Eat. Sleep. Dive. Repeat. Utila
Utila is a small quirky island located in the Caribbean off the coast of Honduras. It’s people are of African and British heritage and draw strong cultural influences from Jamaica and Latin America, making this a very unique place. A daily walk through the small town which is set along a curved bay we saw a diverse mix of locals speaking all kinds of languages and the strangest form of English I’ve here heard, sounding nothing like English. It’s a cute island with some nice beaches, a ton of bars and cheap food but the main draw of this island is he diving – backpackers flock from all over the world to take their first breaths underwater in the beautiful coral reefs around Utila. This is because it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to dive, there is an abundance of dive sites and the lifestyle is easy.
We chose to do our Open Water Course with Utila Dive Centre $279 with 5 nights accommodation in aprivate room at the Mango Inn and 2 free fun dives. There were perhaps a couple of better deals on the island but this company has an amazing record and we were not disappointed at all. We had a great group to dive with which included our 2 new friends from England – Graham and Vik, and young rowdy group of lads from England who entertained us daily with their shannanigans.
The course, led by Millie (a young English girl who moved to Utila 4 years prior to take up her love for diving) ran over 3 days and started with classroom work – watching daggy PADI videos from the early 90s showing how to use equipment, basic skills and effects of diving on the body and completing written assessments afterwards. Next we put our knowledge to the test and practiced these skills in the pool.
After another morning of classroom work we were ready for the open water. We took our boat out to a local reef and did our first official dives. It was beautiful underwater with so much sea life and coral, but we could not yet enjoy the beauty surrounding us as we were here to practice our skills and concentrate on completing them correctly. Some of the things we learnt were how to assemble our diving equipment, descend into the water practicing safety procedures, how to clear our masks underwater, what to do incase of air malfunction and how to ascend at a safe rate. There was so much information to take in and at first it seemed daunting to be able to remember every procedure we were shown and it’s very important to get the procedures correct when underwater – but our instructor and divemasters were very good at what they did. They took their time with each person, showed a clear and precise example of what to do underwater and then watched us perform it, where they would critique us until we got it perfect.
Over the next 2 days we completed 2 more dives where we perfected our skills and got to enjoy the gorgeous underwater world more as we got more comfortable at diving. Each afternoon we would reward ourselves with a drink at the dive centres bar whilst we watched the amazing sunsets from the wharf. They make the best Piña Coladas I’ve ever had!
One of the days between our dives we spotted a small pod of dolphins, the boat sped over towards them where we jumped into the water with them in our fins and masks, we quickly realised this small pod was well over 100 dolphins as they gracefully zipped past us on each side and below just meters in front of us. The sounds they made were incredible with a high pitched happy sound that filled our ears from all directions. It took well over 5 mins for the huge pod to pass, it was definitely one of the best things we have ever witnessed!
After 4 fun days of classroom and diving sessions we completed our exams and became official divers! We enjoyed it all so much that we decided on the spot to stay another few days and complete our advanced certification. For only $280 with 3 nights accommodation and 2 free fun dives how could we say no?
We got to choose 4 areas to specialise in and we chose
1. Drift Diving
We were dropped into a current where we learnt back roll into the water and descend instantly to avoid powerful top currents. We then learnt how to allow the current to work for us instead of swimming. A very important thing to learn as some of the best dives in the world are drift dives.
2. Night diving
We took off on the boat just after sunset and entered the water as it was getting dark. We had our own torches and learnt to stick together, how to sign in the dark using the torch, what to do if you get lost, etc. It was very eerie as on one side we had a big coral wall that was dimly illuminated by our torches where we could see lobsters and sleeping fish, the other side was a black abyss, I could hear my heart beating hard and fast as I looked out into the blackness, scared of what I couldn’t see. This was not a good dive for Ben either as he found it hard to see with poor lighting. We would probably never do a night dive again unless guaranteed to see something cool, but it was a great experience.
3. Deep water diving
We dove to a ship wreck at 30m where we learnt first hand how the pressure of the deep affects things such as air consumption and our bodies. A demonstration was made by cracking an egg, the yolk would float around as a whole sphere and we were able to play with the yolk like it was a ball, the pressure holding it together made it very hard to break. We also saw how depth affected colours, a colour wheel was shown to us and then a torch shone onto it would reveal the actual colours which varied quite abit to what we saw at first. We enjoyed this dive a lot and diving around a huge old ship wreck with a green moray eel resident and hoards of fish was very cool.
4. Peak performance buoyancy
This was our favourite dive where we learnt how to use breathing to control our buoyancy. Every single bit of air we inhale/exhale underwater makes a difference to our amount if buoyancy and to demonstrate that we completed tasks like swimming through hoops backwards, completing obstacle courses that involved needing to have the perfect buoyancy in order to get it right. This is so important for things like swimming through caves, and close to reefs without touching them.We also had a running race where we took off our flippers to show how important they are to us. Without them we instantly lost control, it was like having zero gravity on the moon and we could do very cool things like jump 4m high in slow motion.
There was no classroom work to complete this time, only homework which we would complete at our hotel after each dive. Once we had finished all of our dives and homework we were certified advanced divers!! We then had the next 2 days to enjoy our 4 fun dives as advanced divers. Unfortunately it rained over the next 2 days and whilst our dives were fun they were very cold! We both got a cold after diving in the rain and when our dives ran out we were sad to stop diving but happy to move on to our next location and get over our colds.
Some things we saw whilst diving
Whilst Honduras is dirt cheap, Utila is geared to towards tourists and is indeed more expensive but we found some great inexpensive spots to eat on the island:
Big Mammas Cafe – cheapest, cleanest and tastiest meals on the island in a family run restaurant meals from 50L – 200L / $2.5 – $10
Quick Bite Deli – Utilas answer to subway but better! All kinds of fillings including fresh caught tuna. Amazing flavoured smoothies and cakes of the day cooked on site. Footlong sun 160L / $8 bound to keep you full all day.
Che Pancho – they offer $1.5 hot dogs with sides of sauerkraut, onions and chimmichurri, $3 chorizo rolls and a large array of other Argentinean style mains.
Rio Coco – best coffee on the island with best wifi 40L / $2
Baleadas stands – located all along the main road are a great affordable protein filled snack of tortilla, beans, cheese and onion. You can add meat, egg or avocado as well. The basic baleada costs about 20-30 lempiras ($1-$1.40)
Trudy’s – Tuesday wings night is epic, they have the tastiest wings basted in inventive sauces such as Hawaiian(hot sauce with bacon and pineapple chunks) peanut butter jelly, teriyaki/buffalo, sweet and sour, etc. served with blue cheese sauce, carrot and celery sticks we got 18 wings for $13 be aware it’s super popular with tourists and locals alike – picking up huge batches of wings for the family after church…. but it’s worth the wait!