Utila    is the smallest of the three major islands in the Bay Islands group in the west Caribbean Sea off the northern coast of Honduras.
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.
TACA, Delta, American and United all service Honduras. air viva offers bookings for domestic flights from La Ceiba, Roatan, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. However, it is slightly cheaper to book directly through Honduras SOSA the actual carrier (though this must be done in Spanish).
From either Roatan or San Pedro Sula a simple Honduran airline flight (with SOSA or Charter) gets you to Utila. Or you can fly with Island Air which services all Bay Islands (Roatan, Utila, Guanaja) and connects all international departing and arriving flights from San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba and Roatan. Note that the planes are very small (<20 passengers) single or twin engined, and may be cancelled in windy conditions.
Take a bus to La Ceiba (L94-L375, 3-5hrs from San Pedro Sula) 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 about an hour ride and may be uncomfortable, depending on the sea conditions. Take sea sickness medication beforehand if you get seasick. The ferry runs twice daily, supposedly at 9:30am and 4pm, but doesn't always leave on time. Also, if it is too windy it may not run at all, so be prepared to spend a night (or two) in La Ceiba. The fare as of August 2015 is L600 or US$28 from La Ceiba to Utila but L518 or $26 back to the mainland (see The Utila Princess  or  for current fares and schedules - incorrect fares on website as of October 2014, probably due to the fluctuation in value of the Lempira).
There is an infrequent boat service between Utila and Roatan, costing US$50, but don't count on it being available in low season, or on the specific date you want in high season. Usually to get between the islands without flying you need to take a morning boat from Roatan to La Ceiba, then another boat in the afternoon between La Ceiba and Utila.
There are 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.
- Diving - Utila boasts the cheapest Open Water courses in the Caribbean, price is currently $265-$300 USD for PADI Open Water, Advanced Open Water, or Rescue Course. Typically this also includes a basic hostel room during the course, and a 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.
- Kayaking - You can rent kayaks near Chepes beach (just ask a restaurant/dive shop where) and carry it across the road to the lagoon north of the beach. Once in the lagoon you can kayak the hand-dug canal through the mangroves all the way across the island to a beach on the north side. A fun way to spend half a day, be sure to bring some water and sunscreen. $10USD for a half day in a 2 person kayak (as of January 2014).
Utila SCUBA diving facilities
- Bay Islands College of Diving - Founded in 1995, The College is one of the few Career Development Centers on Utila and provides classes from PADI Open Water Diver all the way up to professional instructor training. Courses are available in English, French, Spanish, Dutch and German. The Bay Islands College of Diving also takes pride in its impressive safety record. Courses come with free accommodation and if you’re quick to book, even small apartments with kitchen, and free kayak rental . The big dock provides lots of space for studying, snorkeling in the dock aquarium or just relaxing in the sun with fellow travelers. On the premises you will also find the Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Center and the Utila Hyperbaric Chamber which are open for visitors. Green travelers should know that Bay Islands College of Diving is also the first 100% AWARE shop on Utila, which means that for every course you take, $10 will go to the Project Aware foundation, protecting the world’s wonderful oceans!
[email protected] tel +504-2425-3291
- Ecomarine-Gunter's Dive Shop - Ecomarine has been training SCUBA divers on Utila for almost 30 years. Today we are famous for the friendly, professional and personalized service we provide to all our customers. Fundivers can expect resort quality service from our staff and our dive students will enjoy are small class sizes and the benefit of our quality instruction and equipment. When the whalesharks are around we find them. Our Captain Jose is top rated. Not only will you enjoy his personality on the boat, you will be amazed what he can find. Many of our guests have had the opportunity to swim with whaleshark, dolphin and pilot whales. With Ecomarine your chances couldn’t be better. Ecomarine not only offers quality SCUBA services, we go further. Ecomarine is the only Dive Center in Central America offering Freediving Certifications and Training. Courses are available from Apnea Total and IADA International. Just imagine, within two days you could be Freediving as deep as 20 meters and in one week of you could be diving as deep as 40 meters (131’) on a single breath.
email [email protected] Tel 011 504 2425 3350
- "Paradise Divers"- It is the cheapest diving center, offering both PADI and SSI, lots of Spanish speakers and Latin environment. Very decent facilities and a fisherman sells his catch every day right on their dock!
