Difference between revisions of "Utila"
Revision as of 22:08, 2 February 2012
Getting to Utila is a relatively simple process from many gateway cities. Direct flights to both San Pedro Sula and Roatan are now available from Houston, Atlanta, Miami and Toronto.
From either Roatan or San Pedro Sula a simple Honduran airline flight (with SOSA or Charter) gets you to Utila.
By land, take a bus to La Ceiba where you can catch a ferry over. Its about an hour ride. The Ferry runs twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. The ferry fare as of November 2011 is 475 lps one-way, or $27 USD one-way. (see The Utila Princess  for current fares and schedules). There is also currently (2011) a Catamaran  that operates a direct daily passenger and parcel service between Roatan and Utila, ask around for Vern.
TACA, Delta, American and Continental all service Honduras.
In the Water
Utila is consistently ranked among the best diving destinations in the Caribbean. Utila certifies more new divers than any other location in the Caribbean and arguably around the world. Historically, diving on Utila has been startlingly inexpensive, hence its reputation as a backpacker resort. Nevertheless, the diving remains spectacular and the holy grail of diving: the Whale Shark, is reliably found in Utila.
Moreover, Utila is legendary for its macro creatures. Utila rewards the diver that perfects their buoyancy and is willing to slow down and spend time to find the hidden little creatures of the reef.
While Utila is not known for its beaches, there is some excellent snorkeling available right offshore- especially towards the Blue Bayou area. It is possible to snorkel either right off the few small beaches, or with most of the dive boats. Snorkel equipment rental ranges from $5-$15 USD
On the Land
There are a variety of things to see that you can make a day of hiking to (ask around for directions). A crashed drug runner airplane in the jungle north of the airport is an interesting sight. Freshwater caves on the eastern shore can make for good swimming or exploring, but be very careful if you plan to go deep into them as people have gotten lost and died inside (take 2 waterproof flashlights). The view from the top of pumpkin hill is not to be missed. Similarly panoramic is the view from the top of the water tower. The island is split east/west by a canal that you can kayak through; kayaks can be rented from a business near the southern canal entrance or from several dive shops.
One needs to understand that islands are isolated. Goods do not arrive every day, so not everything will be available all the time. The ATMs sometimes run out of money, produce not grown locally is often only available for a couple days after it has arrived, etc.
Credit cards are accepted at most places but discouraged, as there is a very high transaction fee (8-10%). Traveler's cheques can be cashed at Henderson's just west of the ferry dock, and are taken by most dive shops. The easiest way to get money is from an ATM (there are 2, on both plus and cirrus networks) or by going into the bank itself. Lines can be long at the bank but the ATMs run out of money fairly regularly. Also the maximum withdrawal is $4000lps (a little over $200USD) but if you go into the bank there is no limit to how much you can take out at once. Make sure not to run completely out of money before making another trip to the bank or you might find yourself looking for someone to lend you some money for a day.
Scuba diving and snorkeling equipment is available for sale from the Diveshack Utila, located on the corner of the crossroads in the main town, and where the ferry leaves/departs. There is a good range of scuba diving and snorkeling equipment at reasonable prices.
Backpacker Bucks cards: The travelers discount cards are available for sale from both the Utila Dive Centre, and the DiveShack Utila, see http://www.backpackerbucks.com/ to learn how you can save money on your travels through Central America and the world, and contribute to kids charities at the same time.
Funkytown Library (located at the main road at the Reef Cinema) offers a wide range of great books for sale, exchange and rent. Feed your head. Another book exchange can be found at Bundu cafe.
GROCERIES: There are many small grocery stores and corner stores to buy food for cooking. Almost all the hotels have shared public kitchens. Bush's is the largest grocery store, similar to a north american supermarket, but is considerably more expensive than everywhere else. At time of writing, the cheapest grocery stores were Mermaids and Tiende del Pueblo.
The island has a wide variety of fruit, seafood meals, pasta, vegetarian and breakfast fitting for a king with fresh and full-bodied coffee. Many establishments offer a discount for larger groups, so be sure to round up a posse at your hostel before you go out to eat.
Finally, no trip to Honduras is complete without eating a few baleadas. They're cheap and everywhere; street vendors dot the island. Ask other travellers as not all baleadas are created equal. The super baleada from Thompson's Bakery is a great choice.
Places to stay are plenty, and range from about $2+ for a dorm bed to $30+ for modern rooms with hot water in low season (as of February 2011). Accommodation is usually provided free with dive courses
Utila is much safer than the mainland, with very little violence and virtually no murders. Theft most commonly occurs as late-night snatch and runs from intoxicated people being careless, or occasional break-ins if you forget to lock your door. Most hostels employ night watchmen.
The biggest concern in Utila is the sand flies, which are worst at dawn and dusk or when there is no breeze. They are best coped with by either wearing full length pants or applying a layer of oil to your body. Coconut oil, baby oil, suntan oil... anything works. Repellent on the other hand is mostly ineffective. Mosquitoes are around but not nearly as bad as the sand flies. Several shops on the island sell a local (made on Roatan), organic and environmentally friendly (so as to not damage the coral) oil repellent; a small bottle is around L15.
Traffic is also something to be aware of. The roads are narrow and some people drive too fast. Just because you're a pedestrian doesn't necessarily mean they will give you the right of way.
Use caution buying a bicycle from strangers on the street. It is a small island and if the one you bought was stolen, the owner WILL see you riding it and confront you.
Internet costs 30-50 lps ($1.50-$2.50 USD) per hour. There are several internet cafes, such as Annie's (right when you get off the ferry) and Mermaids (east of the ferry dock and just before the cinema). Lots of dive shops and restaurants have free wi-fi, and some dive shops have a computer that guests can use.
Cellphones are cheap (starting at about $6 USD) and calls to North America cost very little. On the Digicel network you can call North America for 18 minutes for about 7 lps (roughly $0.35 USD). Annie's internet cafe has skype phones.
The postal service is reliable (among the best in Central America) but slow (upwards of a three weeks to arrive from North America). Mail is usually sent general delivery but can also be addressed c/o any of the dive shops. To pick up a parcel or letter the recipient must present their passport at the post office, located at the ferry dock. Address mail to: Utila, Bay Islands, 34201, Honduras, Central America.
Utila is a great spot to look at investing in real estate. Prices are still low, and land can be titled cleanly in your name. Be smart and use a licensed real estate agent who can walk you through the process. Licensed agents include: