We have just spent the last 10 days in Utila and are now back in Roatan getting ready to begin our Divemaster Training and have realized now the difference between Utila and Roatan. We spent about 10 days doing little more than diving. They do things a little different in Utila, in fact they do many things different. For example, Roatan has dirt roads in the West End where we are staying. Utila has mostly paved roads in town. Walking down the street in Utila has an air of caution and danger. Although cars are minimal, there are scooters, motorcycles, golf carts and 4 wheelers screaming down the road, weaving in and out of pedestrians with 4 passengers aboard. (regardless of the vehicle)
In Roatan, the streets are dirty and sometimes muddy, but the traffic drives slowly down the potholed main strip in West End. Utila has a busier vibe compared to Roatan where it's more chilled out. Utila however is cheaper in every way over Roatan. The reef itself I feel is much better in Roatan with a larger variation of topography below the waves and possibly more sea creatures as well, however really similar. One more difference is that they dive 4 times a day in Utila which are usually 2, 2 tank dives, and in Roatan, they dive 3 times a day with one tank dives.
UPDATE: Since writing this article, things have changed. Roatan's West End now has a paved road and is much busier and more dangerous due to the amount of cars speeding up and down the road.
Diving Utila With The Bay Islands College Of Diving
The Difference Between Utila and Roatan
Utila is generally safer in the realm of petty crime and robberies due to the population being so much less and opportunity to swindle cruiseship passengers is less.
Utila is the place to party. The party never stops it seems. Dive, Party, Repeat.
Utila has very little else to do but dive and party. No real sights to see on Utila.
Utila is considerably flatter than Roatan
Utila has more backpackers and less "tourists"
Utila has a younger demographic
Roatan has more modern convenience and thus cheaper commodities (groceries, vehicles rentals etc)
Roatan's Reef is bigger and more varied
Roatan has more Dive Shops than Utila
Roatan has more high end resorts
Roatan has more excursions and things to do like ziplines, dune buggy rentals, tour companies etc.
Roatan is more accessible with an International Airport
Saving Money In Utila
We actually saved money going to Utila. Our great friend Nick (who taught us how to dive) hooked us up on a great deal. He stated it was a total of 290 dollars for our Rescue Diver course. In Roatan, it was going to be $330.00 for the same thing. We had to pay 20 dollars per fun dive in Roatan, but Nick said that with our rescue diver we get two fun dives for free. Knock off another 40 dollars from the price of the course. It did however cost us 100 dollars each to get to Utila and back. That put us 20 dollars in the red for going to Utila.
We also took the $200.00 dollar PADI Wreck Specialty course which gives us the experience to penetrate a wreck while fun diving. That included 3 dives as part of the course and 2 fun dives for a total of 5 dives. We also fun dived EVERY CHANCE WE GOT! We logged a total of 10 more fun dives on top of the 4 fun dives given to us, and the 5 included in the courses. That's nearly 20 dives in 10 days, well.... 8 days really. There were some days we didn't dive at all or only one per day, then other days we were diving 4 times a day. We spent $1500.00 on diving for 10 days, getting two course certifications, free accommodations including ferry rides. Utila is definitely cheaper when comparing the difference between Utila and Roatan. The cost in Roatan would have been $200 dollars more (total for both of us) for the same thing. Not a huge savings, but we were able to have our friend Nick teach us our Rescue course and Wreck Specialty and he is a great teacher.
Rescue Diving Training with Nick
Wreck Specialty Training
We got our Wreck Specialty by diving the Halliburton 3 times. The third time we got to penetrate the ship with a reel. We didn't like it as much as we thought we would. It was cumbersome to use the line on such a small wreck. Some of the areas we penetrated were simply hatches in the floor that were tight squeezes. It was too easy to kick up silt making visibility nearly zero, and the line got all tangled up and we aborted the line dive. It was ok, we still passed anyway, and we realized that this type of diving doesn't appeal to either of us. If we had been able to simply swim around the inside of the ship, it would have been much better, but the reel and "method" on which it is "safe" to explore a wreck, made it too much work and cumbersome. Utila only really has the one Wreck and it's smaller than both the west side wrecks of El Aguila and the Odyssey in Roatan. Maybe this difference between Utila and Roatan isn't a major factor between the two Islands, but penetrating a bigger wreck might be more interesting.
Snorkel Test at BICD
Snorkel Tests At BICD
At karaoke this week at the Lodge in Utila (owned by the same people who own Bay Islands College of Diving) one of the Divemaster Trainees (DMTs) had a snorkel test. This is where he wears a snorkel with a funnel attached to the top, and a mask. The instructors and other dive masters get to put whatever they want in the snorkel and you drink it. The guy we saw was named Greg, and he got mostly booze, beer, chocolate milk, and a raw egg. We have heard of some snorkel tests where catsup, mustard, worcestershire sauce, tabasco, etc... are poured in. He got off easy. This is a tradition for newly made dive masters, and I am dreading the day when they attempt this on me. Hopefully the shop we dive with doesn't do a snorkel test.
Back On Roatan
We had a great time in Utila, and we have to thank Nick and the Bay Islands College of Diving for making our trip worthwhile and for teaching us so well. Yesterday we took the 6am Captain Vern's Catamaran to Roatan in rain and rough seas. Shelly got sick before we even left sight of the shores of the island, and I started to feel queasy about a half an hour after her. We both laid down, and weathered the waves. We even both fell asleep which is incredible given the 2-3 meter seas and the constant rocking and slamming the boat was experiencing. We made it back haven't done much but lay around our lovely apartment (that we missed so much) and watched movies. We are going to take about a week off and simply relax and enjoy the island before we start our Divemaster Training and have to work hard again.