The diving around the island is fantastic and great for all certification levels. You can also see whale sharks and dolphins if you’re lucky! Not just see them but snorkel with whalesharks as well, a truly magical experience. There are 60 dive sites around the island from wrecks to drop offs, shallow coral gardens, sea mounds and an abundance of sea life.
If you’re a fun diver, ask about trips to the north side of the island. Utila is one of the busiest places for the open water course in the world and the north side isn’t really suitable for courses so if you want to see some spectacular sites then be sure they go there before you book your dives. The best north side dives are CJ’s Drop off and Joshua Swash.
If you’re doing your course you’ll probably head to Madelines, a shallow sandy area that’s clear and great to explore. You’ll be sure to see all sorts of reef fish and coral, eagle rays and schools of squids are known to hang out here. Black Coral Wall and Silver Gardens are great shallow wall sites covered in black coral and teaming with all sorts of angelfish, groupers, bass, crabs, blue chromis and filefish. The top of the reef here is The Maze, a laberinth of corals great to explore.
The Haliburton Wreck is for advanced divers or the deep dive on your advanced course. At 30 metres deep, this big cargo ship is a cool site. As you descend along the line suddenly this wreck appears out of nowhere! Groupers, pufferfish, thorny rock oysters and arrow crabs hang out here. There’s another small wreck off Ted’s Point at 18 metres and it’s beautiful to see all the garden eels in the sand along here. You’re almost sure to see an eagle ray around this site somewhere, or maybe a southern stingray buried in the sand. Black Hills is an awesome sea mound, great for advanced divers.
Most people come here for diving but the snorkelling is also amazing and there are some great things to see on the island. There are a couple of nice beaches, a private one you have to pay for on the far east of the island. The sand flies are monsters here though so be aware! The other is a public beach at the far west and nice for a swim. If you want to snorkel then you can do that from the front of Deep Blue Resort in the west, or hire a kayak from the east somewhere and head to lighthouse. Please be careful snorkelling here as there is heavy boat traffic.
There’s a plane wreck in the jungle near the airport that’s worth a look but it’s hard to find so go with a local or someone who knows where it is. Climb to the top of Pumpkin Hill for a great view, pack a picnic lunch and hire a boat to the water cays for you own private island for the day, the beach is gorgeous here and you can have a BBQ and snorkel in lush surrounding without many people around.
There’s only one main street on the island so you’re sure to find everything you need here: your dive centre, some great restaurants and street food, all the bars (Treetanic is straight up the hill from the port) and accommodation. It may be only one street but you’ll find the days melting into each other and a week later you wonder where the time went. Enjoy your time in this wonderful paradise.
(By Kelly Luckman)
A gem in the middle of the Caribbean and off the northern coast of Honduras, Utila is a great place to get off the grid for a while and it’s also one of the cheapest places in the world to dive. Be careful though, you might get ‘stuck in the U’ and never leave! It has happened to many people and once you visit it you’ll understand why.
Make your way to the port of La Ceiba. There are good bus connections from anywhere in Central America and travel is fairly cheap if you stick to the chicken buses, it’ll take a little longer but it’s safer than the tourist buses and mini vans. Once you’re in La Ceiba you can choose either travelling by ferry, which departs twice a day at 9am and 4pm for about $20, or take a flight for $55, which departs twice a week. Please be aware that if you suffer from sea sickness then you should take a tablet before getting on the ferry.
When you arrive then you’ll be inundated by touts trying to sell you diving. You can research your options before you go but you’ll get the best deal if you just show up and shop around. There are about 14 dive centres quite close to each other along the waterfront so choose one, dump your bag and tell them you’ll be back. DO NOT sign anything to leave your bags there, they may try and tell you it’s so they aren’t responsible for them, but if you don’t read the fine print you’ll discover you’ve signed over $40 for them minding your bags! Cheeky, I know but it happens.
Most of the deals will be the same, about $260-$280 for your course and this includes accommodation, two free dives, maybe free kayaks with mask and snorkel or something extra. The things you need to look at when you are shopping around is the quality of the equipment (ask to see the BCD’s and regulators that you’ll be using), the boat (that it’s in good condition and big enough for a course) and most important that they have oxygen and first aid on the boat (not just in the dive centre). Do not be afraid to ask these things. Fun dives are cheaper in a package and sometimes include accommodation. Ask whether or not your package includes the reef and chamber fees as some centres add this afterwards and it should be included in the cost.
Sometimes you’ll be offered a very cheap course and you will get what you pay for, pay a little bit extra for good quality. Also be aware that centres close to the port might do their confined session in the water there and that all the sewerage goes into the water so it’s not very clean. Centres further away from the port have treated sewerage.
If you’re not diving then you might not get the same enthusiastic greeting at the port. You can find very cheap accommodation if you shop around, most dive centres won’t let you stay there unless you’re diving or it’s the low season, but turn right from the port and there’s a few places to choose from ranging from $10-$50 a night per room depending on your budget. It’s pretty noisy around the port area because of the night clubs so if you don’t like noisy then walk a little further down the road.
The nightlife is brilliant on the island, something happening every night. The most spectacular bar you’ll ever see (one of the top 5 bars in the world) is the Treetanic Bar which took 14 years to build and is truly a place you won’t forget. Start there for a beer then head to Tranquilla to party your night away. You’re sure to come across a man called Webby somewhere along the way. He is a very interesting character and knows absolutely everything about the island. He also loves to help the tourists so if you need to know anything, ask him. Just to have a conversation with him is an adventure in itself and one not to be missed!
(By Kelly Luckman)