I visited several dive shops before choosing Alton’s for an Advanced Open Water course. I was impressed with the staff’s professionalism and the condition of the scuba gear and boats. Those initial impressions all proved out; instructors were professional (some more than others); no equipment problems; new, first-rate boats.
The only caveat is that Alton’s has a party atmosphere on land and on sea. The cafe/bar is situated between the equipment room and the boats, so loud music and folks standing around drinking (at all hours) is inescapable. On the boats, a monster stereo system pounds out “music” even when instructors are briefing divers on the upcoming dive; there’s a possible safety issue here.
In the first day of the course, I was improperly weighted (not enough weight) so I couldn’t descend and returned to the boat. The “captain” had the music blasting at ear-shattering volume. I yell asked him to turn it down; he screamed, “WHAT!!!” I yelled again, and he turned it down briefly. Clearly, the captain’s pleasure trumps client comfort, at least with regard to this one captain.
Scuba is a young person’s sport on Utila, where it’s cheap, and most of the other students were happy with the party atmosphere and loud music. But it is a factor to consider, as other dive shops maintain a more professional atmosphere.
Just got back from Utila and the diving was amazing. Got certified with Deep Blue Divers and I think they are wonderful. Great bunch of instructors that made me feel very comfortable. The reefs around Utila are just amazing. Whale sharks are usually the big draw but I didn't see any. Instead I got to snorkel with a pod of 15 dolphins. They played around us and stayed with us for at least 20 minutes. It was a highlight of my trip.
If you want to see Hummingbirds, go to the Mango Inn's bar in Utila Town (East Harbour). Just about anytime when it is daylight, the feeder hanging from the roof has 3-5 hummingbirds "buzzing" around it. There appeared to be several different species also. VERY cool, especially if you have never seen one before. You can enjoy the experience as you have lunch or dinner or just a drink at the bar.
There is no more excited cry over the radio than that of a whale shark siting. The biggest fish in the ocean, people come to Utila from all over the world to try to see a whale shark.
I saw my first Whale Shark in September during a surface interval while travelling between dive sites. I was prepping my equipment in the cabin when all of the sudden everyone starting scurrying aroud the boat. I asked my DM what was going on and he only said " there has been a possible siting." Noone said the words whale shark the entire time. But in only a few moments everyone was lined against the sides of the boat with their fins and masks on awaiting the captain's commands. As the sun beat down noone dared to move and then all of the sudden the captain said "now" and 18 divers were in the water at once. In the confusion I forgot to hold on to my mask and it flooded. Through stinging eyes I peered down into the deep and I saw nothing. a few divers were able to see the shark before it dove, but soon we were all back on the boat for another try.
The captain crept us forward to a new location where the fish and the birds were showing the presense of a shark by leaping and diving into each other's realms. This time I was better prepared and on the captain's command I was one ofthe first in the water. As soon as I lloked down I saw it. It was right below me and I joined a pack of swimers as we strugled for 100 meters to keep beside her. She was 25 feet long, steel gray with white spots all over. It was the most graceful and beautiful thing I have ever seen.
On the third pass I slipped into the water as she was oming right at the boat. I saw her come straight towards me and then dive below my fins. I followed her as far as I could and was within one meter. It was incredible. I kept getting goose bumps even though it was well more than 90 degrees on the boat.
There are a lot of diving schools on Utila. Please make sure to check them thouroughly. Don't pay to much attention on the prices (they're all cheap!) but make sure you have a good look at the equipment and talk to the instructors. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and safe! After all while diving your life is in somebody else's hand...
After a good check at all the diving schools we finally chose Deep Blue Divers. It was actually the most expensive one on the island ($125,- for open water) but we had the best feeling about it. Their equipment is new , their suits are all long legged and they provide shoes as well.
Their instructors have many years of experience which was for us an important point.
It takes a lot before you are ready to jump into the water and go to the big blue deep...
Trying to get your suit on takes quite a while as it is really tight! Then putting on your oxygen tanks. With these tanks on trying to stand up (the weight quite a lot!) and do the buddy check!
You always dive in pairs and your partner is called a buddy. Before you jump into the water you need to check eachother for errors in your equipment.
Probably the best beach near Utila is located on Water Key. You must take a boat to get there, but it is a very nice island with white sand, coconuts, and very nice clear water for swimming and snorkeling. Most dive shops charter boats to Water Key, or you can pay one of the locals to take you out there and then pick you up.
The diving here is really good, and the water is clear and warm. There are really nice coral reefs, and it is one of the best places to see whale sharks, if you are lucky! It is also very inexpensive to get your SCUBA cert here. No need to make reservations. Just show up and start a dive class with one of the many diving operations on the island.
The main thing to do on Utila is diving.
There is a bunch of diving centers.
Choose the one that looks serious and takes security serious.
There are several smaller islands near Utila worth a visit. The houses are a bit more basic and all made of wood. There are several restaurants in the island. One of them sells tasty burgers!