Diving is not a budget activity. However, it is a lot of fun, so as a budget traveller, is there a way to get certified safely and cheaply?
The answer, of course, is that it all depends on your definition of cheap! We like to find a balance between the best quality experience and the cheapest price.
Diving, done incorrectly, can be somewhat dangerous. When you are getting certified you want to be sure that you are getting proper instruction. Once you get your open water diver certificate you are able to go scuba diving down to 18 metres without instructor supervision. You don’t want to be doing that unless you are well trained!
Where did we get certified?
The Philippines. The economy there is such that prices can be kept low. There are also some great budget flights to the Philippines with Zest/Air Asia, Cebu Pacific, PAL Express, Tiger and many others. And some stunning affordable beaches near manila and on the surrounding islands that you can visit.
The PADI website shows you which schools in any region are fully endorsed by them. Although there are plenty of instructors teaching PADI courses, only schools that are specifically endorsed by PADI have been inspected and seen as up to standard. Taking instruction at any unlisted schools may work out ok but you cannot guarantee the same level of instruction or safety.
Aside from being PADI endorsed, the main things we considered when choosing a school were:
- Feedback and ratings online – TripAdvisor etc.
- The dive locations available during the course
- Cost of local accommodation and how close it is to the dive shop
- Other local amenities – cheap transport to the area, cheap food/restaurants nearby
After all this, we chose to get certified at…
Liquid Resort, Dumaguete
We actually contacted a lot of schools before choosing Liquid. One of the most important things that led to a final decision was communication. All 3 of our top choices responded quickly and actually answered the questions we had asked – rather than sending out an auto response.
The main reasons for choosing liquid over our other 2 were:
- Accommodation is reasonably priced and on site with genuine sea views. This means we crawl out of bed 10 minutes before going diving. Too easy! It also meant that the classroom times were really flexible, we could do a bit at a time rather than have to turn up in the morning and rush through it all.
- Apo Island – It’s an excellent dive site, one of the best rated in the Philippines and it is only a short boat ride from the resort. Dive 3 & 4 from our course were set to be at Apo.
- It’s a 15 minute bus ride (that costs only 50 cents) from a major town (Dumaguete) where you have a multitude of excellent and cheap food/drink options.
Once arriving, it was clear that this is a close knit group who want to make you feel part of the dive family from day one. Our instructor, Belinda, was excellent and spoke perfect English. In fact, all of the instructors and senior staff spoke perfect English and most were European.
The equipment is maintained to the highest standard and the rooms have also recently been refurbed, we found them to be even better than the photos online.
They also have free wifi on site. The resort itself is a very relaxed environment.
The lowest prices we saw in our search were about 12,000php ($285US) for the 3 day open water course, this was a non-endorsed company. The lowest prices for endorsed schools were about 16,000php and above (all inclusive – equipment, park fees, padi documents etc). There were plenty of schools charging a lot more!
Liquid charge 18,000php (About $430), which is quite competitive and the slight increase in price is reflected in the very high quality of instruction and equipment. As we’ve said before, we always focus on the best “value” here at Five Dollar Traveller, not just the cheapest price. We also ended up doing our course over 5 days, rather than the minimum 3. We did not feel that they were trying to rush us through the course to maximise profits like a cheaper company may do.
Although it may be possible to negotiate a low season discount – if you happen to be travelling at the right time of year to do so – the prices are set, so this will be your biggest expense to consider.
Keeping costs down
When it comes to other costs, there are plenty of ways to go budget when learning to scuba dive in the Philippines. Whether you train at Liquid, or another resort, here are some tips that you could apply to your own chosen school.
The on site rooms at dive schools are generally going to cost more than staying at a hostel. We liked the convenience of staying in a bungalow on-site at Liquid (1450 pesos per night – private bathroom, fan room).
If you wanted to go cheaper it is certainly possible to find double rooms in Dumaguete for 500pesos per night (Harolds Mansion) – and most other dive areas have similar local accommodation options available – do a google search (Alona beach has a place called “Hope Homes” where you get a room with moped included for 750pesos! Very convenient for getting to the dive school each morning)
For Liquid, you could also stay just up the beach at “drill shack“. Rooms start at 600 pesos (discounts available for long term residents), and it’s only a 5 minute walk from Liquid along the volcanic sands.
Food & Drink
Food is charged at resort prices (Evening meal about 400pesos, lunch around 200pesos), of course, but it is easy enough to catch a bus to Dumaguete (20 pesos one way, takes 15 minutes) or to head 5 mins walk up the beach to “Drill Shack” where the food is cheaper, although on the whole not great.
We opted to buy up supplies from the supermarket which took care of breakfasts and lunches and then went out for dinner every night. 100 – 250 pesos is enough for a good meal in town, you can spend even less eating street food or sharing a whole roast chicken (only 160 pesos total) from one of the many street rotisseries.
The happy hour (5-7pm) at Liquid has beer for only 40 pesos – a bargain considering you’d rarely pay less than 30php at a local Filipino restaurant. They also have 2-4-1 cocktails.
After meeting a student at Liquid who was re-taking her divemaster course because the school in Boracay she originally studied at had given her such poor instruction, we knew we’d made the right choice in learning at a top school.
Not only were the dive sites at Apo & Dauin really good, our instructor, Belinda, was thorough, very helpful and really easy to learn with. We took the course at a relaxed pace with guidance every step of the way. All of the staff are super friendly and helpful and, as I mentioned before, they make a real effort in the communication department – no hidden service fees or surprises, everything is very much on the level.
We certainly recommend Liquid to everyone but wherever you choose to learn, just get out and do it! Diving is such an amazing experience and being certified gives us so much more flexibility for the future – I can’t believe it took this many years before we did it.
Contact Zoe and her team for more info: