Travel Underwater: Utila, Honduras

What do we do when we’re not chasing chicken buses from one town to the next? Here’s a hint.

Audrey and Dan Scuba Diving - Utila, Honduras
Dan and Audrey, Scuba Style

To balance out the frenzied, amazing race style segments of our journey, we occasionally take time to relax…and to work. For the last week, we have been doing just that on Utila, one of Bay Islands on the northern coast of Honduras.

Much of our time recently has been spent working on a website development project. But away from our laptops and the unreliable wifi signal (we swear one of our neighbors must be downloading TV shows all day long) in our rented apartment, we take advantage of Utila’s diving and beach opportunities.

Babalu Bar, Sunset at the Bay - Utila, Honduras
Evening Drinks Over the Bay

Traveling Above and Below the Water’s Surface

Before we deliver a rundown of the marine life we encountered on our dives, we offer a passing thought.

Some people take to scuba diving the same way they might take to travel in general — that is, by checking off all the must-see sights on some Top 10 list in their guidebook. Some miss a few sights and feel cheated for not having accomplished the entire list. Some catch all ten sights but miss everything else along the way because they forgot to look around. And others just see what they can see.

The great opportunity in the underwater journey, like travel on land, lies deep in the enjoyment and appreciation of the ordinary. So on your next dive, a parrot fish here, a squirrel fish there, and colorful coral might be all that you are destined to see. Is that sufficiently fulfilling? Or just cause for misery…if all you came for were the sharks.

In the end, it’s all about managing expectations and being happy with what is, rather than what could have been.

What We Saw on our Dives

This time underwater, we lucked out as we dove the north side of Utila. We witnessed the ordinary: schools of flying fish on the ride out to the site; beautiful coral and a colorful parrot fish being cleaned (molested?) by a sharksucker remora fish riding his dorsal fin.

With that, we could have surfaced satisfied.

Parrot Fish - Utila, Honduras
Parrot Fish Cleaning

Later, we came across a nurse shark taking a rest in sandy break between coral. And just as our dive was about to end, an enormous southern stingray (as in 1.5 meters, or more than 5 feet across) allowed us an extended look before gliding off into the deep.

Nurse Shark - Utila, Honduras
Nurse Shark Sighting

We all surfaced on a diving high. Paraiso (Paradise) – the name of the dive site – was spot on.

Practical Details for Utila, Honduras

Scuba Diving: Every other business in Utila is a dive shop, so there’s no shortage of diving options. Many people visit Utila for their Open Water dive certifications because its one of the cheapest locations around to do so. The going wisdom: dive sites on the north side of the island tend to more interesting and feature deeper coral walls.

We dove with Utila Dive Center (UDC) and Bay Islands College of Diving (BICD). Two fun dives cost $55 + $4 reef fee. They both provide all the dive equipment you’ll need.

Where to Stay: If you come for your Open Water certification, many of the dive shops will provide you with free, basic accommodation. We required an internet connection in order to work, so we rented a one-room apartment at Bananaville Apartments ($150/week + electricity). Although we had a wifi signal the whole time, internet speeds were not reliable.

Where to Eat: Many restaurants offer similar fare – fish burgers, grilled fish, hamburgers, etc. Our favorite place: Babalu. Its proprietor, Dado, recently lived in Miami but hails from the Ligurian Coast of Italy. On the restaurant’s dockside, he created a natural aquarium so you can drink beers and watch the fish collect below. The scene is laid back, tranquil and beautiful for sunsets. As food goes, the little kitchen may not look like much, but the shrimp in garlic and white wine sauce is fantastic. The breaded shrimp and grilled snapper fillet are pretty tasty, too.

Babalu Bar, Aquarium - Utila, Honduras
Natural aquarium at Babalu.

Photo Credit: All underwater photos are thanks to Alice Andrew, a dive instructor at Bay Islands College of Diving (BICD) in Utila, Honduras.

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  1. says

    We were in Utilla in 2003. There was one place for internet on the island and it was extremely expensive and slow. Looks like it is moving up in the world with Wifi (albeit very slow wifi:)) You are right, when we used to dive a lot, it always seemed like a competition as to who saw more, who went deeper and who had seen the most unique or rare species. Nobody seemed to enjoy the dive itself. Thanks and great photos too. Especially the parrot fish.

  2. Blaz says

    Hey! Nice pics, as always … Hope to join u soon in similar activities – I look forward to it! Keep well!

  3. Diane Kappa says

    I love the photo of the two of you! I am glad to see you two relaxing and enjoying the water:)

  4. says

    The underwater marine life is such a refreshing sight. This will make for a wonderful summer vacation for the Jet Set who want to experience an amazing underwater adventure.

  5. says

    @Nomada23: I can completely understand how you are homesick for Honduras. Hope you have a chance to visit soon!

    @Dave and Deb: It’s pretty amazing how quickly internet is spreading in this part of the world. Then the question is not, “Do you have an internet connection?” but “How fast is your internet connection?”

    I imagine there is a correlation between how a person acts as a diver and as a traveler – i.e., a person who only wants to see “sights” or one who enjoys the journey. There were a few of each kind of diver/traveler on our boat.

    @Blaz and @Diane: Glad you enjoyed the pics of us having fun underwater! Diving is an addictive – but expensive – hobby :)

    @Nomadic Matt: You’re in a great place to learn how to dive – Thailand! We dove off of Koh Pha Ngan and Ko Lanta. Both experiences were great, but the Andaman Sea side was a bit more colorful and had more species of fish.

  6. says

    Hi Audrey & Dan!
    Had a fabulous time browsing around and reading a bunch of articles here the other day. Especially liked the posts on how to take photos & what you will miss and NOT miss in the US. :) Glad to find you on twitter, too.
    -Hannah @ Five Talents

  7. says

    @Hannah: Great to hear from you and glad you enjoyed the posts. We will look forward to staying connected through Twitter. Great photos from Sudan, by the way. Looked like quite a trip.

  8. says

    Hi Audrey and Dan,
    I live on Utila, but have been away working. Reading your post makes me very homesick. I just want to bop into Babalu’s and hang with my buddy Dado. Yep, Great Shrimp….. If it’s a flavorful steak your after, it’s got to be RJs….

  9. says

    @Ted: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I hope you get back to Utila soon for that beer at Babalu’s with Dado. What a lovely place to spend the evening. Thanks also for the recommendation about RJs and their steaks!

  10. Dave says

    Hehe…Sounds like Utila has not changed much in 10+ years. I had some good times on that little island. I even found some Flor de Cana rum last in Sydney….drinking that took me back to sunset sessions!

  11. says

    @Dave: Wow, that takes *us* back. Ten years ago…Utila must have been a quiet little paradise in comparison to the development it had seen even when we were there. Thanks for your comment and enjoy the Flor de Cana!


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