Becoming scuba divers on Utila island

After an adrenaline day on the roads of Honduras and our successful arrival on the island of Utila, it’s time to do something that hasn’t happened to us on this trip in a long time – to stay somewhere for a longer time. We are not tired of traveling or anything like that – on the contrary. But the thing we have on Utila Island requires us to stay a few days. And our thing will be to get certified as divers. We made the decision after several amateurs (intro) dives were declined to us or not offered at all. So we missed the chance to get to know the underwater wonders in several places in Mexico and Belize. After our first dive years ago in Bali, we had decided that we did not want to deal with the complexity of the equipment and that we did not have a great desire to be independent underwater. We were willing to pay a little more to have a professional diver next to each of us to hold our hands (quite literally). Someone else to handle the equipment and take care of our trouble-free diving and survival underwater. However, we already have a problem with this plan and it seems that such a service is offered in fewer places. When we met the Bulgarian diver in Belize, he shared that Honduras was one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified as a diver. And also, the beauties of the Mesoamerican reef are said to be impressive.

I love Utila colorful sign in Honduras

So the idea of ​​trying to get certified as open water divers somewhere in the Honduran islands became a plan to go to Utila and enroll in a course. We researched online which are the most recommended schools for divers and so we chose one of the most popular on the island. Somewhere along the way, it was clarified that we would be in Utila sometime around Nace’s birthday. I started thinking of all sorts of surprise options, which included hiding a gift deep under the water (very naive) or Nace finding a note with “Happy Birthday!” under some coral (even more naive). But that was before I realized the seriousness of diving training. However, I secretly kept in touch with the school administration online.

On arrival, we are greeted with the first surprise. First, at the ferry terminal, someone is waiting for us with a sign with our names and a tuk-tuk. Not that Utila’s distances are long, but it’s very convenient not to walk on the main street with a backpack, especially in the rain (our regular companion on this trip). Accommodation in the dormitories of the dive school is included in the price of the training, but when they see what a couple in love we are, they put us in a triple room. It is clear that a third person will never come, and we can even sleep on a double bed. We will stay 5 days and such luxuries matter. The girl at the front desk promises to go and get a cake from the bakery on the birthday so we can surprise Nace.

The colorful streets of Utila island, Honduras

As we’re returning to the Caribbean coast after a short break (since Belize), we need to quickly get used to the Caribbean island party rhythm. We arrive on Friday, the universal party day on the island. This means that loud music is played in the yard in front of the dorms, alcohol is poured, fire is juggled on the small beach and the weekly beer pong competition is held. We have dinner in the garden. Every day a different dish of the day is cooked. Today it is grilled meat and vegetables. We drink a beer each and really want to lie down comfortably and sleep. We fully realize that this is our only Friday on this island. But most people at the party dive just once or twice a day and on the contrary, we traveled 12 hours in chicken buses and through one of the most dangerous cities in the world. We need quality sleep. After arranging the schedule of our training that starts tomorrow with our newly appointed diving instructor – Toby, we leave him to compete in the pong beer tournament and go to bed.

The next morning we are unusually fresh, at 8 a.m., there is nobody awake on the whole island. Toby swallows huge amounts of water (he has won the beer pong championship). We have a few hours of theory ahead of us and then practice in confined waters. In Utila, they have built the training system in such a way that if you do well and read some theory in your free time, you can get certified in 3 days. We will stay for one more day to take advantage of 2 bonus dives. But it all starts in the classroom. We learn about the principles of underwater physics, how the equipment works, how important it is to know what you are doing underwater and why pressure can smash your brain or cause many unpleasant diseases or even death. We learn basic rules like “Never hold your breath underwater” and “Never come to the surface very quickly.”.

Hammock in a dive school dorm, Utila island, Honduras

We pass the theory, it’s time for practice. But Toby says he has to measure some indicators first before we move on – our abilities to swim and float. We have to swim 200 meters (no time limit) and float (without touching the bottom) for ten minutes. For a moment, I am worried about how we will cover these standards and whether we will cover them. Nace is not used to swimming without bottom support for so long. But Toby sits on the pier and tells us not to worry and not to hurry. Basically, being able to swim and being able to float are two things that you might need in extreme dive situations. For example, if you come to the surface far from the boat, then you will have to swim back, or if you find yourself without equipment, it would be useful to be able to stay afloat on your own. We start swimming from the pier to a mark and then we have to go back to Toby. It takes a while, but we swim, I stop and motivate Nace, and he swims on his back to make it easier. I think this is the day he officially learned to swim (out of necessity). As often happens with all sorts of things in a little more extreme situations. To float on the surface of the water for 10 minutes, Nace just lies down and falls into deep meditation so as not to be tempted to step on the bottom. I’ll talk to Toby.

