Utila is one of the Bay Islands off the northern coast of Honduras, and is often referred to as the Ko Tao of Central America – that is, the place where all the backpackers go to party and learn to dive.
While the comparison does broadly make sense, the two aren’t quite of a kind. While partying on Ko Tao means dancing to techno all night on the beach while getting smashed on Sang Som buckets, the partying on Utila is more along the lines of a few beers over poker; and the diving itself at Utila is more rewarding than at Ko Tao (in my opinion, anyway), with more impressive reef and the sites in better condition. There’s also the possibility of whale shark encounters, with the best seasons being March-April & September-December. (Ko Tao is also a known whale shark spot, though the frequency is lower and you need to get lucky… if you really, really want to see them, I can recommend Donsol in the Philippines)
I went to Utila with my then girlfriend, who did her Open Water there; whereas I’d learned on Ko Tao in a group of 8 with 2 instructors, she learned as one of only two students with one instructor – this would usually be a good point of course, but unfortunately it turned out the instructor was very inexperienced (as in newly qualified and very first course) and she didn’t feel entirely confident at the end of the course, but it illustrates why Utila has much less of a ‘scuba factory’ feel to it. Meanwhile I completed the remaining dive required for my Advanced Open Water, for which I had an instructor to myself, before doing some fun diving.
Another difference is the lack of a beach scene on Utila. Ko Tao has a lovely long stretch of sand running all the way down its west coast where most of the dive schools are located; Utila does have a small beach (Chepes Beach) at one end of town but it’s not much to get excited about, so most of your lounging around is probably going to be done at your accommodation, dive school bar, or the cafes and bars around town. Still looks lovely though:
Speaking of which, Utila is very well catered for – one bar in particular called Treetanic stands out, looking as it does like something straight out of a fairytale. Treetanic’s located at Jade Seahorse, the owners of which are artists (from the States), and the place is like a living piece of art and an ongoing project. Check it out on their website here
It’s also home to lots of these magnificent orb spiders:
They mostly hang out high overhead, but walking around the pathways and footbridges of Treetanic’s fantasy garden at night we ended up plastered in many strands of some very thick & sticky spider silk. Arachnophobes may want to check it out by day in order to avoid running around back there in the dark…
Access to Utila is usually by ferry from La Ceiba, itself a few hours by bus from San Pedro Sula. Neither city is a particularly nice place to be stuck for the night, especially SPS (we ended up staying a night in each); if you’re aiming for Utila but won’t make it that day, it’s preferable to push on to La Ceiba in the evening then get up and catch the early ferry. When leaving Utila, catching the early morning ferry means you can clear both cities that day and make it to e.g. Copan (famous for its Mayan ruins) by evening (we missed the morning ferry as our passports were stuck in the hostel safe when the receptionist decided to turn up for work half an hour late, hence we got stuck in SPS that night)
There are also a couple of 40-minute flights per week from SPS to Utila’s small airstrip if you don’t fancy the overland trip.
Utila’s larger neighbour Roatan is also a famous scuba island, with a more upmarket tourism industry. Roatan’s also accessed by boat from La Ceiba or by air, with flights from San Pedro Sula as well as direct flights from various US airports. There are direct boats between Utila & Roatan several days per week as described here.
See my Honduras overland travel guide for more on getting around Honduras.
Have you been to Utila? How was it? Leave a comment below!
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