Honduras – Diving in Utila

The best diving in Honduras, and also one of the best in the world,  is in the Bay Islands – Roatan, Utila and Guanaja. Out of the three, the island of Utila has the added advantage of being one of the cheapest places to take a PADI Open Water Course and has ideal diving conditions.

I’ve always wanted to see the world beneath the waves. Because I thoroughly enjoy snorkelling and longed to further explore the marine life, I decided to try out scuba diving during my time on Utila island. On the island, the combination of turquoise Caribbean Sea and the second largest reef in the world (Mesoamerican Barrier Reef) brings the chance to see turtles, rays, dolphins and even whale sharks!

This post will cover the two types of diving.

Below is a video of our diving experience in Utila:

The Caribbean Sea, Utila Island.
Colourful corals

Scuba diving

SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) diving is a sport or recreational activity where you swim underwater with the aid of an oxygen tank. Unlike snorkelling, when you go scuba diving you are going for a longer period of time underwater to enjoy the beautiful underwater world. People of almost all ages can scuba dive, but before you can dive into the deep blue waters, you must first learn how to dive and obtain a certification card – this is your license to dive and serves as proof that you underwent proper scuba training.

PADI Open Water Course

Recreational scuba diving doesn’t have a centralized certifying or regulatory agency. There are several but the most popular are – Professional Association of Diving Instructions (PADI) and Scuba Schools International (SSI). I chose to get a PADI certification because its the biggest and most recognized dive certification agency in the world.

The PADI open water diving certification is the first course you need to qualify you as a diver, for diving up to 18 m deep. Getting PADI certified means you can dive anywhere in the world. The amount of time it takes to complete the course depends on you – I completed the course in 4 days.

Scuba diving in the Caribbean Sea
Scuba diving

Scuba diving schools on Utila

There are about 10 scuba dive centers on the island, which means you’ll have a variety to choose from. Picking the right dive center can be key to feeling safe on your first dive. After some research and asking the necessary questions (see below), I chose to go with Paradise Divers and paid 5600 HNL /  R 3325 / 230 USD.  The course included academic modules, confined water sessions, and open water dives and “fun” dives. Most centers also offer accommodation, but since we had our own apartment, the cost of the course was adjusted.

Corinne was my instructor and not only was she patient with me, I could tell that she is passionate about diving, and the preservation of marine life. She took the time to explain everything clearly which helped calm down my nerves.

I was very happy! Can you see my smile? Haha!

What to consider when choosing a dive school

These are the questions I asked in order to make my decision:

  • Is the instructor experienced?
  • What’s the quality of the equipment?
  • How many people will be in a class?
  • Are there additional “fun” dives included?

My Scuba Diving Experience

My first breath underwater was strange. I didn’t really know what to expect but naturally, I first held my breath until I couldn’t any longer. I soon became comfortable and my love for scuba diving grew with each dive. One great benefit is that you can stay longer, cover greater distance, and go deeper for longer.

Scuba diving has broadened my mind. The different colours of the reefs and marine wildlife in Utila is impressive. I saw a moray eel, several rays, turtles, groupers, lobsters and plenty more.

We spotted a large ray
A big Grouper in between the rocks
A beautiful turtle cruising through the reef

Advice for first-timers

If you are not comfortable in water, many hotels offer poolside try-dives in conditions similar to those of shallow water. Once you’re comfortable, you can then go in the open water. Remember to not overthink it, which is what I did at first and panicked.

The fit and comfort of your personal equipment is important to having an enjoyable diving experience. I wore two wetsuits at times because I was too cold while diving. Each wet suit was 3 millimeters thick.

All smiles after completing the course! Me, Frederik, Che and Corinne (our instructor).


Freediving is the sport or activity of diving under water (especially in deep water) without the use of  a breathing apparatus, therefore, freedivers are only underwater for a very short period of time (maximum a few minutes at a time – mostly ranging from 1-4 minutes) and then resurface. But unlike scuba diving you can do unlimited, repetitive dives in one day.

There are about 3 freedive centers in Utila.

5 Reasons to Freediving

  1. Freediving teaches you a lot about your body and breathing. Divers challenge their mental and physical abilities.
  2. Many divers say that freediving is meditative, while diving they relax and empty their minds. So, you are able to stay cool in stressful situations, even when you are not diving.
  3. Freediving urges you to live a healthier lifestyle. You become more conscious of what you eat and how you exercise.
  4. Because its not a sport that you can just jump into, freediving teaches you to be more disciplined and aware of your bodies limits.
  5. Many marine animals are easier to see and get close to when you don’t exhale bubbles (like with scuba diving).
Frederik on his descend during a free immersion dive

5 Differences between Scuba diving and Freediving

  1. The most obvious difference is that freedivers, as their name suggests, can move more freely and quickly underwater freedivers which makes it easier to keep up with fast-moving fish.
  2. Freedivers do not use an oxygen take, each dive is done on a single breath. Therefore the duration of each dive depends on how long you are able to hold your breath. Scuba divers do have the advantage of being able to stay longer underwater to observe marine life around them.
  3. Scuba divers are taught to never hold their breath underwater due to the risk of lung over expansion. Freedivers, on the contrary, hold their breath throughout the entire dive.
  4. Freediving is much less dependent on equipment compared to scuba diving. Freedivers only use a mask, snorkel, wetsuit, fins and weights and can leave behind the heavy additional equipment scuba divers require.
  5. There is a big competitive side to freediving, but it’s more about competing with yourself rather than competing against others.

Believe me, there is so much beauty in Utila and the warm, crystal clear waters are home to hundreds of species of colourful fish and corals, waiting for you to explore.

Now that you know the differences between scuba diving and freediving, which one will you take part in?

Thank you for reading,

Dineo Zonke.

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