Living on Utila

So you’ve either decided to stay here longer, got stuck here, or you’re curious about the possibility.  No sweat!  Here are some of the basics that haven’t already been covered.

Shopping:  Give up on “good shopping.” There are no malls or big stores here.  Delco is the island’s version of Walmart.  You’ll find it heading down Main Street as if you were headed to the public beach.  It’s just a short distance past Parrot’s Dive Center on the left side of the street.  For groceries you have several choices.  Mermaid’s (yes, it’s a grocery store as well) is smaller and also cheaper than most of the stores.  For some reason I also have the best luck with finding good fruits here.  They’re closed from Friday night until Saturday night.  Bush’s is much larger and more expensive, but they are also where you find the most variety, including the bag of mixed greens.  They’ll also process a cash advance on your credit card for you.  They open earlier than most of the other stores and also close earlier.  Just down the street across from Babalu’s is  Tienda Javier.  They have a decent selection of food items at fairly good prices.  Tienda del Pueblo down near Munchie’s supposedly is the best place to buy meat.  I haven’t really bought a lot of meat other than lunch meat so can’t say yes or no. At many of the stores you can put down a deposit for a 5-gallon container of purified drinking water and then bring it back for a fresh one for only L40 (about $2).  You’ll get your deposit back when you’re done switching out bottles.  A gallon is usually around L25, so you’ll save quite a bit of money going the 5-gallon route.  If you’re rather discerning about your toiletries and hair care products, I have been advised by several people that Rivera’s by the bank is the best place for those items.

If you’re coming through on the holidays and think you might want to have a nice ham or turkey for dinner, do yourself a HUGE favor and stop at a grocery store in La Ceiba.  I bought our Chrismakah turkey there and saved about 50% from the turkeys on sale at Bush’s (which cost about $48).

Cell phones:  Utila is interesting.  Apparently you are required to show a Honduran ID to purchase a SIM card on the island.  This can be circumvented in a few ways.  You can go to the other Rivera’s down near the fire station.  You’ll pay quite a bit more here than on the mainland, but you won’t be asked for an ID either.  If you want to go to the cheaper phone store near el centro, you can also swing by the little red shack next to La Cueva where Mr. Henderson will loan you his ID card.  Yes, it has to be a Honduran ID card but not necessarily yours.  The easiest, in my opinion, and by far cheapest route is to stop at the mall in La Ceiba before you come to Utila and go to one of the cell phone stores there.  You may be asked to show your passport.  I bought Tigger a phone there, and it was $15 cheaper (yes that’s USD) than what I could find on the island.  And that was for the most basic phone they had.  If you are bringing your own phone, know that for some reason even some unlocked phones that should work on the network here don’t, so you may have to buy a cheap phone if you really want to have mobile access.  You should try the SIM card in the phone before you buy it since it may not work.  I’ve used my Honduran phone to call the States more than once, and the rates are actually quite good.  That is for a pay-as-you-go phone system, and you can buy minutes at practically any store on the island.  Tigo and Claro are the biggest companies servicing the island.  From what I’ve been told Tigo’s signal seems to be better around the island than Claro.  If you get Tigo they usually run a triple saldo special on Thursdays meaning that if you reload your phone with L100 they’ll pretend you paid L300.  You can expect to get at least 3 free text messages from Tigo a day with various offers.  Yes, it’s irritating, but at least you aren’t charged for them.

Visas:  When you came into Honduras, you probably were given 90 days.  If you’ve done research you are familiar with the CA-4 region which says you can only spend 90 days within the 4 Central American countries comprising Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.  Well, here’s a treat for you:  Guatemala and Honduras really don’t care how long you stay as long as you are here on a current visa.  Don’t relish the idea of having to take the vomit comet back to the mainland and take a bunch of buses to do a border crossing? No problem!  Just pop into the friendly immigration office by the ferry dock and tell them you’d like to stay in their wonderful country longer and ask if they can help you out.  You can extend another month for relatively cheap, but then you’ll have to do a visa run to stay longer.  OR you can pay the nice young man L3000 and later that day, or the next, you’ll be able to return to pick up your passport with its nice new 90-day stamp.

