(Just so you know, I'm not affiliated with Cozumel Dive School.)
Do yourself a huge favor and read this if you’re thinking about going for your Divemaster (DM) certification at Cozumel Dive School (CDS). Four to eight weeks is a huge time commitment for anything, so it makes sense to learn as much as you can about the program before you take the leap.
It’s difficult to give a perfectly impartial review since by the time that you leave, you know everyone at CDS pretty well, but I’m putting all personal stuff aside for everyone’s benefit.
I opted to do my Divemaster for fun, only to become a better diver. I started with an Open Water certification which qualified me for the 8 week program.
Diving on Cozumel
Let's be honest, diving on Cozumel is why you're considering this program.
It's absolutely killer. Better than anywhere I’ve been before, and other tourists that I met swear that it’s the best place in the world to dive.
There are 20+ dive sites on Cozumel, all with unique topographies and diverse wildlife. You get reefs, walls, swimthroughs, and massive coral structures. Most days you'll see green or hawksbill turtles, nurse sharks, moray eels, parrotfish, lobsters, crabs, angelfish...the list goes on.
Depths range from 26-130ft (8-40m), although there's usually no compelling reason to go deeper than 100ft (30m). You’ll want to be Advanced Open Water certified for the full experience.
Since there are usually strong currents in the area, drift diving is the norm here. You save a ton of air since you don't have to do a lot of work to move around.
Water temperatures range from 77-82°F (25-28°C), so you'll only need a thin wetsuit or no wetsuit at all if you can handle it. Visibility is usually fantastic.
When you're in the program, about half of your dives are shore dives, and the other half are boat dives.
Shore dives generally take place in the shallow reef off of the Tikila Bar. It's a great little reef with good visibility, nice wildlife, and some sunken sculptures placed by a coral growth and preservation project.
But you're really here for the boat dives. They're fantastic. Even a bad boat dive is awesome. (Plus you get free lunch/dinner on the boat between dives.)
Expect to log about 70-80 dives in eight weeks time.
The Divemaster Program: PADI's Role
CDS is a PADI-affiliated school. If you’re already scuba certified, you probably know a little about PADI, but it’s important to fully understand how it works and how it affects your experience.
PADI is a privately-owned corporation that dominates the scuba certification market. Scuba instructors affiliate with PADI because they provide globally standard programs and safety procedures, some liability protection, and a common certification system. They take care of all of the teaching overhead, safety standards, and risk management so that instructors only have to teach. PADI is essentially a standards organization.
The downside is that instructors must follow the programs and standards exactly. It’s extremely by-the-book, but there’s nothing you can do about that if you want your Divemaster certification.
This also means that you’ll get the exact same Divemaster course anywhere you go. Differences lie in the instructors, the scheduling and pacing, implementations of certain standards, opportunities for fun diving, and the location itself.
The Divemaster Program: The CDS Experience
Like I said, I joined with an Open Water Diver certification, so I had to step through all of the prerequisite courses to begin the Divemaster course.
I spent my first week getting reacquainted with diving and racking up my logged dive count. It was also a nice time to explore Cozumel and get to know everyone.
Throughout week two, I took the Advanced Open Water Course. It's an easy one. It's basically just fun diving with a few simple skills thrown in, although the navigation skills throw some people off.
Week three was Emergency First Responder/CPR training and the Rescue Diver Course. This was the most intense course (more than Divemaster), but the purpose is to get you in the mindset of handling problems before they arrise and having the basic skill set to handle them if you have to.
Then finally, I started Divemaster. You obtain the cert by fullfilling a list of skills, requirements, and experiences. You usually satisfy one or two per day with some days of fun diving thrown in to space it out.
The main skill that you'll practice during your DM program is briefing and leading since it's the main role of a DM.
You're allowed to teach skin diving (snorkeling) independently and assist higher ranking PADI instructors teach other courses, but if you choose to get a job as a DM in the scuba world, you'll probably lead or supervise certified divers a majority of the time.
You'll brief and lead about 4-8 times during your time here. By the end, you'll have a feel for how you like to lead based on your own personal diving style, your curiosity, and feedback from instructors.
I won't mention every aspect of the Divemaster program since they're standardized, and you can find them somewhere else online, but some other highlights of the DM program include:
- Skill circuit (demonstrating all of the Open Water skills at an instructor-quality level)
- 400m and 800m swims (the first with only a bathing suit, the second with a mask/snorkel/fins)
- Underwater equipment exchange (exchanging a mask, BCD, and fins with a partner while sharing a single regulator 2nd stage)
- Creating a map of a dive site
- Assisting students in other PADI courses
You’ll also get some opportunities to interact with and lead customers. Throughout your internship, you’ll meet people from all around the world, and, being scuba divers, they’re usually very interesting people.
Working with the instructors to complete your courses is a good time. They're from all different backgrounds of all different ages with very different personalities. They're skilled at what they do, but most important, you can tell that they're all passionate about their profession. Many of them care about your personal development too, some more than others.
DM isn't all fun and games; you'll have to do some things you don't want to do. Packing gear, carrying tanks, having your instuctors mess with you to keep you on your toes, performing rescue scenario 7 multiple times, and putting up with the occasional bad customer aren't exciting jobs. Some days you'll have to help clean the rental gear and storage facilities too. But it's all part of the experience.
There are only two things that I didn't like about the program, both relating to scheduling.
First, the schedule for the next day doesn’t come out until 5pm the night before. It would be nice to have access to a tentative schedule. However, they are very flexible with scheduling if you get sick or want to travel Mexico while you're here.
