel agent basics. As we trained new divers in our local Lake Mead, Nev., they got the wanderlust to dive in the “aquarium” that they had only seen on television.
When I started to put group trips together for our customers, I found that I knew what divers were really looking for in a trip. And I was already their dive instructor and equipment counselor at our store, so it was easy to transfer to the role of their travel agent.
What does a scuba diving vacation usually entail?
As recreational scuba diving has grown, it has become a sport that can be customized for each diver’s interests, experience level and budget. For the die-hard diver who wants up to five dives daily and maybe even dive at night, there are safari outings that last all day and visit reefs far off‐shore.
The average dive vacation outing will consist of a two‐tank dive boat trip, departing in the morning, diving at two different sites and returning midday. Some dive destinations, such as Bonaire, feature excellent shore diving, where divers can go to shore any time they choose.
It’s important to qualify the diver’s level of experience to match it with the challenge level of each dive. Advanced divers might try cenote diving, cave diving or deep diving, while beginner divers should stick to straightforward shallow-reef diving.
Do you work with clients who have never been scuba diving, but who would like to become certified?
Thanks to the scuba-certifying agencies such as PADI and SSI, those with busy schedules can opt to do online class training at home and pool sessions with their local dive store. They can then be scheduled for final open-water dives with their vacation dive charter.
Which Caribbean destinations have the best scuba diving spots?
All three of the Cayman Islands have used their natural underwater beauty to develop diving tourism over the years. Artificial reefs, such as wrecks, have been added, as well as the trips to Bloody Bay Wall, which actually starts in about 30 feet of ocean and continues to the depths.
St. Lucia and Bonaire also have high diver return rates. At Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain resorts on St. Lucia, divers can enjoy one of the healthiest house reefs in the Caribbean.
Why should clients choose to dive in the Caribbean over other diving destinations?
The Caribbean islands lure divers to explore above and below the waterline. The easy access and competitive airfare make it affordable to enjoy even for a long weekend.
The many islands in the Caribbean family offer something for everyone. There is just enough of the exotic to attract the more seasoned traveler along with someone going for the first time.
Which Caribbean islands are most popular for divers?
The many islands in the Bahamas are on an upswing now. The newbuilds in the southern region in St. Lucia assure that divers will continue to flock to the area in the future. Along with the natural beauty underwater, I’m interested in pairing divers with experienced guides and reliable boats. The Caribbean islands that take diving tourism seriously will always step up this game.
What advice do you have for travelers who are interested in learning to scuba dive, but are nervous about it?
Equipment has never been safer, and families who learn to dive together have a wonderful sport to share for the rest of their lives. Most dive operators offer a “try scuba” experience that, under very close contact with a dive instructor, allows interested travelers to give scuba diving a go.