SCUBA DIVING KOH TAO VS UTILA

DIVE ISLANDS: KOH TAO VS UTILA

The very first time I heard of Koh Tao in Thailand I was spending the summer on a small island in the Caribbean Sea called Utila.

Utila is perhaps best known as a scuba diving destination.

If Utila is the dive island of the Caribbean then Koh Tao is the dive island of Thailand.’ I was told by a diver who said she spent her winters on Koh Tao.

Intrigued – and excited that there could be another small island somewhere else in the world that was as amazing as Utila – I did my research.

I discovered that there are lots of similarities between the two destinations.

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KOH TAO VS UTILA DIVE CENTRES

I’ve since travelled to and stayed on both islands of Koh Tao and Utila many times over the past ten years.

Each time, I’ve been fortunate to spend an extended time there, because both islands offer a great choice of dive centres and excellent dive training.

Once we started travelling, my backpacking husband, who for many years only pursued his passion for scuba diving on holidays and vacations, did his Rescue Diver and Dive Master and Assistant Instructor courses on Utila at Gunter’s EcoMarine Dive Centre.

This was over several long and wonderful visits to Utila which you can read about in my destination guide Postcard From Utila.

Sadly, since the pandemic, our beloved Ecomarine is no longer operating, so on subsequent visits the backpacking husband has since worked and dived with and would highly recommend Tank’d Dive Centre at Odyssey Resort on Utila.

Tank’d are the only SSI Diamond Instructor Training Centre and SSI Extended Range Instructor Training Centre in Central America and the Caribbean. They are super professional, friendly, and welcoming.

They offer small groups and every course imaginable from beginner to professional and also technical diving along with beautiful resort and accomodation facilities.

Tank'd Pro Dive Centre on Utila Honduras. The Backpacking Housewife
Tank’d Pro Dive Centre on Utila Honduras
The backpacking husband at Tank'd Pro Dive Centre Utila Honduras. the Backpacking Housewife
The backpacking husband is at home at Tank’d Pro Dive Centre
AFFILIATE STATEMENT

On Koh Tao, the backpacking husband went on to further his Dive Professional Qualifications, leading up to his PADI IDC Staff Instructor and would highly recommend Ban’s Dive Centre on Sairee Beach Koh Tao.

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Ban’s has a reputation for quality diver training and is rated as a PADI 5 Star Career & Instructor Development Centre and is affectionately known as the ‘home of diving’ in Thailand.

Ban’s Diving Resort on Sairee Beach also has fabulous resort amenities with a choice of accommodations and swimming pools and a restaurant and beach bar.

I made a few short videos during my last trip to Koh Tao while staying at Ban’s to give you a flavour of the resort.

THAILAND SCUBA DIVING - SHORT TOUR OF BANS DIVE RESORT ON KOH TAO #travel #kohtao #scubadiving
A short tour of Ban’s Dive Resort Koh Tao Thailand

If a smaller beach resort on Koh Tao with less crowds and smaller groups is your preference I’d also personally recommend Assava Dive Centre to you.

Assava Dive Centre is located on the beachfront at Chalok Bay on Koh Tao.

It is also a PADI 5 Star Dive Centre and is affiliated with Ban’s Diving Resort.

THAILAND - KOH TAO - ASSAVA DIVING #travel #thailand #thailandtravel #scubadiving #kohtao
Diving Training with Assava Dive Resort Koh Tao Thailand

Either way you’ll be diving with the best and at the very best prices.

Ban’s on Koh Tao and Tank’d on Utila are my personally recommended dive centres, but I also suggest you do your own research, as both islands have lots of good dive centres and many offer accommodation and dive course combinations.

The backpacking husband is a PADI IDC Staff Instructor. The Backpacking Housewife
The backpacking husband

KOH TAO VS UTILA SIMILARITIES

Koh Tao is the smallest of three islands in the Gulf of Thailand. The other two islands are called Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.

Utila is the smallest of three Bay Islands in the Caribbean Sea, just off the coast of Honduras, in Central America. The other two islands are called Roatan and Guanaja.

Both Koh Tao and Utila are similar in size in landmass. Utila is geographically larger (45 sq/km) than Koh Tao (21 sq/km) but half of Utila’s interior is mangrove and lagoon so taking that into account makes them similar in size.

