Utila Dive Shop Comparisons: PADI Open Water Course

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For anyone interested in getting their PADI scuba certification, you may want to consider heading to Honduras. Not only is it a beautiful country with incredibly friendly and kind people (despite what the news might have you believe), but the island of Utila in Honduras is also one of the cheapest places in the world to get scuba certified, with prices between $258 and $349 (all including free accommodation while you’re working on your certification and 2 free fun dives). The island itself is every bit the typical Caribbean island: practically everyone speaks English, everything and everyone seems to be operating at a much slower pace, and everyone spends the majority of their days in the water (the tourists at least). You’ll feel absolutely safe and you might even end up staying months longer than you had planned: I met more people than I can count who told me stories about how they had only planned to come for their Open Water certification, but here they are 2 months later and now they’re a dive master.

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However, if you are thinking of heading to Utila to get your Open Water certification, you should know that there are 8 different shops on the island to choose from. I already did the leg work so that you don’t have to and this post is going to outline each of the shops and provide you all the information you’ll need to decide which shop is the right fit for you.

The 8 shops are: Paradise Divers, Parrots IDC Resort, BICD college of diving, Captain Morgans, Gunters, Alton’s, Utila Dive Center, Underwater Vision, and Utila Water Sports.

Every single shop includes 2 free fun dives in the price and a certain number of nights of free accommodation.

 

Paradise Divers

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Paradise Divers offers PADI Open Water certificataion for $258 (including taxes and 4 nights of accommodation). While it is the cheapest option on the island, you are DEFINITELY getting what you pay for with this one. The hostel you’ll be staying at is dirty and disgusting. Nothing looked like it had been cleaned in months.

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When it comes to choosing a place to stay for the night, the bathroom is always a deal breaker. I can’t stand dirty bathrooms and Paradise’s were some of the worst I saw on the island.

The rooms also didn’t look very clean and unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to take a quick picture of the kitchen but it was even worse than the bathrooms. You guys might not be able to tell from the picture just how dirty the bathroom is, but trust me it was absolutely awful. Paradise Divers felt like the afterthought of a shack and I wasn’t even able to meet any of the dive instructors or the person who ran the dive shop because none of them were at the shop or they were asleep (even though I showed up at 8am). It may be the cheapest option available, but for $10-$20 I would say it’s worth it to go literally ANYWHERE else!

 

Parrots

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Parrots offers the PADI OW course for $289 (not including taxes, but including 4 free nights)

I spent my first night on Utila at the hostel that is connected with Parrots so I can say from personal experience that although the rooms are clean enough, again the bathroom was absolutely disgusting to the point where I decided it would be better to NOT shower.

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*Also, the sink didn’t work so I had to go to another restroom to brush my teeth. The other restroom was equally as dirty and disgusting.

Again, the pictures don’t seem to have really captured how gross and dirty the bathrooms were, but if you see them in person you’d understand. Just take my word for it and don’t enter these bathrooms if you don’t have to.

I spent some time with the staff and other divers at Parrots and tbh I just didn’t get a very serious vibe from any of them. It seemed that most of their clientele were doing the certification just to say they had done it or cross it off some checklist and everyone’s real purpose for being there seemed to be to go out every night and drink. If that’s your scene then go for it, but it definitely did not mesh with me.

 

BICD College of Diving

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The BICD offers PADI OW certification for $289 (including tax and 5 free nights).

I really liked the BICD, the staff appeared knowledgeable and helpful. They’re also the only dive shop on the island with a pool on-site (in which they do the confined portions of the certification) – although this isn’t necessarily any kind of selling point since all of the other shops have areas they’ve marked off for their confined sessions and I actually really enjoyed actually going into the ocean (albeit a tiny part of the ocean next to the shop’s dock) for my very first time underwater.

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They have an EXTREMELY large dorm room (sleeps 18) which I wasn’t too thrilled about, but they do upgrade people to individual rooms if they’re available at no extra charge (although this might only be during low season)

And their kitchen and their bathrooms were MUCH cleaner than what I had seen at Parrots or Paradise.

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I liked BICD, and they even do a slip & slide on Sundays that everyone on the island is welcome to. For a little bit more money, it’s definitely a better option than Paradise or Parrots.

 

Captain Morgans

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Captain Morgans offers PADI OW certification for $288 (including taxes and 4 free nights). Captain Morgans and BICD aren’t only similar in price they’re extremely close to one another on the island, but if I had to choose between the two I would personally go with Captain Morgans. I liked the vibe I got from the staff better and the rooms have AC.

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Plus the bathrooms were just as clean as in BICD. However, something to keep in mind that it is a party hostel in the sense that they have beer pong tournaments there where people can win free fun dives, and it definitely had some of the same atmosphere as what I experienced at Parrots (although not nearly to the same extent).