Medical care & meds:  If you already take prescription meds and may need a refill, again stop in La Ceiba at one of the big pharmacies there.  You’ll save a LOT of money and have a better chance of finding it there.  There are 2 main pharmacies on the island, but they often are fairly limited in what they sell. Dr. Jennifer next to Buccaneer’s at her clinic La Fe has some pharmaceuticals as does the Centro de Salud up the hill from the crossroads.  The pharmacy near the bank is able to process things like stool samples should you develop a relentless intestinal issue.  If you need medical care, there are a few options.  If it’s something potentially serious, then your best bet is to go to the Community Clinic across from the Methodist church.  This is the clinic with the American doctor known as Dr. John.  Be prepared, though. You won’t get a well-groomed man in a nice, crisp white lab coat and a stethoscope draped about his neck.  Instead you’ll get a guy with long stringy hair wearing camo shorts, hopefully a shirt, and probably no shoes with an. . . . interesting bedside manner.  He’s quite the character, but islanders, locals and expats alike, swear by him.  If it’s less serious the other options include the Spanish-speaking Centro de Salud.  If you’re sick enough to want to go see them, you’ll probably want to take a tuk-tuk.  It’s quite the walk uphill otherwise.  They usually charge around L150 for a visit.  Dr. Jennifer is a sweet lady who is much more accessible but also more expensive.  She charges L400 for a consult (L350 for scuba medical exams).  If you need basic stuff like antibiotics, many of the grocery and convenience stores carry a supply.  Just ask at the cash register, and they’ll show you what they have.  One tip: If you by ibuprofen in the blister park, double check the dosing.  They typically are 600-mg tablets instead of the more common 200 mg in the States.

An occasional hazard on the nearby airport landing strip

Dental:  Honduras has very good dental care.  On Utila there are a few options.  There is a dentist located in the large building across the municipal center (where you come off the ferry), but I don’t know anything about them really.  Another option is Dra. de Ricard across from Bambino’s grocery store, but I would not recommend her.  She has an unusual affinity for simply pulling a tooth.  If you get her to try to do a filling, you’ll probably discover why she prefers pulling them.  If you have an emergency and the other dentist isn’t available, she’d be worth the visit to get the situation calmed down until you can get to La Ceiba, but don’t let her drill your tooth.  For anything more involved, get to the mainland and see Dr. Florencia Portillo de Ponce.  All the expats I’ve spoken with swear by her.

Have questions I didn’t answer by now? Feel free to comment here, and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.

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  1. I’m 23yo and My fiancé and I are making plans to leave Florida and move to one of the Bay Island. From my research, Utila is probably the best choice, I was previously entertaining the idea of Roatan, but read up on some of their crime, and I left that idea behind. My question to you would be, What is a ballpark figure of the monthly/annual cost of living on Utila? And if I’m remotely running a US based company while living on the island, what obstacles will I run into in terms of money coming from the US?
    I loved the article by the way. Very informative.

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    • We haven’t been there in 5 years, but it was easy to find a place to rent from between $300-500/month for a decent place. Electricity is expensive. We didn’t use A/C so our bill was lower. I would plan on at least $150/month for that, MUCH more if you have A/C. We spent less than $100/week on groceries for the 2 of us. Most places include WiFi, but we paid $15/month extra to have faster internet (and I’m pretty sure it didn’t really cost that much). We had our laundry done by a service and that was probably around $3-5 each time. You can walk everywhere, but if you do decide to take a tuk-tuk taxi it’s about $2 to get from one end of the island to the other. I think I paid $10/month for cell phone with a data package, but I can’t swear to that.

      I didn’t have any problems with getting money on the island. There are 2 ATMs, and my banks are both US based. I know expats who use the local banks and have 1 account in dollars and another in lempiras. I never saw a need to open a local account, though.