Both islands are renowned for their excellent diving and snorkelling opportunities making them known as ‘Mecca’ for diving enthusiasts from all around the world.

Because of the rich marine biodiversity, coral reefs, and clear waters, both Koh Tao and Utila are both popular spots for people looking to learn to dive and to gain more advanced scuba diving certifications.

Diving a wreck off Utila Honduras. Wreck Diving is a PADI Qualification. The Backpacking Housewife
Wreck Diving is a PADI Qualification

Both islands offer numerous dive schools and are known for affordable courses.

Both islands rely heavily on tourism, so you’ll find lots of accommodation options, restaurants, bars, and tour operators.

Both islands have relatively small resident populations, contributing to a wonderful tight-knit community feel that you can appreciate as a tourist. This ‘feel’ makes you want to stay a lot longer than you might have planned to stay.

I’ve certainly found this to be true.

Both islands are known for their laid-back, relaxed atmospheres. Although, until recently, they were known as backpacker and budget traveller destinations, both islands now also offer more medium and high-end accommodations, restaurants, bars, and travel experiences.

Despite their small sizes, both islands have nightlife scenes that mostly focus around dive centres, beach bars, and beachside restaurants.

Both Utila and Koh Tao have nightlife scenes that mostly focus around dive centres, beach bars, and beachside restaurants. The Backpacking Housewife.
I do enjoy beach bars – Koh Tao Thailand

On Utila, many bars and restaurants and cafes are on stilted wooden docks to take advantage of warm sea breezes while also avoiding biting flies.

Both Koh Tao and Utila boast beautiful natural surroundings, including sandy beaches, lush tropical vegetation, and picturesque landscapes.

Both islands encourage visitors to take part in efforts to preserve their natural environments and marine ecosystems. There are organised beach clean ups and opportunities to take part on endangered turtle conservation.

Koh Tao means ‘turtle island’.

KOH TAO VS UTILA WHALESHARKS

Whale sharks are a major attraction for marine tourism in various parts of the world and Koh Tao in Thailand and Utila in Honduras are known as two of the top places in the world for whale shark sightings.

Koh Tao and Utila are two of the top places in the world for whale shark sightings.
Koh Tao and Utila are two of the top places in the world for whale shark sightings.

WHALE SHARK – THE GENTLE GIANT

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is not actually a shark but a fish. It’s the largest fish species in the world.

Whale sharks can grow up to 12 meters (about 39 feet) in length on average, although some individuals have been reported to reach lengths of up to 18 meters (about 59 feet).

Despite its massive size, the whale shark is known for its gentle nature and is often referred to as a gentle giant.

Whale sharks are known to be docile and approachable, often allowing divers and snorkelers to swim alongside them.

They have a broad flat head with a large mouth and feed by swimming slowly with their mouths open to filter food through their gill rakers, primarily consuming plankton, small fish, and other tiny marine organisms.

Whale sharks have distinctive patterns of light spots and stripes on a dark grey or blue-grey background, which are unique to each individual and can be used for identification.

Whale sharks are found in tropical and warm temperate oceans worldwide.

They are often spotted in coastal areas, around coral reefs, and in the open sea.

The whale shark is listed as an endangered species due to threats such as overfishing, bycatch in fishing gear, and habitat destruction.

KOH TAO WHALE SHARKS

Whale sharks are often spotted around Koh Tao primarily from February to May and into June when conditions are favourable for plankton blooms that attract whale sharks.

The rich biodiversity and healthy coral reefs around Koh Tao provide an abundant food source for whale sharks making an attractive feeding ground.

The island has many dive sites where whale shark sightings are reported regularly, such as Chumphon Pinnacle and Southwest Pinnacle which are accessible to divers of all skill levels.

UTILA WHALE SHARKS

Utila is known for having year-round whale shark sightings, though the peak seasons are typically from March to April and August to September.

Utila’s position along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest barrier reef in the world, provides a nutrient-rich environment that supports large populations of plankton, attracting whale sharks.

Utila has a strong focus on whale shark research and conservation. The Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Centre (WSORC) on the island conducts research and promotes sustainable tourism practices, enhancing the likelihood of sightings.

WHERE IS KOH TAO AND HOW TO GET THERE

Koh Tao is one of the main islands in an archipelago located in the Gulf of Thailand and is part of the Surat Thani Province.

