Island life - Utila, Honduras

Friday, November 27, 2015

Firstly, I'd like to admit we were very close to cutting the Bay Islands out of our trip, they seemed too far away on our planned route so before we left I jotted down some rough notes and secretly hoped we'd make it. Obviously, routes change and we somehow ended up on a very long bus from San Salvador to La Ceiba a couple of days after Jamie's 22nd Birthday.

Island Life, Utila, Honduras

Honduras at a glance

  Language: Spanish  

 Currency: Honduran Lempira

✓ Street food: $3-$5 - The cheapest fast food chains in Central America (Burger King, Mcdonalds, Dunkin Donuts)

 Restaurant food: $5-$10

  Drinking: $1-$3 for local Cerveza - You can buy water by the Gallon for $1-$3

  Ferry to The Bay Islands: $25

  Where to stay: Captain Morgan's Dive Center

  Diving: $300 for PADI Open Water course and free fun dives

All prices in US Dollar

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Welcome to the Caribbean

The Bay Islands

For most arriving  The Bay Islands are a lot of effort to get to, especially from San Salvador as we learnt. Its off the beaten track and you have to arrive via either of the two cities in Honduras that are regarded as 'world's most dangerous'. It took us a few long, sweaty busses through this risky country and a stop off in a sketchy bus station for a few hours in the murder capital of the world to get here. But like most places in this part of the world the stress of getting here all becomes a thing of the past once you actually arrive.

Utila Princess is the regular ferry service from La Ceiba to Utila


Let me explain briefly The Bay Islands. So there are 3 islands in total and our prefered island of choice is the little slice of heaven that is Utila. Roatan, is the biggest of the archipelago and extremely popular with holidaying American's so we decided to give it a swerve. Utila, is informally known as a driver's paradise because of the spectacular reef systems. It also boasts a crazy culture mix up and a lot of the time you don't really know where you are. Remove the deadly tuk-tuks and quad bikes from the singular paved road in town and it truly is a picturesque island dream, completely rich with its own mash of cultures and customs.

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Map of Utila, Honduras - The small cove is about the only inhabited area of the island. Utila has a population of roughly 3000

Utila, Honduras

Utila, Honduras really is a tiny little slice of  Caribbean island paradise. And after three months of Central America Utila became a welcomed retreat from mainland Central America. Its funny but on this island there's not a piece of colonial Spanish architecture in sight, there's no Central Park or Plaza, no grid like streets, just simple, tranquil(-ish) island living. No churches to see, definitely no markets to explore, no unique cuisine to sample, nothing of great importance really to do or see. Utila could not be any more different to your typical Central American destination and that was okay for us. Utila became our Caribbean holiday whilst in Central America for 3 months.

Our Caribbean holiday in Honduras

What a delight to step away from the Central American sounds, scents and sights and welcome ourselves to the Caribbean. I'd expect Belize to be pretty similar if we hadn't skipped it. Maybe I'm over analysing Utila here and okay, the island is probably a tad too 'americanised' by anyone's standards but there's plenty of island to see and plenty to escape to and if you're happy to walk then you're in for a real treat. The sights are simple, architecture that makes you question whether you're in Honduras, accents and languages that make you ponder historic events.

There are so many Caribbean influences in Utila, it almost reminds me of the lazy lifestyle feeling I felt about the Cuban people. The island has a whole load of love, soul and passion, everything going on is unique and filled with purpose. Every snack bar, every shop and every hostel and although there are tourists everything feels much more long term on Utila and I'm getting to the reason why. 

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Paradise
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More paradise - Look at the colour of the sea
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A tiny little crab on that perfect sandy beach 

Diving Utila

I've mentioned this strange travel-changing and I'd say, life changing thing Utila has to offer its guests and inhabitants and I should probably get to the point. Utila gave us another element to our travel life through diving. Yes, the island is stunning and embodies everything it means to be Caribbean but there's a simple answer as to why so many people brave the frightening one hour long ferry from La Ceiba to Utila and it's to get their dive on. Funnily enough, we didn't know this when we arrive and like I say I only managed to do some brief research on The Bay Island's pre-trip so I'm guessing that's why.

