A barracuda seen in utila honduras

Scuba Diving in Utila: What You Need to Know Before You Go!

Diving in Utila, Honduras, is indescribable: some of the cheapest diving you’ll find anywhere in the world, yet with pristine underwater landscapes, a wealth of fish life, and the potential for large encounters, such as with whale sharks or dolphins (as we were lucky enough to see!).

Utila is one of the major Bay Islands (Islas de Bahia) of Honduras and is one of the two principal scuba diving hubs in the country, as well as a favorite among budget travelers and backpackers. 

The other is Roatán, a larger island that is approximately an hour’s ferry ride away and often favored by tourists with larger budgets, as well as being a major cruise port.

This guide to Utila scuba diving will first illustrate why diving in Utila is so distinct and exceptional, before briefly discussing the best time of year to dive in Utila, and what you might see during your dives in Utila!

A beautiful indigo hamlet very close to the camera with a colorful background of coral

Next, I’ll share my personal experience of diving in Utila and my individual Utila dive logs, which includes details of what I encountered on each dive and how my dive profiles look.

Following that, I’ll touch upon some of the best dive sites in Utila that I’ve marked for a future visit! 

A mere three-day trip to Utila was not nearly sufficient to tackle every dive I wanted, and I was only able to fit 5 dives in Utila during my trip, partly due to the inconvenient travel times of the Roatan to Utila ferry.

But Utila has an impossible wealth of dive sites — I wasn’t able to get an exact number in my research, but the low range I see is over 70 dive sites and the high range I see is over 100!

Either way: that’s plenty to keep returning to Utila for (plus all the great things to do while there besides diving!), and I can definitely see myself diving in Roatan and Utila again in the future.

Why is Diving in Utila Special?

coral landscape with a tiny spotted trunkfish peeking out from where it is hiding

Part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef that stretches along the coast of Mexico and Central America, scuba diving in Utila shares many similarities with other renowned dive spots along this system.

However, Utila also has unique offerings that aren’t easily found in other parts of the Caribbean — as well as being the most budget-friendly place to dive in all of the Caribbean, if not the entire world.

But Utila’s draw is more than just its affordability.

Diving in Utila translates into diving past coral-coated wrecks, where miniature marine life can be found in its crevices, revealing a living narrative of the sea reclaiming what man once constructed.

It means the chance of seeing some larger pelagic species, who are more likely to cruise along the waters of Utila than of Roatan, particularly whale sharks (during the rainy season) and possibly dolphins (a sight I was lucky enough to see and swim with on a surface interval!).

seeing dolphins during a surface interval - a person in a shortie wetsuit and five dolphins swimming quite close, approximately 15 feet away

At the same time, some of the other things that make the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef so special can also be found in Utila, such as majestic coral canyons and swim-throughs, the presence of beautiful creatures like spotted eagle rays, and a rich variety of coral and sponge life.

One of the coolest things you’ll find diving in Utila is not just its fauna but also its underwater flora. 

While the coral is beautiful and colorful, what I find really special is the huge number of enormous barrel sponges – fittingly referred to as the ‘redwoods of the reef’ due to their size and longevity – you’ll find in Utila and Roatan.

These stunning sponges, which can reach a massive 6 feet in diameter and stand nearly 8 feet tall: truly massive for a sea sponge! 

These wonderful sponges stand as quiet guardians of the sea floor, some nearly 2,000 years old.

Best Time to Dive in Utila

A rock beauty (yellow and black fish) swimming in the coral canyons and sea fans of Utila underwater landscape while diving in Utila

Generally speaking, diving in Utila is very doable year-round.

When we talk about the ideal time to dive in Utila, we’re typically talking about the dry season in Utila. That roughly runs from March through September, while the wet season spans from October through February.

On our recent trip, we visited in May, and it was absolutely ideal for us.

The dry season means calmer seas and superior visibility, with water temperatures typically fluctuating between 79°F to 84°F (26°C – 29°C), and visibility extending up to 100+ feet when you’re really lucky!

The wet season from October through February typically entails short showers throughout the day rather than long, sustained downpours.

That said, tropical storms are, of course, possible during this time, although Utila is out of the main hurricane belt of the Caribbean.

a striped black and white fish enjoying the water in utila

But don’t get too bummed out by the rainy season: these rain showers tend to be fleeting and followed by brilliant sunshine and decreased humidity, with water temperatures only dropping slightly to around 77°F (25°C).

The advantages? Less traffic in your favorite diving spots, lower prices, and decreased heat and humidity throughout the day (trust me — the heat in May was intense, and it’s said to only get more extreme through to about August!).

Another benefit to the wet season is that it coincides with the whale shark season in Utila, offering a chance to spot these incredible creatures between October and December.

However, temper your expectations — these sightings are infrequent and becoming rarer over time!

