Utila, Bay Islands – My Memories of a Charming Island

A friend of mine has just been to Utila. Utila is one of those places you never hear anything about, so I absolutely loved seeing her photos and it made me reminisce back to when I was there, over 10 years ago, having totally fell in love with the island.

Utila is the smallest of the three Bay Islands, 18 miles off the coast of mainland Honduras, in the Caribbean (on the left hand side of the map below). The island is only 7 miles long by around 2.5 miles wide which adds to its charm. The majority of the island is uninhabited wilderness, with the exception of Utila Town at the eastern end which is home to around 4000 people.

Utila, Bay Islands

After being occupied by the Spanish and British, the island became part of Honduras in the mid 19th century. Utila’s two main claims to fame are that Welsh Bucaneer, Sir Henry Morgan’s treasure is buried here – and that it is the cheapest place in the world to get your diving certification (I did mine whilst I was here). The world’s second largest barrier reef runs alongside Utila and there are over 500 species of fish – it couldn’t be better for a first taste of diving.

My Purpose on the Island

I was in Honduras for a total of 3 months after having signed up to a volunteering program. I was lucky enough to spend 6 weeks on Utila, taking part in the turtle conservation program run by BICA (Bay Islands Conservation Association) which involved patrolling the beaches at night, watching out for nesting turtles and then protecting the nests/eggs.

By the end of those 6 weeks, I felt like it was home – I never ever wanted to leave the island and could imagine setting up home there, getting my dive master certification and teaching people to dive…..what a dream. Needless to say I didn’t do this as I had flights booked to California to meet my then boyfriend and do a road trip. Looking back, I should have stayed on Utila – even though the road trip was fabulous, the relationship certainly wasn’t quite as fabulous. However, my sensible 22 year-old self couldn’t deviate from plans made, so I left the charms of Utila with a heavy heart. And lots of earrings made from coconut.

Having seen all my friend’s Utila pictures, it inspired me to get my diary out from the trip. I re-read the whole thing one evening and was transported right back to the island. I decided to write this post to share some of my longest-lasting memories.

(N.B. all my photos were taken on film so aren’t included in this post unfortunately.)

My Most Vivid Memories

The Warm, Crystal Clear Water
I have never seen water so clear as the water here – it was perfect for learning to dive as it was so warm and every dive was thrilling as we saw so much marine life! Our instructor used to dive in just a pair of speedos and was known as Tex (as he was from Texas). I never did find out his real name….

Utila, Bay Islands

The Smell of Mangoes
Mangoes are most certainly plentiful here – various mango concoctions are available at all the cafes. I couldn’t get used to seeing them rotting on the ground, especially as they are so expensive here in the UK! Every time I smell a mango even now, it takes me right back.

Dr John
What a character. Dr John was about 60, always wore a hawaiian shirt and huge sunglasses and was the principal doctor for the island. He was in Coco Loco’s (see below) every night and had so many stories to tell! He trained as a doctor in the US, got a placement on Utila (his first trip outside the US) and basically never left….I’d love to know if he is still there.

The Isolation – No Cars, No Phones
At the time I was there phones were still only used for calling and texting so this wasn’t quite as bigger issue as it seems now. There were a couple of internet cafes at the time and I loved the freedom of not having my phone. The only forms of transport on the island were bicycles, a few quad bikes, the odd scooter and one (very old) 4×4….

Coco Loco’s
On a wooden jetty over the sea, this was the bar where all of us ‘gringos’ could be found most nights. Coco Loco’s played really good music 
and had a seemingly unlimited supply of all different brands of (and incredibly cheap) rum with various mixers (I swear this was where my love of 7-year Havana Club started). My favourite was a bounty which consisted of three shots of rum and chocolate milk – heaven!

Utila, Bay Islands

The Staring and Scuttling Crabs
We patrolled the beaches at night looking for turtles/nests and we’d take turns at sleeping. My overriding memory of sleeping on the beach was waking up at dawn to the noise of crabs scuttling all around my sleeping bag (we slept in the open) and one morning I awoke to find one a few inches from my face, brazenly staring at me! 

