Diving in Honduras
As dive prices in Belize and Cozumel move up, thanks to their steadily increasing popularity with tourists, Utila, in the Bay of Honduras, remains an affordable option for diving in the same reef system. Package deals bring each dive down to about $13, and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) open-water courses range from $140 to $160 in the off season.
Rick Reno, a dive instructor at Utila Lodge, advised against pushing the budget limit too much: When they get down to $125 they have to be cutting corners somewhere. The important thing is to see how dive shops run their outfit: the condition of the equipment and the attitude of the divemasters, most of whom are globetrotters who support their underwater travels by signing on for a spell. Do they adhere strictly to the PADI guidelines?
In the end we agreed that cutting corners might not be worth it and opted to dive with one of the two 5-star PADI shops, the Bay Islands College of Diving. (Dive shops earn ratings after annual reviews by PADI.) As this was the low season, we had our own dive instructor for the duration of the 4-day course.
Places to stay were also inexpensive and easy to come by: we ended up paying $5 a day per person, with fans and cable TV, right next door to the dive shop. Several places offer long-term rentals as well. Utila still lacks the plush all-inclusive resorts that are the norm in Belize and Mexico.
Other than diving and snorkeling, there is little else to do in Utila but eat. The food is wonderful and affordable. Seafood plates are around $5. Baleadas (tortillas with black beans, marinated onions, and cheese) and pastelitos (deep-fried meat pockets) are available in the street for 35 cents.
The most direct way to reach the island is to fly into Honduras and take a short flight from San Pedro Sula ($50 one way) or Tegucigalpa ($75 one way). For those with a little more time, the bus system is reliable and far cheaper. For example, the bus from San Pedro to La Ceiba is just over $3 and the $10 ferry to the island departs every morning. Utila is also a good week-long trip from Guatemala. You can take a bus either through Puerto Barrios or Copán.
KEVIN REVOLINSKI is a sometimes teacher, sometimes writer who has taught English in Turkey, Panama, Italy, and Guatemala. Kevin's publications and blog can be found at www.themadtraveleronline.com.