Honduras North

UTILA ISLAND

Global Mark : 14.00    Top Five : No4

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Culture Tradition Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
 3 4 2 1 1 5 5 3 12.00

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
24 100% 83%(20) 92%(22) 10 to 19 16.00


Description :
The backpackers-diver paradise of Central America.

Comments : This is the smallest, flattest and less attractive island of the group but it is the cheapest and therefore still strong with backpackers. See The Bay Islands for more info.

What to do ? Get a good map of town at Captain Morgans's Dive Centre, just opp. the pier / Spend some time to compare the dive centers / And then dive ! This is the reason you came, no ? / If lucky, spot dolphins, ray mantas or even whale sharks / If you do not dive, at least snorkel ! / What about swimming then ? / Walk the small trails of the island, toward volcanic cliffs (Ironshores) or 82m high Pumpkin Hill / There, enjoy the view toward Roatan / Look for the treasure of the pirates in the nearby caves / Visit the nearby Cays, wildlife refuges since 1992 and get some swimming & snorkeling privacy. / Kayak the man-made "Kayak Canal" inside the island (L60 for half day at Gunter's) / Speak English again : this is the dominant language on the island ! / Eat lobsters or European food / Degust ice-creams / Wait for mango to fall right into your plate (numerous trees) / Learn about Iguanas (Iguana Research Station, Tues & Sat 2pm to 5pm, Thurs 9am to 12pm) / Adopt a turtle at Blue Bayou (L500 !) / Watch a movie at the nice cinema (L35) / Enjoy happy hours at the bars / Join a party ! / Play chess or backgammon with a local / Extend your stay at the immigration office ?

What you may not like ? Often not getting a discount for a single room occupancy / The slightly higher cost of food / The internet & tel costs / The lack of cold 'agua bolsa' (the gallon of water cost L17 & dive centers usually provide free water so it is not too bad) / The noises : constructions or motorbikes during the day, generators or bars in the evening / The electricity from 5am to midnight in still a few places (and the village) / The messy and rather dirty environment (tons of garbage !) / The lack of good clean beach / Not spotting too many fishes during your scuba dive or getting a low visibility / The L15 to access Blue Bayou and use the hammock (not always asked however) / The sand flies / The mosquitoes (incl. during the day in the countryside) / The new airport under construction that will mean more tourists / The "I want a fuckin' beer, man !" culture and the later drunks / The robberies on the beaches : never leave valuables unattended, even sun cream ! / Seeing more westerners than local people / Not being on nicer Roatan ?

How long ? People come here for a few dives and stay for a few courses (or the reverse). 4 days would obviously be a minimum with regards to the transport costs.

Where to stay ? There are numerous acceptable places on the island, with prices similar to the mainland, if not cheaper. Most divers will however stay in the hotel associated with their Dive school, often paying nothing or getting a substantial discount... Unless specified, prices are for a Dbl room and electricity runs for 24 hours (private generator)

- On Cola de Mico Road, straight from the pier :

  • Blueberry Hill, 50mn after Thomson's Bakery / 65 for room / 12 hours electricity / Go there for the big airy rooms, the relative quietness and the good price. / What you may not like : rather basic & not spotless
  • Tony's Place & Monkey Tail Inn, continuing a bit / 60 for room / 12 hours electricity / Smaller and more basic rooms
  • Mango Inn (4253335) / Partnership w. Utila Dive Centre for shared room without shower / $25 w HW shower, bungalow w. AC $40 / Go there for the nicest setting and lovely wooden house w. great terrace / What you may not like : not having enough money...
  • Loma Vista, up the road from the above / 75 for room / Kitchen / Go there for the correct clean rooms at good price / What you may not like : there are quite a few rooms so it could be busy..

- From the pier to the airstrip (turn right) :

  • Holland Inn / 180 w. shower / Outside cable TV / Nice house w. a garden but rather basic rooms
  • Rubi's Hotel / 80 / 12 hours electricity / Kitchen / Basic room in a small & a bit messy house. Not expensive however and intimate size.
  • Cooper's Inn / 75(1) or 100(2) / Kitchen / Go there for the nice clean dbl rooms in the back new house / What you may not like : often full and rather dirty garden
  • Hotel Celena / Ask at Cross Creek if nobody / L50 or L75 w. shower / 12 hours electricity / Go there for the cheapest prices and the correct rooms w. shower upstairs / What you may not like : the rooms downstairs are depressing and the surroundings quite disgusting. 
  • Hotel Trudy / Associated w. Under Water Vision Dive Center / If not diving : $8(1) or $10(2), w. shower $12(1) or 15(2) / Kitchen / Free water / Sundeck / Rather expensive rooms considering that they are quite basic. The surroundings & atmosphere however are great, with hammocks on a small 'beach'.
  • Fanny's Place / 75(1) or 100(2) / 12 hours electricity / Kitchen / Go there for the small clean house, correct rooms, relaxed atmosphere and closeness to the nicest snorkeling spot / What you may not like : a bit remote from the pier (10mn)

