Altitude specialization: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Guatemala isn’t the first place that springs to mind when thinking of Central American diving destinations (probably Belize’s Blue Hole tops that list), however, there is a pretty unique diving experience in the middle of Guatemala.IMG_6130Lake Atitlán is a freshwater lake made from a collapsed volcanic crater, flanked by three volcanoes (including Volcán San Pedro).

Already a deep lake (reaching a max depth of nearly 350 meters), it has risen 10 meters in the last 10 years! This has created some unique features to explore, including underwater hotels.

An added complication is the location of the lake – located at 1,562 meters. The decreased air pressure and oxygen content at altitude adds complexity to the dive, but Zach at ATi Divers was able to guide us through all the stuff we needed to know.IMG_6139We got suited up (in two layers of 7mm thick wetsuits), which do wonders for your figure  – you turn into a super svelte pillowy neoprene Michelin man.

Our first dive of the day was at Agua Caliente. In addition to being at altitude, this was my first freshwater dive!

It was really interesting to manage buoyancy in this freshwater altitude dive. It was nearly impossible to descend at the start of the dive, but once you got below 3-4 meters, you started to drop like a rock and would need to inflate your BCD in order to gain some sort of even trim.

Once we overcame these initial struggles, the dive was so cool! We had descended to the underwater hotel and swam into the sunken sauna. Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 5.51.06 PMAfter a short “steam”, we headed to the bar to have a beer. IMG_6146IMG_6954After touring the hotel a bit longer, we headed to find some volcanic hot pots. By putting your hands in the silt, you can find really hot spots, heat from volcanic vents. The water was cool (around 20-22 degrees), but these volcanic vents were wonderfully warm! IMG_6147To finish the dive, we swam through a kelp forest before gracelessly hoisting ourselves back into the boat.IMG_6952Back on shore, we warmed ourselves with coffee, tea, and sunshine. Unfortunately, this meant I needed to use the facilities, which involved totally extracting myself from the two layers of wet neoprene AND a one-piece long-sleeve bathing suit. Not the easiest feat! Equally daunting is reapplying this ensemble.

With my body securely zipped into the wet suit and a fresh tank, we headed back onto the boat for our second at Casa del Mundo.

This dive started at a partially underwater hotel, which, interestingly is still operating the upper floors. We got to swim through the deserted balconies and empty rooms. Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 5.29.49 PMIMG_6951IMG_6950We then swam along a wall of volcanic rock, watching giant crabs scuttle about, before ending in another kelp forest.

In addition to these two dives, we completed some theory and are now newly minted altitude specialists!DCIM103GOPROGOPR5711.JPG

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