When one sees advertisements about Utila, even though they are very rare, a common phrase associated with it is “The way the Caribbean used to be.” I don’t think truer words have ever been printed. Utila is part of the Bay Islands of Honduras, the others being tourism and cruise ship hotspot Roatan and underdeveloped, seldom-visited Guanaja. I’ll be doing a Roatan/Utila comparison post soon as they are 2 very different islands. The main language on both Roatan and Utila is English. You’ll also hear the local Caribbean English which is called Utilian. By the way, it isn’t pronounced ew-tee-lah as you would in Spanish. The local pronunciation is u-till-ah (being a long U like you). High season hits the peak during March and April but unofficially starts in January and runs through May. The height of the slow season is October through mid-January.
Utila is one of those places that can easily grab onto you. Most people come here planning on being here for maybe a week or so. Many of them end up staying a month or longer. I like to compare it to the island from the TV show Lost. Accept it’s easier to get on Utila.
Getting to Utila: There are a few different options. If you’re flying into Honduras, the easiest choice is to fly into San Pedro Sula (SAP). From there you can get a connecting flight that will bring you to Utila. You’ll want to check with the airline first, though, since depending on the season flights are not daily and usually then only run once or twice a day. CM Airlines has the best online presence, although SOSA also offers flights to the island, though not as reliably.
By land you take a bus or taxi (costs $120) to La Ceiba (about 3 hours from San Pedro Sula). Diana Express is the cheaper option and is pretty reliable. If you want a little more comfort, less stops, and a working bathroom on the bus, then you’ll want to take the Hedman Alas bus. It will cost you about $20 more per person for that option. Then you just have a potentially interesting ferry ride left. There are 2 ferries currently offering transport to the island; however, at this time I can only recommend the Utila Princess since it runs on a regular schedule (leaves La Ceiba at 9:30 AM and 4 PM). The other option changes their schedule frequently and only runs if they have a set minimum of passengers. Important tip: If you are prone to motion sickness, you can get free Dramamine at the ticket window. Just ask for it and then take it immediately so it’s in your system. The Princess is often referred to as “the vomit comet” for good reasons. When on the Princess, esp during hot weather, make sure you sit in the last 2-3 rows. That’s the only place the air conditioning works well, and it’s less bumpy there.
If you have to stay in La Ceiba overnight or longer, I’d recommend Hotel Rainbow Village (try the pork schnitzel, it’s quite excellent) or Banana Republic (cheapest option, very safe, comfortable, near decent restaurants). If you want to experience nightlife make sure to go to La Zona Viva. It’s much safer and is restricted to foreigners per report.
If coming from Roatan, you can either fly direct or you have 2 other options: Take Captain Vern’s 3-3/4-hour catamaran trip (check out my Roatan or Utila post coming soon) or take the ferry, which is AWESOME, to La Ceiba and then take the ferry to Utila. Either marine option takes about the same amount of time. The double ferry is a bit less expensive and somewhat more enjoyable in our opinion (Tigger regularly advises people to take the double ferry option).
Staying on Utila: Almost every dive shop here offers accommodations. If you are taking a diving course (which is probably why you’ve even considered coming here), your dive shop will provide free accommodations at the dive center. Just know that that typically is a dorm room. Don’t want to stay at a dive shop? No worries, you have some very good options. There are some all-inclusive resorts such as Laguna Beach and Coral View Beach Resort & Dive Center. But there are many options from typical basic backpacker on up. Be prepared to pay extra if you want air conditioning. Electricity is SUPER expensive on Utila. When you leave your hotel room, please turn the A/C off. Some places will fine you if you leave it running when you’re not in the room.
Some of the best choices for lodging are: Rubi’s Inn, The Lighthouse Hotel, Colibri Hill Resort, and Mango Inn. Lazy Days is another one that gets great reviews from people I know.
If you plan on staying longer ( and you probably will end up being here longer), apartments and houses are very easy to find and are fairly inexpensive. Unless you’re planning on renting your own private island, which you can do here as well. Apartments in the 200-300 USD per month range are easy to find. You’ll see plenty of signs while walking around, but you can also use the island’s free apartment finder service (+504 3294-0026). You may want to avoid the La Loma and The Bush areas. Some people love them, but they are also areas that are either more remote or experience more theft. Sandy Bay and The Point are the more common areas to find good housing. Most places come furnished and include cable/satellite TV, water, and trash. You’ll have to pay for your own electricity. Electricity is pay as you go (ask a local how to get to UPCO, which is near the Church of God). Paying L500 (about $25 USD) lasts us about 2 weeks without A/C. They’ll give you a slip of paper that has a code on it. You enter that code into your meter at home and voila!
Getting around: It’s easy to walk anywhere on the island, but there are places to rent a bicycle, scooter or golf cart (the most expensive option). There are VERY FEW cars here and none for rent. If you’re tired of walking, you can also take a tuk-tuk. You can get around almost anywhere on the island for about $2 per person. You can either flag them down or ask someone to call one for you. Unless you’re a large group, I’d call Alejandro (+504 9509-1865), especially if you need an early morning ride to the airport. He is extremely reliable.
Check back in a couple of days for more on visiting this great Caribbean getaway.
March 31, 2013
After reading your post, my kid and I will most definitely be giving the place a try for awhile once we start traveling. Sounds like a hidden gem.
March 31, 2013
It really is a great place. It isn’t for everyone, of course, but we still miss it.
February 18, 2012
Thanks for the useful info. We will be there in 3 weeks and also blogging about it.
February 6, 2012
Ah yes, dear little Utila – I especially recall the unique English/Irish? “brogue” spoken by the locals there. It’s been – goodness more than 15 years since I visited that tiny isle. Then, the word “Resort” wasn’t even in their vernacular, and there were but a handful of rooms in private homes where you could stay. Looks like dear Utila has been “discovered”, but thankfully (from what you describe) it’s still as charming as ever.
February 6, 2012
While it has changed in 15 years, it definitely hasn’t been. . . assimilated. J