Utila dive shop recommendations

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NaClH2OLvr

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Location
Columbus, OH
# of dives
500 - 999
I will be in Utila for the first time in September. I've been to Roatan a few times and love the diving there but decided to check out Utila this time. I'm hoping for some insight and suggestions. I'm travelling solo, 47 years old, and an experienced diver. I haven't booked my accommodations yet, I'm still sorting out the trip details. I'm definitely more of a budget traveler over the all-inclusive style of travelling.

In trying to decide on a dive op, there are a few things I've thought about after looking into the Utila dive scene. I'd prefer a shop that either has separate boats or separates their groups to ensure their divers are getting the best bottom times and experiences. I definitely do not want to be in the same dive group as students. Also, are there any shops that consistently go to the north sites? I understand the weather may play a part in getting there, but I'd like to go with a shop that consistently hits up both the north and south sites.

Also, are there any great swim throughs in the area? I love diving in Cozumel and Devil's Throat is my go to. Anything remotely close? And for those that visit Utila often, feel free to include any other pearls! Thanks in advance!
 

laurenceh

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utila & chicago
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If you stay in Utila town, UDC (utila dive center) would be my choice, I did my dive master certification with them many years ago and they are still well run and professional. If you stay on the south shore or the cays then I would go with Utila Cays Diving, a great small operation that never has more than 8 divers on the boat. This allows them to tailor dives to your ability and they visit some unmarked sites that the other shops never go to. Utila Cays Diving goes to the north side every morning, sometimes the shops in Utila town skip the north side for a day or two (to safe fuel $$$). The diving on the north side is IMHO the most interesting and dramatic topographically.
On the north side there is a great swim through at a site called "The Pinnacle", you enter it at about 70ft and come out at about 125ft (if my memory is right).
The north side is primarily wall dives that go down deep and the south side is coral gardens in shallower water (max. 60ft).
 
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Stout

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Victoria BC Canada
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It's been a few years since I've been to Utila and things might have changed due to the pandemic but IMO the best bet is to land on the island and walk around talking to the different shops to find which one you think is the best fit. This only takes half a day at most and every shop had boats going out twice/day so on day 1, you could do your "shopping" and be out on an afternoon boat the same day.

Last time I was there, there were only two shops ( in town ) stating that they do north side trips every day. One was Altons and, for the life of me I can't remember the other one, Captain Morgan's maybe. I was more than happy with Altons and had the same issue with being on a boat with students. More specifically newly certified divers who were concerned with "flying under water" or looking for the green moray which led to the divemaster(s) going a little too quickly for my tastes which meant that if I found something interesting, I had to look at it quickly then play catch-up with the group.

On more than a few occasions, I ended up with my own private divemaster who understood my frustrations with the pace of the dive. I'm not trying to fault anybody here, the DM has to do what the DM has to do and a group with mixed goals and focus is all part of the diving in a (primarily) dive school environment.

Altons was totally on top of it with the whale sharks, even the boats doing dives on the south side would go where they had to go to put their divers on the big fish. I'm primarily a south side diver as there's more things to see, critterwise than there is on the north side, especially in the shallows and heading out to investigate a report whale shark was a frequent occurrence.
 

theDrExplorer

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Portland, OR
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We dove with Alton's in March, and they go out to the North side of Utila every morning (specific sites are wind/current dependent of course). And as Stout mentions above, they are very good about separating students and divers of different levels. On one occasion, they sent out one instructor with the one OW student while they had 2 other DMs to lead the OW-certified and AOW+ groups. We chose it after conversing with most of the major Utila shops via Whatsapp, and were not disappointed.

It was a very nicely run, efficient and professional shop, and depending on your preferences, was quieter at night than a lot of the other surrounding shops (like UDC) that had large groups of DMs in training, but still within walking distance to more festive locations. Happy to answer any questions about our experience there!
 
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NaClH2OLvr

NaClH2OLvr

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Columbus, OH
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Thanks for the great info! The Pinnacle sounds great, I’ll definitely ask about it. Alton’s was one of the 3 shops I’d had in mind, so it’s nice reading good things about the op. It seems they are pretty much in line with what I’m looking for. I’ll reach out to them for more information. If anyone is on the island the week of September 6 drop a line. Thanks again!
 
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