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.
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.