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Utila Review and Travel Report

Diving Utila with Captain Morgan and Bay Islands College of Diving

Author: L Cooper

Report Date: 11-Apr-2005

Utila trip report: Captain Morgan's, BICD and more...

Well, here it is, my trip report.
My husband & I were in Jewel Cay for 5 days, and on Utila for 2 days. The trip started out differently then we planned, with a big storm and unplanned overnight in La Ceiba, when the Utila airstrip was closed.

IN LA CEIBA:

Based on LP we went to Hotel Caribe. DO NOT GO HERE.
I have never experienced a more disgusting room. Not in Malaysia. Not in Guatemala. Not in Mexico. We looked at the room (unfortunately too quickly) before paying the $13. The employee was nice enough, and showed us the aircon and the cable tv (he was very proud of the room, we think it was their "best").

But then we looked closer. When we got into the room I was ready for a nap, but when I lifted up the sheets...ugh, very used sheets, hairs, the whole nine yards. Then, the bathroom - the amount of roach droppings in the sink was totally shocking (living in Guatemala for the past few months, we have dealt with a steady supply of roaches and droppings, but this was beyond something even I could deal with). It must have been weeks since somebody stayed in this room, and even longer since somebody cleaned it. It really was gross.

So, we left minutes after checking in. When we explained the room was not satisfactory, and asked for our money back, we were told the manager had just come by and taken all the money away (surprise!). Well, we left anyway.

We later found El Colonial Hotel. For about $15, we had a totally acceptable room with A/C. Nice decorations, clean (well, there was that huge roach in the shower, but like I said, we can deal with a small number of the creatures). So, we can definitely recommend El Colonial Hotel. It’s also considerably cheaper than what most of the other stranded people we spoke with ending up paying.

On to Utila and JEWEL CAY:

CAPTAIN MORGAN'S
The next morning, the flight went off just fine. We arrived in Utila, took a pick-up to Captain Morgan's, and met Karen & Martha, two dive instructors with CM. They quickly took care of all our paperwork, sent us to Munchie's for breakfast "to go", then took us over to Jewel Cay. Since this boat is the same boat they take out to dive, we got to dive that morning! We had no trouble with gear (all free), so once we got to Hotel Kayla (on the Cay) we kitted up, got back on the boat, and went for our refresher with Martha.

All went well there, and the next day we started our Advanced Course with Karen.

We really liked the dive instructors we worked with. They were knowledgeable and friendly. The DM we did fun dives with after our course was great because he pointed out all kinds of creatures we most certainly would have missed. He led us on the dives, but also wanted to make sure we saw all the cool stuff he saw. Including a Diamond Blenney (sp?) and juvenile Spotted Drum :-)

THE HOTEL KAYLA:
This hotel is where Captain Morgan's is headquartered on the Cay. It has maybe 14 rooms, and is right on the dock. Wonderful snorkeling right out the front door (barracuda and an octopus!). We thought we would take advantage of the kayaks, but never did. Our room was fine, private room with bath. No hot water of course. And, there is a water shortage on the Cays (on Utila too, actually), so we tried to limit consumption as much as possible.

The hotel has a "living room" of sorts with a tv and some dvd's. There were 3-4 choices in English, and others in Spanish. We watched "Paycheck" and some other movie while we were there, sitting around in a group with the other divers. Fun!

Downside: The boat was late every day. It came from Utila every morning, and I think it was supposed to arrive at 8am, for an 8:30am departure to dive. However, every day it was late. So, we would set our alarm for 7am, get a quick breakfast and get kitted up, but then we would end up waiting for a while. So, if sleeping in a little is for you, then so is CM, but only if you plan on the boat being late :-)

We also ended up going to the same dive site more than once, partially because of the bad weather in the beginning, and partially because the classes that are running may dictate the site.

FOOD:
We spent a lot less on food on Jewel Cay (about 1/2) as compared to living on Utila, There are only 3 restaurants on the Cays, and after a while I did get bored. For breakfast we had Baleadas, for lunch I had a fish burger 3 days in a row (its a great fish burger, but the third day, I was over it already!). My husband switched between lasagna and fish burgers. Dinner - one night a local baked a bunch of pizzas, other nights, it was pretty much lasagna or a burger. Once we moved over to Utila, there was a lot more variety, and of course, we took advantage of that, so as a result, we spent more on food :-)

ONTO UTILA:
After finishing our Advanced Course and 2 free fun dives (included) at CM, we went over to Utila. We spent a few hours walking around checking out dive sites. Prior to our trip, I had spent a lot of time on LP and Scuba Board, researching dive sites, and wanted to check out my favorites. We went to Ecomarine and met Tex (he has a great hotel set-up for divers), stopped in Deep Blue, had a great conversation with a friendly DM at Cross Creek, and finally on to BICD, who we decided to go with. We chose them because we already had a small dive center experience with CM, and wanted to see what a big operator was like.

