At eleven miles long and approximately two miles wide, funky, laid-back Utila island in Honduras is the smallest of the Caribbean Bay Islands. Roatan might be the most visited, and Guanaja might be the most pristine. But Utila’s residents and die-hard devotees have many reasons they prefer the westernmost isle.
Besides offering more inexpensive travel options than Roatan, as well as thriving nightlife and matchless backpacker camaraderie, the island of Utila Honduras is internationally touted as the cheapest place to obtain PADI Scuba diving certification in the world.
What to Do:
Dive, of course! The world's second-largest barrier reef runs alongside Utila island, and teems with varied and awe-inspiring marine life.
Some of Utila’s best PADI dive shops are Utila Dive Center (students stay free at The Mango Inn), the Bay Islands College of Diving, Deep Blue Divers, and Paradise Divers, among over a dozen others. For the ultimate Scuba diving experience, book a bed on the island’s only live-aboard boat, the Utila Agressor. Divers spend an entire week on board, exploring remote dive sites rarely seen by human eyes.
Utila offers a great deal of attractions once you surface, too. Take a boat out to Water Cay, an uninhabited tropical paradise only thirty minutes away. Wander for hours along the shoreline, and lay out on a deserted beach. Grab a snorkel and giggle at the baby barracudas which congregate around Utila’s docks.
In the nocturnal hours, hit up a nightclub like Coco Loco, Tranquilla Bar, or the Treetanic Bar at The Jade Seahorse. The Jade Seahorse is definitely one of Utila’s most unforgettable attractions. It’s an island wonderland that offers slushy drinks, hot eats, and mind-boggling installation artworks in an endless garden courtyard
When to Go:
Utila’s temperatures consistently remain in the eighties year-round. The rainy season begins in October and lasts until January or February. Visit AboutUtila.com for charts and more detailed climate information.
In the first week of August, Water Cay is the site of Sun Jam, a high-energy outdoor extravaganza featuring live DJs, cold drinks, and spirited dancing.
If you head to Utila—called the Whale Shark Capital of the Caribbean—in hopes of catching a glimpse of the whale shark, the months of March, April, August, and September boast the most frequent sightings.
Getting There and Around:
Planes through Aerolineas SOSA and Atlantic Airlines leave Honduras’s two largest cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, for the coastal city of La Ceiba. From there, planes leave for the air strips of Utila and Roatan.
Budget travelers (and those who prefer salt air and sea wind over crowded airplane cabins) can travel from La Ceiba to Utila via ferry, called the Utila Princess. The Princess leaves Tip: swipe a pill or two from the bowl of free Dramamine (for sea sickness) at the ticketing counter—you’ll probably need it!
Tips and Practicalities:
Need some company while sunbathing? Check out Bundu Café’s expansive book exchange, with enough English titles to rival your local Barnes & Noble. Stay for a meal—especially breakfast.
Keep your eyes peeled for Utila’s land crabs! The curious creatures live in burrows by day, and clamber across Utila’s pathways at night.