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Utila, Honduras-May 19-26, 2012

Utila always seemed like a cool place to visit especially with a chance to see whale sharks. Utila is an island  off the coast of Honduras along with Roatan which is another popular dive destination. In comparison Utila is much smaller than Roatan with a population of about 2000 and from everyone I talked to and read, the diving is quite a bit different at each location. Utila is also a bit harder to get to because you must take a smaller (19 passenger) plane to get there. It was the chance of seeing whale sharks that finally won.

Next it was where to stay and after some research and input from friends the Utila Lodge was decided on. What I really liked about the Utila Lodge was that they only had 8 rooms (easier to take over) and it was in town. There are several other resorts but then you have to take a boat to get to them. I think the Utila Lodge turned out to be a great choice and I think everyone else agreed. Now with all that figured out it was time for all the other details with getting there being the most important and that took some doing to get the flights a price I wanted so the trip could be somewhat economical.

Everything went together well and the trip was a hit filling up fast with the dive club I belong to…the Channel Islands Divers and a few friends from the Antelope Valley Desert Divers. Finally I setup a get together party so everyone could meet each other and we could go over all the fun we were going to have.  Now the last thing to do was to set up a shuttle for the group to get to the airport and of course take care of the last minute changes that there always is when traveling with a group, in my case there were 3 cancelations that I needed to fill. It all worked out in the end!

Check in at LAX with United Airlines was a bit of a mess (I learned a few things) and surprisingly it went well in San Pedro Sula along CM airlines…they really seemed to have it figured out. I guess that’s LAX for you! There were a few in our group with some big camera rigs and they were worried about baggage weight but no problems with CM Airlines, they meet us when we arrived and helped get all the baggage through with no problems…what a relief.

As we approached Utila we knew we were in for an adventure. It was a small island, lots of jungle and a very small runway with only 1 building that I never seen open along with a wrecked plane. I later found out the wrecked plane hit a cow and luckily everyone was OK except for the cow which became road kill. The lodge had two vehicles waiting and of course we guys rode in the back of the truck. We found out soon just don’t lean over or hang your arm out as the roads in town are very narrow (more like an extra wide sidewalk) and you may lose something. I have never been so cautious walking anywhere because on the extra wide sidewalk there were ATV’s, scooters, bikes, cars and you name it.

The Utila Lodge turned out to be a good choice. It was directly in the center of town next to the hyperbaric chamber, whale shark research center and close to everything else. Our captain said that the chamber had about 10-12 people visit per year and most were the local lobster divers who for the most part aren’t very well educated (if any) in the modern ways to help avoid DCI.

The Utila lodge was very nice and completely built over the water with just about everything you needed there on the premise.  It was perfect for our group who took up all 8 rooms. The rooms were large with 2 beds, plenty of storage space ceiling fans, A/C, big bathroom and what my wife and I enjoyed the most..the screened in porch with table, chairs, fan and AWESOME view.  The rooms are all rustic looking with lots of wood and sort of reminded me of an old ship. Outside the rooms was the gear storage and wash area and then the main lodge with gift shop, dining area, pool table and bar all built over the water where you could look through the slates on the floor and see the ocean.

For meals, breakfast was served at 7:00am, lunch at noon and dinner at 6:00 except for the nights we did a night dive. Then we had a snack around 4:30 and dinner at 7:30. You knew it was meal time when you heard the bell ring. Everything was home cooked in the kitchen and served buffet style and if you didn’t want what they had then they would make you something to your liking. I thought they did a great job (but then I am not picky) with all the meals including the after dinner deserts. On Tuesday night Queen Ann made a special Tres Leche cake for all the May was yummy! One of the guys (Hunter) turned 18 while on the trip, what a great birthday present! There was always free ice tea, water, coffee and tea and the sodas and beer were all reasonably priced.

The family that has owned the Utila Lodge for the past 18 years seemed to have everything worked out including their own emergency generator in case of power failures (we had one) which they said happen often. They also had Wi-Fi that reached just about everywhere which was nice so I could post pictures of the trip on Face Book and catch up with emails.

Like every group we had a few that had a great time experiencing the night life in Utila where there was no shortage of colorful bars. The only one I checked out with my wife was the Jade Sea Horse. The bar is built into the trees but a visit to the Jade Sea Horse during the day is a MUST DO. There is much more then the bar and you just can’t explain it without seeing the pictures. It is a feast to your eyes in creativity. It is up a side street but very easy to find, just ask any local! On our last day we went horseback riding through the jungle to Pumpkin Hill (AKA-Turtle Hill) with Sterling as our guide. Sterling was a very knowledgeable colorful character who has lived in Utila all his life. If you ever stay at the Laguna Beach Resort, his brother is Waggoner the boat captain.

In between dives (if not napping) you can walk to your heart’s content. There is quite a bit to see in Utila and some nice small shops and restaurants. Once you get past the main part of town you will see the nicer houses and beaches with pretty views. If you’re looking for a good BBQ place in town try RJ’s towards the east end just before the bridge. Our dive master (Josh) says it’s the best in town and he goes there at least 2 times a week. It was very good, clean and great prices. Utila use’s the Lempira which was 20 to $1.00.

So why is Utila so popular besides the diving and whale sharks? It is a popular backpacking destination and one of the cheapest places to get certified. A PADI open water course is about $250.00 and includes lodging for 4 days. Utila is full of hostels and it seems like lots of young kids out to explore the world.

Now finally something about the diving! We didn’t see any whale sharks and in fact they haven’t had that many sightings, only a couple since the start of the year. We dove for 5 days (all boat dives) and did about 16-18 dives. We had 3 non-divers that snorkeled a short time and really enjoyed the trip. We also had some abnormal stormy weather for a for a few days but that didn’t stop us from diving and after the rain it became hot and humid. The weather did keep us from getting to the north side for all but 1 dive. The north side is where most of the best dives in Utila are. Our DM Josh said his most favorite dive is Duppy Waters on the north side of which we did not make it. The dive sites we visited where; 5/20-Jack Neils Cove, Teds Point & Black Coral Wall 5/21-Haliburton wreck, Aquarium & a night dive at Banda Beach 5/22-Rebecas Garden, Red Cliff & Labrynith 5/23-Rocky Point, Black Hills, Pretty Bush & a night dive at Light House Reef and then our last day on 5/24-Haliburton wreck, Blackish Point, Silver Gardens and Light House Reef. The diving was nice with 40’-80’ feet of visibility and a water temp of 80 degrees. Most of the sites were semi-wall dives with a couple being shallow reef dives. For me I really liked the wreck dives on the Haliburton and the small sailboat and fishing boat we did and for the other dives I really liked Aquarium and the night dive at Light House reef.

For me, I haven’t done much warm water diving (I really like B.C. Canada) and I didn’t find Utila to be all that exciting underwater, it was nice but not “blow your skirt up kinda of nice” but then if we had made it to the north side that probably would have changed. There were lots of sea fans, different sponges, some soft and hard coral and some fish but then I think I have seen more in Bonaire. We didn’t really see many big things while diving although we did see a few rays, small groupers and a turtle off in the distance. I think I seen more rays off the Utila dock at night while watching Stewart, an Atlantic  triple tail fish that lays and swims on its side like a sunfish.

Overall the trip went well. Our group had all ages ranging from 18-72 along with 3 non-divers and from what everyone said, it sounded like they had a great time. Going with a group always seems to add something to the trip especially when you can take over the whole place where you are staying.

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