In the past I made two trips to Utila and stayed at Laguna Beach each time. When you book one of the resorts like Laguna, Deep Blue, or Utila Lodge they will arrange for your flight from the mainland.
However this time I flew into San Pedro Sula with no reservations other than a return ticket 18 days later. I checked with SOSA and found their flight to Utila that day was booked.
So, taxi to town, bus to La Ceiba, taxi to hotel in La Ceiba, taxi to ferry in the morning and a ride on the Utila Princess dropped me in "downtown" Utila.
I walked down the main street looking for a place called Rubi's Inn, but they were not around. I walked back up the street which was hotter than you-know-what, gave up and noticed I was across from Hollands Inn guest house. For $15 I got a clean room with a noisy fan, torn screens and a private bath with a cold shower.
After two nights there I managed to find the Rubi's and spent the rest of the trip there. Rubi's is pretty nice, the screens are not torn (well, not completely perfect) it is on the water, private baths and there was a lots of hot water. They cleaned the room every day, and the owners are super nice people. If you are really cheap some of the dive shops have places to stay for $4 per night.
The most popular one is Cross Creek. The bath is not private and latrine style, cold showers and lots of young people to keep you company. Did I say young? Most of the divers in town are 18 to 25 years old and just learning to dive. Seemed to be more women than men. Most come from England followed by Canada and Scandinavia. Not that many from the US. As a middle aged American, I often felt out of sorts.
Anyway, its Saturday around noon and I walk about a block to Parrot's dive shop, one of the smallest on the island. If you have four or five divers these guys will do more or less what you want. There were a bunch of US Air Force guys (and one Army MD). I two days of long drift dives with them. Sunday was $65 and we had two very long North Side drift dives and a BBQ at one of the Keys.
On Monday I dove with Underwater Vision. All of the dive shops in Utila have agreed to a price structure except one, and I think this the one as they only wanted $40 for a two tank dive and it is $45 everywhere else, unless you buy a 10 pack for $200. I really did not think this shop was all that professional, but there were a lot of good looking young women on their boat. Too bad I am more than twice their age. They also have a very cheap place to stay. Most folks refer to them as the Backpacker dive shop.
Tuesday I decided to try Utila Dive Center and would remain with them for the next two weeks. UDC is a very professional and well organized shop. Two of their boats have nearly new Yamaha diesels and are more than fast enough. Water on board, snacks between dives, etc.
My only gripe, and this would apply to most of the dive operators in Utila is they tended to be overly PADI centric. No wreck card? No wreck dive, and we do not care how many you have done in the past. I actually would up taking the PADI wreck course. It was cheap at $120 and included 3 dives with Nitrox on the Haliburton. The Haliburton is hardly a wreck that you need a reel for, but it is perfect to learn on. I have to say that my confidence and skills are improving as I managed to get through several tight spots without making a mess or becoming tense.
If you want to do Utila from town you really want to have an Advanced card from some agency, or you are likely to be limited to 60 feet and no night dives, and no one will even want to listen to you or look in your logbook. Remember, their business model is based on instruction. If you want instruction, they are very good and reasonably priced. The instructors down there probably do more certifications in four months than someone with a day job does in the US in 5 years.
There are actually 3 shops in Utila with a resident PADI course director: UDC, Deep Blue and Bay Island College of Diving. All of them do IDC's on a monthly basis. There are a lot of recently trained DM's and instructors hanging around the shops interning. While I came down alone, I always had either one of them to dive with or a regular UDC employee.
So, how is the diving? Pretty good, especially when you consider it is only $20 per tank (plus $3 per day reef fee). There is a lot of soft coral and large sponges. In past years there were no large fish, but this trip I saw Tarpon, big snappers, Barracuda and Nassau Grouper. Turtles showed up on more than half of the dives. Some divers reported seeing Eagle Rays, but not me. There are quite a few of the iconic juvenile spotted drum. No sharks, and the closest we got to a whale shark was some sign of feeding activity. Monster sized green Morey eels were regular finds. Vis on the North side was around 100 feet. Most dives on the South were 70 feet vis, but after a few stormy days at the end of the trip (that effectively closed the North side for everyone) the vis was a bit worse.
Without a doubt, the best dive site is Black Hills, a sea mount that is fairly close to the harbor. I had 3 dives there, all were beautiful and there were tons of fish.
In addition to the Wreck course, I managed to do two days of guided technical diving with "G", that is what they call him. These were mild tech dives with deco, mainly intended to give me a bit more experience with the twin set and deco. I have a long way to go. G probably stands for genius, as he has designed an sold his own Nitrox mixing system to about 9 shops and built a working rebreather, mostly using ordinary stuff like PVC pipe.
All that diving will make you hungry. For this trip the special merit dining award goes to Dave's. This restaurant is hidden behind Cross Creek right near their backpacker hotel. A full plate is about $5, and the food is fantastic. Dave worked in New Orleans as a saucier, and his experience there is evident. For that matter most food and alcoholic beverages are cheap in Utila. Literally, about a buck a drink, perhaps two for highballs and three for Scotch. UDC has a BBQ every Wednesday for a bit less than $8 and it includes open bar with beer and rum drinks. It gets kind of wild with the young crowd, but ends around 10 pm. Friday night everyone goes to the pub quiz at Bundu.
One of the things about long dive trips is instead of getting tired of diving I seem to enjoy each dive more than the last. After a few days I only needed 6 pounds in a full 3 mil, and I have a bit of a beer gut on my middle aged bod. There were a lot of good divers around for inspiration. UDC may be a very busy shop, but they must be doing something right as most of their new AOW students looked pretty good in the water. PADI must love these guys.
My trip home was eventful. The flight from Utila was canceled and I had to take the ferry to La Ceiba. Fortunately, SOSA had a cab waiting and held the flight to San Pedro Sula for 30 minutes. I would have liked to stay longer, but a problem at home required my timely return.
Jimmie & Regina, Luke, Brian, Robin, G, the Rubi's, Mika, Dave, Dawn, John Wayne and Bucky, I hope to see all of you again, if not in Utila, then somewhere else where the water is clear.