Mainland Honduras like much of Central and South America has a reputation for being somewhat unsafe for tourists and visitors, that reputation is not necessarily still true. Like other countries we have visited, as long as you know which areas to avoid and use your common sense, Honduras can be as safe as any other destination. We spent very little time in mainland Honduras and had no security or safety concerns, although we did see lots of police and military checkpoints.
The Bay Islands, which mark the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, are easily mistaken for another country. The islanders’ are descendants of the original indigenous people the Paya, and the Garifuna plus English, French, Dutch & Spanish pirates and sailors who arrived over the years. Roatán is the better-known sister and has long been a mecca for tourists and expats alike. Little known Guanaja is home to a handful of dive resorts, with a small fishing and shrimping industry.
Utila is the third largest of the three islands and known for its booming dive certification industry. Utila is less developed than its beautiful, more sophisticated older sister Roatán and much more affordable.
The islanders are proud of their little island, many of them can trace their families back to one of the European pirates who settled here generations ago. The mix of native born residents, expats and would be expats is supplemented by a large number of back packers and travelers who support the towns plethora of dive shops. Utila is the most inexpensive place to learn scuba diving in the Caribbean and for those already certified a very affordable dive destination.
Most of the inhabitant’s activity revolves around the town with its narrow main street, flanked by restaurants, dive shops, stores, hostels, apartments and private homes. Cars have not yet found their way to Utila with the exception of the odd truck used by suppliers. People get around by golf cart, ATV, motorbike, bicycle or on foot.
The majority of Utila’s landmass is undeveloped, the town has grown around the municipal dock and the road–which splits after leaving town–heads east to the airport or follows the coast and ends near the highest point of the island Pumpkin Hill. To the west of town is one of the nicest beaches, home to a growing number of expats. Access to the majority of the west is by boat only as the lagoon opens to the ocean here. Residents here are quite happy for it to stay that way it seems.
Utila has a twice-daily ferry service from La Ceiba with a varying range of services to and from Roatan. The island has one bank and two ATM’s, one large supermarket and several smaller stores. All of the islands supplies have to shipped in, produce arrives from the mainland on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and super friendly Ronnie has established a loyal following for his produce from Roatan delivered Monday & Thursday’s be sure to order in advance as he sells out fast.
The island has a fire station, police station, post office, several pharmacies, the airport is serviced by Copa and Tropic Air, with a few charter pilots, there are three clinics and doctors on the island, Dr. John, a notorious, colorful character (lots of scuba diving related experience), also Dr. Jennifer and a third (usually a new Dr.) at Centro Hispano a free clinic on the airport road. Most residents head over to La Ceiba for dentist, optometrist or medical tests at very reasonable prices.
Spanish is the official language, although a surprising number of residents speak very good English. Rio Coco is the place to grab your fix of Java and catch up with a few friends, or swing by Skid Row for a great pizza and meet some of the islands expats.
The island is a diving mecca with over 50 different sites, some of these sites can be reached from the shore and are ideal for a little snorkeling (be sure to bring reef walker shoes as the islands coastline is very rugged). One of the best dive trips we have ever done was a great day at Roatan Banks.
Make new friends and watch the sunset over a cold drink at one of the many piers fringing the town or for a surreal experience visit the Jade Seahorse gardens. Float Utila boasts one of the largest flotation tanks in the area, you can get an onsite massage here too.
Hang out at the small white sand beach at the west of town or for a small fee visit the small private beach at the east end of town just a short walk over the islands only bridge. Hike to the top of Pumpkin Hill for great views and visit the nearby caves.
A local beer in a restaurant is about $1
Decent bottle of wine $8
Restaurant meals $9 to $15, a Baleada from a street vendor is less than a $1
Dozen Eggs $1.50
6 Bananas $0.70
Local tuk tuks (Taxis) $1.50 to $2.50
Gallon of gasoline $6
Current Property Prices (November 25th 2013)
One bedroom unique home on Pumpkin Hill $120,000
Small off grid plot near Pumpkin Hill $14,000
Two story two bedroom house close to town $67,500
One bedroom ocean side apartment including internet and cable $450 per month
Fully furnished three bedroom house in town $500 per month
Two bedroomed house on outskirts of town $800 per month
What’s to love?
For those who love the island vibe, Utila has it all, laid back lifestyle, friendly people, stunning views and gentle island breezes. The island has a small tight knit community who are very proud of their little island. Even with the islands popularity and it’s laid back notoriety it is a very safe place, petty theft and crime is very low (maybe because there are very few ways off the island and these can be easily monitored).
The community is also supportive of each other, coming together to raise funds as evidenced by the outpouring of help to support the family of a recent motorcycle accident victim. The expat community is thriving here, they are very willing to offer advice, assistance, and invitations to the next BBQ or potluck get together.
What’s not to love?
If you do any research on Utila, you will hear that it is a “little buggy” and it is at times, sand flies can be a huge problem, especially if you have just arrived and not built up any resistance. We found the problem to be worse inland and that a liberal coating of baby oil helps to keep the beasties at bay.
Utila’s main street is one of its main charms and its biggest hazard especially if you are a pedestrian, it is a narrow street and some of the traffic moves fast, so use caution especially at nighttime.
Our Perfect Abode Checklist Comparison
A stable government and economy ?
Affordable properties with foreseeable appreciation √
Sunny and warm climate √
Friendly locals √
Ease of obtaining residency or buying property √
Affordability, total living costs have to be less than $2000 per month √
A home with a view, either mountain, lake or ocean √
Close enough to the ocean to fulfill our SCUBA urges √
Prefer a small village or town rather than a big city √
Readily available fresh produce and/or room to grow our own ?
Some expats nearby, especially in a non-English speaking country √
A vibrant community spirit that we could be involved with ?
Utila scores high on our checklist, however we are not yet convinced it is right for us, even though we have a readymade circle of friends who would welcome us back with glee.
How would this list compare to your own?
Note: We spent almost 6 weeks here in January, February 2013
As always we recommend spending a minimum of a month, in anyone place. Unless you have already decided that, it is not for you.
Useful contacts, links