JUNE / JULY 2017:
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In my “Beginner’s Guide” to Utila, I provided information about:
- How we got to Utila from Palenque, Mexico
- Staying in and getting a ferry from La Ceiba
- What different areas of the island look like
- Where to stay
- What ‘short term’ accommodation we found
- What ‘long term’ accommodation we found
- Telecommunications / Mobiles
- Your Health & Safety
- Banks and ATMs
- When to go
In this post, I will tell you more about what it is like to actually live on Utila and a lot more about everyday costs.
We couldn’t afford to live in hotel rooms on Utila … the cheapest rooms start at US$26 / night. We needed to break GRANDPAcking Standards and find an apartment … this helped us keep our costs down in other ways too.
The detail is in the Beginner’s Guide but, in summary, we ended up staying in a 1 bedroom apartment at Maggie’s Place.
And, it came with good wifi and Cable TV (with many English speaking channels).
We paid US$450 / month excluding drinking water and electric. They required an additional US$100 security deposit. This was all paid up-front in cash.
There was already a credit on the electric meter that we had to buy. At the end of our rental period, they will refund us any electric credit that we leave behind.
They provided a 5 Gallon Bottle of drinking water for HNL35. When it was empty, you just left the bottle outside your front door with HNL35 under it. When you came home, you had a new bottle waiting.
For us, Maggie’s was perfectly located, it was:
- On the waterfront (fewer mosquitoes than places inland)
- A 500 meter walk to the Public Beach
- A 200 meter walk to the Ferry Dock
- A 500 meter walk from the cheap Minimarts
We had easy access to everything that we needed.
Your long term rental accommodation cost is almost always quoted exclusive of electricity.
This is because electric is relatively expensive on Utila … and your landlord has no idea how much electric you are going to use. If you put your aircon on, you can expect to burn up electric very quickly.
When we first moved in to our apartment we ‘inherited’ 44 ‘units’ of electric from the previous occupant. We purchased these units off of our landlord for HNL400.
We did not use any aircon, but we had 2-3 ceiling fans running all day as well as the normal electrics (e.g. refrigerator) and technology (e.g. 2x laptops and 2x smartphones). We found ourselves using about 6-7 units of electric per day (i.e. electric was costing us an additional HNL60-70 / day).
When we got down below 9 units, I went to do a top up.
You take your previous purchase receipt to the Power Company Office. There is only 1 power company on Utila and the office is found down an alleyway opposite the red Minimart about 30 meters east of the Ferry dock.
I went on a Sunday. Their opening hours were 3pm to 7pm. They are open longer on other days of the week.
I asked for HNL500 of electric. I was given a receipt with a 20 digit code on it.
Back at the apartment, you find your electric meter (ours was in our wardrobe) and enter the 20 digit code. Our HNL500 bought us another 55 ‘units’ of electricity.
I won’t repeat what I have already said in my Beginner’s Guide.
There are a lot of drugs here … it is easy to buy marijuana and cocaine as well as other more exotic drugs.
You can buy an 1/8th bag of local grown marijuana for HNL100. HNL200 for something a bit better. In some bars (such as Skid Row) don’t be surprised to find people smoking in the corners.
I do a detailed ‘walk through’ of the beaches in my Beginner’s Guide.
In summary …
Bando Beach is a Private Beach and you pay HNL40 to enter. It is 1-1.5kms south east of the Ferry dock. It has seating, tables, and loungers that you can use. The area is pleasant, but the beach is just OK … and so is the swimming.
Both beaches have sandflies. These sandflies are not as bad as those that I came across in South East Asia. Their bites don’t come up in 2cm diameter lumps … instead, you get lots of annoying small red spots.
GRANDPAckers are going to be shocked at some of the prices.
You can get into the area near the Treetanic Bar and find little local cafes selling Baleadas for as little as HNL12. For this price, you just get the simple ones: Tortilla bread filled with refried beans and grated cheese.
You get the same thing down at the Public Beach for HNL15. In cheap restaurants, you will pay HNL20+.
More ‘cheap eats’ can be found at the Ferry Dock at dusk. You will find some street stalls that set up at night which sell your usual fare of Baleadas, Tortillas, etc.
But, you can’t live on Baleadas … sooner or later you will need to go in search of a balanced meal …
Expect to see Breakfasts with coffee typically going for HNL150+. If you want cheaper than that, you are looking at something simple (such as French Toast, Toast and Jam, a Bowl of Fruit & Muesli, etc).
