Puerto Rico’s dive sites are the hidden gem of the Caribbean. You have the same warm, clear blue water that makes the region famous without as much dive pressure.
We recently had the opportunity to go diving in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, with Simpatico Charters. They offer boutique custom snorkeling and diving excursions with plenty of personal attention. Read on if you’re considering diving or snorkeling in Fajardo, PR, on a freshly restored boat that’s surprisingly affordable.
Introduction to Diving in Fajardo
Diving in Fajardo is unique because it’s where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean, only five miles away from the deepest part of the Atlantic, the Puerto Rican Trench. It’s known for beautiful living coral reefs with a chance of something popping up that you wouldn’t expect to see, including humpback whales in the winter and other large pelagics along with green sea turtles and manatees.
The Fajardo reefs are part of La Cordillera Reef Nature Reserve, which starts at Cape San Juan and runs to Culebra Island. The reefs surround the Cordillera Keys, a small archipelago of keys such as Icacos Key, Ratones Key, Lobos Key, La Blanquilla Reef, Diablo Key, and Isla Palomino. These islands are only 1.5 miles offshore with multiple choices of beautiful reefs, so the captain can always pick the right reef for the conditions with protection from wind and chop.
Even though there’s deep water nearby, most Fajardo dive sites are accessible to open water divers. In some places, the sand goes down to 80′, but the heart of the reef is at 25-35′, so novice divers get safe dives, and experienced divers get long bottom time. There’s also no wasted time on safety stops because you can consistently route back to the boat on top of the reef at 15′.
Below is our interactive map for diving and snorkeling in Fajardo with Simpatico Charters. If the map doesn’t load, be sure to hit refresh😉.
The Dragon Fruit
Simpatico’s boat is the Dragon Fruit, a 32-foot sport fishing vessel with a powerful Caterpillar engine that cruises at 12 knots. She is tremendously stable because of her deep keel, similar to a sailboat. Simpatico put in over a thousand hours of recent restoration to ensure that the Dragon Fruit is ship shape. It’s not a luxury fishing yacht, but you’ll be comfortable, and it’s nimble enough to reach the optimal mooring balls adjacent to the best reefs.
We felt that the Dragon Fruit was configured well for diving. There was ample room for six divers with two tanks each. We entered the water with a back flip entry and exited easily via the ladder. With the small group size, there was plenty of help topside to pass up fins and any other gear you wanted, including your complete scuba set, before climbing on board. The boat was in excellent repair, so it started quickly and ran smoothly without fumes. There was even emergency oxygen on board just in case. The Dragon Fruit was well equipped to take six divers to the local dive sites comfortably and safely.
With 35 years of charter experience in Puerto Rico, Captain Michael Scott Walker knows these waters like the back of his hand. He’s also more colorful than the bright green Dragon Fruit. He was raised semi-Amish in Pennsylvania, but a work trip to Puerto Rico changed his life as a young adult. He came to the island caring for a boat load of sea-sick cows, took one look at paradise, and decided to stay. The rest, as they say, is history.
Captain Scotty is a world record-holding sport fishing Captain out of Club Nautico in San Juan and has been working in scuba and snorkeling around Fajardo for ten years. We found him to be an encyclopedia of information about all kinds of things Puerto Rico and, if you ask him, life in general.
First Mate Ruthie
Ruthie Hill is a certified swimming instructor, lifeguard, water rescue emergency first responder, and PADI SCUBA instructor. She oversees dive operations and provides in-water guide services on all charters.
Some dive pros are all testosterone and adrenaline, but not Ruthie. She’s one of the most conscientious and spiritual divers we have ever had the pleasure to blow bubbles with. We loved that she utilized an experiential learning process by having a retrospective period after the session. For her, diving is about empowerment to be able to overcome any anxiety. I think her words say it best –
I am a little impatient as a person, but in the water, I have massive respect for people who are doing things against their survival instincts. It’s been an interesting process for me, having experienced anxiety in other areas of life. Having people accomplish this goal allows them to take it to other areas of their lives.
There’s something that triggers in your brain, maybe it’s the vastness of the ocean, but there’s something that makes you anxious. You need to make friends with your fear and learn that it’s there to protect you. Thank that part of you for what it’s trying to do, that it loves you and is keeping you safe. You have to negotiate with that part of you.
Scuba Charters in Fajardo
Simpatico Charters offers private dive charters for up to six guests. Charter includes tanks, weights, fins, and masks with gear rental of BCDs and regs is available for an additional $40 pp. They’re two tank dives with morning and afternoon availability.
