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. Once in San Pedro or Roatan, you simply take short ferry or shuttle plane to Utila.
Utila doesn't have an international airport, however there are a number of local airlines and charters that offer domestic flights from San Pedro Sula, Roatan, La Ceiba, and Tegucigalpa. Note that the planes flying to Utila are typically small (<20 passengers), single or twin engine.
The Utila Dream operates a daily ferry service to Utila from both Roatan and La Ceiba. Roatan service departs Utila at 10:15am and returns at 2:00pm. La Ceiba service departs Utila 7:00am and 3:20pm, returning 9:00am and 4:40pm.
From Roatan, take a 7 minute cab ride to the Utila Dream Ferry Port.
From San Pedro Sula, Take a bus, private car or plane to La Ceiba (L94-L375, 3-5hrs from San Pedro Sula by ground transportation) where you can catch a ferry over. There are also buses to La Ceiba from other major towns and cities in Honduras, and a shuttle service from Leon in Nicaragua. The ferry is under an hour ride. (see The Utila Dream for current fares and schedules.
Utila is quite small with only a few roads. Because of this almost everything in Utila can be walked to in under 20 minutes. There are also many tuk-tuks running up and down the island's main strip, with set prices (per person) for set distances with an increase in price after dark. A typical short ride is L20 per person by day and L30 at night. Bicycles can be rented by the hour or by the day, as can motorbikes and quads, although the latter are extremely expensive.
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 (seahorses, nudibranchs, pipefish, etc). 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
Utila also has fantastic waters for kayaking and stand up paddleboarding. The island is split east/west by a canal that you can kayak through; kayaks can be rented from Coral View Hotel near the southern canal entrance or from several dive shops. Guided kayaking trips (see Kayak Utila ) to the North Shore through the Mangrove Channel and down to the Cays are a great option to safely explore these waters as well.
Sightings of Spotted Eagle Rays, morays, and various species of fish can happen at just about any dock and many bars have docks where you can sit and watch the water.
On the Land
There are a variety of things to see that you can make a day of hiking to (ask around for directions but if you don't leave the tracks it is hard to get lost - take bug repellent). 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). Pumpkin Hill, Útila's highest point at 74m, offers a panoramic view of the island. There are two routes to Pumpkin Hill. Walk from town towards the airport until you see a signpost for "Chez Milady" or a few hundred metres later on the same road just past Ron's stables - turn left and follow the track (which will be very muddy in wet season). This track services all the properties in the bush on the way to Pumpkin Hill. Follow the track until the trees stop and look for a path on the right obviously leading up to the little peak. Secondly, you can go the coast route by going to the end of airport runway and simply walking the beach and beach paths until you get to Pumpkin Hill beach. Easier in the rainy season. Similarly panoramic is the view from the top of the water tower which is somewhat easier to get to on foot but involves climbing a tower ladder.
Freediving (or breath-hold diving) is the act of diving while relying on the divers ability to hold their breath instead of relying on a breathing apparatus. Freediverss can often dive as deep as 20 metres on a single breath with only a few days of supervised training. It is often considered more peaceful than scubadiving and courses generally include time spent on meditation and breath control. Freediving could be a nice alternative if you're looking to change things up while in Utila.
Utila has become best known for its fantastic diving and for being one of the better places in the world to see whale sharks. It also is one of the cheapest places to take either PADI or SSI courses. Courses generally cost around $285-$330 USD and typically include a basic hostel room during the course as well as couple of fun dives after completion. Be sure to shop around as every shop offers its own unique atmosphere and some are definitely better than others.
Utila's waters are fabulous for paddling with both kayaking and stand up paddleboarding. Many of the dive shops include free kayaks and/or paddleboards with the cost of your accommodation, however there are a number of places that rent kayaks or provide kayak tours if you are looking for something more organized.
If you are looking for a change of pace over Scuba Diving or are unable to dive due to medical reasons there are tons of fantastic snorkeling sites around Utila. All of the dive shops in Utila include free snorkeling gear with their accommodations. There are a number of snorkeling sites that can be accessed directly off shore, and most dive shops will let you hop on to one of their dive boats for a small fee. Using the dive shops is cheaper than chartering a boat and will give you access to a much larger range of dive sites, almost all of which have fantastic reef areas that are shallow enough to snorkel.
There is a very strong nightlife on Utila with a party happening somewhere almost every night, especially during high season. There is an unofficial understanding between the major bars of the island as to where people will go each night. Generally after 1AM only one bar is still going, and it typically stays open until 4 or 5AM. Ask around and you should have no trouble finding out where the place to be is that night. Or just follow the music.
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. Fresh fish for you to cook is available for 50 lempiras a pound on the dock of Paradise Divers by fisherman named Zorro!
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). About $5 for a pretty horrible dorm, $40 for AC and hot water in the low season (as of October 2013). Accommodation is usually provided free with dive courses (read as 'pretty horrible dorm with distinctive odor and fans).
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. Oils work only if applied heavy enough to drown the insects before they can bite. Deet based repellent work well. 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.
You will probably be diving on Utila. The Utila Hyperbaric Chamber is located right next to the Bay Islands College of Diving. On the main street turn left from the Ferry dock. When in doubt, pay them a visit to have your ears checked or ask their opinion. They are there for the safety of all divers on Utila, however it is privately owned and staffed. It is often closed or unavailable.
Be cautious when signing contracts with diving companies, most are non-refundable if you are unhappy or change your mind about the proposed contract after a few days. Passports may be held as leverage if given to the dive shop for safe keeping. Feel the place out first, there are plenty of places to stay for a few nights while you shop around.
Most hotels, 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. Most US cell carriers work in roaming on Utila. Google Fi and T-Mobile works well with no roaming fees for data.
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.