Utila - Public Beach 2

Utila – Honduras – A Beginner’s Guide & Where To Stay


JUNE 2017:

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OVERVIEW:

We spent a week making our way from Palenque, Mexico across northern Guatemala to La Ceiba, Honduras.Utila Location Maap

Both San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba were ‘interesting’ places to say. Be cautious and stay safe.

La Ceiba was our target destination … this is where you catch the ferry to the Bay Islands (Utila and Roatan).


LA CEIBA:

We arrived in La Ceiba late afternoon on a Friday.Bay Island Map

We had no accommodation pre-booked on Utila, and we didn’t want to rush and head straight out to Utila that same day on the 4:00pm ferry.

We, also didn’t want to arrive in Utila without an accommodation booking forcing us to compete with weekenders (and, therefore, more expensive accommodation).

So, whilst en route to La Ceiba, we pre-booked 1 night at the Gaucamayos Backpacker Hostel. It was one of the few hotels in La Ceiba that we could afford.

La Ceiba - Guacamayos - Reception

Due to a booking problem, we were upgraded to a big King Room with 2 Double Beds, a Single Bed, Private (cold water) Bathroom, and Cable TV (with some English channels).

La Ceiba - Guacamayos - Room EntryLa Ceiba - Guacamayos - Ensuite ToiletLa Ceiba - Guacamayos - Ensuite ShowerLa Ceiba - Guacamayos - Room

Yet again, there was no wardrobe … so out came my washing line.

We paid EXPEDIA US$18 / night (US$14 / night after I applied my EXPEDIA POINTS discount). We extended our stay by 2 nights through to Monday morning (at US$17 / night).

The Gaucamayos had a decent rooftop bar which helped us pass the time. 🙂 There aren’t many places to go in La Ceiba!La Ceiba - Guacamayos - Rooftop Bar SeatingLa Ceiba - Guacamayos - Rooftop Bar

There isn’t much ‘endearing’ about the place. It is just a normal Honduran town with a poor beach.La Ceiba - Waterfront Right

On Monday morning we prepared to head for Utila.


LA CEIBA TO UTILA ISLAND:

The ferry leaves at 09:00am and you are told to be at the port 30 minutes early.

We were on the street by 08:00am. A lady at reception offered to take us to the Ferry Port for HNL150 … we negotiated her down to the correct price of HNL100.

It was a 15-20 minute drive over a river bridge to the north of town.La Ceiba - Boats in dock La Ceiba - Boats in port

There are separate ticket offices: one for Utila and one for Roatan. Our taxi dropped us off outside of the one for Utila.La Ceiba - Ferry Terminal Ticket Office

We were early, so there was no queue for tickets. For a ticket, you have to present yourPassport / ID. The one-way ticket to Utila costs HNL575.La Ceiba - Ferry Times

Your main bags are checked in at a baggage counter and you are given a security tag for each bag.

We started boarding at 08:50am. To board, you have to show your boarding ticket and Passport / ID (again).

The ferry was a modern catamaran design and left on time at 09:00am.La Ceiba - Ferry to Utila

There is an upstairs open seating area if you like fresh air and views (smokers can smoke at the back).La Ceiba - Ferry Upstairs Seating

Downstairs, you will find an aircon seating area.La Ceiba - Ferry Aircon Seating

So, it was farewell to La Ceiba. La Ceiba - Leaving PortLa Ceiba - At Sea

And, hello to Utila.Utila - First View of TownUtila - Approaching Boat Dock

The ferry landed in Utila on schedule at 10:00am.Utila - Boat Dock

We liked what we saw and wandered down the peer to hit the main street.Utila - First Street

You run the usual ‘gauntlet’ of waiting Tuk Tuk drivers.


ABOUT UTILA:

Utila Island (Isla de Utila) is the smallest of the Honduras’ major Bay Islands, after Roatán and Guanaja, in a region that marks the south end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (the second-largest in the world).Utila Island Map

The eastern end of the island is capped by a thin veneer of basaltic volcanic rocks, erupted from several pyroclastic cones including the 74 meter Pumpkin Hill – which forms the highest point on the island.

