Cave diving can be incredibly beautiful, but it isn’t for the fainthearted or claustrophobic. Special training and top equipment is a must. Many foolhardy Sunday divers around the world have paid with their lives for underestimating the dangers of cave diving.
Utila, with its ubiquitous volcanic rock, washed out by surf over thousands of years, offers wonderful cave-diving. According to geologists, Utila’s volcanic rock has been submerged and has risen three times. Ancient reefs in the interior of the island prove that.
Approximately six meters of razor sharp volcanic cliffs fringe the east and most of the north side of the island. The crashing surf has washed out an incredible amount of caverns. Most are relatively shallow and contain great fish life. The Aquarium, also called Iron Shores, is one of my favorite dives. You start in the Tarpon Hole, where I have lost count at 80 of those magnificent silver sides, some bigger than me at 60-70 inches. You can then double back and enjoy about a mile swim all the way to Big Bight, which is loaded with great caverns, holes in the ceilings and even a narrow tunnel connecting two caverns. If there is a heavy surf, it’s quite a trip.
Blackish Point, a favorite late-night driftdive, has another great assortment of caves at about 70 feet depth. At least in the past, 200-lb. Jewfish and 250-lb. turtles could be found there.
Turtle Harbor, with its gigantic wall, is of course the best. I’ve found tunnels at 250-feet and huge cavern swim-throughs.
Right off Black Hills some years ago I discovered a tunnel at 300 feet. The airport caves, which are shallow, also offer some adventure, but, like others, are extremely tight. Getting stuck is a definite possibility. Red Cliff, where a VW movie was shot some years ago, also has a beautiful underwater labyrinth.
There are also numerous land caves like the well known Water Cave, a swim-through in which you follow a rope and come up in a dry cave. Then there is UPCO cave, which consists of an inner and outer cave part-filled with crystal clear water. The well-known Bat Cave, where one has to scale a vertical 20-foot cliff, according to local reports, housed a treasure many years ago. Today the only treasure in this mostly dry cave is bat guano (great fertilizer).
New caves and caverns are found by hunters every year, some in the same vicinity where human bones and pottery chards have been discovered. In the biggest, a long stalagmite system with 20-foot stalagmite near Don Quickset, a German diving instructor vanished. Even though we searched 66 hours, no trace was found.
Just a couple weeks ago a German couple entered the inner part of the UPCO cave totally unprepared. The husband got disoriented, panicked and drowned. Another tragic death that could have been avoided.
Another tragedy rocked the Spanish community when a few youths who probably couldn’t even swim went in a flimsy dingy to the north side of Utila to fish. On a relatively rough day they made the mistake of leaving the protection of the rock harbors fringe reef. Shortly after paddling through the rock harbor channel a rough wave flipped the dingy and one of the kids, only 17, drowned. His body was later found by divers 60 feet down–another sad case of underestimating the power of the sea.