It’s easy to see why the Caribbean islands are so popular: year-round sun, fun and rum on tap, golden palm-lined sands and warm turquoise seas.
But there’s a lot more to these beautiful seas than first meets the eye. The Caribbean features a host of dive sites, some of the best of which can be found off the coasts of Tobago, one of the smaller islands, that sits at the foot of the archipelago.
Tobago’s waters are home to more than 400 sea species and stunning reefs, but witnessing these in full glory requires learning to scuba dive - one of the fastest growing sports in the world and something I’ve always wanted to try. Anybody aged 10 and over can learn, providing you can swim and are in general good health.
The idea of combining the experience with a sunshine holiday is even more appealing, and Tobago’s Magdalena Grand Beach Resort offers just this. The 200-room four-star hotel features everything you’d expect from a Caribbean beach resort, but also houses World Of Watersports, tipped as the island’s best scuba dive centre.
On day one I wake to glorious blue skies, but it’s straight off to class for me. I’ve enrolled on a Padi Open Water Diver course, the world’s most popular dive course, which aims to provide beginners with the basic skills needed for open water dives down to 60ft.
There’s a lot to take in and it all seems a bit daunting at first - especially the chapters on deadly decompression sickness.
Thankfully, our instructor Sean Robinson quickly puts us at ease, reassuring us that diving is actually one of the safest sports.
At the end of day two, there’s a multiple choice exam to test our knowledge. We all pass luckily, then, on days three and four, finally head out to sea.
First we drive to Pigeon Point Beach and catch a boat from shore. After running through our skills at the seabed, we have fun getting used to controlling our buoyancy and glimpsing some of Tobago’s underwater treasures.
The second two dives are the biggest treat though.
Tobago’s Japanese Gardens, off the western end of Goat Island, is a stunning, vibrant reef, bursting with colour and swaying reeds and ‘dead man’s fingers’, and home to the largest ‘brain coral’ in the world.
After feeling clumsy and constricted in the heavy gear on land, underwater feels weightless and free. Nerves give way to sheer amazement - and those hours in the classroom finally feel worth it.
The final chore is having photos taken for our Padi licences and filling in our log books. Mission complete!
Learning to dive on the grounds of Magdalena Grand Beach Resort is ideal. Lunch is simply a short walk over to the terrace restaurant and, as the dive centre is on-site, you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to drive elsewhere.
Set among the Tobago Plantations Estate, the hotel is surrounded by greenery which makes it picturesque.
Factbox: Golden Caribbean offers seven nights at the four-star Magdalena Grand Beach Resort on Tobago from £786pp on B&B basis, based on two adults sharing a standard room. Half-board and all-inclusive packages also available. Price includes return flights with Monarch Airlines from London Gatwick to Tobago. Price based on 20 February 2013 departure. visit Golden Holidays or call 0845 085 8080.
The five-day Padi Open Water Certification course costs £395pp.