Stacy and I’s first priority on our trip to Indonesia was to get PADI scuba certified on Gili Trawangan. We both had tried to get certified at home before our trip to Thailand last year, but it was too last minute and too expensive for both of us. I had heard Gili Trawangan was one of the cheapest places in the world to get your scuba certification, mainly because the reefs are right there, and you don’t have to travel far between your pool and classroom and your open water dives. Stacy and I did research on TripAdvisor and in our Lonely Planet guidebook, and decided Lutwala Dive was the best choice for us.
Lutwala Dive is located on the northern tip of Gili Trawangan, away from the busy main drag. We contacted Tori, the office manager, via email beforehand and she set up our classes as well as arranged for transportation from our hotel in Denpasar to the boat dock in the morning and our fast boat ride to Gili T. We checked in at the office the day before our classes started and were given our Open Water classroom books, of which we had to read the first two sections before class the next morning.
Classes started around 9am each day and lasted until 5-5:30 in the evenings. It is a very full, rigorous course that is normally split into a week or even two weeks, and we fit everything into three days. There was a classroom portion, in pool activities and skills, and then open water dives out on the reef to practice our skills before enjoying a fun dive. Our instructor for the week was Joe, Tori’s husband, and he was an amazing teacher. He told us they moved to Gili T sight unseen from Florida to run Lutwala 3 years prior and we could see why they never left!! Joe was very accommodating with Stacy and I and very knowledgeable- he answered any questions we had and explained some of the tougher aspects of the class very clearly. There are two pools on the property for use during the open water classes, one shallow and one deeper to work on the skills. From their beachfront location, you easily hop right on the boat and go out to various dive sites for your open water practice dives. The staff helps with your equipment, although we assembled and carried our own most of the time since we were learning. There’s also a bar and restaurant on the property so we were able to order food during our lunch break every day and just add it to our bill.
The open water practice dives were simply incredible- there’s no other word for it. The number and variety of reef sites around the Gili islands gives you several different options for each dive and there is a large amount of marine life to look at. Our visibility and conditions on every dive were out of this world- sunny, clear days, visibility to 15-20 meters, and warm, refreshing waters. Our first practice dive was at Shark Point and even though Joe said it wasn’t very likely, we saw 4 sharks! We also dove at Halik, which is Lutwala’s “house reef” directly offshore from the dive school, as well as Turbo and the Bounty wreck. The amount of marine life was impressive on each reef, more so because Joe told us they are working to rebuild the reefs after fishermen were allowed to bomb the areas for fishing just a few years ago. We still saw dozens of sea turtles, 2 octopuses, a cuttlefish, 5 sharks, lobsters, lion fish, and thousands of other colorful fish, as well as some well-developed and colorful corals.
I would definitely recommend getting PADI Open Water certified on Gili Trawangan to anyone, and Lutwala Dive as the place to do it. The total cost of our certification was about $455 USD, but that also included our fast boast ride and hotel transfer from Bali, lunch each day during class, and a one-time reef conservation fee. If you arrange your own transportation to Gili T or just walk in to Lutwala and decide to do your certification, it will cost less. We loved it so much that we even took another “fun dive” the morning after we passed our certification tests, and that was very reasonably priced as well. It may be off the main drag, but the quality of the classes, equipment, and access to the ocean makes it worth walking that extra ten minutes around the north side of the island. The staff at Lutwala are really amazing and take the time to make sure you are completely safe and having fun at the same time, and make the classes enjoyable. Stacy and I are already planning to go back for our Advanced Open Water certification, so be ready for us Joe!!