BAY ISLAND COLLEGE OF DIVERS
Very different. First of all, the boat was BIG compared to CM. So, if this matters to you (it doesn't to us), they have big boats. They had a pretty efficient set-up for getting our gear, and they ran their boat in an organized fashion. Also, they have nice looking wetsuits, and their gear was in good shape, but for all that, two days in a row I couldn't get a BCD in small. I had to wear a medium. Never had a problem with this at CM.

We preferred the DM at Captain Morgan's, to the couple of DM's at BICD. They were all very nice people, don't get me wrong, but we liked the style of the DM at CM's. He went a little more slowly and pointed out all kinds of cool stuff. The DM's at BICD just led us, nothing more.

WHALE SHARKS:
We did not see a Whale Shark. Not with CM and not with BICD. Captain Morgan's didn't really make an effort to see one, and with BICD we did see a boil, and were the first boat near it, but the shark didn't surface. When other boats arrived, we left.

BICD speaks of a policy to never be among more than 2 boats near a Whale Shark. We were told "if we see a shark, and are snorkeling with it, and another boat comes up, that is fine. However, if 2 boats come up, we will leave. Furthermore, if there are already 2 boats at a shark, we will not approach". Well, we heard an opinion of an owner of another local establishment, that BICD just "says this", but doesn't follow their own policy. Well, I'm not one for gossip, and all I will say is what we experienced. When other boats approached, we left, not seeing the Whale Shark. And off in the distance, we saw 5-7 boats on one shark, and we did not approach.

My thoughts on this: From what I understand, Whale Sharks must surface to feed. They surface, there is this feeding frenzy around them, and all this activity causes a "boil". When there are 5-7 boats surrounding one feeding shark, and all kinds of enthusiastic snorkelers around that shark, it seems it will get freaked out, and descend again. So, if this happens each time the poor thing surfaces, just when is it going to eat? My husband and I went to Utila HOPING HOPING HOPING to see a Whale Shark. Wow, I really wanted to. But, when I saw the disgusting operation - up to 7 boats surrounding one shark, a spotter plane in the air - finding the shark and then radioing the location to whomever they radioed it to, I was very disappointed. Doesn't it seem like the feeding pattern is being disrupted, and so then may the migration pattern be disrupted?

Think about it. If you were hassled every time you went to eat at your favorite restaurant, wouldn't that stop being your favorite? Wouldn't you find a new place to eat?

What if that happens? People in their eagerness to see a Whale Shark may drive it away. Then nobody in Utila will see the sharks. Just about everyone I met saw a Whale Shark this trip, but we dove with CM and with BICD, and did not. But you know what? I was proud to be in a boat that didn't chase the shark down, and proud to be in another boat that refused to crowd the sharks style.

Well, enough of a rant on that.

All in all, we had an awesome time. And we WILL go back. We are having thoughts of doing our DM.

Oh yes, two more things: On Utila, stay at Rubi's. Very nice, offers more than the "new" Colibri Resort, for less.

And, if you're stuck in La Ceiba a while (we had a morning ferry, but then several hours to kill before our afternoon flight), take a cab for 30 Lps to the "MUSEO DE MARIPOSAS Y INSECTOS". There is an enormous collection of moths, butterflies, arachnids, beetles, etc from around the world. Robert, the guy who owns this, can give you a tour in English or Spanish, and did all the Guatemalan collections himself. 10 years ago he donated a collection to the Smithsonian, and already has worked up to another impressive worldwide collection. Almost everything is mounted, but I loved that I got to hold a Rhinocerous Beetle! We were also offered a cuddle with a tarantula, but couldn't bring ourselves to accept.

Thanks for reading!
Hope this helps someone else as much as ScubaBoard has helped me :-)

This report originally posted on ScubaBoard.com on 11-Apr-2005
Re-published with the permission of the Author