Second, the pace is slow. Some will view this as a benefit, but if you have the “get shit done” personality like I do, it will seem sluggish at times. They stretch it out to give you a better value and gain more experience diving and leading, but the reality is that you can complete your DM a lot more quickly. If you're easily anxious or you get tired of staying in one place for too long, you may want to arrange to complete it sooner. For people like me, eight weeks is too long to be on Cozumel.
CDS is unique in that the program includes accommodation for the entire duration of your internship, anywhere from four to eight weeks.
At the time of writing, they’ve just opened a brand new student house. If you choose to live there, you’ll be with your fellow Divemasters-in-Training (DMTs) and students popping in and out for a few days to take other PADI courses. You meet a ton of people from all around the world this way.
You don’t get a discount if you don’t stay in the house, but if you’re someone who values privacy and personal space, you may want to look into a cheap Airbnb. They're inexpensive during the low season and reasonable during the high season.
(By using my Airbnb link above, you'll receive $40 off your first booking. Full disclosure, I'll receive a $20 credit myself. I write my content independently with no advertisers or sponsors, so I appreciate your support.)
Facilities in the DM house are excellent for what little you’re paying. You get a full kitchen with a fridge, pantry, and everything you need to cook with, a bunk bed with a closet unit, air conditioning, pool access when courses aren’t in session, and a decent location that's close to grocery stores and a 25 minute walk to downtown.
If there’s one thing that you take away from this entire review, remember this: there are lots of strong personalities at CDS. Of all different types. This applies to the instructors and other DMTs. It will affect your experience in one way or another.
Think of it this way: If you’ve chosen to move from your home country to either live in Mexico or travel to Mexico for 2 months, you definitely have strong values and personal convictions. “Regular” people don’t do this kind of thing.
It’s neither good nor bad, but be prepared for it.
If you know that you won't be able to deal that, and you can’t handle occasional drama, consider doing your Divemaster internship somewhere with a less personal approach. But it’s a lot less fun that way.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with the instructors and my peers in the house. There were a few people I had some problems with now and then, but that’s just life.
If you love partying, rest assured that there will always be people here to go out with. If you like staying in, it might be more difficult to find people to hang out with on some evenings. It depends on the crowd of DMTs you're with.
There will be times when you'll feel pressured to go out. If you have a hard time dealing with peer pressure, you'll end up going out a lot (and spending lots of money on drinks) here.
Because of the way the program and living arrangements are set up, you get to know everyone here on a extremely personal level, maybe a little too well. However, when it comes to diving and teaching, people push that aside; everyone is professional.
Cozumel is a cute little island. You can see everything that you need to see in about a week or less. Almost everything is within the three mile radius of the town of San Miguel de Cozumel.
The San Miguel side is suited to diving. If you're looking for traditional beaches, you'll need to rent a Jeep or scooter to visit the other side of the island. (It's a good idea.)
Prices range from dirt cheap to surburban American depending on where you choose to eat, drink, go out, and spend your time. If you go partying a lot, expect a high bill. Tipping 10% is expected.
Don't be fooled by a restaurant's appearance. I've had the best meals here at some of the jankiest looking places.
Cozumel is completely safe. I've never once felt uncomfortable here, even walking around alone at night. However, keep the usual safety advice in mind and be cautious of your surroundings.
If you exclusively visit tourist areas, you don't need to know any Spanish. If you're going to restaurants more inland, it helps to know some. If you don't know any, pointing, smiling, and nodding usually gets the point across.
If you've never been outside of a first world country before, you're going to be challenged by the real Cozumel. The extent will depend on your personality. Mexico is probably much rougher around the edges than you're used to. Expect to see and hear about things that will surprise you. This is a good thing for personal growth, I promise.
Read my Cozumel travel guide for more info.
For eight weeks, I paid CDS around $3k USD. It’s a steal for what you get:
- Eight weeks of diving (with lots of fun diving)
- The full PADI Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, and Divemaster courses with textbooks and materials
- Eight weeks of included accommodation
- Lunch or dinner on every boat dive
Valuewise, CDS is a no-brainer.
Outside of that, I spent another $1-1.5k on living expenses and going out. Depending on your lifestyle, Mexico can either be dirt cheap or as expensive as at home. My experience was somewhere in the middle.
I had an amazing eight weeks in Cozumel becoming a better diver. It's a great feeling to know that I have the experience to lead other divers and handle problems if I have to. Overall, it's increased my passion for scuba diving and has me excited to continue my dive education with other specialty courses.
You don't get life experiences much more interesting than this.
It's going to be tough to beat the diving here too; after 70+ dives in Cozumel, I'm spoiled.
Experiences with people here, mainly other students, were eye-opening in different ways. Although it's challenging at times, being around strong personalities can help you change for the better too.
I would do my divemaster here again in a heartbeat. My only issues are with pacing and scheduling, but as Cozumel Dive School continues to mature, they'll probably tweak and improve these aspects of the program.
- Diving in Cozumel
- Living on a tropical island (in a brand new house)
- Some really great instructors
- Incredible program value
- Potential to make lots of new friends from around the world
- Mexico itself is cheap
- Authentic, cheap, and delicious Mexican food is everywhere
- Potential for personal growth in more areas than diving
- The pace is slow
- The small town, close-quarters environment is suited to drama
- Tourist prices in popular bars, for tours, and for other experiences
- You'll probably drink too much while you're here...
If you want to become a professional diver or are just committed to becoming a really great scuba diver, go for it.
And tell Ken or Meg that I said "hi".
If you're seriously considering the program, and I haven't answered your question in my review, feel free to drop me an email.