A friend mentioned to me she was going to Mexico for Spanish language school, primarily because this particular school included surfing as part of the program. It was this conversation that inspired me to look into Spanish language schools in a country where I could dive, run rivers or go surfing. Not only would I have a possible tax write off, but also a chance to develop my Spanish language skills.
After spending several hours on the Internet looking up language schools in different countries, I decided on Honduras. Honduras is a wonderful country. As stated in the Lonely Planet: Honduras is the original banana republic. It is a democracy with a developing economy. The national language is Spanish. However, English is dominant on the Bay Islands.
Honduras has incredible natural resources including world class whitewater boating and some of the best (less expensive) diving in the Caribbean.
Central American Spanish Schools seemed to have the most comprehensive program and a school on the island of Utila. They also were the only school to offer medical Spanish as my travelling companions, Viki, Dee and Lois, were emergency room nurses and needed the Spanish for work. Rafael, the director, answered all my questions. He responded to my e-mails the same day I wrote them. Best of all the price was right. Cost was $185.00 per week including room and board. (Room only on Utila).
Our first week was in the coastal city of La Ceiba. La Ceiba is also the port for the Bay Islands and base for river trips in the Pinto Bonito National Park and Cangregal River. Every day we had different activities including: treks to the rain forest, river canopy (zip lines), dancing and classes on the beach. On Friday, we went to Oscar Perez’s Jungle River Lodge where we hiked through the verdant rain forest to a 600 ft (183 m) high waterfall. The next day we went rafting through the precipitous drops of the Cangregal river gorge. I am a whitewater outfitter in California; Viki, a class V guide and Dee a Class V kayaker: we were all impressed with not only the river but with Oscar’s guides (Johnnie, Ricardo and Juan) and his entire operation. Unfortunately, Lois had torn ligaments and could not partake on our adventure. The next morning we caught the ferry to Utila.
Utila is the smallest and flattest of the three major Bay Islands, and is the closest to the mainland. The island is 9.5 miles long and 3 miles wide. Land transportation on Utila is limited to a few pickup trucks, a couple of unreliable taxis and a ton of old mountain bikes. Utila is not only renown as one of the best diving locations in the Caribbean, it is also known as the cheapest. From mid-February through March one can almost be guaranteed a whale shark experience. Consequently, the streets are lined with dive shops. Because certifications are so cheap, many shops have reputations as dive master factories. For as little as $500 (including lodging) one can spend a month on the island completing a dive master course. My 12 dives cost me $160.
I dived with Altons because that is the shop the school uses. They were fine. The dive masters were young, mostly inexperienced but competent and all were friendly. Dee did her certification course through Altons, they were able to work around her school schedule and she felt her instruction was proficient. I have also heard very good reports about Deep Blue Divers. This dive resort and shop is owned by an English couple who claim that Honduras is the cheapest place in the world to dive with the the world’s second largest barrier reef.
The best diving in Utila is in the morning. This is when most dive boats go to the “north” side. Also morning offers the best conditions. Unfortunately, I had school in the morning and dived in the afternoon. By doing this I missed two whale shark encounters. There are no bad dive sites on Utila.
During my 12 dives, I encountered the largest lobster I have seen in the ocean (20-25 pounds) several barracuda, jaw fish, octopus, spotted drums, sea turtles, moray, scorpion fish, crabs, hog fish, lizard fish, large sting ray, eagle rays, corals, sea fans, sponges and much much more. The dive sites included a spectacular seamount at Black Hills; Rons Wreck – unimpressive as a wreck dive but lots of sea life, saw the green moray here; Airport reef (a good night dive); Blue Bayou, where I saw 2 turtles, barracuda and the “giant” lobsters; Black coral wall (2 deep dives here-good), Jack Neil; Big Rock and Cabanas. The visibility ranged from 20-30 m. Though I did a couple of deep dives (36 m) the best diving is between 12-20 m.
Lodging and food in Utila are as cheap as Thailand. We stayed at the Colibri Hotel, a new hotel with the first pool in Utila. We had a large room with 2 queen size beds and hot water for $25. Per night. Most meals are under $3.00. A fancy dinner will cost about twice that. For non divers, Viki and Lois spent an afternoon on Water Caye (a small white sand island with palm trees and no sand flies) an afternoon snorkelling, a hike to Pumpkin Hill and explored some of the caves. There is also horseback riding, shopping and people watching. But be prepared, the bay islands are renown for some of the most aggressive no-seeums anywhere. Bring lots of repellent.
