The small island of Utila is located off the eastern coast of Honduras, right next door to the bigger, more popular (and more expensive) island of Roatan. The ferry terminals to the two islands are located right next to each other as well, with the Roatan bound travelers waiting in air-conditioned luxury, while the Utila bound travelers sit on wooden benches outside the ramshackle ticket office. When the ferries arrive Roatan-bound passengers wheel their luggage to porters and file onto a large, robust ferry while the Utila bound passengers stack their backpacks on a rickety luggage rack and cram onto the tiny, wave-skipping boat nicknamed the “vomit comet”.
We read that Roatan has better beaches, more infrastructure and a larger variety in restaurants. So why did we chose to spend over a week on the much smaller, far less developed Utila? Just like basically everyone else on Utila, we came to scuba dive. Utila is known for being one of the cheapest places to learn to dive, and we had been looking forward to this adventure above all others.
After a one hour ferry ride we were greeted by a swarm of dive shop representatives, all vying to get as many backpackers as possible to choose their course from the sea of operators on the island. There are at least 15 dive shops on Utila and while you can reserve ahead online, we had decided to choose by walking around and talking to various operators. We had taken this approach in San Ignacio, and had chosen Mayawalk solely based on the positive vibes in their office, and they had gone out of our way to help take care of us.
We had done a little research ahead of time and focused on three dive shops, Alton’s, Parrot’s and Captain Morgan’s, and while we found all three to be warm and friendly, in the end we chose to work with Captain Morgan’s because they have hot water (a high priority for me, because I WILL NOT shower in cold water, I’d rather be dirty…), they visit the north side of the island, where we had heard the best diving was, and the hostel felt like a community and had a “hang out” vibe, versus a party vibe.
As total newbie scuba divers we started with the basic PADI Open Water Course, which teaches safety and the fundamentals of diving. The course is usually taken over four days and includes some classroom time, a few dives where you practice skills, and then a couple free dives at the end. We paid $288 each, which included the course, all the necessary equipment, and four free nights in the Captain Morgan dorms. You can pay to upgrade to a private room, but we stuck it out in the dorms to save some money.
So did we enjoy our time on Utila? Did we love scuba diving as much as we thought we would? Stay tuned to find out!
Dollars and Sense
Ferry to Utila- $28/person each way (yeah, freaking expensive)
PADI Open Water Course- $288/person (includes four free nights in a dorm)
TIPS: We loved choosing our dive shop based on our own impressions, but I was really glad to have done a little research ahead of time because there are an overwhelming number of choices.
TIPS: Basically all the shops have offices along the main street through the main part of town, so it is really easy to walk from one shop to the next, a taxi (tuk tuks only) is not necessary.