The island is accessible by ferry from the mainland ports of Chumphon and Surat Thani, as well as from neighbouring islands.

Koh Tao does not have an airport.

The closest international airports are at Koh Samui and Surat Thani.

Perhaps the most common route to and from Koh Tao is via ferry from Koh Samui (distance 70 km or 43 miles) or from Koh Phangan (45 km or 28 miles).

My own route to and from Koh Tao is more often via ferry to/from mainland Surat Thani and then by bus from/to the airport.

THAILAND: LEAVING KOH TAO BY FERRY VIA KOH PHANGAN AND KOH SAMUI TO SURAT THANI #travel #thailand

WHERE IS UTILA AND HOW TO GET THERE

Utila is one of the Bay Islands (Islas de la Bahía) located in the Caribbean Sea off the northern coast of Honduras.

Roatán, the largest and most developed of the Bay Islands, is located about 32 km (20 miles) east of Utila.

The island can be reached by ferry from Roatan and from the mainland city of La Ceiba or by small plane.

Utila has a small airport but it’s more of a air strip really as it has no lights so only operates by day.

My usual route to Utila is via a flight from Miami or Houston USA to either Roatan or to San Pedro Sula (Honduran mainland).

Then it’s either the Utila Dream Ferry from Roatan or a small plane from San Pedro Sula.

Utila has a small airport but it's more of a air strip really
Utila has a small airport but it’s more of a air strip really

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO DIVE KOH TAO

The best time to visit Koh Tao, Thailand, is generally during the dry season.

December to April: is the dry season with plenty of sunshine and minimal rain, making it ideal for beach activities, diving, and snorkelling.

December to February: is the peak tourist season, especially around Christmas and New Year. Expect more crowds and higher prices for accommodation and activities. I’ve personally spend two Christmases and New Years on Koh Tao and it has been a time of wonderful fun, fabulous weather, and great diving days.

March to May: The crowds start to thin out, making it a good time to visit if you prefer a balance of good weather and fewer tourists.

April to September: This period often provides the best diving conditions with good visibility and calm seas. However, conditions can vary, and it’s best to check local forecasts and dive shop reports.

Songkran (Thai New Year) is celebrated in mid-April. Songkran is a fun and lively festival with water fights and celebrations. It’s a fabulous cultural experience but note that this time of the year also attracts more tourists.

May to September: The weather is still relatively good, but there’s a higher chance of rain, particularly in the late afternoons. It can be a bit humid but still a decent time to visit.

October to November: This is the monsoon season with the heaviest rainfall, making it the least favourable time to visit. However, it doesn’t always rain all day or every day, so some prefer this time for lower prices and fewer tourists.

For more guidance see my post on The Best and Worst Times to Visit Thailand.

Christmas Day on Koh Tao Thailand. The Backpacking Housewife
Christmas Day on Koh Tao Thailand

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO DIVE UTILA

The best time to travel to Utila, Honduras, is typically during the dry season, but I’ve often been on the island from February when there are still quite a few rainy days and into October when the rainy season is about to start.

February to June (Dry Season): In my opinion the months of March, April, and May, are the most pleasant on the island because it is dry and hot and humid but you do have the benefit of the east winds to cool you down.

The dry season is the peak tourist season so expect higher prices and larger crowds. Many Hondurans from the mainland like to go to Utila during this time for their holidays/vacations. Especially over Samana Santa (the week before Easter). It’s advisable to book accommodations and diving courses in advance.

Diving: The dry season is perfect for diving, with excellent underwater visibility and calm sea conditions. It is also the best time to see whale sharks, as they are often spotted around Utila from March to April.

July to November (Wet Season): These months experience higher humidity and more frequent rainfall with the possibility of tropical storms and hurricanes, particularly from September to November.

Utila Carnival is held in July and I absolutely love carnival time.

Utila Carnival is held in July and I absolutely love carnival time.
Utila Carnival is great fun and is held in July

Again, in my opinion, if you suffer in high heat and humidity then you should perhaps avoid July and August on Utila as the east wind usually drops leaving flat calm seas (often an excellent time for seeing whale sharks) and the heat is really is oppressive and the mosquitoes and no-see-ums (sandflies) are at their very worst.

See my post and expert guide on how to stop biting flies spoiling your tropical holiday!