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      • Heck I’m paying $1550 a month in rent here in florida! Thank you for the info brother, very helpful. I’ve been checking out your site, and it’s such a great thing you guys are experiencing, inspiring! Expect my comments and questions here and there.

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  2. I’m retired and am seriously thinking about moving to an Island. Utila was brought to my attention by a friend of mine. One question that I haven’t found an answer to is this: what is the mail situation on Utila? Does mail get delivered as in the states? By mail carriers or picked up at the local Post Office? Is mail service reliable, safe, daily? Does it exist?

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    • Mail is picked up at the post office. There is no delivery. For the most part mail is reliable, but like everywhere in Central America it has its moments. It’s also hard to get FedEx deliveries to the island. Often you have to pick it up in La Ceiba or pay a special courier.

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  3. Hey Talon!! Thanks for the amazing info! Very helpful. You mentioned a good bit about medical situations. Does that mean you don’t have to have health insurance there?

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    • I wouldn’t say you don’t HAVE to have it, but getting medical care on the island is extremely inexpensive. If you’re diving, the dive centers include coverage for the decompression chamber if it’s needed, so you’re covered for that.

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  4. Hey Talon,

    How’s everything man, hope you and Tiger are doing alright. It has been awhile since i saw your guys, are you still in MX? I just got back from Utila last month;) I know, I know the Island is addictive;)
    Hey Leslie, Yes, Mango In is up for sale as a few other opportunities. Like you I’m looking for opportunities on the Island, if you don’t mind share you contact, perhaps we could skype sometime and brainstorm ideas.
    Let me know,

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  5. Hello. Lovely to read about life on Utila. My curiosity was peaked when I saw an episode about moving to Utila. I would love to own a business and come from the hotel sector. Oh, and I am Canadian.

    I hear the Mango Bar and Grill is for sale. Is it off the beaten path or does it have a good flow of business?

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  6. How has/does crime in the area affected you?

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    • We had no issues with crime when we were there. Right before we left they begin having some issues, but additional police and special military were sent to the island. My understanding is that the problem has been resolved.

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  7. Hi you had some info about dentists above and mentioned one to avoid on Utila but no names of someone you would recommend except Dr. Florencia Portillo de Ponce in La Ceiba, My son is there right now taking a diving course and had pain in his mouth when he was going deeper. He thinks it’s a cavity. If there was someone on the island who was dependable he would probably prefer that to heading to the mainland and interrupting his training.

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    • The other dentists in town seem to be better. Just avoid the one mentioned above and he should be fine. It also wouldn’t hurt for him to ask the dive center who they would recommend. They’ll help him avoid the bad one.

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  8. Hi Talon and Tigger,

    I have been reading thru all your blogs coming over from Traveled Earth. Thank you for sharing your adventures!

    I have one question…are you concerned about being attacked by a shark?


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    • Glad you’re enjoying your visits! We’re glad you come and read.

      No, neither one of us is concerned about sharks. Shark attacks are quite rare, and attacks on divers are even more exceedingly rare.

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  9. Hi Talon & Tiger

    Thanks so much for this great info . My 20 year old daughter is heading to Utila for 3 months on her own to study Dive master and IDC and to do research for her Marine Biology degree so your experiences are really helpful. Hope your continuing to have a wonderful travel adventure.

    Best wishes


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    • Wonderful! Glad it was helpful. I hope she chose Coral View. They have a great program for marine biologists and students as well as being superb for divemaster training and IDC.

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    • I shall! J We miss you! Hope you’re having fun.

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    • In the previous posts it mentions Utila is in Honduras. J

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    • great post and answerd bout the bank? visa or mastercard ? or both? leaving n a couple way thanx peaceout

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      • Few places on the island accept credit cards, and when they do there is an additional charge. However, there are 2 ATMs on the bank and you can use both Visa and Mastercard-associated cards (including debit) to withdraw money. If you need an amount greater than you can pull out via the ATM, the bank will do it for you like a cash advance.

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