After spending 3 months in Guatemala, I was more than a little excited to be moving to Utila for a couple of months whilst Chris completed his Dive Master Training at Underwater Vision. Utila is a small island which is part of the Bay Islands and can be found off the Caribbean coast in Honduras.
As we were travelling from Antigua, Guatemala we decided it would be a good idea to spend a few days in Livingston which can be found on the Rio Dulce to break the journey up a little bit. To get to Utila from Livingston, you can either pay over the odds for an organised shuttle (400Q, approx. £40), or you can wing it like we did.
This is how we got there…
- Take the 6am water taxi from Livingston to Puerto Barrios for 35Q approx. £3.50.
- Once in Puerto Barrios, walk 4 blocks up the street from the dock and you will hit a main road called 6a Avenida. Collectivos (shuttle buses) will be passing by all the time with guys shouting Honduras, Frontera. Just hail a shuttle down and pay 25Q approx. £2.50 for a 1.5 hour journey.
- IMPORTANT! Make sure you ask to get your passport stamped out of Guatemala as the passport control office is NOT at the border crossing. The collectivo guy did this for us while we waited on the bus.
- Get your passport stamped at the Honduran border crossing. There is an admin fee of $3. Walk 100m through the border and jump on a bus heading to Puerto Cortes. These come every 30 minutes and cost 70L approx. £2.50. The journey will take 1.50h.
- Get off the bus at Para del Cruce which is one stop before the center. Ask the driver to let you know when you get there.
- Cross the road and get on a mini bus heading to San Pedro Sula. Try get a directo although they will stop as people jump on and off the buses. The cost for this is around 50-60L and takes around 1hour to 1.30h.
- Get off at the bus terminal which is the last stop and look for the Ceiba ticket office. Tickets cost 90-120L depending on your bartering skills. The journey should take 3.5 hours.
- In La Ceiba take a taxi to the dock for Utila. We were in a super rush as we were going to miss the ferry so we paid over the odds. Usual cost around 40-50L for the short taxi ride.
- The Utila Dream has just changed its timetable so now leaves La Ceiba at 4.40pm which gives you more time to make the last ferry. The cost is $25 and takes 45 minutes. You can also pay by credit card.
Diving into my fears
Most people come to Utila as it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to become Padi certified. Chris has always dreamed of being a Scuba Diving instructor so we researched some dive schools before coming here and found Underwater Vision to be the cheapest as well as the most responsive.
As soon as we stepped off the ferry there was a member of staff from UWV who offered us a free tuk tuk to the dive shop. If you take a dive course, your accommodation is free so we were able to stay a few nights until we sorted an apartment out.
It is advisable if you’re staying on the island for a while to get your own place, it works out a lot cheaper and makes such a difference to have your own kitchen. This is our cute little house that we rented for 2 months located at Anchor Inn. It also has a swimming pool so you can cool off in the heat.
Chris hadn’t dived in a few years so needed to take a Tune Up course before he could start his Rescue course and then move on to his Dive Master.
I have always been terrified of diving and always said I would never do it. That is of course until you are on an island where there is nothing else to do except Suba diving!
Open Water Course
After spending a lot of time in the water, I finally decided to sign up for my open water course. Everything was going great until it was time to do my confined skills in the water. Basically there are a number of skills you have to complete before you are able to go diving. The moment I tried to breathe under the water I panicked, I completely freaked out and had a huge panic attack even though I could still stand up in the water.
I really didn’t expect to be that scared about breathing underwater, as my main fear was having to take my mask off. The instructors were amazing at calming me down and taking the time for me to become comfortable with trying again. It took me 3 attempts and numerous panic attacks to complete my confined skills but the feeling when I overcame my fear is one I will never forget.
Once my skills were out of the way it was time to hit the open ocean. I was still scared but something inside me had changed, I had confidence in myself that I could do it! The first dive was amazing, it felt so good to be able to dive at a dive site and I was instantly hooked.
The following week I signed up to do my 2 day advanced open water which meant going to a depth of 30m and diving a wreck. It was so cool and I am already thinking of what course I can do next. If you continue to learn at UWV you will receive 10% off future courses.
I want to say a big thank you to all the staff and instructors who helped me overcome my fear of diving and spent the time talking through everything and waiting in the water with me while I calmed down. You have shown me another world which I can’t wait to explore!
Be warned, if you come to Utila you will probably leave with a drinking problem. There is always a reason to go out, somebody just arrived, somebody is leaving, somebody just graduated their Dive Master, it’s a birthday, it’s Tequila Tuesday, the list is endless!
There is also a tradition in most of the bars here where you do a shot challenge to win a t-shirt. It’s like nobody had any other clothes before coming here and now people only walk around in their free shirts they won at the various bars on the island. You pay around 200L and have to do a serious of shot challenges to win the shirt.
