This section is dedicated to take away all your "I wish someone had told me that before I went!" experiences. This way, you can spend less time settling in, and more time making new friends in your chosen hostel. We share our insider knowledge of tips, tricks and important things to look out for in Utila.
The Bay Islands. If you want pristine waters, amazing diving and snorkelling and one hell of a party scene, Utila is what you are after. Cheapest diving in the world - that's the best way to sum up the island of Utila. If you're a traveling diver on a budget, Utila should be number one on your priority list.
Once you survive "the vomit comet" (one of the two boats that run to Utila) upon arrival, you have to get past the crowd of local tuk tuk drivers. Then you can begin your search for the cheapest Utila hostel or dive centre, which are usually a two-in-one combo.
The one road at the edge of the water has more than enough options, so you can shop around until you can find the perfect place to suit your needs - diving and sleeping. You can get open water and advanced courses, usually with a few nights' accommodation thrown in for free.
Utila is definitely a diving island - everything revolves around diving. The shops close in the middle of the day so they can dive for a few hours. Utila has a very laid-back and social vibe.
Everyone is very friendly and speaks English, which can be a nice change if you're not quite fluent in Spanish yet. Restaurants are everywhere on the main strip; there are also street food wagons selling the local specialty, "baliadas" and all over, the food is great and cheap.
If you feel like having a few drinks on this little island, you will have no problems finding a drinking buddy, or a bar. The best is ten minutes out of town, just follow the people with the bar's shirts on (you get the shirt by having four of the local rum shots called "Guifiti"). Maybe write down the address of your Utila hostel on your arm before you leave!
1. Getting to Utila
Getting to the wonder that is the Bay Islands can be an incredibly arduous task, especially with some of the overland routes. So here are some tips to getting though here safely and to your amazing destination for one of the most amazing times of your life!
1.1 San Pedro Sula to Utila
Of the multiple different ways that you can travel to the Bay Islands, you will find that all of them transit through the Honduran capital city, San Pedro Sula. This is a dangerous city so make sure that you keep your wits about you while you are here and keep your things secure.
Don't let any of your belongings out of your sight, ever.
Once you are here in San Pedro Sula, the rest of the transit is fairly easy. You will find many helpful locals in the bus terminal that will be able to point you in the direction of a bus company that can take you to La Ceiba to catch the ferry. The transit takes around five hours and they constantly stop along the way to let people on and off and for the odd break despite them saying that it is direct.
The thing that you have to keep in mind when taking the bus to La Ceiba or with any overland route, is the timing of the boats over to Utila. They leave twice daily, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, from a ferry terminal just outside of La Ceiba.
It is approximately a ten minute drive in a cab from the bus terminal in La Ceiba to get to the boat. If you don't manage to make the afternoon ferry you will need to have a contingency plan of where to stay in La Ceiba.
It is not recommended to stay in San Pedro Sula if you can avoid it as it is one of the most dangerous of the Central American cities.
2. Getting to San Pedro Sula
As for getting to San Pedro Sula, people come from a few main places;
1. Guatemala, coming overland from Livingston
2. The Copan Ruins, Honduras
3. Tegucigalpa, the Honduran Capital City in the south
2.1 From Guatemala - Travelling from Livingston
I will start with the most arduous of the entire journeys, and that is the one from Guatemala. When you arrive in Livingston, you have two options.
The first is to wait until there are four people who are ready to go in one day and are booked onto a shuttle that goes direct from Livingston to La Ceiba. This is expensive but you are ensured that upon leaving early it becomes an easy one-day trip.
Your other option is the long haul, which I have personally done myself and is a super interesting trip...
If starting in Livingston, you need to get up early enough to catch the first morning boat over to Puerto Barrios. Depending on the season and sunrise, it could be 5:30am or 6:00am, check it out the night before to make sure you get the first one. Once over in Puerto Barrios, you have around a ten minute walk from the ferry terminal to the downtown market where they have shuttle vans to the border of Honduras. Ask for a shuttle to Honduras or Frontera and the locals will be able to point you in the direction of where you need to go. From the ferry terminal it is roughly 3 blocks up from the terminal and turn left. This shuttle will take you across the Guatemalan border to exit and then on to the Honduran border where it will drop you off at Immigration.
After going through Immigration, you will then need to walk another five minutes down the road towards the town to find your next bus. There will be buses parked up on the hill to the left and here you should ask one of the drivers which bus will take you to Puerto Cortes. There are other buses from here that go to Omoa, so be specific and make sure you get on the bus to Puerto Cortes.
In Puerto Cortes, the bus arriving from the border and the shuttle leaving to San Pedro Sula go from the same place, so ask when you get there and they should transfer you onto the shuttle van to get to San Pedro Sula. Once there you will need to ask how to get from the place where the chicken buses and shuttles drop you off up to the executive bus terminals. Ask for the Diana Express and they should be able to direct you to here so that you can catch the bus to La Ceiba.
For this whole journey, it can take upwards of twelve hours. If you are doing this route, make sure that you have information about hostels in La Ceiba as you will most likely be staying here overnight. It is mostly unheard of that people manage to do this in one day. Likewise with returning, I got stuck in the dark arriving back into Puerto Barrios with a fellow traveller.
Important: there are no hostels in Puerto Barrios.
With a positive outlook, one can find some amazing people to talk to along the way and things to see. For me this trip included clowns, men passionately reading bible passages and talking about God, friendly chats with locals, chickens in cardboard boxes riding on the bus, an inspection by Honduran police and cockroaches dropping on me out of air conditioning vents. I laughed the whole way.
2.2 San Pedro Sula From within Honduras
Route number two, which is very achievable in one day and way less painful, is to go from the Copan Ruins. There is a bus that leaves from Copan at 5am daily to San Pedro Sula and this will get you in to San Pedro in time to catch a bus to La Ceiba and connect with the ferry.
If you are taking a bus north from Tegucigalpa, again you will need to take the earliest bus and the express bus. If you attempt to take the chicken bus from here you will not make it within the day to Utila. Ask at your accommodation and they should be able to help you with bus timetables.
2.3 Getting to Utila from Belize
Some people choose to take the ferry from Placencia or Dangriga into Puerto Cortes directly. These boats leave once a week and have varying schedules. You can ask at the hostels in these places and they should be able to give you more information about getting to Honduras from Belize.
3. Leaving The Island
Leaving Utila is the same. You either take the morning ferry and try your best to make it to wherever your final destination of the day is, or you go on the late ferry, stay in La Ceiba a night and attempt the following morning.
The biggest advice for these trips is to do your research, ask around with other travellers who have done it what their tips are and have a list of hostels or hotels in the key places that you might get stuck along the road, especially as a solo traveller.
Oh and from my personal experience, when you get to Puerto Cortes, make sure that you ask for the bus to Frontera and not the bus to Omoa or you will wind up sitting on a highway intersection talking to a couple of curious and friendly locals for an hour or so waiting for the next bus to come and pick you up.
They are long travel days, so get your rest in, keep your wits about you and good luck! The final destination is well worth the hassle of trying to get here, especially if you look at it as a grand adventure!