Utila is a Caribbean dream. Full of white beaches, sandy paths and colourful wooden houses, this is how I always imagined paradise to be like. The region reminded me a bit of Bocas del Toro in Panama and just like I had loved Bocas, I loved Utila.
We spent almost three days here, exploring the island, floating in crystal-clear water and chasing colourful fish. Utila is known for its reefs and most people come here to either learn to dive, to become a diving instructor or to just spend a few days exploring the underwater world. And while Daniel and I had gotten our diving certifications in Thailand, it had been more than six months since then and I didn’t want to do a refresher course. Plus, I was travelling with a friend who does not dive and it didn’t seem fair towards her to spend all of my time underwater.
But even for non-divers, Utila has a lot to offer. If you are one of those people who come here without a diving license and without the intention of getting one, or if you just need a break from your underwater excursions, here are a couple of things you shouldn’t miss.
#1 Go snorkelling
You don’t have to dive to enjoy Utila’s underwater world. Even if you just go snorkelling, you can see lots of corals and colourful fish.
I rented a snorkel and fins and then got a boat to Water Cay. On the trip, I met Carri, a young woman who worked as a park ranger and had spent six months in the Bahamas, studying fish. We went snorkelling together and later, when I showed her my photos, she could name some of the colourful species I had seen.
I am proud to say that I did recognise the brain corals as well as some variety of parrotfish. They are so colourful, they are impossible to miss. But I also saw lots more. There were those tiny striped fish, darting in and out the seaweed forest. A black one with blue dots that started hiding in a hole as soon as it saw me. And the highlight was, without doubt, a school of blue fish passing right underneath me.
2 – 4h
#2 Relax at Utila’s beaches
Utila is known for its beaches and you have several options on where to go. In town, you can find both a public and a private beach. The private one is located at the Eastern end of the main road, the public one at the other side, the Western End.
I have seen both beaches but only swam at the public one. Both of them are perfect, white tropical beaches with crystal clear water. The advantage of the private one is that you have sunbeds, but on the other hand, you will have to pay the entrance fee to be able to use them.
If you are happy lying on your towel or sitting on a bench, go to the public beach. The swimming is just as good, the water just as turquoise and the sand just as white.
1h – 1d
#3 Explore the island by bike
In town, you will find several bicycle rentals. Utila is not big, but if you want to see more of the island, you should consider getting one.
You also have the option of renting a quad or a golf cart but to be honest, I think a bike is more than enough. It’ll only take you half a day to do a circuit around the island, and that does include breaks.
We started by going eastwards along the main road, past the private beach. Back here, you will find lots of mansions built by retired Americans who have come to enjoy the good weather and the beaches.
After the last house, leave your bikes for a moment and walk right, until you get to the coast, for a view of the coastline and some small cliffs called the red cliffs.
If you keep going, you will ride through a forest until you end up at the airport road. From here, it’s easy to get back to town by turning left.
#4 Excursion to Water Cay
Water Cay is the perfect tropical island. You can get here by boat (lots of tour agencies in town offer the trip) and spend a morning or an afternoon relaxing on a tropical beach.
The island is so tiny that you can easily walk around and it consists of sand, palm trees and a couple of benches and hammocks. On one side, you can find a reef, so ask your tour operator if they can give you a snorkel. On the other side of the island, you will find the beach where you can relax and cool down in the crystal clear water.
When I went to Water Cay, I met a group of people who had stayed overnight. The tour operator had provided them hammocks and everything they needed to stay on the island. From what I understood, they had cooked over a campfire in the evening and had then returned the next afternoon by boat.
They stayed on the island for a total of 30 hours which I, personally, think is too much. But if you’re interested in an overnight stay on a tiny tropical island, feeling like Robinson Crusoe, ask the tour agencies in town.
1/2 – 2d
#5 Kayak to Rock Harbor
The kayak trip to Rock Harbor starts just behind the public beach. You can rent kayaks at The Venue and set out across a lagoon and then through a channel that will take you to the Northern side of the island. The channel leads you through a mangrove forest which is at times so small that paddling becomes a challenge.
On the other side of the island, you will end up in a bay called Rock Harbor. It is lined with white beaches that you will have almost to yourself. We didn’t stay for long since it was already late in the afternoon, but you can easily spend an hour or two here before going back. Just make sure to paddle along the bay, because at the beginning, where we stayed, the water was shallow and full of seagrass.
When you start paddling along the lagoon, make sure to stay as close to the mangroves as possible. It makes kayaking a lot easier. Also, at the end, you need to turn right and then take the second channel on the left. There is a sign saying ‘The Canal’, but you won’t see that until you’re already in the right place.
#6 Hike up to Pumpkin Hill
Pumpkin Hill is the island’s highest point. Don’t expect any mountains, it is just 80m high, but it offers a beautiful view from its top. You can see the town with a backdrop of mountains on the mainland (the highest peak is Pico Bonito) and some perfect white beaches behind you.
If you decide to walk, leave early in the morning. While part of the path is in the shade, not everything is in the cover of trees and it gets hot very quickly. The path is easy to walk, but I recommend decent walking shoes for the last few meters before the top. Also, bring enough water and insect repellent, or the sandflies are going to eat you alive.
2 – 3h
#7 Walk around town
Utila is a town of dirt paths and colourful wooden houses. Along the main path, you find dive shops, restaurants and cafes. If you stray into one of the side roads, you will find quiet, residential areas.
And if you continue along the main road to the private beach, you will see the mansions that retired Americans have built there. But before you do, you will cross a small bridge from where you have a beautiful view.
#8 Visit the Iguana Research Station
The Iguana Research Station is a great place to learn about Utila’s reptiles. One of them, called the Swamper, is an iguana that is endemic to Utila and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. At the research station, volunteers breed the iguana, release them back into the wild and control their numbers.
But they also conduct educational programs. Locals like to eat iguanas, especially pregnant females. By educating school children, the research centre raises awareness for the uniqueness of this species.
1/2 – 1h
#9 Drink a smoothie at Hot Spot Cafe
Hot Spot Cafe was my favourite cafe on Utila. They offer great prices, delicious food and they also have wifi. They have a whole board of daily specials, including breakfast, lunch/dinner and drinks. And if you don’t find anything on the board, they have a menu of burgers and wraps.
I can highly recommend the wrap with shrimps. I got it for dinner and it was filling and delicious. Same with the chicken wrap.
1 – 2h
Utila can be reached by ferry from La Ceiba or Roatan. Boats from La Ceiba only leave twice per day, with one ferry in the morning and one in the evening. You don’t need to book the boat in advance, but I recommend showing up half an hour before departure.
On Utila, we stayed at Chez Milady’s. I can highly recommend this place! Milady rents out rooms with private bathrooms as well as studios with a kitchen. The room was clean and comfortable, we had hot water and Milady not only gave us lots of advice on what to do on the island, but she also drove with us on her ATV to show us around. Should I ever come back to Utila, I am sure I am going to stay here again.
While in Honduras, one of the other places I really liked was Copan Ruinas. If you go there and want to travel onwards to El Salvador, check out my post on how to go by public transport. It’s quite easy and saves you a lot of money compared to taking the shuttle.
Also, if you like Caribbean islands, you should go north to Belize and check out Caye Caulker.
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