A few nights to look out for are Ladies night every Thursday, which changes weekly between Vinyl and Tranquila bar. It’s free drinks for girls between 9-11pm. (And guys, if you wear a dress you also get free drinks!) Treetanic host monthly full moon parties and for me this is the best party on the island. If you are into house and techno music, then check out Utila Sound Society on Facebook to keep up to date on all their parties. Tequila Tuesday is held every week at Tranquila bar.
If you are looking for some good food at a decent price then here are my recommendations on the best places to grab some grub.
You can find Trudy’s at Underwater Vision so understandably I ate here a lot! They have a breakfast and lunch menu which is served until 4pm and then each night of the week (except Wednesday and Sunday) they have special menus. For example, Monday is burgers and a movie, Tuesday is wings, Thursday is sushi and Trivia, Friday is pizza and games night and Saturday is BBQ night. Happy hour also runs each night from 5-7pm.
Mo’ Subs is a great place for a quick cheap bite to eat and they do the best frozen coffees! They also have daily specials such as this Caribbean Style Plantain Lasagne which was delicious. If you are looking for somewhere with good Wi-Fi, then Mo Subs is the one!
Italian restaurant La Picola is perfect if you are looking for a romantic dinner setting. We celebrated our 2 year anniversary here overlooking the ocean. The food is also reasonably priced to say it’s of such high quality. I went for grilled tuna and Chris had lasagne, both were fantastic. The cocktails weren’t great so stick to wine, beers or mixed drinks.
We called by here on the off chance with low expectations but wow, the food is next level! It is quite pricey but definitely worth it. I had a quinoa salad and Chris went for fish and chips which were so huge he almost couldn’t finish!
If you are looking for some quick street food, then El Gordo located next to Munchies restaurant is our favourite spot. The local dish here is a baleada, similar to a burrito but filled with meat, frijolis and local cheese. You can go for a super baleada which has all the meats, avo and pretty much anything else they can fit in there for you and it only costs 65L. Bargain! They now also serve burritos and quesadillas which are equally as tasty.
This place sells the best Fillet Mignon on the island and for a great price! Only 195L which is about £6.50 and comes with a choice of sides. The tuna steak is also a great choice and only 150L.
Only open Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and serving the biggest BBQ portions I’ve ever seen. This is somewhere you definitely need to try and the menu changes weekly. I went for BBQ tuna steak which is always my go to option and Chris had BBQ Ribs.
Things to do on the island
Neptunes at Coral Beach
My all-time favourite thing to do on Utila is go to Neptunes at Coral Beach. This place is paradise and how I expected the whole of Utila to be like.
You need to catch a boat to get there but they have a free boat leaving every hour from 9am. As it’s a long walk to the port you can jump in a tuk tuk and ask for Neptunes which costs 40L . The boat trip takes around 10 minutes and returns back every hour from 9.30am until 5.30pm.
The best day to visit is a Tuesday as they have their famous taco Tuesday promotion of 25L per tacos and 2×1 margaritas. You can go snorkelling straight from the dock and see amazing marine life such as turtles, stingrays and squid.
Bando Beach is a private beach which can be found over the bridge, 5 minutes past underwater vision. There is an entrance fee of 40L to use the beach but it’s a lovely quiet beach and if you can manage to wade through the underwater foliage you can reach the coral and there is great snorkelling. There is also a bar serving delicious cocktails.
Sunset at the Abandoned Hotel
Climb the 7 stories of the abandoned hotel on to the roof to catch the sunset. Not the safest thing to do but definitely worth it for panoramic views of the island and incredible sunset. Take a few beers and some snacks with you, I would also advise to take a torch or make sure you have your phone as it’s dark getting down.
Fresh Water Caves
The fresh water caves are tricky to find as they are not promoted but head up airport road and find the power station. Once there, walk into the forest on the right hand side and you will come across the caves.
There are 2 options, the safest is just chill in the open water caves or if you’re feeling adventurous, crawl through on your hands and knees in to the hidden cave. Apparently, people used to take candles to light the way so they would be able to find their way back, now people just take a flashlight and maybe some glow sticks to make sure they don’t take a wrong turn on the way back.
Treetanic is probably one of the craziest place I have ever been. It reminds me of Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona as everything is made up of mosaic tiles. Treetanic is actually part of Jade’s Seahorse bar and restaurant which is open Thursday-Monday but you can also just go for a look around which I highly recommend. It will blow your mind!!
Visit the Water Cay
The Water Cay is a small inhibited island located at the western tip of Utila. There are a number of tours going daily to the Cay’s. We booked with Underwater Vision which worked out a lot cheaper then booking with any of the other tour companies. We paid 350L per person and the boat left at 1pm returning at 5pm. You can take your own food and drinks and enjoy the beautiful turquoise Caribbean sea.
It was sad saying goodbye to the friends we have made on this island but I have taken away a lifetime of memories.
Have you ever thought about visiting Utila? Are you Padi certified or not sure if diving is for you? Let me know in the comments below.
Keep on wandering.