Okay, let’s face it. You probably wouldn’t be coming here if you weren’t interested in diving. Utila isn’t known for its white sand beaches. Sure if you want a slow pace this is a wonderful location, and one of the safest places in the world. But it is also home to some of the cheapest diving in the world as well, especially if you’re considering becoming a diver or taking your current certification further. So here’s my breakdown for you.
Dive Resorts: I’ve been to both Laguna Beach Resort and Coral View Beach Resort and Dive Center and would recommend either one. I have also heard good things about Deep Blue [Disclaimer: Deep Blue is a sister company of the dive shop where I work, but they do not know I'm doing this post] and Utopia. Utila is also home to the live-aboard Utila Aggressor. I enjoyed a nice tour of their ship and must say if it was in my budget range, I’d jump at the chance to go diving with them.
Dive Centers: One thing you won’t find in short supply is a place that offers diving and dive courses. While most offer great quality, there are some that stand out more in my mind. I only recommend places that I would send a loved one to. I’m listing them in alphabetical order, not in order of preference:
- Alton’s Dive Center: This is a nice, busy shop right before the bridge. They are also home of the famous Booze Cruise complete with a disco ball on their boat. Their instructors and divemasters are all passionate about what they do, and you’ll be in good hands. It is kid and dog friendly and located in a quiet part of the island, though it sports its own nightlife right on the premises.
- Coral View Beach Resort and Dive Center: If quiet and secluded is your speed, this is your top choice. It is about a 15-minute walk from the town center and surrounded by residences. It has some of the best snorkeling and shore diving on the island. They also have a large salt water pool. Their instructors and dive staff are quite excellent, very friendly, well organized and will make sure you have a great time AND stay safe. They are very kid friendly. In fact I did my instructor training here, and they even made Tigger a “man cave” complete with TV, DVD, and a Wii so he would be busy and we could spend time together during breaks, etc., since the program was for 8 hours a day for 10 days straight.
- Deep Blue Divers: This is a small shop that is very laid back. You are close enough to restaurants, grocery stores, and nightlife but far enough from them that you’ll be able to get to sleep at night. Staff are all professional and fun. They are also dog and kid friendly. There is also a resident cat named Trouble who is one of the most spoiled cats I’ve encountered. [Disclaimer: I currently work for Deep Blue Divers as a dive instructor, although they do not know I'm doing this post and have had no input on my comments.]
- Underwater Vision: This is a larger dive shop that attracts a younger crowd and also people who enjoy a dive center with a vibrant social life. Accommodations range from cheap dorms to private honeymoon-type suites. Especially if you enjoy playing pool or volleyball. Again, they have excellent staff who will ensure you have fun and a great time.
- Blackish Point: These are a group of caverns with natural skylights on the popular north side of the island.
- Black Hills: This is a sea mound with abundant sea life. Recently one lucky group of divers had a whale shark swim over their heads while there. It is a popular site with these docile sharks, so most trips out there also include a search for whale sharks if they’ve been spotted in the area (usually March and April).
- Pinnacle: There is a nice swim-through called the chimney that is a popular dive for the more adventurous. The entry is at about 36 meters, and it’s a nice short swim.
- Paraiso: This is a beautiful spot with huge amounts of fish, both small creatures and larger ones.
- Airport Caves: Another great site with some swim-throughs and small caverns. There are often schools of very tiny fish in these areas, and if you just sit still you’ll get to become part of their school. It’s also a great site for night diving and can be accessed as a shore dive.
- Black Coral Wall: There are some very dramatic, amazing walls here, as well as some of the namesake rare black coral which used to be used as currency.
- Halliburton wreck: This was an intentional wreck. The visibility from the surface is often limited which makes for a fun descent. As you follow the mooring line down the wreck slowly materializes beneath you. I’ve been there probably 50 times at least and love it every time. As you descend down the tower at the stern of the boat, if you follow it down to the starboard (right) side, you’ll find a skeleton of a baby pilot whale. It’s a unique sight. Around the wheelhouse you’ll find different items that have been left behind by divers. It’s a tradition that if you’ve spent time on Utila, you leave something behind on the Halliburton before you leave. It’s interesting to see what some people have left.