At the Caribbean you can get a Desayuno Tipico for HNL121 (HNL110+10%). A black coffee is HNL16.5 (HNL15+10%) and a cappuccino for HNL27.5 (HNL25+10%). They do a really big take-away cappuccino for HNL40.
EATING AT HOME:
At these prices, we decided to eat most of our Breakfasts at home: one of the main benefits of living in an apartment with a full kitchenette over an hotel.
Our apartment complex had a big mango tree and they allowed us to eat as many mangoes as we wanted. We bought bread (a big loaf is HNL65) and eggs (a tray of 30 is HNL85). Added to the provisions that we brought over from La Ceiba (e.g. ground coffee for the coffee maker), we were able to keep our Breakfast costs down below HNL30 / day each.
We ate few lunches. When we did, they tended to be snacks.
Don’t be surprised to see most mains displayed on menus in the HNL200-250 price range.
A ‘Meal of the Day’ (Comida del Dia) is always worth watching out for. You can see them advertised around town for as little as HNL100.
I got online and short-listed all of the ‘budget’ restaurants in town … over time, I got around to try them all.
Mango Inn do a 2-for-1 Pizza on Tuesday night. Mango prices include a 10% ‘Service Fee’ but exclude 13% ‘Tax’. They have 3 sized pizzas. The smallest starts at HNL170. We had 2 medium sized 12″ pizzas (HNL250+13%) and a bottle of cheap white wine (HNL320+13%). The total bill was HNL655. It was OK but not the best value in town – at full price it would be ‘expensive’.
RJ’s is located east of the ferry dock near the bridge. It has a good reputation for dishing up decent BBQ meals. It only opens on a Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. I tried their BBQ Pork Chop Meal (HNL200 + tax) with a SalvaVida beer (HNL45 + tax) for a total price of HNL269. The Pork Chop was nice but these prices are much too high for GRANDPAckers.
Mermaids have a 2-for-1 pizza night on Thursdays. Their pizzas are HNL235 including tax. This is much better value for money than those at Mango Inn. They also deliver free around town – BUT charge an additional HNL20 for each Pizza Box.
The Texas Mule is located west of the ferry dock near the Pubic Beach. Their menu is expensive. However, I went down for their Sunday Open Mic Night and tried their Chilli Nachos (one of the cheapest items on the menu). At HNL220 they were poor value for money.
Skid Row have an ‘average’ menu with something like Chicken Tenders and Chips going for HNL170. Monday night is ‘Calzone Night’ where you get discount Calzones starting from HNL99 for a plain cheese one. Add HNL15 for any meat. Add HNL10 for any vegetables. Add HNL10 for any sauce. Disappointing.
In the Cocina Economicas (Cheap Kitchens) you can get something like a Fried Chicken meal for HNL100 like this one from a small cafe near the Treetanic Bar.Or this one from Angela’s on the way to Skid Row.
If you want to eat Dinner for under HNL120 you will be eating Fried Chicken in rustic shacks. Baleadas do not offer a balanced diet. To eat a decent meal in a decent environment, you will have to pay more.
Expect to pay an average of HNL125 for a cheap Breakfast (HNL110) with coffee (HNL15).
Expect to pay an average of HNL55 for a cheap Lunch (HNL30) with fruit drink (HNL25).
Expect to pay an average of HNL200 for a cheap Dinner (HNL170) with fruit juice (HNL30).
Expect to pay HNL40 for a 330ml bottle of the cheapest local beer (e.g. SalvaVida). In some bars, the standard price drops to HNL35.
Some bars (like Trudy’s) want HNL45! Others like Buccaneers want HNL50!
Probably the best table in town is down at Skid Row … and you can usually find plenty of people there wanting a game.
The Utila Lodge has a Karaoke Night on Friday nights starting at 8pm. They support it with a Happy Hour between 9pm and 10pm. Usually, the music doesn’t kick off until after 9:30pm. BUT, be warned, the people running the Karaoke favour their regulars … don’t expect fair treatment.
West of the dock, just before Skid Row, you will find an Open Mic Night on Wednesday and Saturday starting at 8pm.
Watch out for Happy Hours:
- TRANQUILLA BAR: Everyday Happy Hour 4pm – 8pm. SalvaVida beer HNL32. Watch out for Tequila Tuesday where you get free (cheap & nasty) tequila between 9pm and 10pm.
- HOTEL UTILA: Friday Happy Hour 9pm – 10pm (during Karaoke). SalvaVida beer HNL30 (usually only HNL35 anyway!)