- Alton's Dive Shop - Alton’s Dive Center is a family run operation which started from small roots which still run deeply through the dive center today. We aim to provide quality customer service by meeting and routinely exceeding our customers’ expectations. Alton’s prides itself on offering resort level diving and customer service with qualified and experienced instructors and divemasters to every one of our customers. The dive center is owned by a German & Canadian couple who together with the rest of the management team have approximately 50 years dive industry experience between them.
- Utila Dive Centre - The Utila Dive Centre is one of the words leading PADI Career Development Centers and in both 2011 and 2010 was awarded #1 rating by PADI Americas and Sport Diver magazine for Instructor development. You'll find all levels of instruction available, as the school was founded by backpackers for backpackers, and their commitment to professionalism but in a safe and fun manner makes them a well rounded choice for either learning to dive, or becoming a dive professional. They are associated with the luxury Mango Inn hotel, complete with onsite pool, and include accommodation there with the PADI courses. They probably have the longest serving team of Instructors on the island, which is always a good sign. They have 4 comfortable boats and run daily northside dive trips, and have a great record for finding whalesharks and dolphins, so good that GoPro cameras have even made several of their videos their choice of the day, and sponsored them as well, just ask about bow mounting your cameras on their boats as you ride out! Make sure you check them out when you visit Utila, their website , +50424253326 or [email protected]
- Underwater Vision Dive Resort - Underwater Vision is a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Resort owned and operated by the Coopers, a local family since 1991. The Coopers have been living on Utila for many generations and have been taking tourists beneath the waves since the mid-1970s. Offering PADI SCUBA diving courses from the beginner through to the PADI Professional level (IDC and beyond), the multi-lingual, international staff of dive professionals are highly trained, experienced and enthusiastic about sharing their passion for diving. Dive and Accommodation packages are available and accommodation is free for divers for the duration of their courses while enrolled in the PADI Open Water, Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver. It is easy to go from hotel room to classroom to dive boat all within steps of each other! The stunning beach front property is conducive to relaxation with abundant hammocks strung between a grove of trees, deck chairs and lounge chairs available at the water’s edge, or just laying a towel down in the sand. The bar and restaurant are open daily from 6am to 10 pm serving all meals and a variety of refreshing beverages. A Beach volleyball court sees action daily just before the sunset steals the show! The dive boats are professionally maintained and fast, taking fun divers, divers on courses and snorkelers to the multitude of dive sites around the island, three times a day. The experienced boat captains have incredible accuracy when it comes to sighting whalesharks and dolphins. Monthly dive for debris and beach clean-ups are initiated at Underwater Vision heeding their commitment to maintaining Utila and it’s reef for generations to come. 50424253103, [email protected]
- Paddling -Utila's waters are fabulous for paddling- both kayaking and new this year, Stand up Paddleboarding For kayaking, you can either rent a kayak at various spots or hook up with a marine naturalist guided tour with Kayak Utila. Stand up Paddleboards (SUPs) are available through Paddle Utila .
- Partying - 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.
- SunJam - Early in August every year Utila hosts the largest electronic music party in Central America. DJs are flown in from all around the world, and the event draws a crowd of over a thousand from all over Central America. The entire week leading up to SunJam there are pre-parties and the island is crowded and buzzing with excitement. Note that it can be very hard to find a place to stay during this week. For more information about SunJam visit Parrots Dive Centre, whose owner is one of the main organizers.
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!
- Check the Bundu Cafe (aka Buccaneer's) daily for their specials which are always changing and never disappoint. Also a great place to enjoy a margarita.
- Not to be missed is RJ's located across from Alton's Dive Center furthest east from the ferry dock. The BBQ is great with mostly fresh seafood and the "Ruminade"(home-made lemonade with local rum) is just what you need after a long day of diving. Only open Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.
- La Piccola has the best italian food on the island, with a classy atmosphere. This place is truly a labour of love for the owner, Kate. Be sure to try the hand-made ravioli!
