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Becoming a certified diver is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Learning to dive opened up an entirely new part of the planet to explore and it’s now one of my favorite activities to do while traveling. That said, I used to be terrified of diving and if it wasn’t for the amazing island of Utila Honduras, I don’t know if I would have ever gotten it.
If you’re considering learning to dive but aren’t sure where to get certified, then keep reading to find out why Utila should be your first choice. Even if you’re just looking for a nice island to visit while backpacking through Central America, Utila is a great place to go.
Utila is a small island located about 25 miles off of Honduras’s Caribbean coast. It’s the smallest of the bay islands after Roatan and Guanaja.
Honduras sits between Guatemala and Nicaragua so if you plan to travel overland through Central America it’s a logical stop between the two countries.
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.
Why Choose Utila to Dive?
Amazing Dive Sites
Utila borders on the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, the 2nd largest reef in the world after the Australian Great Barrier Reef. The area is protected so there are gorgeous thriving coral reefs and marine life there. Utila is considered one of the top dive sites in the Caribbean.
There are over 100 incredible dive sites to choose from in Utila, Some of the more popular ones are Spotted Bay, the Halliburton Ship Wreck, Aquarium, Eagle Ray Alley, and Lighthouse.
While diving, you can see a lot of marine life such as sea turtles, stingrays, seahorses, lionfish, angelfish, moray eels, nurse sharks, and more. Utila also has some cave and shipwreck sites to explore.
If you’re lucky you may even see the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. In fact, Utila is one of the best places in the world to see whale sharks. They are there all year but the peak season is in March/April and September/October. While I was there in January there were reports of one so we went out to find it, but luck wasn’t on my side.
I’ve also been told that it’s not uncommon to see dolphins in the water here. I’ve only swum once with dolphins while diving in Belize, and it was magical.
Since learning to dive in Utila I have been to many different dive hot-spots around the world, and nothing compares to the atmosphere of Utila. Everyone on this island lives and breaths diving, and it’s contagious.
You may enter the island as a diving novice but by the time you leave, you will be obsessed with the underwater world. Every traveler I’ve met who’s been to Utila feels the same way – you’ll be wanting to go back for more (or maybe you just won’t leave). It feels like a home away from home.
It attracts travelers from all over the world but is definitely more geared towards budget backpackers who want to party. If you are looking for fancy dive resorts, then check out Roatan.
World-Class Diving Schools
If you aren’t a certified diver yet or want to get your advanced or other certification, then Utila is the perfect place to do it. The main strip in town is lined with dive schools.
I was recommended underwater vision by a friend so I decided to do my open water certification there. I am beyond happy with that choice. I loved my experience there which I’ve written more about below.
I’ve also heard great things about Utila dive center.
Another great reason to learn to dive in Utila is that it’s one of the cheapest places 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 were so professional while still making the course fun.
The total cost of my PADI open water certification with Underwater Vision was only $290 USD in 2018. This included accommodation while completing the course, so it was amazing value.
If you already have your open water diving certification, you can get another certification course while in Utila such as the two-day advanced course. I ended up doing my advanced in Northern Colombia, but many people stick around Utila to do their advanced after getting the open water.
Even if you just want to get some fun dives under your belt, Utila is a great place to do it because of the affordable prices.
My Experience Learning to Dive with Underwater Vision in Utila Honduras
I spent five beautiful days learning to dive in Utila.
We arrived in the evening from Honduras and they promptly signed us up to join the class starting the next day.
I woke up the next morning to pouring rain which was suitable because it was all classroom training. We had to watch a couple of hours of PADI videos and learn theory. It wasn’t the most interesting thing in the world, but luckily you can order beers and food from the bar during the classroom training (just never beers before diving).
On the second day we headed out of the classroom to practice our first few confined dives. These are often done in a pool but we just did them in the shallow water right next to Underwater Vision.