- SKID ROW: Have an afternoon Happy Hour until 6pm. SalvaVida beer HNL35 (usually HNL40). Skid Row have a good Pool Table.
This is what most people come to Utila to do.
“Utila has easily become one of the world’s top diving Mecca’s, with it being situated on the second largest barrier reef in the world (the Mesoamerican barrier reef), it offers a diverse amount of topography for all types of divers and water enthusiasts. We have everything from shallow fringed reef to sea mounds to wrecks and deep drop offs; for a small island, Utila offers diverse dive sites located around the entire island. Every site has something different to offer.“
There are about 60 different dive sites around the island. Which ones you go to on any specific day seems to depend on:
- The weather
- The visibility
- The time of day (the North is better in the morning)
- What has been sighted in the waters (e.g. a Whale Shark)
- Who else is on your boat
- Which sites you have already been to
I am already Advanced Open Water certified … I just wanted to do some fun dives. The standard price for 10 Fun Dives is US$300 which includes all taxes and fees.
Most Dive Shops offer free nights accommodation (usually in a Dorm) for people taking dive courses. If you don’t need accommodation, you don’t (necessarily) get a discount.
All of the Dive Shops that I talked to offered to ‘mix it up’ so that I saw a good selection of sites and didn’t go to the same dive site twice.
Most Dive Shops go out twice each day: 7am and 1pm. Each trip, usually, includes 2 dives.
Be warned, some captains impose an extra HNL200 fee for seeing Dolphins and an extra HNL300 fee for seeing Whale Sharks.
BICD (Bay Islands College of Diving):
There were a number of reasons for this: Some general and some personal:
- My travel partner wanted to come out on the odd boat trip and do some snorkelling … Most Dive Shops charge between US$8 and US$15 per trip for snorkellers … BICD were the only Dive Shop (that I talked to) that would allow her to come out for free as part of my 10 dive deal
- BICD was, literally, opposite Maggie’s Place (where I was staying)
- BICD were the only Dive Shop on the island with an Hyperbaric Chamber
- BICD had new equipment
- BICD went to North Island dive sites on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
- BICD were the only ones offering Full Face Mask (FFM) certification
BICD usually charge US$249 for the FFM course. This includes a session training in the pool followed by 2 open water dives. Because I booked 10 dives in total, BICD offered to reduce this price to US$199 and to allow me to dive all 10 dives with the FFM (if I wanted to).
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
SWING IN A HAMMOCK:
There are no hammocks on the beaches so, if you can, bring your own.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
You pay 40%+ more for goods on Utila than you do back on the mainland. You are advised to pre-buy high value items and bring them with you.
We brought DEET & Baby Oil (for sandflies), coffee, rum, cigarettes, etc.
To buy goods locally, get up to the 2 Minimarts near the Treetanic Bar. They can be 20%+ cheaper than the stores down on Main Street.
Grocery price examples:
- Tray of 30 eggs: HNL85
- Large loaf of slice white bread: HNL65
- 2L Coke: HNL42
- 3L Coke: HNL55
- 330ml Can of SalvaVida: HNL30
- 450ml Can of SalvaVida: HNL35
- 445g pack of 8 BBQ sausages: HNL60
- 4x Toilet Rolls: HNL70
- 443ml Vegetable Oil: HNL35
- Small (100g) Bag of salt: HNL20
- Small (50g) Bag of pepper: HNL15
- 320ml Liquid Honey: HNL65
- 510g Peanut Butter: HNL85
- 500ml can of SalvaVida Beer: HNL35
- 5 Gallon Water Refill: HNL35
From Utila, I move on to the neighbouring island of Roatan.
A ferry connects Utila to Roatan directly on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. I will be catching the one leaving at 10am on Friday morning.
I will tell you more about Roatan in a future post(s).
It is not possible to LIVE on Utila on a GRANDPAcking Budget to GRANDPAcking Standards. I will provide a detailed cost breakdown in my next post.
HOWEVER, just like on Boracay Island in the Philippines, it is possible to LIVE on Utila Island if you bend the rules a little bit. Read my future post on ‘Utila – Honduras – LIVING on a GRANDPAcking Budget’ for more details.
Utila is dominated by ‘wanna-be’ SCUBA divers and young backpackers.
If you are not a SCUBA diver, there is surprisingly little on Utila for people to do. For this reason, Utila DOES NOT make it into my RETIREMENT REVIEWS.
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