In conclusion, my only regrets about my trip is that my travel was confined due to taking the classes. I would have really liked to visit the ruins at Copan but that was on the other side of the country.
If you travel with Taca Airlines be prepared to have your luggage delayed. This is a common event of this airline. It was nice to have Rafael as an advocate to hasten the process of getting our luggage to La Ceiba. The cultural experience of not only getting to know, but become friends with the Honduran people I met was priceless. In addition we made many international friends with other students. The diving was extraordinary. The experience was phenomenal.
by Bill Mashek
Here are some comments on diving in Honduras from other users of the SCUBA Travel site.
I recently spent a diving holiday on Utila and had an amazing experience putting together a film about the diving out there – amazing.”
Steve Hurford, 2006.
Here is Steve’s film, including some lovely shots of whale sharks – you need Flash 8 on your computer to view it…(copyright Steve Hurford, http://www.myspace.com/shurford)
|The Canyons, Utila|
“The Canyons dive site (Utila) has beautiful coral gardens and canyons.”
|Black Hills, Utila|
“Ocean mound, thousands of fish, enough coral to fill a textbook, great.”
|The Sand Shoot, Elbo Cay near Pyrmid Is|
“100 ft + visibility, desending pathway through old coral reef eastward to deeper water. cullminating with deep water exit @ 140 + feet.”
|Coconut Tree Divers, West End, Roatan|
“I was in Roatan in January and lucked into a great little dive shop right in West End. Coconut Tree Divers were amazing. Owned and run by two lovely Brits, Gay and PJ. The staff is young, enthuastic and very knowledgable. They also showed great respect for the reefs upon which we dove. It was the best diving of my life thus far. I’m returning for a week in August to reconnect with these fantastic people. They also have a great boat captain, Cap’n Carl who knows the reefs better than anyone. Ask for Will or Tim, great instructors. Coconut Tree had very reasonable rates on dive packages too.”
“A very rarely dived site, on the west tip of the island..very very healthy, good chance of Hammerheads.”
|Port Royal, Roatan|
“Coral reefs with neon colored fish. Whale sharks in winter, and a great depth visibility.”
|Cara a Cara, Roatan|
“My husband and I did a shark dive in Roatan in December 2005. It was a great dive. Approximately 22 caribbean reef sharks up close and personal. You can actually swim around with them at 70 ft in a place that is called “Cara a Cara” – face to face. We dived with Waihuka Adventure Diving.”
Teresa Hemphill, C&D Diving, Inc., SpringHill, TN
“Shark dive, 10 to 30 Caribbean grey reef sharks. Plateau at 24 meters, plastered with soft and hard corals and fish. Schools of yellow fin tunas, big groupers, moray eels and of course the sharks!”
|Mary’s Place, Reef House Resort, Roatan|
Tracey Lantz, United States
|40 ft Point, Reef House Resort, Roatan|
“Thousands of fish, beautiful coral, facinating creatures.”
Tracey Lantz, United States
|Calvin’s Crack, Reef House Resort, Roatan|
|French Harbour, Roatan|
“Beautiful coral and wildlife.”
Christine Reynolds, 2010
Utila Water Sports
Tel: (504) 425-3264
Fax: (504) 425-3264
“My husband and I (both in our 50’s) had never dived before and were quite nervous. Our son did his Divemaster with Utila Watersports so naturally we went along doing both openwater and advanced. They are an extremely professional dive shop and made us feel very welcome and got rid of our nerves. We would recommend them to anyone. The dive sites were great and clarity of water better than Thailand where we have been since.”
“I spent a very happy 3 months, gaining my dive master at Utila Watersports – a fantastic, friendly, very small diving shop/school, with only 3 instructors. It is true that Utila churns out alot of dive masters and the quality of the school depends on the quality of the dive master turned out, however for all potential dive masters a good thing to remember is that there are so many students that pass through Utila that you gain a lot of experience very quickly.
If you want to do your dive master (or any padi course) shop around, ask to check quality of gear, boats, find out how and who does their air and nitrox, what class tuition you get and the level of mentoring / supervision as a dive leader, do they teach you specialities for free (e.g. deep, nitrox, wreck, etc) chat to current dive masters. Some shops operate a strict rota about when you can dive, others let you out as much as you can fit in. The diving there really is second to none, but don’t expect to practice your spanish on Utila, it’s almost totally English / Patois / Creole / Spanglish !”