The first time we went underwater my entire body went into overdrive because I just wasn’t comfortable breathing underwater yet, but the instructors were so patient and encouraging. It’s a really weird sensation, but I promise you do get used to it.
On the third day of the course, we headed out on the boat for our first ocean dives. I was a nervous wreck heading out to the first dive site and almost had a panic attack on board, but the instructor was able to calm me down. And once I got over that initial fear, I was mesmerized by the experience.
It was so exciting to experience the underwater world for the first time. We saw a turtle and I completely lost my mind!
We still had to practice a few skills during these dives but they become easier as you get more comfortable in the water.
On the last two days, we completed two more confined dives to practice more skills, and two other open water dives just for fun. Followed by a written exam and voila – I am a certified diver!
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.
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.
Things to do in Utila Besides Dive
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. Tranquila Bar, Treetanic Bar, and Mango Tango are three of the most popular bars there.
That said, there are things to do in Utila even if you’re not a diver. There were many other backpackers staying at Underwater Vision who weren’t even diving!
Getting around Utila is very easy. Most things are accessible by foot, as the majority of the hostels, dive centres, and grocery stores are located on the south side of the island. The town is basically one main street. If anything is too far, you can always catch a tuk-tuk for cheap!
Kayak and Sup
The ocean area surrounding Utila is wonderful to explore, even above water. You can rent paddleboards directly from underwater vision, or elsewhere in town. We took SUP out at sunset and it was absolutely gorgeous to see the sun setting over the ocean. There are also some beautiful mangroves you can kayak through.
Enjoy the Beach
Utila is a Caribbean island after all! There are lots of beautiful beaches there, which make a perfect place to watch the sunset. There are both public and private beaches in Utila. I recommend Bandu beach which is a private beach with a $3 entry fee.
Visit the other cays
There are water taxes that can take you to the other cays around the area. Water caye is one of the most popular ones. It’s the perfect place to go with a couple of friends and spend the afternoon relaxing on the beach and go snorkeling. It’s a true tropical paradise.
Hike Pumpkin Hill
Pumpking hill is the highest point in Utila at 74m where you can get beautiful 360 views of the island from the top.
Where to Stay in Utila
Most of the dive centers in Utila offer free or discounted accommodation if you purchase a diving certification package.
I stayed at Underwater Vision while completing my diving 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.
Even if you aren’t diving, most of the dive schools will let you pay to stay there. Or, you can stay at one of the many guesthouses in Utila.
How to get to Utila
From within Honduras
The main airport in Honduras, Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport, is in San Pedro Sula. Although you can actually fly into Utila from there, the schedule is very limited. You’ll likely end up taking a bus, in which case you need to get to La Ceiba on the coast.
From La Ceiba, you can catch a ferry to Utila or Roatan.
The ferry leaves La Ceiba twice a day at 9 am and 4: 40 pm. And from Utila to La Ceiba at 7:00 am and 3:20 pm. It takes about 45 minutes. We took the Utila Dream Ferry at 4:40 PM from La Ceiba and the views were lovely as the sun set across the ocean.
If you are already on Roatan, you can just take the ferry over to Utila.
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 around $4 USD.
Once you cross the border it’s about another six-hour drive to La Ceiba, where you can catch a ferry to Utila.
There is a tourist 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 didn’t mind it though, the drivers speak pretty good English and will make sure you are OK. They offer door to door service, stop lots for snacks/bathroom breaks, and play movies.
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.
You can also come via bus from El Salvador.
Safety in Utila
Travelers often skip Honduras because of its dangerous reputation but the bay island area, including Utila, is perfectly safe to visit.
When I visited Honduras it was 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 was happening while in Utila. I felt completely safe there.
Like most places in Central America, you’ll want to avoid walking alone at night here as this is when most crime happens.
I always recommend traveling with travel insurance, especially if you are going to be diving. I use and love World Nomads because they cover a wide range of adventure activities.
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.
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