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Getting the PADI Open Water Certification while Traveling Abroad

I got my PADI open water certification in Zanzibar, Tanzania!

With the PADI open water diver course, you can complete the academic component online and the confined skills in a PADI dive shop near you, so when you go on vacation all that remains is the four open water dives (and you don’t have to spend vacation time in a classroom).

This is exactly what I did…

I wanted to go with Buccaneer Diving because they are a highly rated 5-star PADI dive shop and I was intrigued to explore Paje beach where they are located. The Buccaneer dive shop is attached to the gorgeous Arabian Nights Hotel, where there is a chill beach front bar equipped with plush outdoor décor and a hammock.

PADI open water certification

Paje beach is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes from Stone Town, where the ferry from Dar es Salaam ports.

Paje is the water sport hub of the island, offering low tides and high winds perfect for wind surfing. As you can see, there was a lot of action out there, so it wasn’t the most leisurely beach for swimming – but it didn’t bother me at all as I was more concerned about what was going on beneath the surface!

PADI open water certification

Getting the PADI Open Water Certification:

On the first day at Buccaneer, I met my instructor Arnold, a laid back local guy with a big smile.

Together, we made a game plan for our dive sites for the next two days to complete the open water component of my PADI open water certification:

1. Lagoon Mounding (12 metres deep)

2. Stingray City (12 metres deep)

3. Sau Inn Garden (18 metres deep)

4. Jambiani Lagoon (15 metres deep).

Then, it was time to play the waiting game for high tide so we could depart for the reef (because as you can tell from the photo below, that boat is not going anywhere in low tide).

PADI open water certification

PADI open water certification

Once we were out on the boat, we bounced over the waves as we made our way to the reef. I suited up, did final checks on my BCD, and did the ‘roll of faith’ backwards off the boat. Once I hit the water, I knew the next two days would be an amazing adventure!

For me, scuba diving feels so natural, despite how unnatural it actually is when you think about “breathing under water”. All you can hear is the sound of your breath, or the subtle crackling of the coral that sounds like pop-rocks, and a slowness settles in.

When the heavy current slowed down and there wasn’t as much sand sifting around the water, it became clear just how pristine the water was. Unfortunately my GoPro SD card malfunctioned and the amazing photos I took were lost, so I will try to describe it as vividly as I can below:

Amongst the towering, ‘crater-like’ reefs of coral, vibrant coloured urchins billowed back and forth in the current. The marine life began to come alive before my eyes as we navigated through the dive sites. Every now and then, a blue spotted stingray stealthily hidden on the bottom, would panic as we neared and bolt, creating an explosion of sand. Arnold carried a metal keychain that he would occasionally tap against his air tank to alert me when he wanted to show me something, as he had an eye for spotting sea creatures! In a cave-like overhang of coral, Arnold pointed out the infamous moray eel which poked its head out at us, staring creepily with beady eyes while baring its serrated teeth. Adjacent to the moray, we found Nemo, a clown fish hovering inside a neon anemone. Throughout the rest of the dives, we saw tons of varieties of butterfly fish, delicate seahorses, a lion fish, the eery stone fish, creepy spotted snake eels slithering on the bottom of the ocean floor, and many more fish and coral species that I couldn’t identify!

Of course the dives weren’t all fun and games though…

Arnold had me complete some skills at the surface and at the bottom in order to fulfill my PADI open water certification. I needed to show him that I could control my buoyancy and not accidentally kick fragile coral or rise to the surface too quickly. I had to demonstrate that I could take my mask on and off underwater and clear it, that I could recover my regulator (air line) if it fell out, and signal if I was out of air to make an emergency ascent. At the surface, I practiced taking my BCD on and off, and weight belt (which proved difficult with the choppy waves) and towing a sick diver to safety (basically pulling Arnold’s dead weight over the waves back to the boat). I must have done okay, because I passed!

Once back on the boat, we had ginger tea and biscuits to warm up and I practiced my Swahili with Arnold.

We headed back for Paje beach – and as they say, the rest is history…I officially have my PADI open water certification!


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What are your thoughts?

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Sukvinder said:
Do you have to be certified to go scuba diving?
October 13, 2019 at 11:18 am said:
Hey Morgan, Scuba diving in Zanzibar or in Kenya will be expensive but it is relatively pricey anywhere to do the certification (I think it was approx. 350 USD for me to do it in Zanzibar). I had a really good experience in Paje in Zanzibar and the island is stunning with tons to do - plus food and accommodation is relatively cheap. I can offer more detailed suggestions if you decide to proceed! I stayed in an amazing airbnb in stone town and the host is pretty much a travel guide; he takes his guests around town and cooks breakfast for them included in the cost of the flat :) He took me to prison island, to the market and to paje by the local bus. Hope that helps - Let me know if you end up going! xx
June 9, 2017 at 9:21 am
Morgan said:
Hey!I'm going to be in Kenya in August and for the last few days of my trip I wanted to see if I could come down to Zanzibar and get my scuba certification - I'll be traveling alone - do you have any other tips or advice on prices, places to stay, or if I'll be able to complete the certification in 3 days or so? Thank you!!
June 5, 2017 at 5:41 pm said:
Thank you and congrats to you as well! I am in South Africa next month on my way back to Canada so I'm hoping to cage dive in Cape town although I am terrified to do it. I also want to get my advanced certification at some point so we shall see :) Thanks for stopping by! -Steph
September 13, 2016 at 1:29 am
Marie said:
Awesome, and congratulations! I did my PADI certification in Mexico back in April, and it was amazing! I loved hearing about your experiences... It's so true that once you get the hang of it after a couple of dives, it is incredibly peaceful and just natural to dive. Do you have any more dive trips planned now that you're certified? :)
September 9, 2016 at 6:08 pm