Being a diver, divemaster, or anything related to diving on paradise islands is a way of life. You must enjoy walking barefoot all the time, spending time mostly on a boat or underwater, having fun with everyone else in the evening, and be ready to change your location every few months or when you get bored and want to change the environment. We agree that this is not a job for everyone, although, from the outside, it looks like a dream. All-day long you contemplate incredible beauties underwater, and the rest of the time you walk around with a beer in hand and socialize. And for us, the island and diving lifestyles will bring some routine, albeit for a short time. After we finish diving lessons or diving, the day remains free – to eat something somewhere, to go for a walk (if it doesn’t rain), or to grab a beer and hang on a hammock indecently long.

But first, we have to do the training in the confined shallow waters. We try all the techniques that a diver would need – from putting and removing the regulator in and out of the mouth underwater to putting and removing the mask. From taking off the whole vest with the breathing systems and the bottle to putting them back on. There is a big struggle here. It is not easy to put on something that does not want to be put on, and it is almost impossible to push it underwater beneath you. We descend to a depth of 2-3 meters several times, try all sorts of skills, rescue each other. We take off all the equipment, even the wetsuits, to take a pee (otherwise it stays in the wetsuit and is especially unpleasant). In general, it turns out to be a very long day. We go out exhausted, with sour muscles, and almost immediately head to the bed, because tomorrow will be our first real dive in the open sea. To complete the open water diving course, we must do 4 dives, two up to 12 meters, and two up to 18 meters. In doing so, we train all the skills several times until the instructor decides that we have mastered them.

The colorful signs of Utila island, Honduras

It’s raining relentlessly in the afternoon, and it seems like it’s raining every afternoon when we’re free. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to walk down the main street, get some drinking water from the store, explore what’s on the island. There are many dive shops, diving schools, and various houses where everyone related to the main activities here lives. We constantly pass by barefoot people with beers in their hands, and we try to limit our drinking – it is contraindicated for diving. Not that it bothers everyone else. We manage to try a modern restaurant, a cafe, an Italian restaurant over the water, a typical American pub, and a hostel with a garden for relaxation and rest, where we watch a movie. The most important thing is that we also eat from the delicious typical Honduran baleadаs because we can’t leave Honduras without trying them. But apart from wandering around or looking for something to buy, the rain doesn’t leave us much opportunity to do anything. And the island itself doesn’t seem to offer much more than diving and drinking entertainment. It’s a lot of fun to talk to different people and see how everyone, regardless of their job, has something to do with diving. Most people work as divemasters or instructors and at the same time help in restaurants, shops, drive taxis. In general, they all seem super hard-working for islanders. And we are slowly forgetting where we are because Utila somehow doesn’t feel like Honduras. For example, the official language here is English. Everyone speaks English. Nace and I are joking that we will forget Spanish. This is an island-state and has its own rules for how to live in peace and harmony, even in a total chill.

Children playing on the beach in Utila island, Honduras

A woman starts talking with us on the street while we’re waiting in line for the ATM. First, she speaks perfect English and has spent most of her life on the island, part of Honduras. Second, she is interested in us as if we were her beloved friends. In smaller places where not many people live, there is always such a feeling of community – people accept you as a family, as one of their own, just because you are there. It’s nice to be interested in you as a person, not as a “rich foreigner,” a “money machine,” or anything like that. The woman wishes us so many good things for the day and our lives that I feel like I would entrust her with my wallet with the money just withdrawn without worrying at all. Well, it’s a feeling of being light and trusting of others. And not always thinking the worst of someone or the bad things that might happen to you. This is total chill squared.

But our relatively long stay begins to put us in a slow, routine, at times boring rhythm. The complete opposite of our style of travel and living. It is good that the diving course gives us a little diversity and challenge. Our first dive in the open sea coincides with Nace’s birthday. Things don’t work out with the cake – it’s Sunday, and on Sunday the bakery, as well as two-thirds of the island’s businesses, are closed. But the diving certification itself is a great gift, I keep telling myself to relax. We board the boat after the equipment has been prepared by the divers from the school. There are at least 30 interesting sites to dive around Utila, so we set off for one of them. Where and how we will dive is usually planned by the dive gurus every night at a meeting. At each entry into the water, we try a new approach – either with a back roll on the side of the boat or with a giant stride from the back. It takes me a while to master the giant stride (the “drunk Mexican” feels so much easier), but once I get in the water, everything happens quite naturally. The three of us go deep and follow Toby. While other divers enjoy the rich underwater world, we train skills. The same skills, only this time deeper. We handle everything and at the end of our second dive of the day, we have to try giving air to the dive buddy.

