Puerto Rico, Gran Canaria, October 1996

We went to Gran Canaria for the last two weeks in October. Our holiday was booked through Freespirit, which is part of First Choice that does holidays for adults only. We were staying at the Ipanema Park Hotel in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a resort built on a cliff face, so you have to be a bit careful to pick a hotel that's not right at the top of the mountain. Ipanema Park wasn't too bad, though there were 140 steps down to sea level. We tended to get a taxi back, so generally we only walked down them, since it cost less than 400 pts. Ipanema Park was an OK hotel. The apartment was a bit grotty and had a bathroom door that didn't shut, a fridge so full of ice you expected to find penguins living in it and cooking facilities that consisted of 3 rings, no toaster and no kettle. Still the whole holiday was less than 300 pounds each, so I guess you can't expect too much. There were also rather a lot of children at the hotel, because although Freespirit are adult only, the other five operators for that hotel aren't.

Puerto Rico is a purpose built resort and is quite lively, though mercifully not quite in the same league as Benidorm. It has two commercial centres, one quite small and near our hotel, and one very large one with something like 100 bars. The beer's not as cheap as in mainland Spain, most places were charging 300 pts a pint, and it did seem to vary in strength. Some bars it seemed to be impossible to get drunk. One of them had also replaced the standard one-way valves on top of the spirits bottles, which made me very suspicious. I think it's also illegal. I did manage to find one bar called the San Francisco, which did two bottles of Becks for 375 pts and cocktails for 300 pts. 

I did my diving with an outfit called Top Diving. It's run by a Belgian and his wife and owned by another Belgian, who wasn't around much, and seemed to be a bit strange when he was. The diving wasn't cheap. A five package dive was 20,000 pts and a 10 package dive was 35,000 pts. These packages included all kit, if you needed it or not, and they charged an extra 5% if you wanted to pay by credit card. You also need to buy a Spanish deco permit for 1000 pts. The school had their own deco chamber. One advantage of this was it allows them to offer Nitrox, including IANTD courses. This is because Spanish law makes it illegal to own oxygen, which must really improve the safety of diving operations and swimming pools. The only people allowed to own oxygen are deco chamber operators. The other thing you need to dive in Spain is an up to date medical, though admittedly they never checked it, but we did have to fill in a form saying we had one. 

As well as diving, Top Diving also offers both BSAC and PADI courses, though I didn't check the prices. Their equipment was pretty good and they used Buddy Tropical BCs. I had my own equipment, except for a wetsuit, so I used one of their 5mm ScubaPro suits. I was quite impressed with them, and apparently they're pretty cheap too. The water temperature was about 23 degrees Celsius, which is a bit on the cold side for anything less than 5mm. 

On the first dive we went to a reef called Almud in their RIB. We dived in buddy pairs, though we were supposed to keep the DM in sight, because there was no-one left on the boat, and I don't think he trusted most people to find it again. The first dive was a bit disappointing, though there were some brightly coloured fish about. The one thing there were rather a lot of was sea urchins. As the floor consisted of big boulder of differing heights, you have to be a bit careful to look where your going because the spines will go straight through your wetsuit. Apparently, the urchins are not indigenous. Some "scientist" was working on an artificial reef project up the coast and decided to try a couple of urchins imported from Africa. Well they loved it and there are now billions of them down current. They eat all the algae and nothing can eat them. Well not without a bit of help from your dive knife anyway. The fish are very keen then. 

The dive was typical of the boat dives we did there. The viz was almost always good, usually well over 20m, and the seascape was one of big boulders with some brightly coloured fish about. In between the cracks there are morays, some with white markings around their head that I've never seen before. Other boat dives included the Mogan caves, which are a couple of caves you can get a bit inside and see some shrimps that live there, and a reef called El Perchel. For this dive my girlfriend didn't go, so I was buddied up with someone who'd just done their AOW. She was quite nervous about doing her first back roll entry. I'm sure she'll remember to put a bit more air in her BC next time ;-) She did run out of air long before me, but it didn't matter because when the less experienced divers go low on air, the DM let them surface together under his watchful eye, and then let the more experienced divers go off together for a bit longer. Also on the boat were a couple of Finnish divers who insisted on using their buddy line. Both I and the DM thought this was a little over the top in 20m viz, but there you go. The highlight of the dive, other than laughing at the Finns, were three large stringrays, one of which had lost its tail somehow.  

The best dive I did was a shore dive. I actually did it twice because it was so good. It was in Arinaga, which is quite a long way up the coast, and it was in a marine reserve. There's a L-shaped rock reef called "El Cabron" that extends from the shore. Now El Cabron means "The Bastard" in Spanish, and personally I think it was named that by someone trying to get out of the water after their dive. The entry/exit point is some rocks and it's not that easy unless you know exactly where to get out. The DM, who's dived there loads of time, just effortly walked out, but the rest of us had rather more trouble. But it's worth it. There's a huge shoal of yellow snapper, 2-3 metre long barracuda, loads of moray eels, white grouper and a whole host of fish I can't identify. It's definitely the best dive I did there. Significantly it's up current of the urchin infestation, so there are very few there. 

On the last day, we did the Mogan wreck. There was deliberately sunk so that the submarine in Mogan harbour would have something to look at. It was a good dive, though we didn't see the stringray that's suppose to live there. We did see a shoal of barracuda and spent a couple of enjoyable minutes getting a small octopus to play with a snorkel. 

All in all, I think the diving was worth it. The dives were all pretty easy, being mostly sub-20m and the visibility was usually in excess of 20m. There was one day when it was down to about 5m, and it felt like we were back at Chesil beach, but this was unusual. The people who worked for Top Diving were friendly, knew their stuff and the rental equipment was good quality. They had planned to do some deep wrecks because a party of five was supposed to be arriving, but they never showed, which was a pity because I could have gone along. So if a group of you do want to go out there, then you can probably arrange to do some more demanding dives. It's probably not a place to go for a serious dive holiday, and Top Diving only do morning dives Monday to Saturday and afternoon dives Tuesday to Friday, but if you want to go somewhere that's warm, is relatively inexpensive, has a bit of nightlife and get some dives in, then it's ideal. 

Top Diving can also be contacted by phone on: 

Telephone: 968 50 06 09
Fax: 968 56 55 26
The code for Spain is 34, and you omit the first '9' if dialling from outside the country.