Anybody who’s seen the Youtube video ‘If you come to Utila’ knows the three lies of Utila….(and if you haven’t seen it watch it!)
1. ‘I love you’…’No you don’t!’
2. ‘I’m leaving tomorrow’…’No you won’t!’
3. ‘I’m not drinking tonight’….’Yes you will!’
Yes the sunny Caribbean island of Utila in Honduras has a reputation as a little party island with a big scuba diving problem. Having done our research on where to do our PADI Open Water certification, this was one of the cheapest (and funnest) places in the world to do it, so our minds were easily made up. Unbeknownst to us, we were to eventually fall victim to lies 2 and 3 above…
After a 6am start, three collectivos, a chicken bus and an upgrade to first class on the luxury Hedman Alas bus (supposedly the safest option as there hasn’t been a robbery in 8 years and we were informed by somebody in the know that an armed escort truck actually now follows all buses…you can read about our experience here) we finally arrived at La Ceiba, too late to catch the last ferry.
Meeting a couple from Quebec who were also headed to Utila we shared a taxi to the token backpacker hostel, Banana Republic. Avoiding our first Honduran scam attempt, when the taxi driver asked if we had a reservation and there was a mixed response of yes/no, Sarah flatly demanded that we be taken to this hostel, against the drivers pleas that it was fully booked. Sure enough, when we arrived we were the only people in the entire hostel and every other room was empty. The beds were comfortable, WiFi was quick, coffee was free but the showers were cold. One of our new found friends then managed to haggle the driver down from Q50 to Q40 p/p to pick us up at 8am the next morning for the 9.30am ferry to Utila, and we opted for an early night.
After parting with USD $27 each for a one way ferry ticket, we bought a bunch of bananas for L10 and braved the swell. Arriving at the Utila dock, Matt sent Sarah ahead to start bargaining with the many dive centres on the island, whilst he offloaded the bags. Approaching the exit gates, the swarm of touts was like entering a cage of crazy squawking parrots who insisted on flapping around your head, so Sarah opted to stay and admire the quite macaw parrot perched on the fence whilst waiting for the rest of the party to back her up in numbers.
The best part of arriving in Utila as a group is that you have more bargaining power than if there were only two of you. Dropping our bags at Underwater Vision, we listened to their sales pitch before heading down the road to do the same with Altons and Utila Dive Centre (UDC).
There are over 17 dive shops on the island catering to all kinds of divers so you’re not short of choice. From the three we visisted we found that Altons had the newest gear, having just upgraded most of their kit, however they were doing restaurant and bar renovations at the time so the social aspect was lacking. Still it was very laid back and chilled, right on the harbour and accommodation was on site (though one girl we met hadn’t been asked to fill out a medical questionnaire which is not good). There was no additional charge for a private room and they had a fun sounding booze cruise every Sunday.
UDC had really nice staff and were a little more professional sounding. You could hang out and jump off the end of the pier, and their accommodation was more on the plush side, though it was located away from the dock in Mango Inn. This meant a tuk tuk ride or 10 mins walk each morning, which with a hangover didn’t sound ideal to us. It’s an extra USD$60 for a private room which wasn’t quite in our budget, but if conditions are no good you can still do the enclosed dives in the pool at Mango Inn.
Underwater Vision was a hard one to beat. Young instructors with a lot of experience, a great social area with volleyball court, pool table, lounges by the sea and hammocks under trees, a bar and restaurant with the best coffee on the island and a tempting western menu of wraps, burgers, salads and smoothies….and we haven’t even mentioned wings night, pizza night, sushi night or movie night yet! Whilst the WiFi usually didn’t work, and there was football on TV but no EPL, our decision was made and we handed over our cash and signed on the dotted line with Tammy being kind enough to give us a three bed dorm to ourselves.
With the decision made there was no mucking about, and we were straight into the classroom to fill in our medical questionnaires and start the PADI Open Water theory. These guys take their health and safety record very seriously, so with both of us, along with the couple from Quebec, having ticked yes to at least one medical question, we were all shipped off to the doctors to get their go ahead to dive that afternoon.
Sarah’s asthma was signed off quickly, while Matt was sent to get a hunk of wax syringed from his ear (I knew there was a reason he kept telling me to speak up!!….says Sarah). Exiting the nurses room, Matt shakes his head at Sarah giving her a gameover look. Turns out in her enthusiasm to dislodge said was, she ended up tearing Matts ear drum, which meant he wouldn’t be able to dive until the next day and longer had an excuse to ignore Sarah.
Being as accommodating as they are, the folks at Underwater Vision just made some slight adjustments which meant Matt wouldn’t fall behind and we’d all be caught up by the next afternoon. Champions! The diving here really is spectacular, with so many types of fish it’s hard to keep up with all the hand signals being thrown around by the instructors.
After successfully finishing our Open Water course over the next four days, we weren’t ready to leave (see lie #2 above) and decided to sign on for our Advanced Water course. This meant we could save our two fun dives from the Open Water for when we were Advanced qualified, meaning we’d have more options of where to dive and how deep we could go. With that in mind we fell victim to lie #3 above, when instead of turning in for an early night to start our theory the next day, we hit the bar and partied like only Utila knows how.