What Can You See While Diving in Utila?

a whale shark in utila with divers and yellow fish

Of course, there are some big items on the wishlist for diving in Utila: namely, whale sharks, though I’ve talked a bit about their unpredictability.

Other possibilities are spotted eagle rays (not so rare), turtles (not as common as Roatan, but not as rare as whale sharks), dolphins (easier to find on a surface interval, as we did!), and mobula and manta rays (also rare).

Of course, there are some big items on the wishlist for diving in Utila: namely, whale sharks, though I’ve talked a bit about their unpredictability.

Other possibilities are spotted eagle rays (not so rare), turtles (not as common as Roatan, but not as rare as whale sharks), dolphins (easier to find on a surface interval, as we did!), and mobula and manta rays (also rare).

That said, diving in Utila is so much more than just crossing your fingers for the big life.

Get just as excited about the coral landscapes, the micro-creatures, and the stunning rainbow of colorful tropical fish you can find here!

close up of banded shrimp hanging out on a barrel sponge

One of my favorite moments was peering into a pink vase sponge and seeing two large banded coral shrimp in there, their massive antennas floating in the water.

In terms of the underwater coral and sponges, there are some special things to see here: the giant barrel sponges that I mentioned above, as well as the azure vase sponges (which actually are naturally iridescent — yes, they glow, even in the daytime!).

You’ll also see all sorts of soft corals drifting in the water, especially sea rods, gorgonians (sea fans), and sea whips. They flutter like underwater cattails in the waves, and are quite gorgeous.

There’s also a wide variety of coral species, from branching corals to brain corals to maze corals — just watch out for the invasive and aptly-named fire coral, which can cause an awful stinging sensation.

While you should be careful not to touch any coral for its preservation and health, fire coral will absolutely bite back and teach you a lesson!

Now let’s talk a bit about the specific fish and other underwater creatures you can find in Utila.

a trumpetfish underwater

You’ll find everything from trumpetfish to squirrelfish (the most I’ve ever seen anywhere!) to damselfish to pufferfish to porcupinefish to butterflyfish to angelfish to trunkfish here… and I’m only getting started.

Unfortunately, I found that Utila had a much larger population of lionfish than Roatan did. One dive I did had a whopping 5 lionfish!

While these lionfish do look pretty, they are absolutely devastating to reefs, and like in Roatan, there is a lionfish spearfishing program designed to keep the reefs healthy and rid them of these invasive species.

Besides fish life, expect to see some eels, especially green morays, as well as crustaceans like lobsters and cleaner shrimps, and stingrays as a possibility!

The Utila Dive Sites I Visited + My Detailed Dive Logs

Full disclosure: I’m a huge dive nerd who loves to log my dives and identify as many fish as possible! It’s become a huge special interest of mine.

Hopefully you’ll find it interesting and informative, but feel free to skip over any part that is too detailed or not interesting enough.

Joshua’s Swash

The underwater landscape of the Joshua's Swash dive site with yellow, purple coral and sea fans

Dive Profile: Max depth 20m, average depth 11m, dive length 52 minutes, water temperature 28° C

Dive SightingsSo many squirrelfish (regular and longspine), five lionfish including two juveniles, sharpnosed pufferfish, Spanish hogfish, regular hogfish, huge Caribbean spiny lobster, spotted trunkfish

One important thing to know about Utila is that it has two very different types of dive sites, north side and south side. 

When I dove with Utila Dive Center, they let us know that their morning boats start out at a north side dive site and end at a south side dive site, and that their afternoon boats only do south side dive sites.

That’s because their morning boats are dedicated to fun divers, whereas the afternoon dive sites might have a mix of fun divers and dive students, who stick to the sandy-bottomed areas around the south side.

The north side of Utila isn’t particularly difficult or advanced to dive, but it isn’t for absolute beginners.

Now let’s get into this dive site in particular. 

A lionfish in the coral wall at Joshua's Swash dive site in Utila

This dive site is named after Joshua, a local fisherman known for netting fish in the shallow area called a “swash.” 

This dive site had a lot of coral canyons, where buoyancy is important, but the canyons were pretty wide and had a sandy bottom, so they were quite easier to maneuver than the Cozumel swim-throughs at Palancar I got used to.

Expect to see brain corals, vase sponges, gorgonian fans, and a myriad of other soft and hard corals providing a dazzling display of color and offering a rich habitat for marine life.

I thought the landscape of this dive site was pretty spectacular, but we didn’t see anything particularly noteworthy in terms of sea life on this dive.

Mostly, we saw lionfish — which is more of a bummer than an excitement given what they do the reefs — and so many squirrelfish (truly, I’ve never seen a higher density of squirrelfish than in Utila).

Besides that, we saw a few Spanish hogfish and a regular hogfish, white and blending into the sandy bottom. It was huge! 