Diving: While diving is still possible, visibility may be reduced, and conditions can be less predictable. However, the island is less crowded, and prices for accommodations and activities might be lower.

December to January: This period marks a transition from the wet to the dry season. The weather can be mixed, with occasional rain, but it is generally improving.

Diving: Diving conditions begin to improve and the island starts to see an increase in visitors. Whale sharks may start to appear towards the end of January.

KOH TAO VS UTILA – MY OPINIONS

It is my opinion that Koh Tao and Utila – despite their many similarities – are very different from each other geographically, historically, and culturally, so offer very different visitor and diving experiences.

Perhaps for a non-diver, there are more similarities in Koh Tao and Utila, in the respect that both offer a choice of tropical white sand beaches lined with palm trees and fun bars to hang out for drinks and great places to eat.

Bans Dive Team Games. Ban's Dive Resort Koh Tao. Photos by Janice Horton
Ban’s Dive Resort Team Games which the backpacking husband helped to organise
The Ban's Dive Resort Games were great fun and went on all day on Sairee Beach Koh Tao
The Ban’s Dive Resort Games were great fun and went on all day on Sairee Beach Koh Tao

KOH TAO VS UTILA – MY CONCLUSIONS

Having spent many months (which all added up to a few years!) on each of these very special islands, I can absolutely recommend both Koh Tao and Utila to you for travels, your holiday/vacations, and as fabulous and fun dive destinations.

But in this post, as we are comparing Koh Tao and Utila primarily as Dive Destinations, below are my conclusions.

UTILA

I’d say that Utila has the upper hand over Koh Tao as a dive destination simply because of its geographical location on the Mesoamerican Reef – the second largest barrier reef in the world.

Utila therefore – in my opinion – offers the best scuba diving experience and best location for advanced diver training.

The waters surrounding the Bay Islands are warm, crystal clear and offering fantastic visibility, and the reef is teeming with a variety of marine life.

It’s not unusual to dive and to swim (and I have done so) with huge barracuda, dolphins, turtles, pilot whales, and whale sharks, in Utila’s tropical waters.

Number of Dive sites: there are around 90 dive sites surrounding Utila.

Number of Dive Centres: there are reportedly 12 PADI/SSI dive centres on Utila.

The backpacking husband on a dive project off Utila Honduras
The backpacking husband working on a dive project off Utila Honduras
Divers working on an underwater archaeological project

I believe Utila is also the best place to go onto do advanced dive training and professional training and also specialised dive training like Extended Range. Classes tend to be smaller and advanced diving more specialised.

Especially, as Tank’d Pro Dive Centre on Utila is recognized in excellence and leadership in SSI Extended Range diving and XR Instructor Training.

KOH TAO

It’s my opinion that Koh Tao is perhaps the best place for you to go to learn to dive because the professional staff and training facilities at Ban’s Diving Resort and Assava Dive Resort really are world class.

THAILAND - LEARNING TO SCUBA DIVE - KOH TAO #travel #thailand #kohtao #scubadiving
Ban’s Diving Resort and Assava Dive Resort on Koh Tao are world class dive centres

Ban’s Resort is huge and is famously the world’s most certifying PADI 5 Star scuba training facility celebrating 250,000 divers and prices in Asia are comparatively lower – and slightly lower than Utila – at the time I checked.

All the dive sites around Koh Tao are all a boat ride away and groups tend to be larger but Ban’s has lots of big fully equipped dive boats and expert staff.

Dive Boats on a dive site off Koh Tao Thailand
Dive Boats on a dive site off Koh Tao Thailand

Number of Dive sites: there are around 30 dive sites off Koh Tao.

Number of Dive Centres: there are reportedly 85 PADI/SSI dive centres on Koh Tao.

It is my experience that the water clarity and visibility is not always good off Koh Tao and there are not as many species of tropical fish and marine life or corals to see compared to Utila.

MY CONCLUSION is that Utila offers the best scuba diving experience and best location for advanced diver training.

MY CONCLUSION is that Koh Tao wins as the best place to learn to scuba dive.

Do you scuba dive?

Is learning to scuba dive on your bucket list?

Have you been to Koh Tao?

Have you been to Utila?

Do you have an opinion on Koh Tao vs Utila?

Let me know in the comments.

I’d love to hear from you!

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