- On Sandy Bay (left from pier) :

  • Harbour View Hotel / Usually reserved for Parrots Dive Center at $2 per person (shared), two rooms sharing one bathroom, one room w. TV / Otherwise $10 for room / Free water / Sundeck / The rooms are really nice so this would be a good bargain if it was not so noisy ! Two bars indeed next to it plus a generator !
  • Bay View Hotel / US$14 w. shower / Nice setting by the ocean but quite basic rooms / Cheapest internet in town (L3 per mn)
  • Seaside Inn / Usually reserved for Gunter's Dive Shop at $5 or $7 upstairs w. shower / Rather basic and hot so a bit expensive. 
  • Margaritaville Beach Hotel, 10mn walk / $12-13 w. shower / Nice setting & nice rooms, although the ceiling is a bit low

- On the road toward the Iguana Research Station (turn left from pier and first one on the right, 5mn later) :

  • Tropical Hotel / 100 for room / Kitchen / Clean but basic & lots of rooms so a bit expensive.
  • Hotel Roses Inn, 5mn up / Office by the main road / 100 for room / Kitchen / Cable TV on terrace / Go there for the nice clean rooms, the setting by banana plantations and the relative quietness / What you may not like : a bit remote...
  • Countryside Inn, opp. the above / 80 or 100 w. shower / Kitchen / Cable TV in 'living room' / Go there for the ok rooms and ok setting at ok prices / What you may not like : a bit hot, a bit big and a bit remote.

Renting an apartment ? There are quite a few houses to rent on the island. If with a couple of friends, this is the ideal solution. It should cost around $15 per day for an house w. two rooms, kitchen & bathroom. Around $10 if one room only. 

Staying on a Cay ? It is possible to stay on Suc Suc (Jewel) Cay at Vicky's Room for L80 per room. A few restaurants in the area. This cay is connected to Pigeon Cay by a narrow causeway. If rich, you can also rent one of the privately owned Cay : expect about US$75-100 per day. Much cheaper, camp on Water Cay ! You must bring your whole stuff however, plus L25 for the entrance fee. Lancha to the Cays depart more or less regularly. Best place to investigate is Gunter's Dive Shop : they have regular boats to Water Cay for L360 per boat or L90 per person (4 min). The opinion about Water Cay however is mixed : some are ecstatic about the 200m white sand beach while others found it dirty and full of mosquitoes and sand flies... 

Where to eat ? There are plenty of restaurants on the islands so prices remains reasonable : count about L40-60 for a good meal. A bit more for lobster ! Eating for cheaper is also possible : you can get a good plate of spaghetti + rice for L24 at Mermaids Corner (50m on right of pier). Just before, Comedor La Dilcia serves good & well served dishes (incl. fish) for L40. Much cheaper and a big hit with almost everybody : the Baleadas stall in front of Captain Morgan's Dive Centre : L5 and quite filling !

Where to dive ? This should actually be your number one consideration ! Prices for PADI courses are about the same everywhere (US$159 for open water or advanced, although one was spotted at $122). Most schools include either the free accomodation for 4 days or two fun dives. Some give you a discount for the room in case you choose the two fun dives. Fun dives usually cost US$30 for two tanks. Packages of 10 dives cost US$125 and some schools also have a 6 dives package for US$81. Insurance cost an additional $3 per day (incl. a coral reef conservation contribution) and is nearly compulsory. The way to select a school is to wander around and discuss with the instructor. If the guy is more busy smoking than listening to you, go somewhere else ! Once the nice & passionate guy found, check that the safety equipment is there, that the material is well maintained and that the group is kept small. Then ask about the hotel rooms (in some places rooms must be shared and the quality vary), free fun dives, possible discount, free snorkeling gears or kayak, free water or coffee, etc. The setting is also to be considered : some places are by the ocean and offer a full relaxation package after the adventure while others are purely diving oriented... If you are already certified, ask with who you will be going : you do not wish to dive with beginners that bump around ! (it happened to me...)

Internet ? This is an island so this is expensive ! The cheapest spotted was Bay View Hotel (left from pier) : L3 per mn with 15mn minimum. Howell Internet (right) was L4 per mn but with no minimum. You could also write offline for 'only' L2 per mn or L75 per hour at Internet Cafe in Mango Tree Center (left) : a shameful price considering that there is no calling cost !

Bike ? This is the third best way to tour the island (the first been by foot and the second by those fun four-wheelers vehicles, probably costing a fortune to rent). But it is not cheap : L75-130 per day or 245-385 per week, depending on the type. The cheapest place spotted was Bike Delco, near the Hondutel (left from pier). 

