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Utila Review by Bill Mashek

Diving in Honduras

     with Spanish School, an Educational Addition to Dive Travel

by Bill Mashek - 2004

Spotted Drum fish, copyright Bill MashekA friend mentioned to me she was going to Mexico for Spanish language school, primarily because this particular school included surfing as part of the program. It was this conversation that inspired me to look into Spanish language schools in a country where I could dive, run rivers or go surfing. Not only would I have a possible tax write off, but also a chance to develop my Spanish language skills.

After spending several hours on the Internet looking up language schools in different countries, I decided on Honduras. Honduras is a wonderful country. As stated in the Lonely Planet: Honduras is the original banana republic. It is a democracy with a developing economy. The national language is Spanish. However, English is dominant on the Bay Islands. Honduras has incredible natural resources including world class whitewater boating and some of the best (and cheapest) diving in the Caribbean.

Central American Spanish Schools seemed to have the most comprehensive program and a school on the island of Utila. They also were the only school to offer medical Spanish as my traveling companions, Viki, Dee and Lois, were emergency room nurses and needed the Spanish for work. Rafael, the director, answered all my questions. He responded to my e-mails the same day I wrote them. Best of all the price was right. Cost was $185.00 per week including room and board. (Room only on Utila).

Our first week was in the coastal city of La Ceiba. La Ceiba is also the port for the Bay Islands and base for river trips in the Pico Bonito National Park and Cangregal River. Every day we had different activities including: treks to the rain forest, river canopy (zip lines), dancing and classes on the beach. On Friday, we went to Oscar Perez's Jungle River Lodge where we hiked through the verdant rain forest to a 600 ft (183 m) high waterfall. The next day we went rafting through the precipitous drops of the Cangregal river gorge. I am a whitewater outfitter in California; Viki, a class V guide and Dee a Class V kayaker: we were all impressed with not only the river but with Oscar's guides (Johnnie, Ricardo and Juan) and his entire operation. Unfortunately, Lois had torn ligaments and could not partake on our adventure. The next morning we caught the ferry to Utila.


A stone fish hides on the reef, copyright Bill Mashek

Utila is the smallest and flattest of the three major Bay Islands, and is the closest to the mainland. The island is 9.5 miles long and 3 miles wide. Land transportation on Utila is limited to a few pickup trucks, a couple of unreliable taxis and a ton of old mountain bikes. Utila is not only renown as one of the best diving locations in the Caribbean, it is also known as the cheapest. From mid-February through March one can almost be guaranteed a whale shark experience. Consequently, the streets are lined with dive shops. Because certifications are so cheap, many shops have reputations as dive master factories. For as little as $500 (including lodging) one can spend a month on the island completing a dive master course. My 12 dives cost me $160.

I dived with Alton's because that is the shop the school uses. They were fine. The dive masters were young, mostly inexperienced but competent and all were friendly. Dee did her certification course through Alton's they were able to work around her school schedule and she felt her instruction was proficient. I have also heard very good reports about Deep Blue Divers. This dive resort and shop is owned by an English couple who claim that Honduras is the cheapest place in the world to dive with the the world's second largest barrier reef.

The best diving in Utila is in the morning. This is when most dive boats go to the "north" side. Also morning offers the best conditions. Unfortunately, I had school in the morning and dived in the afternoon. By doing this I missed two whale shark encounters. There are no bad dive sites on Utila.

Reef at Utilia, copyright Bill Mashek

During my 12 dives, I encountered the largest lobster I have seen in the ocean (20-25 pounds) several barracuda, jaw fish, octopus, spotted drums, sea turtles, moray, scorpion fish, crabs, hog fish, lizard fish, large sting ray, eagle rays, corals, sea fans, sponges and much much more. The dive sites included a spectacular seamount at Black Hills; Ron's Wreck - unimpressive as a wreck dive but lots of sea life, saw the green moray here; Airport reef (a good night dive); Blue Bayou, where I saw 2 turtles, barracuda and the "giant" lobsters; Black coral wall (2 deep dives here-good), Jack Neil; Big Rock and Cabanas. The visibility ranged from 20-30 m. Though I did a couple of deep dives (36 m) the best diving is between 12-20 m.

Lodging and food in Utila are as cheap as Thailand. We stayed at the Colibri Hotel, a new hotel with the first pool in Utila. We had a large room with 2 queen size beds and hot water for $25. Per night. Most meals are under $3.00. A fancy dinner will cost about twice that. For non divers, Viki and Lois spent an afternoon on Water Caye (a small white sand island with palm trees and no sand flies) an afternoon snorkeling, a hike to Pumpkin Hill and explored some of the caves. There is also horseback riding, shopping and people watching. But be prepared, the bay islands are renown for some of the most aggressive no-seeums anywhere. Bring lots of repellent.

In conclusion, my only regrets about my trip is that my travel was confined due to taking the classes. I would have really liked to visit the ruins at Copan but that was on the other side of the country.

If you travel with TACA Airlines be prepared to have your luggage delayed. This is a common event of this airline. It was nice to have Rafael as an advocate to hasten the process of getting our luggage to La Ceiba. The cultural experience of not only getting to know, but become friends with the Honduran people I met was priceless. In addition we made many international friends with other students. The diving was extraordinary. The experience was phenomenal.