Preparing for diving in Utila, Honduras

Toby signals me to be the person in need and Nace to be the savior. The procedure is not complicated – you make the signal that you have no air. The buddy removes the additional regulator from their vest. They hand it to you, you take out yours, put theirs in your mouth, and start breathing. Then the two of you grab each other’s vests and swim up to the surface together. We should have been 5-6 meters underwater. We start doing the exercise. But I forget to give the signal, I just take one last breath and take my regulator out of my mouth. Nace starts to take out the spare reg, but some hoses get tangled. Toby starts helping him, but I feel like I’m letting out too much air and I’m about to run out. Nace hands me the regulator and I just intend to inhale when they pull it out of my mouth. It turns out that it is placed upside down. Generally, the spare ones do not have right and wrong sides, but this model is strange and at the moment the tube presses my nose unnaturally. Toby immediately tries to turn the reg but I really want to inhale and I make a big mistake – to inhale underwater with no air support. Immediately my mouth fills with water and I start panicking. Toby pulls out his spare regulator and puts it in my mouth, but I can’t breathe. He presses the button, which gives a little more pressure, and I feel a jet in my full-of-water mouth. I’m slowly starting to breathe, but I’m also very flooded. In this situation, instinct tells you to swim up. Toby gives the signal to ascent and catches me. These were the longest 5 meters in my life – an eternity. Finally, we ascent, I clear the airways with a powerful cough and inhale. Everything is fine. Well, in the stressful situation, Nace sets out without looking at what is above him and hits his head on the boat. I understand that he was angry about the lack of a cake for his birthday, but how could he try to kill me in front of a witness?

We analyze the situation and evaluate our mistakes. It’s a useful experience in general because we’ve seen how a big problem can happen and how important it is to be cool in the water, especially when your friend panics. Our last two dives of the course are the next day – this time to a depth of 18 meters. In addition to feeling the increased pressure with each meter further below, we try all the other skills. This includes the annoying removal and putting a mask underwater. We swim among corals, rocks, and tunnels, we train our neutral buoyancy. This is when you can maintain an almost horizontal position underwater. It’s comfortable to swim and be able to maintain the same depth, not swinging your fins and going deeper or moving toward the surface. We are starting to pay less and less unnecessary attention to the equipment and realize how interesting the underwater life around us is. For example, how a lionfish is eating a few smaller fish next to it. They have a big problem with the lionfish around Utila. They are predators and, as it turns out, intruders, they are not native to these waters and eat half of the biodiversity underwater. That’s why sport anglers are encouraged to catch lionfish and restaurant customers are encouraged to order them. So eat lionfish, save Utila!

Underwater photo with us diving near Utila island in Honduras

We remain for some time at a depth of about 18 meters and “rest” underwater. We also need to try orienteering. One buddy follows the compass, the other buddy hooks up to the first one and counts how many kicks they swim. We swim in tandem and find the object that Toby hid in advance with astonishing accuracy. We even test the ability for an emergency ascent on our own. This skill requires you to swim up to the surface without taking any extra breath, throwing all the weights off you in the end. Toby keeps a close eye on us if we take a breath on the way, and during the ascent, we let out the air with a sound like opera singers. But no skill is as important to us as repeating giving air to the buddy. This time we are doing great and we no longer have to worry about this exercise. As we finish our last dive, Toby introduces us to everyone on the boat as the newly certified divers. Hey, it feels different to be a diver! Thanks to our great instructor. For some, also a savior.

Solving the theoretical exam is a far more boring task. We have enviable results of 98 percent. Our last two dives are left for the next day, now as certified and independent divers, solely for our pleasure. We are lucky with the sunniest possible time of the year. The visibility is amazing, and down below it is overflowing with all sorts of interesting fish, corals, not to mention the shark that greets us. We follow the divemaster, still being fresh and enthusiastic young divers who are enjoying every second. We swim like mermaids and wonder where to look first. While taking pictures with the camera, we even remember why we started diving in the first place. Well, we constantly look at how much air we have left, and not to go much deeper than the certificate allows us (we may have violated it a bit, by 2-3 meters, but these are just details). This is the time to apologize to all the corals we have hurt during our diving training. Ah, that neutral buoyancy!

The colorful streets of Utila island, Honduras

Our last night turns into a celebration – we can now afford more than one beer, wander around different parts of the island, forgotten beaches, and forests full of mosquitoes. We can do whatever we want! Everything acquires a new light but mostly feels lighter. We can’t wait to absorb the maximum of the beautiful views, the carefree people around, and the island vibrations, because soon we will return to the mainland of Honduras, and we will have to cross the country again.

Scuba Diving in Utila Honduras Pin
Pin us!

Do you like this post?

Travel with us and share our journey on Instagram! Do you want to support us – learn how here!

Keep up with our latest travel adventures and projects!
Subscribe for our Traveletter!