On the island of Utila, which borders on the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, (the 2nd largest reef in the world after the Australian Great Barrier Reef) you will discover some of the most beautiful beaches, coral reefs, and tropical island sunsets in the world.
With over 100 different dive sites to choose from, including caves and wrecks (such as the famous Halliburton), scuba diving is always interesting and never crowded.
The reef system is home to more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusk and more than 500 species of fish.
There are numerous species that live in or around the reef system that are endangered or under some degree of protection, including sea turtles.
Most of Utila’s divers frequent sites are on the south side of the island, simply because they are quicker and easier to get to from East Harbour than the north side, and also the waters are more protected and tend to be calmer.
As well as fringing reefs, Utila has some spectacular sea mountains which rise from the ocean floor to just a few feet from the surface. These act as magnets to filter feeding fish and of course to the fish that like to eat other fish. Many people’s favorite, a site called Black Hills, is one of the top dive sites in the Bay Islands. Sharks are common and large schools of jacks swirl around you as you drop down the coral encrusted hill top.
The north side of the island offers advanced divers the opportunity to do some deeper diving. The continental shelf actually meets the island at Turtle Harbor Marine Reserve and even the most experienced of divers will be delighted by the amazing drop offs. The walls start at just 5m (15ft) and drop vertically down to over 1000m (3300ft). CJs drop off and Duppy Waters are famed in The Bay Islands for their vertigo inducing views into the deep. Hawksbill turtles, eagle rays, reef sharks, moray eels and sting rays are all common, as well as giant sponges and a tremendous variety of soft and hard corals.
Willie’s Hole is a dramatic open cave in the coral wall at around 25 meters, with plenty of pillar and star corals to admire, along with sponges. Blackish Point is a system of caverns and passages in the reef wall at around 20 meters, with encrusted overhangs to check out. The gentle current makes this a good drift dive.
Jack Neil Point and Jack Neil Beach are both great long, shallow dives along the tongue-and-groove formations of hard and soft corals. At the western end of the reef here, sightings of hawksbill and green turtles are common.
Among the many similar dives along the southern wall, each starting in around 4 meters of water and dropping to about 30 meters at the base of the reef, Pretty Bush and Black Coral Wall are two good ones. Despite the name of the latter dive, young black coral is found all along the wall here, as are elkhorn and pillar coral, sea fans, and frequent spotted eagle rays cruising at the deeper sections along the reef wall.
If you are an experienced diver, you will find that Utila has much to offer. On the west end of the island the currents allow for some wonderful drift diving. There is also a great wreck dive; the Halliburton 211 was sunk as an artificial reef by the Utila Dive Operators Association in 1998 and is already attracting a lot of fishes. It lies just minutes from Utila town and has become a favorite dive site with our instructors for their advanced course dives.