Wearing No Shoes
Hardly anyone on the island wore shoes and I soon got into the habit of doing the same. It’s amazing how quickly your feet toughen up and I was soon walking for a good few miles with no shoes – so liberating!

The Walrus of Love
Haha, perhaps one of the more random memories – Barry White (a.k.a The Walrus of Love) died whilst I was on the island and having barely seen a TV for weeks, coupled with the fact that you often remember where you are when someone famous dies, it really caught my attention as it was breaking news.

The Strange Accents
Although English is the official language on Utila, the English you hear the locals speaking is a very strange version – it’s interjected with spanish words, has a strong Caribbean lilt, yet somehow overall sounds closest to a Deep South USA accent…..

Utila, Bay Islands

Our Various Means of Transport to Turtle Patrol
Some of the beaches we patrolled were only accessible by kayaking through the mangroves, others by cycling through the woods. What added to the excitement was that we would set off around 8 or 9pm when it was already dark, coming back at first light. Cycling through the densely dark woods on our rickety bikes with only head torches or kayaking through mangroves feeling our way with the only sound being the swish of the water was simultaneously calming and unnerving!

Bar in the Bush
Bar in the Bush was basically what you’d think it is from it’s name – a bar – in the bush. It was literally one wooden bar with a few huts for the toilets and a clearing in the woods that was the dance floor. From what I remember it was only open on friday nights from about midnight and was equally popular with the locals (who loved to bump and grind) as it was with the volunteers and tourists. The most-played song there seemed to be Billie Jean but there was all sorts including a lot of Reggaeton and Punta (a type of Garifuna music). It was great!

Sand Flies
A not so fond memory were the thousands of sand flies. I was lucky in that I didn’t really get bitten, but some of the others I was volunteering with got bitten to pieces! One girl even had an allergic reaction to them so swelled up. There were quite a number of visits to the legendary Dr John.

Johnny’s Water
I would love to know if Johnny is still around. He sold most of the bottled water on the island and if you brought your empty back, you got money off. He was another real character and was in an entirely different mood every time you visited.

Utila, Bay Islands

I would love to know how much the island has changed since I was there. Part of me would love to go back, but a bigger part wants to keep those memories just as they are….and hopefully access them in the years to come.

Have you been to Utila or any of the Bay Islands? Have you been somewhere that has such great memories that you have no wish to return in case it taints them?



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31 Replies to “Utila, Bay Islands – My Memories of a Charming Island”

  1. Thank you Louise for sharing this. Straight onto the bucket list! It ticked so many boxes for me including the diving, the marine conservation, the remoteness and of course the mangoes. You can’t eat enough delicious mangoes in a lifetime. You really sound like you need to go back! Thank you for sharing informative and inspiring! Positively, Keith

    1. Thanks Keith! It really is a beautiful island. I’m very intrigued to know whether it feels the same as it did…..

      Louise

  2. Wow, paradise ! Not too touristy, small and intimate. Characters, beautiful clear ocean, a lovely reef, mangoes etc etc.
    Thank you for a great incite into the life of Utila Island.
    Do you ever think you might go back for a holiday? Or is it a case of having been there done that. Maybe a destination for the young nature lovers. Folk who don’t want luxuries?
    Thanks.
    Roy

    1. Hi Roy,

      I would love to go back but I have such happy memories I almost don’t want to spoil them if it feels really different when I return! You can definitely live a very simple life there 🙂

      Louise

  3. Wow! What a journey! It’s awesome that you were able to do this and blog about it for the rest of us to experience vicariously. I love reading about other journey as it give me ideas for what I could do next! Through my travels I have found that the biggest investment and some of the most memorable thing for me are lodging and food. Can you expand more on where you stayed along your journey and tell us more about the food? Mmm I love local eats!