Learning to set up our dive equipment on the Captain Morgan's private beach
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Photo from the dive boat

Utila is one of the cheapest spots on earth to get your PADI with one of the best reef systems


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The newly qualified divers on the dive boat
The Bay Islands are incredibly famous for diving, I feel silly for not realising this sooner and heading to this section of the Caribbean with no real clue but there's no better way to learn than through just turning up sometimes. We recently heard that The Bay Islands and Utila in particular now certify almost as many people as the various Thai islands and that's impressive considering its size of little Utila. It's also (apparently) the second cheapest place in the world to get your PADI and I guess along with its looks and vibes diving is what keeps attracts tourists to Utila year round. I read that the reef system here is one of the best in the world after The Great Barrier Reef and although I'm yet to see that one, I can see why they say that.

With it being one of the cheapest places in the world to do a PADI Open Water Dive course we felt it would be extremely foolish not to indulge. Probably our biggest splurge of cash so far and worth every last lempira. The Open Water Diver course takes four days and sets you back a couple of hundred dollars but afterwards you're a PADI Open Water Diver fully certified to 18 meters for as long as you're still able to dive!

Captain Morgans Dive Centre, Utila, Honduras

We chose Captain Morgans Dive Centre, Utila due to price and fun factors. Such a social place to be, always activities, BBQ's and beer pong going on in the garden and great food options for budget travellers. Our course included two free fun dives once all the course stuff was done with and free accommodation in one of the cosy dorms, Captain Morgan's also sells itself on the fact it's the only dive school on the island with a private beach and you know how I feel about beaches. A heads up about the sand flies could've been nice but sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

Diving wasn't something we had considered although several people along the way had prompted us to at least think about it and after two or three days of debate we took the plunge. No literally. After our exams and what feels like an eternity of videos to watch we were able to share some of the most breathtaking (no literally) experiences of our life with the crystal blue warm waters of the Caribbean.

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Rehydrating after a morning of diving

Swimming with Dolphins in the open ocean

To top all off all these amazing things and round up this spectacular experience in Utila our trusty dive boat captain found us a pod of 100+ dolphins on our last fun dive and our dive master allowed us get in. Snorkeling around the boat looking down into the depths and knowing that somewhere close there's the edge of a tectonic plate made this experience all the more surreal to me. 20, 30. 40 and more dolphins playfully dancing around you so intelligent and aware of your fear and excitement. In the water with all these amazing creatures really was one of the greatest experience I've had on this trip and in my life.

To take an experience like this away from a dive course literally makes me reconsider not doing the whole thing earlier. Swimming through reefs and witnessing another world on the floor of the ocean gives me a whole new outlook and appreciation for the world in which I live in. It has definitely changed my perspective on a lot of things and I think the real moral of this story is always be prepared to do something you never thought you would do. I'm still coming to the realisation that something so magical happened to me whilst I was doing something so magical.

The diver and some coco's
It is crazy writing this with so much nostalgia because I know I mentioned we were thinking of skipping The Bay Islands, but now thanks to our trip to Utila we have something special that will give us a whole new element to all our travels. Diving really does open up your eyes and bring a new dimension to travel. There's a whole new world down there, you just gotta be prepared to explore it.

Its strange unless you've seen it but world truly is a different place when you're below the surface of such vast waters. It's a spectacular thing to experience and I'd recommend it to anyone who's considering or not considering just like we were. If you're unsure about the Bay Islands don't be, if stories of the ferry and descriptions of directions are putting you off then don't let them. Go and most certainly dive whilst you are there if you can and if you can't, find a way! I honestly couldn't picture a more perfect setting to learn and have this experience in. I also fully recommend Captain Morgans.

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Mid afternoon in Utila 

Top tips for Island Life

Sandflies - Beware of itchy itchy sandflies, you may think you haven't been bitten, but you have. Captain Morgan's has a private beach on Utila and the sandflies are rife.

Dive Schools - At most dive schools on the island if you're diving you stay for free. Some even include breakfast.

Treetanic - Once you hit The Bay Island remember this name, ask around, find out where it is and you won't be disappointed. I don't want to give a miss but it is a Utila staple.

Hummingbird Heaven - Utila is home to some great wildlife. If you want to watch some hummingbirds fill a small bird feeder or a home made bird feeder with water and sugar and watch the tiniest of hummingbirds fight over the last drops.


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4 comments

  1. I've actually never been diving before, but I've been dying to swim with dolphins! Honduras looks absolutely beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Dolphins were incredible. We just stopped the boat and there happened to be hundreds. I was terrified at first but they are so intelligent they just swim past you!

      Delete

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