Utila and Roatan are probably the two main reasons that most people travel to Honduras. We wanted to check them out to see if they match what their reputations promise…Both islands are part of the so-called Bay Islands (Guanaja, Utila and Roatan) and enjoy proximity to the second largest reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. Needless to say, both Utila and Roatan attract many divers and snorkelers from around the world. We couldn’t resist, either and went diving on Utila. The weather on Roatan interfered our plans so we were unable to dive there. But, we had a great time driving around in our rental car and we enjoyed the island’s beauty in the rain…
Here are some useful tips for your next time visiting Utila and Roatan.
Things to do on Utila:
Rent a motorbike or a scooter to explore the island:
Utila is the smallest of the three Bay Islands of Honduras and it was our first stop when visiting Utila and Roatan. With a length of 45 km and a maximum elevation of 74 meters, it is very easy to get around in one day on a scooter or motorbike. At least, that’s what we were told. In our case, though, it turned out to be quite a challenge: partially because we planned our trip on the motorbike at the very last minute, just before we were supposed to take the ferry to leave the island again. And partially because halfway through our exploration drive, we ran out of gas. It was only then that we noticed the rental company had not filled up the tank. Silly us, we only realized it when it was too late. Since there was no petrol station anywhere nearby, we had choice other than pushing our bike back to the rental place. Gah…!!! Once we arrived back, we had no time left to fill up the tank and explore more of the island because our ferry was about to leave. At least they refunded us the money and we got some free exercise on top of that 😉
Go Diving or Snorkelling
A little bit more successful, yet not entirely smooth was our dive trip with Parrots Dive Centre. The company took us out to the North Coast of Utila, which is one of the more popular dive spots of the island. In the morning, we prepared our gear, which they told us was recently renewed. At 6:30 am we were ready to board the small boat with a group of fellow divers and head up the coast of Utila. The trip to the actual dive spot took about 30 minutes and was one of the worst I’ve ever had: the ocean was rough that day and we constantly got waves of water splashed into our boat. By the time we arrived, we were all soaking wet and freezing cold from the strong wind that blew that morning. Shivering and ready to get off the rocky boat, we jumped into the water and were instantly got rewarded for the rough trip: the corals that we were about to see made us forget the uncomfortable start of the day.
We happily surfaced after a 45 minute dive filled with many fish encounters along a beautiful reef. Luckily, the sea had calmed a bit, and we could enjoy the sunshine on the boat and warm our bodies up before diving a second time. This time, we went to Spotted Bay and saw fewer fish, but the dive site was pretty and had a few swim throughs to entertain us. After 40 minutes, we hopped back onto the boat and traveled to a tiny island for lunch. The ride back was smooth and very pleasant, the sun finally won over and we returned dry and happy. All in all, a fun half-day trip we are glad to have taken.
Just sit back and relax!
As with most islands, the best thing to do is simply enjoy the relaxed vibe. On Utila and Roatan you can have a laid-back time sitting on the many benches, enjoying the ocean view. If you want a day at the beach, you’ll be better of on Roatan. Utila has only one beach which is tiny but still good enough to go for a swim.
Utila’s beautiful sister Roatan
Utila and Roatan are competing in the area of tourism against each other: Utila is known to be cheaper, smaller and a bit less touristy. Roatan, on the other hand, has better beaches (well, in fact, it HAS beaches) and offers a broader net of tourist activities. Therefore, it is a bit more expensive, too. So, I’d say, both islands have something for each type of tourist. Perhaps the backpackers and budget-conscious travellers would be happier on Utila whereas the resort-type tourist can enjoy Roatan’s standards a bit more. Here is what we did:
Explore the bay area between West End and West Bay
One popular tourist area is West End. This is where you find bars, restaurants and shops lined up next to each other in front of the ocean. It is also where most of Roatan’s hotels and resorts are located. West End connects to Roatan’s most beautiful beach, West Bay, which you can reach by water taxi (costs around 3 USD), a taxi (approx. the same price but not as scenic!) or by foot. We chose to walk along the beach (about 45 minutes) and took a water taxi back to West End.
Go snorkelling at West Bay
West Bay attracts not only beach bums and cocktail sippers, but it is also known for it’s easy accessible reef. We took our snorkel gear, walked in from the beach and enjoyed colourful corals and fish, just a short swim from West Bay. It’s also the place to catch a pretty shot when the sun goes down…
Stay at a budget place and save your money
If you think Roatan explodes your budget, don’t worry, there are still a few cheaper options besides five-star hotels or resorts. We stayed at Roatan Backpackers’ Hostel which is a fun place in Sandy Bay. The Canadian run hostel is a bit hidden away, but if you get off the ferry and tell the driver to bring you to Sandy Bay at ‘Solgas’ you’ll find it! We enjoyed it a lot, because there is a great little pool, the Lizard Lounge (which is the place to be if you want to enjoy a fast internet connection on a rooftop veranda overlooking the neighbourhood) and because of Mel, the owner who is a walking ‘Lonely Planet’. Even without asking, you will get everything you need to find your way around the island, and she’ll give you a self-scribbled map that has great advice for your exploration trip.
Rent a car and explore the island
On the third and last day of our stay on Roatan, we woke up to a rainfall that would not stop until the next morning. We decided to not let it ruin our plans to drive around and see the rest of the island. We went to the airport where all the rental car companies are located and rented a small Kia that would be our home for the day, since we hardly left the car due to the heavy rain. We stocked up on snacks and drove around, all the way up to Camp Bay, which is on the Northeastern tip of Roatan. For the sake of adventure, we decided to sleep in the car and awoke the next day at 6 am in order to catch the ferry at 7 am to take us back to La Ceiba.
Which ferry to take when visiting Utila and Roatan
When you want to go to Utila and Roatan, both times you will have to start your journey from La Ceiba. This is a bit of a pain because it means you cannot get directly from Utila to Roatan, and have to spend double your time and money on the ferry. Unless you go with a private company that takes tourists to Roatan, if the weather is fine and there are enough people to fill the boat. Apparently they are discussing a direct ferry connection between Utila and Roatan, at least, we heard that when we were there (Feb. 2016). The ride from or to Utila takes about 45 minutes and the cheaper of the two ferry companies, ‘Utila Princess’, costs around 25 USD. See the official website for the actual ferry schedule and updated prices.
La Ceiba to Utila:
- Depart La Ceiba for Utila: 9:30 am
- Depart Utila for La Ceiba: 6:20 am
- Depart La Ceiba for Utila: 4:00 pm
- Depart Utila for La Ceiba: 2:00 pm
The trip from La Ceiba to Roatan is a little longer, about 1 hour 20 minutes and is recommended to take in the morning as the ocean gets rough in the afternoons. We had no other choice than taking the 4:30 ferry in the afternoon. It was a bit funny how you were immediately handed a plastic bag after boarding the boat. Yet, when we saw that quite a few people were actually making use of their bags, I stopped laughing and was grateful how prepared they were… 🙂
La Ceiba to Roatan:
- From La Ceiba To Roatan: 9:30 AM & 4:30 PM
- From Roatan To La Ceiba: 7:00 AM & 2:00 PM
All in all, we think both islands have their charm and are worth checking out. Yet, keep in mind that both Utila and Roatan are slightly more expensive than the rest of Honduras, so cash-up before you go and dive into a great island experience.