Change ? Surprisingly, the changing rate on the island (TC or cash) is similar or better than on the mainland ! This is due to the fact that many dollars circulate. Only cash advance with VISA (at one of the two banks) is similarly low. Most dive centers will accept your TC and give you a good exchange rate. If you wish to get some US$ bank notes, head for Henderson's Store

A trip uphill ? Pumpkin Hill is one hour away and offers a great view toward the island and beyond. This was the theory of my guidebook. In practice, finding the way and the view is a little bit more complicated... Up to the beach is no problem : you go straight from the pier, pass Mango Inn on your right, then take the left large road going up. About 30mn later, you will find the dirty beach with the nice waves. Just before the beach, you will notice a path going on the right. Yes, that is the one ! Except that a few minutes later, you should find yourself in front of barbed wires : this is a private property. You need to trespass to reach the bay and the path, just before the last house. I did not know about the crossing and went back in search of an alternative road. A girl in the village, not looking very knowledgeable, told me that I had been on the right path. Back there a second time ! Two westerners were coming toward me : - "Where is the path to the hill ?" - "We were going to ask you the same question. We came all the way via the beach and did not see any path !" Apparently, they had not looked well enough : a friendly local explained me the way, once back in the village. So I went back a third time, crossed those barbed wire, reached the small bay, looked up via the tower and found nothing apparent... He had told me just before the house. But there was a gate again. Continuing a bit, I found a way inside the property, via a big volcanic rock. And there was a path indeed on the right of the house. Eureka ! It got steep rapidly and it was more about climbing than walking it. I soon reached the tower. The panorama being hidden by the trees, I decided to climb it, using the inside ladder. At the top (no platform to sit and relax unfortunately), eagles, view & wind greeted me : the structure was actually moving a bit. Not too dangerous but a bit adventurous, certainly. Back on the ground, I realized that the path was continuing inside the forest. 5mn later, another good mirador, in particular toward that new airport. From this viewing point, a path is going down toward the west side of the hill. Just a few more fences to pass (turn right at the field and you will find an entrance), some more vegetation to fight, and I was back safe on the road leading to the beach. End of the adventure ! Conclusion : Pumpkin Hill is tricky to reach and not many people have probably made the trip. The way is nice and the panorama ok but you will need good shoes, good mosquito repellent and good temper ! If you crave for more adventure, there is a path on the right side (coming from the village), just before reaching the hill area and the beach. It leads to a big cave that would require some equipment to explore. Other caves as well around. According to a legend, pirates hid their treasures there...

 << Discover a panorama


A bit of snorkeling ? Truly, I was disappointed by my three dives : certainly not as colorful nor as full of fishes than in Asia or Australia ! The visibility was also quite low and the dive shop I had chosen (for the good price & hotel) proved quite bad : no passion and no enthusiasm around ! I decided therefore to turn to snorkeling. I went to the airport strip : I saw as many fishes as in my previous dives plus a Manta Ray ! Magic ! I returned and saw a Tiger Ray ! Great ! The third time was shorter as a bit late : no ray but a great sunset with pelicans fishing in the foreground. Lovely ! This is certainly the best snorkeling spot on the island. You can rent equipment at the Snorkeling Center, just before reaching the airstrip : $3 per day. Once on it, turn right. The tiny beach is at the end. Do not leave any valuable there : robberies are frequent ! To reach the snorkeling spot is a bit annoying : you have to go beyond the waves, about 50m away, walking over vegetation and dead corals. On clear days, you can see a one meter wide path, easier to follow... The next best snorkeling spot accessible without boat is probably Blue Bayou. I did not test but people who did loved it as well. 

So, what conclusion ? I globally had a great time on Utila : it is a very relaxed island with a good backpacking atmosphere and very surprising low prices (accomodation & food) for such a busy island. It is therefore an excellent place to learn how to dive, if you select your school carefully. There are only a few snorkeling spots but they are nice enough. However, the quality of the diving spot can certainly not match those of Asia, Australia or, probably even, Roatan. The island is very dirty, the beaches aren't nice and it is quite noisy by the main road. I am happy I came but probably would not go back. They are building a new airport in expectation of more tourists but I see little advantages of coming here if you can afford Roatan : it is much nicer there !

Leaving ? There aren't too many option : the boat at 11am for L185 (+L10 departure tax) or the plane for US$21. If you are planning a long bus ride and do not wish to spend the night in La Ceiba, the 6am plane could be an interesting solution. 

The trip back to La Ceiba : SSS / Around / L185 + L20 / 1 hour + 10mn / Boat + Taxi
The ticket office opened at 10:30 for the 11am boat. As before, the bags had to travel separately and, as before, there was little care in handling them. I waved goodbye at Utila and went inside for the relative comfort of the aircond and the stupid but entertaining movie. We reached La Ceiba at 12:20.
Plenty of taxis were of course waiting. -"How much to go to the bus terminal ?" -"25 per person" -"I paid 40 on my own so, 20 per person" -"OK". I had been told that there was little way of negotiating the price down. Of course there was. I regretted not to have asked for L15 each... Try and let me know !

See also Roatan Island