Off the coast of Honduras lies the Bay Islands, and among them, Utila — a beloved destination for backpackers, divers, and divers-to-be.
This gem in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System is a paradise for divers, snorkelers, and beachgoers alike.
While it’s most known for its vibrant reefs teeming with marine life, Utila also has white sand beaches, untouched landscapes, and quirky destinations that make your time there special, whether you dive or not.
The coral canyons and walls beckon SCUBA divers around the world, but Utila is also home to the first freediving school in Central America and the entire Caribbean, providing an alternative way to explore its underwater world.
For those who prefer to stay dry, there’s the the Iguana Research & Breeding Station, working to conserve the critically endangered endemic iguana, the Utila Chocolate Factory, spending sunset at Bando Beach’s hammocks and beach bar, and taking a hike up Pumpkin Hill.
These are just a few of the incredible things to do in Utila — keep reading to learn more about this special gem in Honduras!
Getting to Utila
From Mainland Honduras
First, you’ll need to get to La Ceiba to take the ferry to Utila. The Utila Dream Ferry makes this trip twice a day, at 9 AM and 4:30 PM.
The journey typically takes about 45 minutes and costs 800 Lempira each way ($32 USD).
If you’re not already in La Ceiba, you’ll have to get there. There are shuttles to La Ceiba from different destinations in Honduras, like Copan and San Pedro Sula.
The Utila Dream Ferry strikes again! The ferry from Roatan to Utila departs once per day at 2 PM and takes about an hour to get there.
The price is the same as from La Ceiba, 800 Lempira each way ($32 USD).
The Best Things to Do in Utila
Go scuba diving in Utila’s gorgeous coral reefs.
Part of expansive Mesoamerican Barrier Reef that fringes the coast of Mexico and Central America, the island of Utila has breathtaking coral canyons, swim-throughs, and a diverse array of sea creatures.
The coral is incredible, from vibrant iridiscent azure vase sponges to bright yellow boring corals to enormous barrel sponges, often called the ‘redwoods of the reef’ due to their impressive size and longevity (their lifespan is indeed as long as the redwoods, capable of reaching up to 2,000 years in age!)
Diving in Utila also presents a (slim) chance to be graced by the otherworldly, but unpredictable, presence of whale sharks! While sightings of these gentle giants are not guaranteed, you have a greater chance in the wet season.
Other cool marine life you may see include spotted eagle rays, turtles, dolphins, and mobula and manta rays (the latter two being rather rare).
Beyond these big-ticket creatures, the charm of diving in Utila is also its stunning micro-creatures and its tropical fish in every hue imaginable.
You’ll find a wide variety of fish species ranging from trumpetfish to squirrelfish, damselfish to pufferfish, porcupinefish to butterflyfish, angelfish to trunkfish.
One of the best things about Utila is that it’s one of the top places to dive on a budget!
Due to its budget-friendly pricing, Utila is an especially popular choice for people seeking their PADI diving certification — whether it’s their open water, their advanced, or even their divemaster!
With a ton of diving schools to choose from, you can surely find the right choice for you — and at a price that’s hard to beat anywhere.
We dove with Utila Dive Center, just doing fun dives, and it was incredible!
One thing to know about diving in Utila is that there is the north side and the south side, and both are beautiful but offer very distinct experiences.
The north side is where you have a higher chance of seeing large sea life — this is where we got to swim with dolphins on our surface interval! — as well as more impressive coral formations with swim-throughs and canyons.
It’s about a 30-45 minutes boat ride to your dive site, but it’s worth it — these dive sites are just massive in scale!
The south side is shallower and closer to Utila Town, typically just a few minutes’ by boat. While the coral is really beautiful, the scale of the coral landscape is smaller.
These dives are great for admiring micro-life and working on your fish identification, but you have a smaller chance of finding the big guys.
If diving the north side is important to you, ask your dive shop when they do north side dives.
When we dove with UDC, they let us know that they only visit the north side for the first dive in the morning, and all afternoon dives are on the south side.
Note: If you plan to do multiple dives, ask about dive packages — you often get a discount when you book multiple dives!
Do a wreck dive on the Halliburton.
Utila has a lot of fantastic dive sites, including several wreck dives. When I dove in Utila, we saw two very small wrecks — about the size of a fishing boat.
But there’s one wreck dive in Utila that is particularly admired by divers who visit Utila: the Halliburton.
The Halliburton wreck in Utila is a fascinating underwater spectacle, sunk on purpose in Utila Harbor in 1998 with the hopes of transforming the decommissioned ship into a thriving underwater ecosystem.
This wreck dive is perfect for more experienced divers due to its depth, maxing out around 30 meters or 100 feet.
Due to its depth, it’s only accessible to those with an Advanced Open Water certification.
