Why go to Utila? For the vast majority of people there is one reason: to dive lots for cheap. This was my goal, and I hoped it would be worth the effort it took to get there. If you don’t dive, or don’t want to learn, you should probably pick a different island. The tourist economy and experience revolves around diving. Certifications for everything from Open Water to Instructor are churned out in astounding quantities by the dozen or so dive shops in down. All the dive shops are linked with hotels or have dorms on site where students/divers get special rates, so divers are essentially split into “colleges” where they live and work/play together within the diving university of Utila.
My initial impression was not great. The vibe among tourists who were out and about reminded me of San Pedro La Laguna–longterm gringos partying too hard for my taste. The diving is indeed cheap (around $30 per fun dive, courses 40% less than Belize) but on my few fun dives I noticed the reef wasn’t at vibrant and clear as Belize. The town wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to me. The streets are narrow and noisy; mopeds, ATVs, tuktuks, and golf carts buzz pedestrians constantly and traffic jams are common. I found it unpleasant to walk anywhere. I wasn’t blown out of the water by the food scene (aside from OMG non-melty Skittles! :-P). On day 2, my flip flops both burst in two within minutes of each other, like they had the exact same mileage or something, leaving me without footwear. The T-shirt industry is healthy here between branded dive shop-wear and trophy shirts from local bars for completing get-you-utterly-smashed drinking challenges. I wondered if this is what it was like to go to a party school on the beach.
So yeah, not enchanted. Yet anytime I told someone I had no definite departure date they responded with confidence that I would stay for the rest of my trip. Hmm… what was I missing? I would soon find out.