If you’re craving an island getaway off the beaten path, somewhere tourism has yet to invade, Utila is the place to go! This Central American paradise, located in the Bay Islands of Honduras, is quickly becoming a must visit destination for scuba diving, snorkeling and all around adventure. I would recommend getting over to Utila while the rates are still extremely affordable because once it becomes more well know, you can be sure the costs for scuba diving, lodging and dining will skyrocket. The island is only about 7 miles long and 2.5 miles wide which makes everything pretty accessible once you get there, depending on which mode of transportation you choose.
Getting to Utila is the first adventure. There are no direct flights so we flew from Philadelphia Airport to Houston and then connected to Roatan, Honduras. Once in Roatan you can either take 2 ferries to get to Utila (currently there’s no direct one), taking approx. 5 hours in total and costing about $60 or you can book a small jumper flight for $95 which only takes about 15 minutes and provides a killer view! Morgan’s Travel was great for booking the small jumper flight and even emailed my family with updates on our departure and safe arrival!
The main street where most of the island’s action takes place is only about 2 miles long and functions as the hub for the majority of the island’s restaurants and scuba schools. There may be only one ATM on the island but there are dozens of great restaurants, bars and lodging options.
Our favorite breakfast spot was Rio Coco Café. They have awesome frozen coffee drinks and is the island’s version of a coffee house with every flavor combination you could imagine! They also have a peaceful dock where we enjoyed their delicious everything bagel breakfast sandwiches and fresh baked goods.
Our favorite lunch spot with the best wings and view, maybe ever, was Rehab. We would hang out on Rehab’s hammocks and sun bathe on their awesome dock to get some sun in between scuba certification classes. This place is both charming and carefree and you don’t need shoes or shirts to be serviced!
Our 3 favorite dinner spots were RJ’s for BBQ, Mango Tango for Italian fusion and our most frequented spot was Barracudas for the most sports bar vibe and reliable for any meal of the day! We never left a restaurant disappointed and spent on average for two people $25-$40 for dinner (usually including an appetizer, 2 entrees and drinks, sometimes even a bottle of wine), $15-$25 for our lunches (including booze) and $10-15 for our breakfasts (including coffee). These are not your average resort vacation rates! Our cheapest breakfast for 2 cost only $2 USD!
Mango Tango was located in such a bright and beautiful building and had a lovely view:
Getting certified for scuba diving here is a must! It is one of the most affordable places to get your PADI Open Water Certification, costing only about $299. The island also happens to sit on the south end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (the 2nd largest in the world) making the underwater sites truly spectacular! The PADI Open Water Course is a 4 day course for a beginner dive certification and by the time you complete it you will have done 6 dives and will be able to scuba dive on your own, anywhere in the world. My boyfriend and I completed this certification at Underwater Vision and had a great experience. We completed our certification with 2 fun dives getting as deep at 60 feet where we swam with Moray Eels and discovered so many other amazing sea creatures.
On top of scuba diving, renting an RTV is a great day time activity and allows you to explore the island in its entirety. The 2 mile main road is paved but once you make your way to the outskirts of town, the roads turn into dirt paths and become rocky. The tuk-tuk (taxi) rides are bumpy so a 4-wheeler will provide the most comfort and accessibility for exploration. There is a small jungle to ride through and trails that will lead you around the entire island, taking only about 30 minutes including stopping to take in the breathtaking views!
If you’re traveling on a budget like most of the backpackers that visit Utila, a dorm at one of the scuba schools or hostels will cost about $25-$40 a night and an AirBnB rental will run you anywhere from $49-$300 a night depending on what kind of amenities you want (air conditioning, cable & wifi, private beach, etc.)
This is a photo of the AirBnB rental we stayed in that was featured on HGTV’s Half Priced Paradise. This house has 3 rentals attached to the home owner’s main living space. We stayed in the most affordable suite here, costing us only $49 a night and it had a private entrance, decent sized bedroom and updated, private bath. There is also a slightly larger suite, similar to ours for $69 a night and on the bottom level the largest of the 3 suites, with ocean views that costs $99 a night.
Adam was a great host and has a bunch of fun toys to rent to navigate around the island including an ATV, scooter and bicycles. We wanted to rent the bicycles but the seat height couldn’t be adjusted, so my feet couldn’t reach the pedals. These types of toys can also be rented in town but it was so convenient having them at the house for us! The private beach on the property, although beautiful, wasn’t accessible because of the rocks so we went to the small beach on the other end of the island and made a day trip to Water Cay for some sand bar swimming.
The boat ride to Water Cay takes about 30 minutes by speed boat from the mainland and to get there and back only costs about $7.50 USD per person (based on traveling with a group of 8). This is easy to arrange since everyone on the island is so nice, making friends to explore with is inevitable. The island of Water Cay is beautiful and uninhibited so bringing a cooler with booze and snacks and a portable music player is highly recommended. We had a blast snagging coconuts right out of the palms and filling them with rum. If your boat driver is feeling extra nice he may even let you stay long enough to see the most spectacular sunset!
I will definitely be traveling back to Utila in the future to have a second shot at scuba diving with the whale sharks. Cody and I had the most amazing vacation and worked as a great team exploring and scuba diving. On our next trip here, we plan to rent a house with a bunch of friends and check out the fresh water caves that we didn’t have time to see. A week may be a little too short to really take in all Utila has to offer, especially since it isn’t the most convenient trip to make. If you decide to do this trip make sure to plan for a full day of travel both to and from the island. This will help prevent those designated travel days from tapping into your leisure time!
Friendly Disclaimer: don’t forget the bug spray! (with Deet) We made sure to spray after applying sunscreen during the day and at night before going to dinner allowing us to avoid bites all week long. That is until we got to the airport where we were bitten up as a goodbye present! The sandflies here are ruthless and the bites last longer and are more painful than mosquito bites. But if you spray, you have nothing to worry about!