Utila. Honduras. Modern life in the affluent Western world is sometimes characterized as a quest for balance. Satisfying work, but not too much of it; quality time with the family, but some “alone time,” too. Many extend the balancing act to their leisure time. Good diving is important, but so is an interesting onshore experience.
Sea Eye Hotel. Utila
Modern life in the affluent Western world is sometimes characterized as a quest for balance. Satisfying work, but not too much of it; quality time with the family, but some “alone time,” too. Many extend the balancing act to their leisure time. Good diving is important, but so is an interesting onshore experience.
For Adam Laverty, the Honduran island of Utila strikes a perfect balance. “I used to work in Egypt and Thailand
,” Adam began. “In Egypt, the diving was amazing, but the atmosphere on land was less so. I found the people and the food and the general ambiance in Thailand beautiful, but the diving in the Gulf wasn’t quite first rate. Utila offers both fine diving and an extremely comfortable land environment. It’s very laid back, no hurry hurry, rush rush. The people who live and work on the island go out of their way to make everyone feel welcome. Within two or three days, people are calling you by your first name. I came here initially to do my Instructor exams, and planned to stay a year. I’m now in my fifth year.”
Best Dive Center in Utila!
The smallest of the three major Bay Islands (which include better-known Roatan), Utila lies roughly eighteen miles north of the mainland port city of La Ceiba in the western Caribbean. Just twelve square miles in size, Utila has a population that hovers around 2,500 residents, most in and around the town of East Harbor (sometimes simply referred to as Utila). There are more than sixty dive sites around Utila, varying from wrecks and caves to wall dives. (The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef reaches its southern terminus near the Bay Islands, with depths plunging to more than 3,000 feet east of the reef.) Historically, Utila has had a following among the backpacker set as one of the Caribbean’s most value-oriented diving destinations. Bargain hunters can still find extremely reasonable packages on the island, though resorts offering more luxurious amenities have opened their doors in the last few years. “You have quite a range,” Adam continued, “from dorm rooms for three dollars to five dollars a night to a high-end place like Deep Blue Resort that’s more than $1,500 a week.
“Utila has many different reef systems, with habitats ranging from shallow, sandy sites to sheer drop-offs. Conditions are great year round for divers of all levels; it’s generally very calm, with very little in the way of currents. As for favorite spots, I have a number of them. The Duppy Waters—‘duppy’ means ghost in local slang—is a steep wall dive in Turtle Harbor. When you swim over the edge, it seems to open up forever. You have horse-eye jack, Creole wrasse, great barracuda, giant barrel sponges, and hammerheads cruising by. Blackish Point, also on the north side of the island, is a perfect drift drive dive site with a gentle current and caverns. At Black Hills, a sea mount off the east side of the island, you’re guaranteed to come upon large aggregations of Atlantic spadefish, as well as resident turtles. A year ago, I was at a site called Black Coral Wall. We came over a sandy patch, and a Hawksbill turtle came up, looked each diver in the eye, swam around us in a circle, and actually tried to recline on one diver’s hand. If you’re here in the spring or fall, you’re almost sure to see whale sharks. I’ve had dives where I had a thirty-footer in front of the boat, a twenty-foot specimen off the back, and a pair of dolphins in the middle
. I had to ask myself, ‘Where do I look first?’”
It is the gargantuan whale shark that many divers travel to Utila to experience. Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish; the largest specimen ever officially recorded was more than forty-one feet in length, though stories of fifty- and even sixty-foot species abound. (The average length of the whale sharks
around Utila is between twenty and thirty feet, weight between fifteen and twenty tons; larger specimens are believed to achieve a lifespan of over one hundred years.) Despite their tremendous size, these creatures are quite placid, subsisting on plankton. They feed by opening their mouths and trapping the microorganisms. After closing its mouth, the shark uses gill rakers, thousands of bristly structures about 10 cm long, to clean the captured prey from its gills. Anything that doesn’t pass through the gills is consumed. Whale sharks are solitary travelers, and are generally found in deep waters of the open ocean. No one completely understands what brings so many whale sharks to the waters around Utila, though some researchers think that the waters on the north part of the island may be on the animals’ migratory path. In a study conducted by Scott Eckert and Brent Stewart of Deep Blue Utila in conjunction with Hubbs Sea World Research Institute, one animal tagged off Utila was shown to travel upward of 8,000 miles in the course of three years. Scientists hope to gain a greater understanding of whale shark behavior through the efforts of the Utila Whale Shark Research Project.
Fantasy in Utila Honduras
“Whale sharks and other large pelagics are exciting and awe inspiring,” Adam ventured, “but as we don’t get to see these amazing animals every day, I find that the personality of little fish goes a long way. For me, frogfish have tons of personality, as do spiny-head blenny. One of my favorites around Utila is the yellow-headed jawfish. They’re only about two inches long, and they use their mouths to burrow into the sand. When it’s mating time, the male comes out of the burrow and does a little dance to lure a mate. He flares his lips and prances about with his fins by his side, like a little Mick Jagger on the stage. After he takes her into his den and does his procreative business, he carries the eggs in his mouth to guard them.”
Roatan and Utila Honduras
ADAM LAVERTY is a diving instructor at Alton’s Dive Center (www.altonsdiveshop.com
) on Utila and specializes in Underwater Photography, whale sharks, and all marine life in general. Adam learned to dive on the island of Kho Tao in the gulf of Thailand while on vacation and fell in love with it straight away. He has dived throughout South East Asia, Egypt, England, and Central America, working as a Dive Master in both Thailand and Egypt. For the last 5 years he has instructed and guided divers around the beautiful reefs of Utila. Before fulltime diving, Adam worked in the hedge fund industry and studied European History at the University of East Anglia.
Are You Ready? If You Go:
Most visitors will reach Utila via Roatan, which is served by American, Continental, and TACA (1-800-400-TACA; www.taca.com
). From Roatan, it’s a quick shuttle flight to Utila on Aerolineas Sosa (+50 44-25-3166) or Atlantic Airlines International (+50 44-25-3364; www.atlanticairlinesint.com
Best Time to Visit: Utila dives well the year round, but if you’re interested in encountering whale sharks, your best bet is March through May and August through October.
Accommodations: AboutUtila.com lists the broad range of lodging options available at Utila.
There are many dive shops in Utila, including Captain Morgan’s (225-341-4564; www.divingutila.com
). View a complete list at AboutUtila.com.
” Fifty Places to Dive Before You Die “ by Chris Santella