- The Jade Seahorse is a vegetarian restaurant. As of August 2015, the chef makes seitan from scratch and offers a variety of Asian, Mexican, and American fare with as many organic and whole grain ingredients as she can get her hands on.
- Great for people watching and with very reasonable prices, you can't go wrong at Munchies. Their long hours mean you're likely to still get a meal there after everywhere else has closed.
- If you want to splurge, try the Mango Inn. Beautiful surroundings, excellent liquor selection, and a giant wood burning stove that ensures some of the best pizza on the island.
- Mainstreet Lounge (formerly Dave's) has a small menu but everything on it is fantastic and fairly priced. The enchiladas are a personal favorite of many.
- If you're craving something different, Foo King Wok (in front of Tranquilla bar) is not to be missed. The menu changes daily - not open every day so check the board out front, serving Asian fusion. This restaurant also features the only sushi on the island.
- Mermaids offers an inexpensive buffet, pizzas, sandwiches and smoothies.
- Mango Tango serves Mediterranean food with a twist and an excellent Caribbean view from its second floor location. Excellent for sunset and a more upscale meal than most options on the main street.
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.
- Skid Row Bar & Restaurant, (Sandy Bay across from Ecomarine Dive Shop), . Utila's best sports bar and grill. 2 big screen TVs, food ranging from pizza, to toasted subs, to kebabs. Complete with a pool table, dart boards and great conversations.
- There is no shortfall in entertainment with the consistent danceable music of Coco Locos, the bar on a dock with drink specials each night. Open Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Try the Coco Loco, a frozen rum drink served in a coconut!
- 'The Bent Elbow is in the space formerly known as Gonzo's Deco Stop.
- Enjoy the psychadelic and open-air feel of Treetanic, perched up in a tree straight ahead from the ferry dock. The owner has spent over a decade and a half perfecting this work of art. Not to be missed.
- Every Tuesday is ladies night at La Pirata. Women drink free for most of the night and things often get pretty crazy! Be sure to say hello to the Canadian DJ, 'Ben Jammin'. This bar also has an amazing view of the sunset and offers drink specials during that time.
- If you want to dance the night away, it is the Bar in the Bush on Wednesdays and Fridays.
- Local divers can be found recounting stories of Whale Sharks at Tranquilla, on the water beside Coco Loco. This is a very popular place to watch the sun set.
- Bundu Café offers free movie nights and live music Jam on Thursdays.
- Skid Row is popular with ex-pats. Also one of the only places you can get Guifiti (Honduran moonshine). L200 gets you a 4-shot Guifiti challenge and the chance to win one of the numerous Skid Row Bar t-shirts.
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).
- slumberland, (left from the dock after chepes beach), . private villas on the water the best views of the bay. great accommodations, privacy and close to the reef 150.
- Captain Morgans, . Rents small houses (some out on islands) for about $5/person. Captain Morgans office is right by the ferry terminal.
- Jade Seahorse (Utila Lodging), Cola de Mico Road, Bay Islands (From the municipal Dock, walk straight ahead up Cola de Mico road for about 5 minutes), ☎ 011-504-425-3270, . Cabins surrounded by gardens. please contact.
- Hotel Utila. Falling apart, run down, cockroaches in the bathroom. $12/night.
- Utopia Village, Calle De Suenos, 34201, Honduras, ☎ (512) 333-1684, . Casually elegant beachfront dive and spa resort. All rooms are oceanfront and have AC, ceiling fans and spacious balconies with views of the ocean and mainland mountains. Full service dive shop, beach bar, lounge, on site restaurant with table service. Spa massage treatments and yoga classes available. Weekly packages for dive or leisure guests. Saturday to Saturday stays. Rates are per person double occupancy. varies. (16° 4'21.19N,86°57'4.04W)
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. No refund is given if you are unhappy or change your mind about the proposed contract after a few days. Passports are 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.
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.
For some reason, the boat off the island to La Ceiba is cheaper than in the other direction - as of October 2015 the cost was L518. Be aware that it may not leave in rough weather. There is also an infrequent boat to Roatan, running only during high season (with sufficient passengers) and costing US$50. Flights are available to La Ceiba, Roatan and San Pedro Sula - the airplanes are tiny and schedules subject to seasonal demand.