Independent Diving in Tulamben
When we heard from other travelers that Tulamben was a great place to dive independently without a costly guide, we were thrilled to say the least. For a while now, we have wanted to “waste” some dives to practice our underwater skills, especially our underwater photography skills. But the high cost of diving has so far prohibited such a luxury – at least until Tulamben came along with its relatively cheap and easy shore dives.
Many divers, especially novice divers, express concerns about diving without a guide. They wonder who’s going to show them around, point out animals or solve their problems. The reality is, dive masters are not underwater gods who know and see everything. A much better approach to diving is to actively pay attention to your surroundings, seek out animals on your own, and know what to do in an emergency rather than relying on your guide. And diving without a guide is probably the best way to practice these skills and build your confidence.
Of course, you can’t just foolheartedly don your dive gear and jump in. Certain preparations are absolutely necessary. Back in Kuala Lumpur, we bought a dive computer which is a great tool for scuba divers, but an absolute must for independent divers. Before we dived alone, we also questioned local dive masters about the dive sites in Tulamben and the prevailing conditions. Predictable currents? Good visibility? Easy to find? Even after a thumbs-up on all questions, we decided to do a couple of orientation dives around the U.S.S. Liberty with a local dive guide.
Familiar with the layout of the wreck, we were ready for our first solo TnT underwater exploration. Sure, the first dive without a guide felt a little like driving without a seat belt, but we quickly realized how great it was to determine our own dive. Rather than following a guide at a constant pace, we were able to stop whenever and wherever we wanted.
One morning out, we dived for 95 minutes in shallow water photographing colorful nudibranchs and soft corals. On another occasion, we spent the better part of our dive hanging out with a giant school of bumphead parrotfish and playing with a swirling school of jacks swimming in and out of the tornado-like cloud of fish. We also had time to fully explore the U.S.S. Liberty and its hidden swim-throughs.
In addition to our first two guided orientation dives, we did 12 independent dives in Tulamben: 6 at Liberty Wreck, 4 at Coral Garden, and 2 at the Drop-off. Not only did it cost a fraction of the usual cost of guided dives, it was also a valuable learning experience. We had hours underwater to experiment with camera settings and composition as well as spend much more time observing specific animals than we ever would have on a guided dive.
Beyond the flexibility, diving without a guide and working with our own dive computer gave us a much more personal connection to developing a dive plan and really brought home just how much that extra meter affects dive length. I think we learned more in 12 independent dives than we did in the last 50 guided dives.
We’ll definitely consider more independent diving in the future if conditions are right. Our next big dive location, however, is Komodo National Park. There, strong, unpredictable currents make independent diving inadvisable. In that situation, I’ll be more than happy to follow a guide who knows what he’s doing…
Tips for Diving Tulamben Independently
We rented our equipment from Puri Madha Dive Resort whose dive shop is right on the beach. They charged us IDR 150,000 ($17) for the equipment and IDR 30,000 ($3.50) per tank. This ended up being less than $10 per dive for 3 dives a day. Not too shabby considering a guided dive is $22 and up.
Also, make sure you check out the conditions before you dive independently, and always dive with a buddy preferably someone you have dived with before.