We also saw a huge Caribbean spiny lobster and an adorable, shy spotted trunkfish, as well as a few sharp nosed pufferfish (these are everywhere in Honduras!).

Moon Hole a.k.a. Ron’s Wreck

A view of the wreck part of the wreck dive at Moon Hole

Dive Profile: Max depth 20m, average depth 9m, dive length 51 minutes, water temperature 28° C

Dive Sightings: A small schooner wreck with a vase sponge on the stern with two coral banded shrimp, queen triggerfish (only one of the trip!), porcupinefish (ditto!), school of blue tangs, blue parrotfish, green moray eel, yellowtail damselfish (juvenile and adult), trumpetfish, barred hamlet

This south side dive site’s official name is hard to nail down — is it Moon Hole? Moonhole? Ron’s Wreck? — either way, it’s pretty spectacular.

The Ron’s Wreck part comes from the small tugboat, which was deliberately sunk at a depth of 18 meters / 60 feet to create an artificial reef.

This project has been very successful — a gorgeous coral colony was starting to take over here, and I saw a beautiful purple vase sponge that was housing two very large and assertive coral-banded shrimp, the largest I’ve seen!

Coral banded shrimp hiding out in a piece of a vase sponge

The wreck isn’t anything that big — many 20 feet long as best — but it’s still pretty cool to see without committing to a full-on wreck dive (which honestly aren’t my favorite — I prefer natural coral landscapes).

Moon Hole is named for its unique shape: it has a large crater-like circle with a sandy bottom (often used for training courses) and then, the circle is fringed with a lively shallow reef.

It’s great as a shallow dive — there was a lot to see even at 5 meters, which meant we did a moving safety stop as opposed to a stationary safety stop.

I thought the reef life at this site was particularly spectacular.

I saw my first and only queen triggerfish of all my Honduras dives, as well as my first porcupinefish (a favorite of mine!). 

a porcupine fish hiding away in the crevice looking adorable

These two in particular were fish I saw often while diving in Cozumel but hadn’t yet seen while diving in Honduras.

I also saw some of my other favorites, not particularly rare but just special to me: a barred hamlet and some brilliant-colored juvenile yellowtail damselfish with their vibrant electric-blue spots.

There was also a green moray eel hiding away in a coral crevice, and an always delightfully awkward trumpetfish.

Airport Caves (Night Dive)

trumpetfish lurking in a sea fan area in the night time

Dive Profile: Max depth 15m, average depth 9m, dive length 53 minutes, water temperature 28° C

Dive Sightings: Honeycomb cowfish (only one of the trip!), spotted moray eel out and about, coral banded shrimp, arrow crab, hermit crabs on a purple sea fan, trumpetfish, three Caribbean spiny lobsters, so many camouflaged sleeping parrotfish, two giant basket stars on sea fans (which move like a fern and curl up), ruby brittle star, sponge brittle star

Night dives will forever be my favorite way to dive — there’s something about diving by torch light and seeing the reef come to life in an entirely new way that will forever be spectacular to me.

The Airport Caves dive spot is a bit of a misnomer… there aren’t true caves, so to speak, but rather coral caverns and “rooms” where there is a coral wall on three sides and then open ocean to your side.

That said, it’s extremely spectacular especially at night, when your dive torch lights up the coral reef and you can see just how colorful it is, with a coral patchwork of red, purple, yellow, and other colors.

Since we did this as a night dive, we saw some things we many not have seen during the day.

One was a spotted moray eel fully out and about, nestled among the coral ready to hunt. I always love seeing eels out of their hiding spots!

A spotted moray eel out and about enjoying the night time hunting while somewhat hiding on a piece of coral

We also saw some giant basket stars, which I had never seen before. It was really cool to see how they reacted to light or movement, curling up like ferns to protect themselves, intermeshing with the sea fans.

We also saw a number of brittle stars, as well as coral-banded shrimp, a handful of lobsters, an arrow crab (one of my favorite sightings!), and some hermit crabs.

And last but not least, one of my favorite fish of all time — the honeycomb cowfish, with brilliant iridescent blue markings (yes, like honeycomb) and adorable horns that make its pouty little face even cuter.

A bright iridescent blue cowfish with two little horns and a honeycomb pattern on its body

At the end of the dive, since we were close to a new moon, we turned off our dive torches and were able to see some phosphoresce in the plankton when we agitated the water.

This was pretty cool (but nothing quite as spectacular seeing the string of pearls on the new moon in Roatan!)

All in all, I really loved this south side dive site and I would love to explore it during the day, too.


a swim through with a sea fan in the middle

Dive Profile: Max depth 20m, average depth 13m, dive length 52 minutes, water temperature 28° C

Dive Sightings: Barracuda, green moray eel, lionfish, goatfish, huge Atlantic tarpon, rock beauty, multiple squirrelfish, porkfish, two Caribbean whiptail stingray (only ones of the trip!), black durgon, whitespotted filefish, trumpetfish, Spanish hogfish, juvenile French angelfish, adult drumfish (first time seeing an adult one!)

