Among scuba divers, Puerto Rico is often overshadowed by the other islands of the Caribbean, such as the Bahamas, Bonaire or Grand Cayman. Yet Puerto Rico includes Mona Island, the gem of a chain of small islands known as “The Galapagos of the Caribbean” for their rich and diverse ecosystems on both land and sea. Both Mona and its neighbors are protected as a nature reserve, and Mona lies 50 miles from the west coast of Puerto Rico, two conditions that combine to ensure that Mona Island retains a relatively pristine underwater environment teeming with colorful corals and thick schools of tropical fish.
The problem is that same 50-mile distance places Mona Island beyond the reach of scuba tourism. Nekton Cruises was the only live-aboard operator with regularly scheduled dive cruises to Mona Island, and they went out of business. Nekton’s bankruptcy left only two options for exploring Mona Island: the irregular live-aboard cruise and a private, chartered diving cruise. Neither option is a simple one, but for the diver willing to pursue it, Mona Island offers the best of the Caribbean in a location that guarantees beating the crowds.
Mona Island, Puerto Rico
Although Nekton Cruises has ceased operations, other live-aboard operators and dive clubs in the United States plan the odd trip to Mona Island. Diversified Divers, a Maryland-based scuba club, organized just such a live-aboard cruise to Mona Island. The problem with relying on an irregular cruise of this type is that you must first find one, and the best way to do that is to monitor scuba forums like Scuba Board for announcements, a substantial investment of time that may or may not pay off.
Organizing your own charter to Mona Island involves at least as much legwork as looking for an irregular live-aboard. You must find a suitable boat and hire it with a captain, crew, and at least one dive master who knows Mona Island’s dive sites.You must also either rent a compressor to re-fill air cylinders on the boat, or rent enough air cylinders to cover all the planned dives of the cruise, plus a few extra to provide a margin for error. The boat could be anything from a luxury yacht with cabins to a big power boat where you and the other divers sleep in hammocks or on the floor, while the crew could consist of just the captain or include a cook. It all depends on how much you are willing to spend. The best place to start looking for all these things is Rincon, on the west coast of Puerto Rico.
Of course, divers running their own charter can defray the costs by selling places on the dive trip, and at least a few divers will jump at the chance to go to Mona Island. However, you should never anticipate selling places on a charter as a means of paying for the cruise. If you (and any immediate partners) cannot pay for the entire trip outright, you shouldn’t try to organize the charter in the first place.