Dive charters include a fabulous turkey and ham sandwich spread with homemade hummus, corn chips, water, soda, and beer (after diving, of course).
Simpatico also offers trips for individual divers on Sunday afternoon, Wednesday morning, and night dives on Friday night.
Snorkel Charters in Fajardo
With the small trip sizes and Ruthie’s patience and experience with anxiety, their snorkeling tours are family-friendly and well suited for experienced snorkelers, beginners, or even those who don’t know how to swim. They feature detailed instruction and in-water guidance with supervision at all times. This policy ensures high safety and the maximum enjoyment of your snorkeling experience.
On a Simpatico snorkel charter, you can learn about coral, tropical fish, sea turtles, and some of Captain Scotty’s renowned wisdom. The use of high-quality fins, snorkels, and masks are included in the price of the charter. It’s a significantly different experience from going on a large boat that lets you snorkel from the shore on your own if you bring the gear.
The private snorkel charter includes a fabulous homemade meal, water, soft drinks, and beer. From what we’ve heard, the snorkeling meal is a massive spread of grilled chicken and fixings that are authentically Puerto Rican.
Diving in Culebras
Culebras is a bucket list diving destination for many for its turtle encounters and massive coral reefs. The Carlos Rosario Reef alone has 4-5 mooring balls. You could spend a week diving in Culebras and still not see it all.
No matter how wonderful Culebras seems in theory, it’s financially impossible for any small charter to make the trip profitable. The Fajardo to Culebras boat trip is 20 miles one-way or a 40-mile round trip. The Dragon Fruit is reasonably powered, but with its 12-knot max speed, you’re still looking at a 3-4 hour motor. Not only does this journey mean they can only run one tour a day, but it will cost over $350 in gas, not including maintenance costs. Also, there’s the uncertainty of making a crossing like that in a small boat. You would have to more than double the costs of the charter to make Culebra trips feasible for small boats.
There are bigger, faster ships that can make the crossing in half the time that carry enough people to make the trip profitable, but you will not get the personalized service. They might not even make the trip at all if there’s any chance of bad weather. When shopping for a trip to Culebra, you can ask questions to gauge the likelihood that you’ll make it to Culebra, such as: “did your boat go to Culebras yesterday,” or “when was the last time you went there?” You don’t always get a straight answer, but they’re good questions.
The better question is, perhaps, do you want to go to beautiful water and see amazing things instead of checking a box? Fajardo has the same water, coral, and abundant turtles as Culebras. Even with two days of diving, you will not see everything that diving in Fajardo offers.
The numbers tell the story; if you want to dive Culebras, spend a couple of days on the island. Be sure to book your trips with a local dive company that knows their dive sites as well as Captain Scotty knows the waters around Fajardo😉.
Final Thoughts on Simpatico Charters
We were so impressed with the personal attention and care Simpatico provides; why would we go anywhere else for diving or snorkeling? It’s not substantially more expensive than big boat party tours, and if you include the gear price, you might save money. We were totally spoiled!
We loved that Simpatico only runs dive charters or snorkeling charters. They never mix their boats. Dive reefs should be more than 25′ deep, and snorkeling should be done in water less than 18′ deep. You can’t combine the two and make everybody happy. Plus, you can’t compare snorkeling from the shore to snorkeling from a boat. It’s so much better (and safer!) from a boat. Plus, there are so many things to do in Fajardo and unique places to stay, like the iconic El Conquistador Hotel, holistic wellness retreats, and even Simpatico’s own Casa de Encanto, that you’ll have a complete vacation around incredible underwater experiences. Plus, since Puerto Rico is a domestic destination with cheap flights, this is one of the most affordable Caribbean dive vacations around.
The only thing we wished we knew before going on our Simpatico Charter was how to enter the Villa Marina. It’s a gated marina, and the guard wasn’t terribly helpful. That’s why we put the gate and the slip location for the Dragon Fruit on our interactive map. Navigate to the gate first, then follow the road to the slip. There are bathrooms and parking available there and wash stations for your gear. Once you get on board with Scotty and Ruthie, prepare to be entertained and discover a true hidden gem of the Caribbean.
Disclosure: A big thank you to Simpatico Charters for hosting us and allowing us to utilize some of the images❣️ For more travel inspiration check out their Facebook and Instagram accounts.
As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.
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