    1. Yes, food is definitely a big one for me too! I remember I had loads of mango and ballads (tortillas filled with re-fried beans and cheese) – other popular foods were plantain, coconut, conch meat and crab. It’s quite different to the mainland where fried chicken seems to be the most popular food by far! The nice thing about Utila is that there are so many nice cafes – I particularly remember RJ’s, Munchies, Bundu, Mango Inn and Cross Creek.

      As I was volunteering on Utila, we all stayed in accommodation belonging to the conservation program – it was called Roses Inn.

      I hope you get to visit some time!

      Louise

  4. Hi there,
    This sounds like an amazing place to go to or even live. The way you described this place sounds like heaven on earth, except for the sand flies of course lol. I have always wanted to see beautiful clear waters for I love the ocean. Thank you so much for sharing this article.

  5. Louise,
    Thank you for sharing this Utila with me. I could easily see myself being one with nature here. This would be a piece of paradise I would certainly look forward to. I am from the Caribbean. This is a place worthy of being on my bucket-list! Wow!

  6. Hi Louise, I’ve never been to Utila (maybe my older brother has because he’s an avid traveler) but based on your post I’d love to seriously visit. The last place I went outside of the US was for my honeymoon SIX YEARS ago so my wife and I are bother over due. I’m going to shoot this post over to her right now and see what she thinks. This post/pictures somewhat remind me of the Bahamas six years ago actually, we didn’t stay long enough lol who ever does?
    Thank you for this information!

    1. Hi Jaron,

      No, its never long enough is it! Well I hope you get away again soon – do let me know if you end up going to Utila – I’d love to hear about your trip 🙂

      Louise

  7. What a great post! I’ve got a small obsession with visiting the places on the globe that people never think of. So, you’ve added a new one to my list! I wonder if it has 4G/Internet now enough to support my digital nomad life? The diving sounds spot on.

  8. I enjoyed reading this post since it is so much about the fond memories that you’ve had. I was in Hawaii for a short time for vacation in Maui but felt that place and I were kindred spirits. Hopefully, you will be able to go back to Utila some day again and relive those memories.

  9. What a nice blog and hey, what a nice vacation trip you had. You just inspired me for the next season. by the way, talking about seasons, what is the right season for really enjoying everything that place has to offer?

    another problem did you by any chance got to see families vacationing there? what do you think? two kids at the age of 10-12 will find them self in that piece of paradise?

    1. Hi,

      I would say the best months to go are May and September as this is during dry season but you are more likely to escape the crowds and really hot weather. The rainy season is generally from October – December. High season is classed as January to April and there are a lot more flights to the islands during this time.

      I didn’t see any families there because the facilities are pretty basic – that’s not to say you couldn’t go on a family holiday there though! In fact, I think children of those ages would love it. Also, I was there over 10 years ago so I’m sure its changed a little since then. Another option is Roatan which is a lot more geared to tourists and is the largest of the Bay Islands.

      I hope that helps! Please let me know if you have any further questions, I’d be happy to help.

      Louise 

  10. This sounds like such a great place to escape from everyday life. I love the idea of never wearing shoes. That’s the kind of local culture I could easily adapt to.

  11. Great post — it really brings the island to life with your tales of the people you met there. I reminisce about my days on the Perhentians in Malaysia — and among my most vivid memories is also “no shoes.” Even putting on flip-flops for the first time in a week was awful!

  12. There’s not often a post that has me instantly planning a holiday but you’ve totally sold the idea hope Utila to me! I adore diving but get cold very quickly. My husband adores Havana club and chocolate milk lol. Maybe the sand flies are a slight down side but I.ll take it ;0:)

  13. Ahhh, reading this I felt like I was there. It is on my bucket list to visit a tropical island and reading your post and seeing the pictures makes me want to go to Utila. I often reminisce about the Mediterranean Cruise my husband and I went on our honeymoon. Looking to go on another trip soon, possibly to Utila.

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