Additionally, if you have an Enriched Air certification, now is a great time to use Nitrox to extend your NDL dive time.
Starting at the deepest point of the dive, divers can adjust their dive profile to slowly ascend as their NDL time ticks away, with plenty of time to explore the ship’s deck, wheelhouse, and bridge, which are all situated at depths ranging from 18 to 20 meters.
Besides the ship’s beautiful-but-eerie presence, divers can also look for macro life like small crabs and shrimp that have made its home on the wreck.
You can watch schools of fish weave through the ship’s structure and hope to spot larger creatures, like groupers and green moray eels.
Note that to penetrate the interior of the wreck, you will need to have a PADI Wreck Diving certification… that said, you could always get certified for wreck diving in Utila!
Otherwise, you’ll have to stick to the exterior, but that’s an amazing experience as well.
Enjoy the views at Chepes Beach.
The public beach at Chepes Beach is one of the best I’ve encountered: where else can you find palapas and small tables stuck in the water, so you can sip a drink under an umbrella in the water?
It’s also just a lovely white sand beach, with stunning Caribbean water in that classic aquamarine-to-deep-blue gradient.
You can grab some beers across the street at Carlotha’s On The Beach, a charming little food shack with affordable drinks.
Grab a bottle of the local Honduran beer, the Salva Vida, for 50 lempira / $2 USD and nurse it in the water with a stunning view of the Caribbean Sea.
Besides the palapas in the water, there are also some nice public amenities you can use, like wooden beach chairs, as well as some good photo spots.
There’s a giant chair that says “I Heart Utila” and also a picture frame-style wooden structure where you can take cheesy (but cute!) vacation photos.
Eat your heart out at Utila Chocolate Co.
Honduras is known for its coffee and its chocolate, and you can try both at the wonderful Utila Chocolate Company.
I’m actually not a big chocolate fiend — I know, I know, blasphemy — but this was still one of my favorite things to do in Utila, that’s how good the chocolate is!
And my girlfriend, who is a chocolate fiend? She was in utter heaven.
We took a mid-day break here and it was the perfect way to refuel. They have a variety of delicious things you can order, all made with local chocolate and ingredients.
We tried the chocolate and peanut butter ice cream and it was to die for! They also had a delicious frozen chocolate drink — like hot chocolate but in milkshake form!
We also tried their cold brew and it was good, but not great — a little on the weak side, I’d say, compared to most cold brews.
That said, it was a beautiful atmosphere to rest and relax in, and their chocolates are a delicious treat to bring home as a souvenir.
You can also take a chocolate tour for free, where they’ll explain the entire bean-to-bar process, but I’ve taken enough chocolate tours to last a lifetime so I gave this part a pass and just enjoyed all the chocolate treats we ordered.
Visit the Iguana Research Center and Breeding Station.
Did you know that Utila is home to an endangered species of iguana that can only be found on this one small island and nowhere else in the world?
You’ll learn all this and more at the Iguana Research Center, just a short walk from the Utila Chocolate Co., making these two activities a perfect pair.
The Utila spiny-tailed iguana (also known as a swamper) is critically endangered and endemic only to one tiny part of Utila — a 10 square kilometer patch of mangrove swamps — and nowhere else in the world.
We visited on a day when the visitor center was closed, so we couldn’t do a tour or anything, but it was still fun to visit and you were able to check out the iguanas in their breeding enclosures.
This effort is helping to repopulate the spiny-tailed iguana population — every year, they release more than 200 baby iguanas in the mangroves, hoping to offset the declining population and eventually increase the numbers.
Organize an ocean safari with the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center.
No one is quite sure why, but Utila is one of a handful of places in the world where it’s possible to see whale sharks all year long.
That said, for the best chance, they’re seen more often in the stretches between March through May and August through October.
If you want the best chance of seeing a whale shark, you can take an ocean safari tour organized by the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center (WSORC), a local conservation group.
These 3-4 hour boat tours bring you around the waters of Utila, hoping for the possibility of spotting whale sharks, dolphins, and pilot whales.
Even if you don’t get lucky with large life, you’ll always take a snorkel stop on the shallower part of the reef, so you’re guaranteed to see something.
The ocean safari is not only a great experience, but it also directly contributes to the center’s conservation work and research.
For more information about these ocean safaris, reach out via email on their website.
Hike up Pumpkin Hill.
At less than 250 feet, Pumpkin Hill isn’t that high, but it is still the highest point in all of Utila, and making a hike up to the top will give you the best views over the entire island.
… but despite its relatively low elevation gain, it’s not the easiest trail. For one, it’s a bit hard to find the path and follow it.
To get there, drive your ATV or have a tuk-tuk drop you off at Rockie’s (unless you love signs berating leftists and praising Trump, you may not want to grab a drink here…).
