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Just spent my first week at Deep Blue Lodge in Utila, and -- what can I say? -- it was great! Gotta admit, though, itís tough returning to the frigid US of A after a warm December week in paradise. Hereís my report:
Utila is an up and coming dive destination. The reefs arenít as over-dove (yet) as many other popular dive spots. The island is less developed than places like Bonaire, Roatan, Cayman, and Provo. For example, much of the island is still covered in mangroves. Until recently, the power company stopped generating at 8pm. The ďnewĒ airport is a narrow asphalt strip carved out of scrub brush; no terminal, control tower, radar, or runway lights. Utila reminds me of how I imagine the Roatan of 20 years ago. But Ö Utilaís developing quickly as dive tourism increases. Today, itís promoted as a super budget backpacker mecca; in a few years, expect to find several mega resorts and far less mangrove.
Itís surrounded by fringing reef: sheer walls on the north, sloping walls on the south, sea mounts to the east, shallow reef-top near shore. The island is promoted as a whale shark encounter destination, but you shouldnít ignore the rest of the excellent diving there.
Deep Blue is probably the nicest resort on Utila. The lodge is new and in good repair. Like other Utila resorts, itís on the south side of the island. Unlike most of the others, itís beachfront, a short (4 minute) boat ride from town. Downside of that is you canít step out of your room and stroll the townís streets. Upside is, you donít have to deal with the noise in town, plus you have the ambiance of the beach. And you CAN step out of your room and shore dive. More on that below.
The owners, Jasmine, Steve, and Shirley run a fine operation. They and the staff took good care of me all the way around (thanks, folks!). They balance treating you as both a friend and as a valued customer: lots of individual, personalized attention. Food was good, better than the average dive resort. Jasmine cares for the cuisine and feeds you well.
Water temp was consistently 81, not bad for mid-December, eh? Most days, water was warmer than the air. Got in 18 dives in four and a half days, a variety of sites Ė some shore, some boat -- and saw an interesting assortment of critters.
Several sites are quite interesting geologically. These included the Maze (on the northside), the seamount (southeast of Utila), and Moon Hole (near the entrance to the harbor on the southside).
No whale sharks last week, but the plethora of other sea life made up for it. For example, I saw more tiny, tiny, tiny juvenile spotted drum last week than I typically see in a yearís dive trips. Also saw Goliath grouper, several midnight blue parrotfish, and some the biggest yellowtail snappers Iíve seen to date. Frankly, on several of the dive sites, you could do 25 dives there and not explore the whole thing.
The dive boat is spacious, and wasn't crowded at all. I dove Nitrox 32 all week; they kept an analyzer at hand on the boat. Fills were always over 2700 psi. They had after dive snacks aboard Ė cookies, crackers and excellent fresh fruit -- and plenty of water. Swin, the boat driver, has some colorful tales of his decades on the sea.
My dives were all about an hour, never ran low on gas or approached my NDL. Steve, as a dive leader, has a great eye for finding cool stuff, even tiny cool stuff. Best, he doesnít smother you. Dives proceed at the pace and profile your desire and skill level permit. This arrangement was great for me, and would work well for inexperienced divers, too.
The package includes 3 boat dives each day. There are 2 boat dives in the morning, typically one on the north side, one on the south. Lunch is whatever time the dive boat gets back to the resort. The third boat dive is either after lunch or a night dive. When the boatís not going, youíre welcome to shore dive.
If thereís a downside of diving Utila, itís that the resorts are all on the south side, and some of the most interesting dive sites are on the north. The trade off? You spend your surface interval between dives riding the boat back south, but unless youíve done a shore dive before breakfast -- I did one morning -- on the way to the dayís first dive, some folks might get impatient. Cameraderie on the dive boat prevents it, though. Still, the northside dive sites are worth the trip. Sheer walls, some with overhangs and cavern-y areas below, and shallow spur and groove reef tops. The sand channels reef top vary from 5 feet to 40 feet deep.
Because the Deep Blue resort is beachfront, thereís good shore diving a few steps from your room. Yeah, I know: every place advertises unlimited shore diving, but most places you either canít or donít want to because itís not worth it. At Deep Blue you can, and youíll want to. You basically wade in -- a la Bonaire or CocoView -- put on fins and mask, swim out through meandering coral ridges to the wall. Post dive, resort staff meet you at waterís edge, help you out of your scuba unit, and carry your gear back to rinse and store for you.
Like other Caribbean locations, shallow coral close to shore suffers from hurricane damage. But, like other places, even the dead coral teems with aquatic life. Once thereís some depth Ė 15 feet or so -- the coral flourishes.
Steve and Jasmine are extremely knowledgeable about the critters in their waters. For example, on one night dive, I saw an eel I'd never encountered before. It disappeared into a coral head before I could signal Steve to take a look, but back on the dive boat, he was able to identify it just from my description. I looked it up in the Humann/DeLoach books when we returned to shore, and Steveís guess was right on the money. Turned out to be a Many-Toothed Conger, for those who are wondering.
The folks at Deep Blue are also committed to coral conservation. A group on Utila have project where theyíre growing elkhorn coral to replenish the coral that has died or been damaged in recent years. Deep Blue provides a location for the coral farm in the protected shallows between coral ridges just off their beach. Cool, huh?
Several evenings, the air was so clear, I could sit on the deck outside my room and see the lights of La Ceiba nestled at the foot of the mountains on the mainland 18 miles away. One day, it was so clear and crisp that we could clearly see the mainland mountains even from the dive boat on the north side of Utila. Impressive sight! Most days, you could see Roatan to the northeast; some days, you could see Cayos Cochinos to the southeast.
Thumbs up! Steve, Jasmine, and Shirley: thanks again for a great week. And everyone else: head on down to Deep Blue and enjoy a week of Utila diving yourselves.
OMG I can't wait to get there in April!!!!!! now it's worse!!! are we there yet? are we are we? sidewise thank you soo much! we've a trip booked there for 2 weeks come april...during whale shark season...I'm really excuted now!
Sid, awesome report...simply awesome. If I couldn't wait to get there in April, I sure as heck can't wait now. April will not be here soon enough. We, zendiving.com, are going for 2 x 1 week stints starting April 15 - 22 and then the 22-29. Our original trip dates of the 22-29th sold out in less than a month so Steve, as gracious as he is, decided to give our group the previous week as well. They are normally closed for that week "Samana Santa", one of the biggest holidays of the year there, but are opening it up for us.
Again, thanks for making it even more exciting now Sid. I can't wait to get there.
And we could see he really enjoyed it, wow can he eat LOLOLOLOLOL, it was great having you over for xmas lunch, as I have said before one of the attractions of Utila, we may all be in competition in our businesses but we are all good friends, Utila has a great atmoshpere.
And I heard you had a great Tec dive today. Whale Rock tomorrow, have a great dive.