Whale sharks! Rest and relaxation. Dive, eat, sleep; in that order. Experience a different culture, a different lifestyle. While my wife, Barb, and I were researching Utila as a potential trip destination, these phrases were consistently uttered by those who had been to Utila before us. We were hooked and so were 7 others from the Colorado Springs area as well as a friend from Nebraska.
Getting to Utila from the nearby island of Roatan involved a bit of a hiccup but experienced divers expect there to be a glitch or two if you truly want to get off the beaten path. After a 4 hour wait at the Roatan airport, a “puddle jumper” finally arrived to take us to Utila.
We were told that the service at the Utila Lodge would be fantastic and they didn’t disappoint. They were waiting at the runway on Utila (I wouldn’t call it an airport), actually drove up to the plane and loaded us and our gear into vehicles and transported us to the lodge.
The lodge is a rustic sanctuary built almost entirely on a dock over the water. Each room had a view of the ocean, a covered deck, air conditioning (it was HOT in August!)and WIFI. The staff was very helpful and really strived to insure that our stay was a positive one.
The meals were buffet style, offering 3 or 4 choices at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The cook staff accommodated special dietary needs and wishes. The food was delicious, but they also were quite happy to prepare a special order if you liked. The bar operated on an honor system. When you took a soda or bottled beer, you just marked what you took next to your name and settled up at the end of the week!
The dive operation was top notch! Willie, the captain, and Josh, our dive master, treated us to great diving. The boat was spacious and set up nicely for divers. They took us to dive sights near (10 minute boat ride) and far to the other side of the island (1 hour boat ride). On the longer boat rides, they were great tour guides, telling us about the cays surrounding the islands, local history, politics, and culture.
The diving in Utila was unique to many of my other island diving experiences. The coral reef was the best, most alive, I have ever seen. The large coral fans, elkhorn coral, black coral, brain coral and many other species as well as barrel sponges were HUGE and plentiful. There were many varieties of fish though they were fewer and smaller than we’ve seen in other locations in the Caribbean. We did find a few good sized green morays, spotted drums, a couple of sea horses and sea turtles throughout the week. And swimming through the school of squid was pretty cool! And I’ll never forget diving into the swim-thru through a cloud of little silver fish! We saw a lot of the usual suspects on the reef including many parrot fish, queen and french angelfish, cowfish, trumpet fish, barracuda, small groupers, porcupine fish, scorpion fish, frog fish, etc.. The schools of eagle rays we expected to see stuck to the deeper water that week though.
Unfortunately, we had no luck in finding and swimming with whale sharks. Our group spent an afternoon out farther away from the island hoping to spot a “boil”, water being churned up by small fish at the surface, indicating the presence of a whale shark ready to breech. Oh well, that’s motivation to return again!!! But we were able to swim with a school of spinner dolphins. Willie was a master at rounding them up with the boat and driving them to us in the water! An experience we’ll never forget!
Another unique experience for our group was the opportunity to tour Utila’s hyperbaric chamber. The chamber is located at the Utila Lodge. While we were having lunch, some local lobster divers brought one of their own to the lodge. He was suffering from DCS and was taken immediately to the chamber. Willie is also a trained chamber operator so he was pressed into service. The next day Willie arranged for our group to view the chamber and talk to the staff there.
Another little “glitch” waiting for the plane to take us from Utila over to Roatan reminded us that we were leaving our little paradise and returning to the real world. Note to self: guard that little immigration paper (they give you when you enter the country and you need to return when you leave) with your life!!! (Right Mitch?)
So, what will I tell people when they ask me about Utila? Whale sharks (if you see some, I’m going to be SO jealous)! Rest and relaxation. Dive, eat, sleep; in that order. Experience a different culture, a different lifestyle…
Written by Steve Gurnett
Stay tuned as we are sending trips to Cozumel, Thailand, and Belize in the near future. Plus, our very own Troy is heading out to dive with the Great Whites, so we'll get to see the pictures and here about that experience! Thanks for blogging with us :)