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Learning to dive in Utila, Honduras was the best decision I made during my year-long trip around the world. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. Diving in Utila opened up an entirely new part of the planet to explore and now it’s one of my favorite activities to do when I travel.
Where is Utila?
Utila is a 12-square-mile island off the coast of mainland Honduras. Travelers often skip Honduras because of its dangerous reputation but the bay island area, including Utila, are perfectly safe to visit. Honduras sits between Guatemala and Nicaragua so if you plan to travel overland through Central America it’s a logical and easy stop between the two countries.
Aerial view of Utila, Honduras
How to get to Utila
By bus from Guatemala
Guatemala and Honduras share a border by land which you can cross. From Rio Dulce in Guatemala, the border crossing is about two hours away. Given Honduras’ reputation, I was a bit worried about this border, but it ended up being the easiest border crossing I experienced in Central America. There was no lineup, no questions asked, and only a small fee to get through (Q30).
Once you get past the border and are in Honduras, it’s about another six-hour drive to La Ceiba, where you can catch a ferry to Utila. The ferry runs twice a day, every day of the week. Check here for the latest ferry times. We took the 4:40 PM and the views were lovely as the sunset across the ocean.
By bus from Nicaragua
There is a shuttle that goes from the port of La Ceiba to Leon, Nicaragua (or visa versa). It’s a long journey in total, about 13 hours. I booked the shuttle through Tornabé. I like this company because the drivers will actually talk to you, and they speak pretty good English. They offer door to door service, stop lots for snacks/bathroom breaks, and have a movie player on the bus.
The border crossing from Honduras to Nicaragua is the longest border I’ve experienced in Central America. It took over two hours which was mostly just sitting in the car waiting. They spray the car down with pesticides, take everyone’s body temperature and ask a lot of questions. Luckily our driver did most of the work going through and eventually, they gave us the OK. The fee to get into Nicaragua is $13 USD.
Diving in Utila
Utila borders on the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, the 2nd largest reef in the world after the Australian Great Barrier Reef. In Utila, there are over 100 different world-class dive sites to choose from. You can see many interesting things in the water including colorful reefs, caves and wrecks, hundreds of species of fish, and the whale shark, the largest fish species on earth.
Where to dive in Utila
I was recommended underwater vision so I decided to do my open water course there. I’m so glad that I did. I loved my experience, and recommend them to anyone looking to become a certified diver.
Another great reason to learn to dive in Utila is that it’s the cheapest place in the world to become a PADI certified diver. I was nervous as a first-time diver that the quality might be jeopardized for the cost but it was not. The staff is a perfect balance of being professional while still having fun.
Cost of diving in Utila
The total cost of the PADI open water diving course is $290 USD. This includes accommodation while completing the course. The dorm rooms are basic but the rest of the set-up is pretty awesome. They have a beachfront with volleyball, hammocks, and a full bar/restaurant with events going on every night. Here’s a drone video taken from the dock at underwater vision.
What to expect when diving in Utila
The course is run over four or five days (depending on weather) which includes two fun dives.
The first day you watch PADI videos and learn theory in the classroom. This was boring but luckily you can order beers and food from the bar during (just no beer before diving). The next day you will start the confined dives (in shallow water) where you practice the skills required by PADI. I found this stressful because I was still becoming comfortable breathing underwater, but my instructors were so patient and encouraging.
On the third day of the course, you will do the first two open water dives (aka in the deep ocean). I was so nervous heading out to my first real dive but my instructor was able to calm my nerves down.
It was so exciting to experience the amazing underwater world beneath us for the first time. You still have to do a few skills during these dives but they become easier as you become more comfortable in the water.
On the last two days, you complete two more confined dives to practice more skills, and two other open water fun dives. Then you write the final exam and it’s done. Completing my open water diving was such an accomplishment for me. I never thought I would get it because I had so much anxiety about diving, but the staff at underwater vision made it possible. They are amazing.
Diving is incredible. It allows you to explore an entirely new part of the world, full of amazing colors and marine life. Since becoming certified to dive in Utila, I’ve dived at over 30 different dive sites around the world.
What else to do in Utila besides diving
Locals will say there are two things to do in Utila: dive and party. In my experience, that’s pretty accurate, but I loved every second of my time there. The island is mostly diving shops and bars, but everyone who lives in Utila is super friendly and down to earth. From beach cleanups to all-night parties, the town has a great vibe about it.
I’ve been to many dive towns since Utila and nothing compares to my experience there. If you want to get your diving certification, I cannot recommend Utila and Underwater Vision enough.
The ocean area surrounding Utila is wonderful to explore, even above water. You can rent paddleboards directly from underwater vision, or just relax on the dock and enjoy the sunset.
Safety in Honduras
When I visited Honduras it was actually a time of political turmoil. The president was sworn in for a second time amid protests over what the opposition says is election fraud. Even so, we didn’t face any problems going through the country and you would have never known this in Utila. I felt safe there and am happy I kept with my decision to visit Honduras. Don’t discount this country because of what you hear in the news.
If you want to get your diving certification, I can’t recommend Utila and Underwater Vision enough. I don’t know if I ever would have the courage to do it had it not been for the amazing dive culture in Utila, and encouraging staff at Underwater Vision. Affordable, beautiful, amazing. Just go here to learn to dive. You won’t regret it.