It’s been a while since Mexico and with quite a gap we have since made way south of that border into Belize, Guatemala and 3 months later finding ourselves about 40 km off of the mainland of Honduras.
Something else about traveling and continuing the practice to keep a dedicated schedule while on the road is that this actual entry was mostly written during the courses but is now finally being finished while sitting in Bia’s childhood bedroom in São Paulo, Brazil. It is now the beginning of February 2020.
Utila sits at the southern end of the Meso-American Barrier Reef, the second largest reef in the world next to the Great Barrier and is the smallest of the three islands that make the Major Bay Islands. With eight islands total along with 52 cayes, (keys) Utila along with Roatan are the most visited. Having centuries of unrest through the 1500’s amongst Spanish and British conquistadors as well as privateers and pirates raiding the Caribbean coasts, there are tales to tell of all interest. There is even claim that “Robinson Crusoe” was actually wrecked upon the island years of past. Now as far as I know, the Crusoe saga was of literary fiction but could’ve been modeled after other explorers of the time. Also, there’s rumor of the ever popular Captain Morgan spiced rum, named after privateer, Sir Henry Morgan who’s aftermath of an ever profitable raid on Panama stashed his treasure in or around the area.
Without question, Utila holds all sorts of adventure but for Bia and I, this trip focused on taking on a different approach or perspective. That being under the sea. Means of accomplishing this task this time around would be through Scuba-diving.
The Great Maya Reef
The Meso-American Barrier Reef or Great Maya Reef as it’s also known runs from SE Mexico along the coast to the general area of Utila making it a hotspot for snorkeling, free diving and scuba diving. The life-force is incredible with sixty-five different species of stony coral, over 500 species of fish, sea turtles and is known to be part of the migratory rout of the largest fish known, the Whale Shark. Ever more meaning to explore these areas, of course with respect to this gem of a habitat.
Now to get under the oceans surface you don’t need to be certified of any kind, but to SCUBA Dive in dive sites and through agencies you do need to be certified by a national recognized organization. The course work, safety procedures and other know-hows to safely diving does make a difference.
Now with that finding the right school was our next step. Utila (and Roatan) are known to have some of the most affordable open-water classes in the world, besides Southeast Asia. For SCUBA there now were multiple world recognized training courses with what we found PADI and SSI being the two largest. Which was better? With our research as well as speaking with multiple certified divers they both give equal diving information with some variance in approach.
We chose SSI which actually did benefit us as we signed up for the course a month or so before reaching Utila and where able to have our coursework available through an interactive phone app. We had a head start to the course by the time we arrived.
Now for the school, we found great value through Paradise Divers. It was more than affordable, (we know economic doesn’t always imply quality but with raving reviews spoke to us otherwise) covered room and board for the length of the course, included two fun dives after completing the course or two boat times which run two dives a run and the trainers were top notch. For the duration of 4 days stay and all stated above 258 USD covered all. They also had discounted packages if looking to complete more courses consecutively. Josh, who runs the spot was in contact with us and more than helpful with any questions we had.
Whether with SSI or PADI, the intro course Open-water diver, after completion allows you to dive anywhere in the world down to 18 meters. If completing the next course of Advanced Open-water you then have access to 30 meters.
There were quite a few divers who had stuck around the area completing up to there Master Diver program as well as their trainer certification. The dive school/hostel was warm and inviting. The trainers were full of knowledge, patient and attentive.
Out of the island there were more schools than could count but from our experience with Paradise, we would definitely recommend it if looking for the newest adventure or further training. Just steps from the ferry dock you can be all settled within little time of arrival.
We had a head start on coursework and other scuba info through the SSI web portal along with practice quizzes and from the first day were at least to go through putting together and breakdown of the basic pieces of equipment on land as well as a swimming test while fitting out the equipment we would be using.
The beginnings to our near shore training in a specified shallow area practicing with equipment and master diver. We were the two of us with him while going through drills one at a time. At first what seemed a little intimidating came with ease and our instructors patience and expertise smoothed everything over even more.
Our first day in open water yet with the final bits of training for the first dive. This time we continued practice equalizing, (self-pressurizing and the opposite whether ascending or descending) using a compass for underwater navigation, safety procedures and being able to adjust or change equipment while on the go. Afterwards we surfaced and the second dive was our first documented in which we explored the astounding beauty of the Meso-American Reef.
On the final day we went out with a full boat, a mix of beginner and advanced to complete the last dive before we would be able to take our test and prove our worthiness. The second dive was located a bit north of the island and we did a fun dive with other open-water divers. Seriously such a thrill. Only had I ever dreamed of experiences this first hand and not through google image search or the travel channel.
At the end of the day we were able to take our tests and be logged into the system for future diving. Also, while using the SSI app, we were able to have our certificate virtually at hand along with all data of our dives.
The final day of diving, and with water in my ear I took it easy as Bia went out for a final couple dives that I could only imagine were outstanding. She did say so herself.
The Island Life
The life on the island was as “island-time” as you could possibly get. Nothing seemed to open until after 9 am and being somewhat of an early riser I was left wandering around through a ghost-town. By about 10 am the sun was up and already starting to cook the town. The scooters and dirt bikes have now began to slowly take over the streets and the bit of bustle for a small was now about in full effect. Most all business was concentrated along one main street that ran along the south-eastern side of the island along Main Street. There are plenty of restaurants and stand as well as Bush’s Supermarket if you’re sticking to a budget. Also directly across the street from Paradise Diver’s is a street pop-up that runs through the evening with some of the best local cuisine at phenomenal pricing for the island. English is the main spoken language but spanish of course is spoken by many. It’s easy to get around and safe walking with the principal businesses running within a 45-minute walking distance. Otherwise tuk-tuks can be found just about anywhere.
Although lempiras are the local currency of Honduras, many places price in US dollars. We were able to find a few restaurants in which accepted card but cash was more widely accepted. There was an Banco Atlantida that had an atm that did charge a fee but was located along Main street not far from the ferry. We actually paid for our course cash as well for the best price.
If driving and needing to park in La Ceiba, the best bet we found with quite a bit of searching was at the ferry for around 5 dollars a day. It’s guarded and secure and we had zero problems with our van through the stay. Much suggested.
One last thing before I forget. We had planned on documenting our dives with the Go Pro 5 black which just had standard body case that protected and sealed somewhat. Not paying attention we didn’t realize that once underwater to a point the water pressure actually depresses all buttons taking away function. A waterproof case is necessary for anything beyond 10 meters. Also, there are cases that have a red filter for Go Pro 5 and earlier that help auto correct colors. You can buy on the island at some of the shops from $50 or more or buy one online for $15-$20.
With that being said, we didn’t capture any underwater activity but we do have the memories along with the experience which was the most important part anyways!