You don’t need gobs of cash to enjoy a great dive vacation (though it doesn’t hurt).
For our dive destination by budget feature in Sport Diver, we found proof of this in our roundup of nine awesome dive trips for every budget.
Let’s be honest, we all like to stretch our dollars as far as they’ll go, but traveling to exotic destinations for a dive vacation hasn’t always been easy — until now. Whether your bank account is bursting at the seams and you’d like to splurge, or you want to find a cool place to bring the whole family (even your mother-in-law), we’ve got a dive trip for you.
Here’s a peek at managing editor Rebecca Strauss’s budget-friendly dive trip to Utila.
Affordable Getaway To The Utila Dive Festival
I’m not in Utila to save money. I’m here because the diving is world-renowned, and because Utila is a quick hop from Houston (via Roatan). That Utila is also known as an affordable dive destination is just icing on the cake. I’m here for the Utila Dive Festival, held yearly to highlight everything the tiny island has to offer both above and below the waves. The Utila Lodge Resort — where I’ll spend the first half of my trip — is a classic Utila hotel: homey and comfortable but far from swanky. It’s on the main strip in Utila Town, walking distance to most restaurants and bars. Or, if you feel like a splurge, Asian-style tuk tuks cruise by regularly, and can get you anywhere on the main road for around L30 ($1.50) and in less than 10 minutes.
I grab a Utila Dive Festival Passport to check out the week’s activities, mostly free: whale-shark presentations, scuba Olympics, fish-ID presentations,guided snorkeling, and both sunrise and night dives. I’m next door at PADI Five Star IDC Bay Islands College of Diving early the next morning, eager to start diving. The boat goes out with eight divers, and we splash in at Black Hills, on the eastern side of the island. I see schooling Atlantic spadefish, horse-eye jacksand plenty of reef fish. Viz is great, and after lunch, I try side-mount gear at No Name Wall, a little farther south. Midway through the week, I switch hotels to the inland Mango Inn, which has both dormitory accommodations for the backpacker set and pretty wooden cabanas for the rest of us. On-site Mango Café is island-renowned for its delicious wood-fired pizza.
The next morning, I dive with PADI Five Star IDC Utila Dive Centre, where the staff represents no fewer than 10 countries. We head for Black Coral Wall, where again the viz is spectacular. I spot a free-swimming green moray, a stingray and a green sea turtle as it’s headed to the surface for a gulp of air. It’s the festival’s Boat Parade of Lights that night, and all the dive shops have decked out their boats in Christmas lights and loud music as they make a few loops in the Utila Harbor. I watch the show from the dock at Utila Dive Lodge, with a Salva Vida beer in hand. I can see why people come back to Utila — the diving is great, and the vibe is congenial and relaxed. And I’m no cheapskate, but I think I’m enjoying the parade even more because it’s free.
Roundtrip airfare: from Houston to Roatan = around $800
Food/drink: Local brew Salva Vida: 35 lempiras ($1.75), Baleada (street food) 20 lempiras ($1)
Two-tank dive at BICD: $65 (including gear rental) or Utila Dive Centre: $60 (including gear rental)
The 2014 Utila Dive Festival will take place from June 22 to 27.