With the Mayan apocalypse less than a year away, Harsh Kalan talks about one must-do experience every week starting off on the tiny island off the coast of Mexico that draws thousands of thrill-seeking tourists every year.
Picture this: you're below the ocean's surface, equipped with scuba apparatus that you've only recently become familiar with. Your only connection with the outside world is a hazy shape up above; that's the hull of the boat that you (willingly) just jumped off. You're surrounded by a large metal cage that is supposed to protect you, but you're feeling a lot like food; this must be what lobsters in those live restaurant tanks must feel like just before diners show up.
And then suddenly, lobsters and restaurants couldn't be further from your mind. That's because one of nature's most awesome predators, the Great White Shark, has just showed up and you're both thrilled and terrified out of your mind.
Perhaps Mr. Jaws is just swimming by for a friendly hello; these are, after all, conditions in which his species thrives. Perhaps there's a particularly tasty-looking school of fish in your general direction; most likely, though, the good people in the boat above have emptied buckets of "chum" or a foul mixture of fish guts, blood, and unwanted meat and bones in the general vicinity, drawing a crowd of sharks much like an accident instantly attracts a horde of onlookers in any Indian city. Except, of course, that these giant-sized onlookers can rips your limbs off as an afterthought.
Just where can you experience this potentially life-altering experience? As it turns out, in several places: South Africa, Australia, Fiji, the Bahamas, and several other picturesque locations. But the unanimous number one choice of thrill-seekers, enthusiasts, and underwater photographers is an unassuming, benignly-named island located 241 km off the coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula (that strip of land jutting out south of Los Angeles). Yes, Isla Guadalupe is where you can find the world's best shark dive.
This biosphere reserve is regarded as the best place to get some face time with great white sharks. The pristine waters off the island allow for over 100 feet of visibility and with temperatures between 19 and 25 degrees, conditions here are perfect to spot great whites in action. The island itself is but a dot in the vast Pacific Ocean. Its few hundred inhabitants are isolated from mainland Mexico. However, the constant waves of tourists coming to its shores have made this desolate island one of the top tourist destinations in Baja California.
Isla Guadalupe is a typical volcanic island made of several oceanic shield volcanoes. The outside temperature typically hovers between 18 and 22 degrees with sunny conditions so needless to say, the weather and setting here is perfect! What else places the island in the eye of the perfect storm for sighting Great Whites? Well, it happens to have a large population of pinnipeds like seals and walruses, which just happen to be the major land-based food course for these voracious eating machines.
The ideal time to go shark diving in Isla Guadalupe is from August to October. Very few tour operators conduct tours in the off-season, so timing your trip just right is essential.
Licensed crews use specially-made metal cages to conduct these unique tours. These allow divers to examine the sharks up close as the enclosures are strong enough to withstand getting rammed by even fully-grown sharks. The great thing about these custom cages is that they offer their occupants a great 360-degree view; another plus for shark diving here is that dive operators tend to be rather conscientious about restricting groups to small numbers, and therefore maximizing the experience for each diver.
Little wonder then as to why Isla Guadalupe is a dream destination for underwater camera crews from all over the world. In fact, some of the most popular shark-related shows are filmed in these clear blue waters.
Now that we've got you all excited about the prospect of shark diving, here's everything you need to know:
Get There: You can fly to San Diego, USA or Ensenada/Cabo in Mexico to get started with your shark diving trip. Round-trip tickets to these destinations from major Indian airports range between Rs. 60,000 - Rs. 80,000.
Dive: You can pretty much take your pick of any of the licensed shark dive outfits that operate in the area. Here's a brief sample of the selection:
-Shark Diver (www.sharkdiver.com): Shark Diver has been conducting diving tours for over 10 years, and they seem to be the preferred choice of both professionals and novices. They provide pick up from San Diego, USA and take care of everything during the five-day tour. Their $3,100 plan covers everything from a comfortable stay in their vessels, good food and unlimited alcohol to a well-planned diving expedition. Their custom cages are ideal for any wannabe underwater photographer to capture the mighty great whites in their element. Group discounts are also available.
-Solmar V (www.solmarv.com) - The Solmar V vessel is a rather luxurious way to go shark diving. Your stay will be just as memorable as your cage dives into shark territory. They also provide pick up from San Diego, USA, and charge $3,195 per person for the five-day trip. However, they also operate in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and are able to arrange for pick ups from there as well.