Why scuba diving in Utila was a let down

Utila is a small island off the Caribbean coast of Honduras. It’s a beautiful place to spend a week or two relaxing on the beach, swimming in the sea or eating at any of the great little restaurants. It’s also one of the most popular and (supposedly) cheapest places for scuba diving in the world.

To get here from wherever you are, head to San Pedro Sula and catch the bus to La Ceiba, it takes 3 and a half hours and costs US$6. The ferry to the island costs 542L ($25) one way and takes an hour. Once you arrive you will be surrounded and hassled by a hundred people telling you their hotel and dive shop are the best, feel free to ignore them all and look around yourself.

When looking around take into consideration what you want out of your time here. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Decide how much diving you’re doing: an Open Water or Advanced course, a 10-dive package or just one or two Discover Scuba dives.
  • Find out the prices for whichever option you choose and what it includes: equipment, accommodation, group sizes, food and drink on the boat, etc.
  • Check out the equipment: even if you don’t know anything about it ask them to show around and explain the basics, any place that uses new equipment will definitely brag about it.
  • If accommodation is included, be sure to check it out: some places are right on the water, some have AC and hot showers, some are quieter and some are full-blown party hostels.
  • Check the boat and the group size: ideally, on a course you don’t want any more than 4 people in your group so your instructor can give you as much help as you need, and if you’re fun diving you don’t want to be fighting with 6 other people about who gets to go in front.
  • Talk to the staff and other guests: find out who your instructor or dive buddy will be, get a feel for the place and see if these are the kind of people you want to spend a week with above and below the water.

After checking out almost every dive shop on the main road we decided to go with our first option, Alton’s Dive Center. The room was right on the water, it was quiet, the staff were lovely and it was free for every day we dived with them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take my own advice and we were in a group of 6 crammed onto the boat with another group of Advanced Divers as well, plus the guides and staff. It was cramped, rushed and we had to surface whenever the first person ran out of air which is a bit rubbish when you know you can last for another 20 minutes, they didn’t think to separate people based on skill.

The diving itself over the three days was ok… Our first day consisted of two dives to two unmemorable sites, one a drop off and one a drift dive with not much to see other than some coral and a few fish.

The second day started much better, our first dive was to the sunken wreck of the SS Haliburton, an impressive site, the dive takes you in and around the ship. The second dive was another unimpressive drift dive.

The first dive of the third day was to a site called The Maze and featured a 30m descent along the vertical wall before slowly making our way through a maze of rocks and coral until we reached the surface. Unfortunately, the last dive was yet another dull drift dive.

We spent our surface intervals motoring around the ocean looking for whale sharks and pods of dolphins. If it looks like you might have the chance to swim with them then they rush you into position before telling you that you will have to pay another $20 if you get into the water… so don’t get in unless you’re absolutely sure it’s worth it.

Overall it was a lot of money for only 2 great dives; it was crowded, the visibility was bad (we were there at the wrong time of year) and because our group was quite big I was coming up with a lot of air left so I felt a bit cheated. We also had a lot of problems with money, so be sure to take cash out on the mainland because the ATM’s and the bank on the island are pretty temperamental.

The Open Water course will cost you US$350 and that includes 4 dives over 5 days, plus 2 free fun dives and 4 nights accommodation. The Advanced Open Water course will cost you another $350 and includes 5 dives over two days, plus two fun dives and 3 nights accommodation.

If you’re just fun diving you will pay $75 for two dives or $350 for a 10-dive package. They say it’s the cheapest in the world, but Mexico was even cheaper so keep this in mind if you’re heading that way, and it certainly wasn’t the best diving I’ve ever done, not even close.

Sorry Utila, I just don’t get it.

Click here to view the full album.

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