Utila has been documented in history since Columbus’ fourth voyage, and currently enjoys growing tourism with emphasis on recreational diving. It is known as one of the world’s best dive locations. The modern people of Utila are of African (Garifuna), English and Dutch descent.Utila - Ferry in Dock

Archaeological, historical and ethnographic evidence indicates that Utila was inhabited by the Paya well before the Europeans arrived – as long ago as 600AD. The Paya may have entered Central America in the great North to South America migration in 5,000 BC, although to the contrary, linguistic studies indicate that the Paya may have been descendants of South American tribes.

With favourable diving conditions, the island increasingly attracts scuba divers and more traditional international backpackers. There are more than eighty diving sites located around the island including extensive reefs teeming with marine life – including the elusive whale shark.

Utila is also the home of the annual festival Sunjam. Sunjam is the largest electronic music event in Honduras, and one of the largest and most important in Central America. The date is fixed to the first Saturday of August every year. The event attracts world class international DJs as headliners and invites the best regional talent to perform.


AROUND THE ISLAND:

Most of the roads on the island are within a 2 square km area around Utila Town center.

An additional network of roads can be found east of the town center taking you to the Airport and Pumpkin Hill Beach.

To get anywhere else, you have to catch a boat or trek.Utila Areas Map


AREA A – SOUTH WEST OF THE FERRY DOCK:

At the far end of the road (south west of the bay) you get a view out over the entrance to the lagoon.Utila - Main St West - 1

This is what you find as you walk back to the Ferry Dock …

A dirt track takes you past residential homes of varying quality.Utila - Main St West - 2

There are peers – some allow public access.Utila - Main St West - 3

Such as at the Sunset Tiki Bar. Utila - Main St West - 4

This is not a good beach area.Utila - Main St West - 5 Utila - Main St West - 6 Utila - Main St West - 7

The sea floor is mainly seaweed with very few clear swimming spots.Utila - Main St West - 8

Next is an area of sealed road.Utila - Main St West - 9

Here you will find some up-market homes … some of which (like the Slumberland) are for rent at about US$1,500 / month.Utila - Main St West - 10

And, you find the odd house for sale.Utila - Main St West - 11

Before hitting dirt track again …Utila - Main St West - 12

… and a thin strip of average beach.Utila - Main St West - 13

There is still lots of seaweed underfoot.Utila - Main St West - 14

And, inland, the lagoon offers little more than a breeding ground for mosquitoes.Utila - Main St West - 15

Things only get interesting for GRANDPAckers when you start hitting Chepes Beach.Utila - Main St West - 16

Here you can find upmarket Vacation Rentals for rent at US$1,500 / week.Utila - Main St West - 17

Before getting back to reality … as you arrive at the Public Beach.Utila - Main St West - 18

The Public Beach has clearer waters …Utila - Main St West - 19

… and a decent sand park area with free benches and tables.Utila - Main St West - 20

This is where you will find The Venue – a popular backpacker haunt.Utila - Main St West - 21

There are also some cheap eateries and a couple of bars behind the beach.Utila - Main St West - 23 Utila - Main St West - 24 Utila - Main St West - 25

There are free public toilets as you exit the beach opposite The Relapse.Utila - Main St West - 22Utila - Main St West - 26

This is where the west end of Utila Town really starts.Utila - Main St West - 27

About 50 meters from the beach you will find The Margarita Hotel.Utila - Main St West - 28

There are properties that may rent rooms out over rocky waters.Utila - Main St West - 29

And private housing inland from the road.Utila - Main St West - 30

And more unkempt water front …Utila - Main St West - 31

… before you reach the Skid Row restaurant and bar (one of my favourites because of the Pool Table).Utila - Main St West - 32

There are more peers.Utila - Main St West - 33

More sealed road.Utila - Main St West - 34

And some rough housing in amongst the Dive Shops, Shops, and better housing.Utila - Main St West - 35

The town center really starts at or about Hotel Utila which has the Caribbean Cafe above.Utila - Main St West - 36

This is where you find the Fire Station.Utila - Main St West - 37

Just after that, you find the cheap Hot Spot Cafe.Utila - Main St West - 38

Opposite the Hot Spot, you find Maggie’s Apartments.Utila - Main St West - 39

From there, it is a short walk past shops of various kinds to the Ferry Dock.


