Trip Report Trip Report: Aruba

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edoralive

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Messages
64
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Location
Minneapolis
# of dives
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Last week, my wife and I went to Aruba for a birthday visit and a few days of diving (for me, not her).

Dive operator: I chose to go with Pure Diving Aruba, which seems to be a newer, smaller outfit. Pure Diving Aruba’s emphasis is on taking care of the ecosystem, which they discuss on their web page. I hadn’t found many mentions of the outfit here on SB, but the Google reviews were solid. The boat operates from near the airport, exclusively on the Mangel Halto reef (I think that’s the name).

The boat, the Drumfish, is small and cozy, seating around 14 divers. The “dive shop” as far as I can tell, consists of a parked semi trailer, a filling station and a dunk tank and not much else. Simple and to the point. Sort of refreshing, given overdeveloped storefronts of many dive shops. I believe nitrox is available if you ask well in advance, but I, along with everyone else on the boat, dove air the whole time.

The crew were friendly, seasoned divers (grizzled?) of an entirely Dutch flair. Email communication about reservations was quick. Night dives are presently off the menu, as they are shore dives and curfews preclude one from being on the beach after 1900, which was a real bummer, dive-wise.

The diving: six dives over three days, all morning dives and all drift dives, which were delightfully lazy.

Day 1: Two drift dives (incidentally my first drift dives) that were just the right level of lazy chill after being out of the water for a couple months, at Grim Reaper and what I’d call the Moray Alley sites. The first day of diving was unremarkable. I was impressed by the health of the reef, especially compared to my diving in Key Largo a few months prior. Great visibility, no jellies, and a temp to 78-80 degrees (25C-ish) meant I was diving in a rash guard and swim trunks, although most folks seemed to have shorties or even 3mm full suits.

Day 2:

Dive 1: Jane Sea Wreck

We started the day on the Jane Sea, which is a 170ft vessel sunk specifically to create a dive site. I believe the top of the vessel is in 60’, and it’s 90’ to the sand. The wreck is gorgeous - the coral have taken to it, making it an exceptionally colorful wreck. I didn’t note any opportunities for swim throughs, but a few port holes gave us a glimpse of the interior. A healthy current above the deck, to be sure.

Dive 2: Bali

I love me some wrecks, and was sad to move on from the Jane Sea, but the second dive of the day, on the Bali site, so named for a sunken barge that used to be a floating Indonesian restaurant, was again a lazy drift dive that treated us to four turtles, an urchin, and my favorite: the dopey looking puffer fish.

Day 3: Day 3 was the most interesting day of diving. On the manifest were a trio of “discover scuba” divers and a father/son duo going for their OW referral. That left me the odd man out, and I was left to my devices within sight of the OW team on both dives.

Dive 1: Coral Nursery

Dive 1 was heavy on skills for the OW referrals, so I mostly puttered around the largely sandy bottom, working on my buoyancy and embarrassing frog kicks. After the OW work was done, we did a slow cruise around the nearby reef, visiting a coral nursery and keeping an eye out for a rumored seahorse that we didn’t catch a glimpse of.

Dive 2: The Aircraft

The second dive was to The Planes, which was a SUPER COOL site. A pair of passenger aircraft, a DC-10 and S-11, were intentionally sunk in 50-60 ft of water. Of the two planes, the DC-10 is in pretty rough shape, while the S-11 looks ready for departure. I chanced a swim-through of the fuselage and is was frankly one of the most interesting dive sites I’ve visited in my young diving career.

We made our way back over the reef, completed our safety stop and given that I had 1000 psi left, we dropped the OW folks off at the boat and the DM and I went back under to burn through the rest of our air. Perhaps it was meant to be: on our second descent we came across a moray who was snagged in some fresh fishing line and who was decidedly not happy about it. The DM attempted to clear the tangle with his fin (you can see that video here, if you’d like), but ultimately the DM surfaced to fetch a pole from the boat while I waited on the bottom with the moray and the DMSB. With the pole, we hauled the moray to the surface, about 20 ft up, and the boat crew were able to clip the wire so the moray could swim away, back to his coral den. It was the second time my snips had come in handy on this trip!

Some Critters observed:

Squirrel fish
Sand diver
Trumpet fish
Puffer fish
Lion fish
Turtles (of some sort)
Sea cucumber
Black urchin
Morays galore
Reef manta
Smooth trunkfish
...and more!

Some things:

COVID precautions were not existent, if that is a critical need for you. In Florida, we had our gaiters on unless we were kitting up or diving. In Aruba, I felt goofy as the only one wearing a gaiter. I later ditched it. There seems to be a COVID seating chart on the boat, but it was not followed. At this point, having been vaccinated and enjoying the breeze as we motor out, it wasn’t a concern for me, but it could be for another diver.

The other thing I noticed was that there was no roll call - not when we departed and not when we surfaced. I’m not sure if that’s because the boat was small, or is just not the norm, but it was different than what I’ve experienced in the past.

Finally, one of the OW certified divers was taken to 90’ on one of our dives. I’m far from a DM, and the DM on the boat “checked out” the diver in the water before going deeper, but the diver in question made ME nervous - clearly a diver of many years with few dives sort of situations.

You can get a 5% discount if you pay in cash!

Final thoughts: While Aruba might not be seen as the apex of diving, especially when compared to its more famous Bonaire cousin, it was pretty great - healthy reefs, great visibility, dive sites easily accessible (some even from the shore).

Pure Diving Aruba is a smaller operation, but the crew were great. I’d definitely book with them again on a return trip, except I’d also make sure to visit the Antilla, which would require a different operation, as that wreck is on the Northern end of the island.

Here's a link to some images: Aruba 2021
 

drrich2

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Location
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Glad you had a good time, and nice to see a trip report on Aruba, a place I don't see many reports on. I've never dove there; did stop twice on cruise ship stops.

I imagine most people considering an Aruba dive trip are looking for 'other stuff + diving' rather than 'just diving.' Did you guys do any interesting excursions or activities topside?
 

edoralive

Registered
Messages
64
Reaction score
70
Location
Minneapolis
# of dives
25 - 49
Glad you had a good time, and nice to see a trip report on Aruba, a place I don't see many reports on. I've never dove there; did stop twice on cruise ship stops.

I imagine most people considering an Aruba dive trip are looking for 'other stuff + diving' rather than 'just diving.' Did you guys do any interesting excursions or activities topside?

Good point!

Surface life was just fine. Aruba is sort of a weird island - it's a desert, but also somehow very, very humid. It was pretty miserable for me during the mid day, but evenings were wonderful. My reef diving experience is limited to Key Largo and Vieques, but Aruba's reefs seemed more abundant, diverse, and healthier than either of those spots.

There are the usual beachy touristy things to do - jet skis, parasailing, and the like.. Baby beach is a wonderful small beach that is protected from the ocean and so is very, very calm, and also a bit out of the way. Gambling is also legal, and there are a few large casinos, although we didn't stop in.

There is a National Park, which looks a lot like Arizona.

We rented an ATV for a day and toured the northern part of the island, which is very rugged. There are a few points of interest, but nothing bucket-listy, in my opinion. We did spend a morning with a local beekeeper, which was pretty neat.

Of our three large trips in the last couple years (Puerto Rico, Playa Del Carmen and Aruba), Aruba is #3/3. We would love to go back to PR and PDC. But for Aruba, it's not really our jam.
 
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