 

Gunter’s Dive Shop

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Gunter’s offers PADI OW certification for $270 (not including taxes but including 4 nights). Gunter’s shop was definitely the most “mom and pop” on the island and in truth, the woman who was “working” there wasn’t very knowledgeable and wasn’t 100% sure about prices when I first showed up to inquire. Her lack of certainty in the price and what was included definitely caused the shop to lose my sale.

Gunter’s partners with a hostel that’s across the street from the shop to provide free accommodation. I didn’t think it was as dirty as Paradise or Parrots, but it definitely wasn’t up to the same standards as Captain Morgans or BICD.

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And again, I wasn’t a huge fan of the bathroom facilities.

Like I said, they lost my sale almost solely based on the fact that the people in charge didn’t really seem to know what they were doing and weren’t certain about the services they were offering. Supposedly Gunter himself is an extremely knowledgeable diver, but I was impressed by those in his employ and it’s important when you’re learning how to dive that you like and trust the people who are teaching you how to dive.

 

Alton’s Dive Shop

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Altons offers the PADI OW certification for $275 (including taxes and 4 nights). However, their price is usually $350 for the certification, but because the site was undergoing some construction when I arrived (they were adding more dorms – with AC) they had dropped their price to continue to attract divers. So if you’re headed to Utila anytime soon, I recommend jumping on this price drop.

The staff at Altons were extremely knowledgeable and able to answer all of my questions with certainty and easily. The rooms at Altons are simple, but clean, as were the bathrooms.

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The vibe at Alton’s was EXTREMELY chill. It definitely seemed to be a shop where everyone was serious about diving and the instructors were all present when I showed up and were preparing to take students out scuba diving.

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Bonus* Alton’s has a really cool dock, with hammocks right by the water and you can jump off the top of it.

I ended up choosing to dive with Altons because I really liked the vibe of the shop and the people who work there and also because of the insanely good deal they had going on due to construction. I can’t pass up a $75 price decrease haha.

 

Utila Dive Center

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Utila Dive Center offers PADI OW certification for $349 (including taxes and 5 nights). They’re the most expensive shop on the island and the vibe from the staff is that they take diving very seriously. It’s immediately apparent that the instructors at this dive shop are very very knowledgeable and have decades of experience between them.

However, the “hotel” they partner with to offer free nights of accommodation is a 15 minute walk from the shop itself (which to me is a deal breaker). That being said, the accommodation they offer is arguably the nicest on the island.

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Literally, hotel status.
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This is the pool they use for their confined sessions.

I always make a point to never book/buy the cheapest or the most expensive option, but always one of the in-between options. So as nice as the accommodation for this one was and as knowledgeable and experienced as the instructors were, I just couldn’t justify spending $75 more than almost every other option just to stay in a fancy hotel. However, if price isn’t an option for you and you don’t mind a bit of a walk I definitely recommend this dive shop.

 

Underwater Vision

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Underwater Vision offers the PADI OW certification for $299 (including taxes and 4 nights)

Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the great deal offered by Altons when I happened to visit Utila, I probably would have gone with Underwater (Alton’s sister owns Underwater Vision so the shops and the staff at the shops are close).

Underwater has knowledgeable, experienced staff just like Altons and Utila Dive Center, but they’re cheaper (usually cheaper than Altons) and offer really nice accommodation.

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Hammocks, slack line, and beach volleyball court at Underwater.
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The dorms
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Clean bathrooms! Yay!

I loved my Altons crew and I’m glad I ended up at Altons (I wouldn’t go back and change my decision for anything), but once the price at Altons increases back to $350 I would definitely recommend Underwater Vision to those more budget-conscious travels who want to get their scuba certification.

Last, but not least…

 

Utila Water Sports

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Utila Water Sports felt like it had just recently opened its doors on the island of Utila. They were offering an insane deal of $270 for PADI OW certification (for a group of 4 or more), including tax and 4 nights in dorms with AC. However, if you’re not traveling in a group of 4 or more (e.g. going solo like me), the price is $300 per person for the Open Water with AC dorms. The dorms were really nice, but like I said it seemed to be a fairly new dive shop, and the people running it still seemed to be working out some kinks in their offer and I wasn’t able to meet the instructors.

However, the accommodation was great, really clean and obviously, AC is a bonus for people who like that sort of thing (I’m definitely more of a “all I need is a fan in my face and a mosquito net” girl).

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Each room had a personal kitchen (hot plate, no stove) and a personal bathroom.

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If you’re traveling with friends or you can get a “group” together once you get to the island this seems like a great deal, especially if you MUST have AC. However, I recommend being more pushy about meeting the instructors and asking how long they’ve been diving for and what their experience level is. I would have been more pushy, but by the time I got around to Utila Watersports, I had pretty much already made up my mind about where I wanted to go, and plus I HATE air-conditioning in places like Central America – because it’s such a novelty, places that offer it tend to crank it up SUPER high and there’s nothing more I hate in this world than being cold.

Alright, so that’s my breakdown of all the different dive shops on Utila. If you have any questions that this post hasn’t answered or just want to ask anything about my experience on Utila or my experience diving, feel free to message me or leave a comment!

 

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