AREA B – SOUTH EAST OF THE FERRY DOCK:

There is a Private Beach at ‘the point’ on the north east of the bay: Bando Beach.Utila - The Point

You have to pay an entry fee (I believe that it is US$3).Utila - Main St East - 1

One of the nice things about this beach is the loungers.Utila - Bando Beach - Seating

But the swimming isn’t that great – in my opinion, the Public Beach is better.Utila - Bando Beach - North Utila - Bando Beach - South

Walking back towards town center along Main Street, this is what you will find …Utila - Main St East - 2

The first place that you come across is the Sea Eye #1. They had 1 bedroom apartments going for US$450 / month and 2 bedroom for US$550 / month. Both excluded electric. But, both included free access to Bando Beach and a weekly ‘quick clean’. They didn’t have any apartments free, so I could not actually see inside one.Utila - Main St East - 3

You cross the bridge to hit ‘the main drag’ … this is the busiest area of town.Utila - Main St East - 4 Utila - Main St East - 5

You will find several hotels and apartments along this strip.Utila - Main St East - 6 Utila - Main St East - 7

We enquired about an apartment at Trudy’s – expecting to see something on their waterfront. Instead, they put us on a Quad Bike and took us inland … we got bitten to death by mosquitoes.Utila - Main St East - 8

We also looked inside the Moon Apartments (US$450). They were nice and modern but very small … there was no ‘living area’ and the bedroom was upstairs on a mezzanine floor. The bed was a bunk bed.Utila - Main St East - 9

You pass more hotels and apartments. Nothing impressed us.Utila - Main St East - 10

We had a look in The Caribbean Dream. They had 1 bedroom apartments for US$450. They were ‘average’.Utila - Main St East - 11

Walking further into town past Pizza Nut …Utila - Main St East - 12

… you will find Rubi’s Inn. Rubi’s wanted US$450 / month for an ‘average’ Double Room.Utila - Main St East - 13

This whole stretch of road is riddled with popular restaurants and bars.Utila - Main St East - 14Utila - Main St East - 15 Utila - Main St East - 16

It is not long before you hit the main street that goes inland from the Ferry Dock.Utila - Main St East - 17

And start heading west of the dock along the Main Road past more popular restaurants and bars.Utila - Main St East - 18 Utila - Main St East - 19


AREA C – INLAND:

Starting from Maggie’s Apartments you can head inland and loop around the back streets and rural areas of town.Utila - Inland - 1

There are a few apartments for rent in this area.Utila - Inland - 2 Utila - Inland - 3 Utila - Inland - 4 Utila - Inland - 5

Some look very nice, but you can definitely notice the increase in the number of mosquitoes as you walk around these streets.Utila - Inland - 6

If you go even more rural you can find yourself fending off swarms of mosquitoes … they even try and get into your ears! We were eaten alive just going to look at 3 apartments. The smaller apartments up here can go for under US$350 / month (exc electric) … but US$400-US$450 plus is more common.Utila - Inland - 7

You only have to walk 500 meters inland to get into the rural areas.Utila - Inland - 8 Utila - Inland - 9 Utila - Inland - 10

Before looping back towards main street.Utila - Inland - 11

On the way back to main street, you find more rental apartments and some budget hotels.Utila - Inland - 12

I had a look at the 2 Bedroom Sunrise Apartment for US$500 / month (exc electric). It was nice … albeit a bit remote.Utila - Inland - 13

Continue walking towards the waterfront and you will find the cheapest Minimarts in town. In the side streets around this area, you will find some of the cheaper ‘backpacker’ accommodation.Utila - Inland - 14Utila - Inland - 15

The prices in these Minimarts can be 20% less than what you pay along Main Street.Utila - Inland - 16

Lozano Road is a block back from Main Street. It is a pleasant walk but you won’t find any accommodation along this street.Utila - Inland - 17

Before you know it, you are back on Main Street.