This north side dive site was another favorite of mine, with a few fun firsts, like the only Caribbean whiptail stingray of the trip and my very first time seeing an adult drumfish (which was very different-looking than the juveniles I had seen before!).

This is a wall dive, with a large sandy bottom that maxes out at 20m — which is where we saw two stingrays chilling on the sand!

a sting ray on the sandy bottom at about 60 feet deep in the ocean

Along the wall, there was a lot of fun crevices to peer into, where you could find squirrelfish and grunts hiding in the darker parts of the reef.

There were some larger fish life here than I had seen at other sites, including barracudas and a huge Atlantic tarpon, as well as plenty of black durgon.

The other highlight was the whitespotted filefish — I love filefish, they have such graceful movements yet look so funny! 

a filefish at a dive site in utila

I also enjoyed the rare right of getting to see a juvenile French angelfish with its vibrant yellow stripes.

This was another dive where we were able to do a moving safety stop, seeing quite a bit of reef at the 5m depth while we degassed, so that’s always a plus for me.

Ted’s Point

some of the coral you can see in the ted's point dive site - branching magenta and other colorful coral

Dive Profile: Max depth 23m, average depth 12m, dive length 50 minutes, water temperature 28° C

Dive Sightings: Flamingo tongues on a sea fan, Pederson cleaner shrimp on a corkscrew anemone, yellowtail damselfish, school of blue tangs having a feeding frenzy, lizardfish, trumpetfish, indigo hamlet, coral banded shrimp

My last dive in Utila, but I went out with a bang at this beautiful sight, even though there weren’t any particularly major large life moments. 

I really loved the coral formations here, and there was a small wreck-like area, though that was a really minor part of the dive, and you couldn’t really ascertain many details of the wreck. 

a school of blue tangs eating a frenzy in utila

The little wreck sits at 60-70 feet deep, making it the deepest part of the dive, but the rest of the dive is typically at shallower depths.

Other than that, expect to see lots of vibrant colored coral formations (mostly brain, finger, lettuce, and branching corals) and vase sponges between sandy bottom areas, and lots of sea fans covering the coral.

I saw quite a bit of cool macro life — flamingo tongues, Pederson cleaner shrimp, coral banded shrimp — at this site, as well as a few fun other fish, like a giant swarm of blue tangs having a huge feeding frenzy!

Honorable Mentions for Other Great Dive Sites in Utila

a vibrantly colored damselfish seen in utila

The manager at our Roatan dive shop, Roatan divers, used to work at Utila Dive Center (where we dove, but more on that in a bit!) for two years.

With all that experience, she was generous enough to give us her list of her favorite dive sites in Utila!

North Side of Utila

  • Duppy Waters
  • Blackish Point
  • The Maze
  • Ragged Caye

South Side of Utila

  • Black Hills
  • Sting Ray Point
  • Ted’s Point (done!)
  • Airport Caves (done!)
  • Labyrinth

Best Utila Dive Shops and Dive Schools

Utila Dive Center

The yellow-and-blue boats of UDC!

We dove with the largest dive shop on the island, Utila Dive Center. I thought it was a pretty good dive center, but it was very large — larger than I imagined, especially after comparing it to the more boutique experience at Roatan Divers.

While there’s a lot of good to say about Utila Dive Center — I like their boats and divemasters, I thought it was great how our captain was willing to bring us to a pod of dolphins to swim with them for a small tip (200 or 250 lempira, about $8-10 USD), and I thought they picked good dive sites, I do have a few small negatives.

I found it quite busy there at almost all times and it didn’t feel super efficient — often, there’d only be one person at the desk who was able to help out with scheduling, booking, etc. 

It also just had an overall frenetic energy of a very large operation, and since it’s mixed between fun dives and a dive school, it is a little overwhelming there.

That said — I did really like my experience diving there! I’d be very open to diving with them again, but I’d also be open to checking out another Utila dive shop that’s a little smaller next time. 

Parrots Dive Center

whale shark graffiti at a local wall in utila with a motorbike in front of it

I didn’t get a chance to dive with them, but I heard about them once I was on the island from our hotel owner.

They’re one of the only local, Honduran-owned dive shops on the island, which mostly has foreign-owned dive shops.

One really cool thing about this dive shop is that they only employ locals — and they sponsor their staff, all the way form open water to instructor!

They also sponsor a lot of things on the island — particularly community events and education for children — so it’s a good opportunity to give your tourist dollars to a company truly working to improve the community.

That said, I couldn’t find much online about them, although you can read their TripAdvisor reviews (4.5/5) here and their Facebook reviews (4.7/5) here.

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