AREA D – FURTHER AFIELD:

Starting at the Mango Inn, you can take the Rocky Hill Road north east towards Pumpkin Hill Beach.Utila - 1 - Rocky Hill Rd 1

You will pass the island dump.Utila - 2 - Rocky Hill Rd Dump

And walk down country tracks.Utila - 3 - Rocky Hill Rd

Before crossing the new airport road onto Pumpkin Hill Road.Utila - 4 - Pumpkin Hill Rd

It takes less than 1 hour to reach Pumpkin Hill Beach.Utila - 5 - Pumpkin Hill Beach

The beach is OK but the swimming is average with seaweed and rocks underfoot.Utila - 6 - Pumpkin Hill Beach

There are places to stay in the area but none are on the beach.Utila - 7 - Pumpkin Hill Beach

Heading back into town along the coast road …Utila - 9 - Coast Track

You find some nice, isolated bays.Utila - 8 - Bay

But the coast becomes impassable and you are forced inland to the Airport.Utila - 10 - Airport Runway Utila - 11 - Airport

You can get to the coast from the airport …Utila - 12 - Coast

But you have to come back inland for the main track to The Point.Utila - 13 - Coast Road


WHERE TO STAY:

Accommodation is expensive for GRANDPAckers.

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find … this is for 1 night at the beginning of July 2017 …

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:Utila Booking
AGODA.COM:Utila Agoda

July is the start of high season.

PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites sometimes display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 22% to the displayed price to get the final price.

VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … please note that these prices are in US$s …

TRIPADVISOR:Utila Tripadvisor
AIRBnB:Utila AirBnB

Vacation Rentals are, usually, displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any Security Deposit (if required). BUT, the displayed price may be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Service Fees (which can add as much as 16%).

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, in Mexico they are definitely worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

I suggest that GRANDPAckers look for an apartment on / near the waterfront on the Main Road west of the Ferry Dock going towards the Public Beach (Crepes Beach). This offers the best access to everything that Utila has to offer.

Alternatively, look in / around ‘The Point’ … but only if you can find accommodation that offers free access to Bando Beach (e.g. at the Sea Eye Hotel).

Based on online accommodation prices, many GRANDPAckers would be put off coming to Utila.

But, don’t be discouraged … read on …


MY ACCOMMODATION:

Accommodation on the usual online search engines was too expensive for our GRANDPAcking budget. Even a bunk bed in a dorm was going for US$24 / night!

We knew that we would have to just turn up and take a chance … there are, almost always, cheaper (unlisted) hotels to be found.

Back in La Ceiba, we started sending emails off to all of the budget accommodation that we could find. We asked for monthly (apartment) as well as daily (hotel) prices.

SHORT TERM:

The Margarita Hotel offered us a Double Room for US$20 / night. This gave us enough confidence to turn up on Utila without a booking. We found the Margarita on AboutUtil.com. It was not listed on the normal search engines.

On arrival in Utila, we found the nearest cafe and settled in. One person looked after the luggage whilst the other went out to have a look around. After spending 1.5 hours looking at numerous hotels (on the main road west of the ferry dock), we concluded that Margarita’s was the best value for money.Utila - Margaritas - Room Entry

Margarita’s had made a mistake. Their normal nightly rate was US$26 and they had only offered US$20 / night because they thought that we were staying 1 week … but, they honoured their quoted price.

We got a spacious 2 Double bed Fan Room with hot water ensuite. It even had a little wardrobe!

Utila - Margaritas - BedsUtila - Margaritas - Ensuite ShowerUtila - Margaritas - Wardrobe Utila - Margaritas - Ensuite Vanity

The hotel has a pleasant balcony but no view of the sea.

LONG TERM:

Less than 50% of the apartments that we email replied. A couple were under US$400 / month but most started at US$400-450 for a 1 bedroom apartment.

We spent the rest of our first day wandering around town, following up on ‘apartment for rent’ signs and asking people. There are a lot of very ‘average’ 1 bedroom apartments being advertised in the US$400-450 price range.Utila Town Map

We were given a couple of ‘leads’ and one person put us in contact with Mike: phone 32675439. Mike offers an ‘apartment finder’ service. He has lived on Utila for 12 years and knows most of the apartments around. He met us and showed us what he had available (that he considered safe and secure). He charges a % from the landlord for this service … you do not pay extra on your rental.

It had rained heavily only 2 days before. This hatched the mosquito eggs and the mozzies were out in force. We visited 3 inland apartments set in nice floral grounds. We were bitten to death just walking to them.

There was no way that you would be able to sit outside on a balcony comfortably. We decided to limit our search to places nearer the waterfront.

On our first night we celebrated our arrival down the Skid Row over a few beers. We met some expats who had lived on Utila for over 3 years. They suggested that we get on to Facebook and join the ‘Buy and Sell Utila’ Group. This puts you into contact with a big group of locals. There, we posted a request for an apartment (within our rice range) and waited for responses.

We got a few responses but most were inland, up the hill, in the mozzie infested area of town.

In the end, we chose Maggie’s Apartments. Maggie’s is not listed on the normal online search engines. Maggie’s is located opposite the Hot Spot Cafe.Utila - Maggies Place

It was definitely the best of the bunch … the only disappointment was that it did not have a balcony with a view … but it did have a pleasant communal area with a BBQ.Utila - Maggies Place - Communal Area Utila - Maggies Place - Rooms

One thing that we liked about the apartment was that it was spacious with a nice living area … somewhere to take refuge from the mozzies at dawn and dusk.Utila - Maggies Place - Entry

The kitchen came fully equipped.Utila - Maggies Place - Living Area

The bed was comfortable with a ceiling fan over. There was a wardrobe and lots of cupboards and shelves for storage.Utila - Maggies Place - BedroomUtila - Maggies Place - Wardrobe

The bathroom was a good size with plenty of hot water.Utila - Maggies Place - Ensuite Entry Utila - Maggies Place - Ensuite Shower Utila - Maggies Place - KitchenetteUtila - Maggies Place - Ensuite Toilet

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 for HNL400. 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.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:


Booking.com


TRANSPORT:

You can walk everywhere.

You should pay about HNL20 for a Tuk Tuk to take you anywhere around town.


COMMUNICATIONS:

I had already purchased a TIGO Honduras SIMcard in San Pedro Sula. It came with 100MB of data for 1 day. I added a 1 week promotional internet package (for new users) for another HNL100 which came with 800Mb of data, unlimited Whatsapp, some free texts, and 300 minutes of TIGO-to-TIGO call time. Later, I found that they had also given me 500Mb of free data for 2 weeks.

I had a very good signal on the mainland … normally 4G.Utila - Public Beach 1

On Utila, the signal was very variable. In my apartment, sometimes I got not signal at all. Out on the streets, it varied between ‘H’ and ‘4G’ depending on exactly where I was. I got the best and most consistent signal east of ‘The Point’ (east of Bando Beach).

Most Hotels and Restaurants / Bars provide free WiFi but the quality of that WiFi various considerably: from almost unusable to video streaming speeds.

If you rely on mobile communications, then you will (probably) want to consider a Data Plan … otherwise, you should be able to survive on the free connections that you get around town.


YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:

There is no reason to feel unsafe here. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America.

Choose accommodation that is secure. Break-ins are fairly common (especially with un-secured apartments / houses).

The Bay Islands have a Sandfly problem: come prepared with repellents (DEET) and ointments. The mosquitoes can be a problem too.


MONEY:

There is 1 bank on Utila: Banco Atlanta. It is located near the Ferry Dock.

You get your normal banking services as well as Western Union.

ATMs:

There are 2 ATMs in town: one at the Atlanta and a UniBank another 50 meters further east in its own little cubicle.Utila - Banco Atlanta Utila - UniBanc ATM

The Atlanta allows a maximum transaction withdrawal of HNL4,000. UniBank HNL5,000.

I advise you to get your HNL at a BanPais ATM in La Ceiba. You can withdraw up to HNL10,000 in a single transaction.


WHEN TO GO:

Utila Climate

As the rains hit the whole of Central America in June, the Bay Islands are one of the few places to take refuge.

Rain on the Bay Islands from June through September are half of what they are on other parts of the Caribbean Coast and a third (or more) of the rains inland.


CONCLUSION:

I will provide more Information about day-to-day costs in my next post.

As a ‘heads up’, Utila is at the top-end of what GRANDPAckers can afford … if you come here, you will need to bend ‘GRANDPAcking Standards‘. However, once done, it is possible to live a decent lifestyle here if you are careful.

TTFN


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