If you took a tuk-tuk, be sure to get their phone number or plan for them to come pick you up after (dedicate about 1.5-2 hours, depending on if you want to visit Pumpkin Cove Beach too), as tuk-tuks don’t normally pass through here.
There’s a fixed price of 100 lempira per person / $4 USD to go to Pumpkin Hill.
While normally it’s not necessary to tip your tuk-tuk driver unless they’re helping with luggage, etc., I really recommend tipping generously if you head out this way — it’s a long drive and your driver is passing up easier fares on the Main Street.
OK, back to the hike: here’s how you get there.
Facing Rockie’s, walk to the right a little bit, away from the sign towards Pumpkin Hill Cove. You’ll find a street leading up a hill, near a vacation house called Calypso.
Walk up the hill until you reach a junction — head right and look for the yellow paint on a few trees, which marks the trail (I am using trail loosely).
You’ll have to scramble up a bit of a steep, but slightly-trodden, trail, past boulders and through brush.
Once you get to the plateau of the hill, you can admire a pretty spectacular view… and you can continue on to an old lighthouse and climb up to the top of the tower to a platform for an even more dizzying view.
I will say, this is not the safest thing to do — do so fully at your own risk. While it’s not banned to go up the tower, it’s not maintained at all.
To ascend, you have to climb up a metal ladder through a dark tunnel up the tower… and remember that what goes up must go down!
Personally, I felt safe going up and down it because I’m a climber and followed my careful climbing protocol (maintain three points of contact at all times, go slow, match feet and hands on every stair).
That said, you’ll have to take a look at the tower yourself and assess your ability to go up and down it. It’s more of a mental game than a physical one… but mental is more than half the battle!
If you do manage to reach the top, the views are pretty spectacular! And even if you don’t, you’ll see some beautiful views along the way, too.
Admire the chill little beach of Pumpkin Hill Cove.
After hiking Pumpkin Hill, you can take in the stunning views of Pumpkin Hill Cove (which is prettier and quieter than the nearby Pumpkin Hill Beach).
It’s a small, rocky beach and it’s almost always basically deserted — we saw a grand total of one other person and his two dogs while we were at the cove.
I’ll admit, it’s not as picturesque as Chepes Beach — but you’ll have it all to yourself, and that’s pretty special.
You can go in the water here, but you’ll want to have water shoes as it’s quite a rocky beach.
If you’re looking for a new challenge, Utila is a great place to learn freediving!
As the first freediving school in both Central America and the entire Caribbean, Freedive Utila offers a unique opportunity for underwater adventurers looking to discover the reef in the purest way possible: by holding their breath and diving down on a single breath.
Freediving is a form of underwater diving that relies on the diver’s ability to hold their breath until resurfacing, rather than using a breathing apparatus like a regulator and air tank like you do while SCUBA diving.
Once more of a novelty, freediving has been gaining popularity, for its intimate, stripped-down approach to diving as well as for its athletic and thrill-seeking aspects.
Utila’s pioneering freediving school offers various courses to suit different experience levels and interests.
For beginners, an introduction course is available for $150 USD. This course provides a basic overview of the principles and techniques of freediving, allowing newcomers to get a taste what freediving is all about.
For those ready to dive deeper, a 2-day free diver course is available at $250 USD. This course provides in-depth training on essential freediving skills and safety protocols, allowing divers to reach depths of up to 20 meters.
And for those who wish to push their limits further, a 3-day advanced free diver course is available at $350 USD.
This course focuses on advanced freediving techniques and preparation procedures, so that freedivers can reach depths of up to 30 meters.
Whichever you choose, you’ll gain an understanding on the principles of freediving and test your limits in a safe, supervised way.
Go for a kayak or SUP in the mangroves.
Utila has a small lagoon surrounded by mangroves, which is a perfect place to go for a peaceful kayak or stand-up paddle.
You can rent kayaks or paddleboards from Huffy Utila Beach (they also rent out scooters and organize jet ski excursions here — it’s really a one-stop shop).
There are multiple places you could kayak, but the best spot would probably be the lagoon near Bando Beach — ask the team at Huffy for tips on where to go!
Take in the sunset at Bando Beach.
This private beach is the place to be at sunset!
Beach volleyball, kayak rentals, hammocks, a beach bar, a stage where live music sometimes plays, and a great place to see the sunset: it doesn’t get more relaxing than this!
The entrance fee is reasonable (50 Lempira or $2 USD), though I’ve heard the food here is not good — so maybe stick to drinks and then enjoy a meal somewhere else after.
Note: While Google Maps says that Bando Beach is open every day, that wasn’t the case for us on a Wednesday — and in general, we found Google Maps’ locations and times to be rather unreliable in Utila. You may want to ask a local, as they’ll be more up-to-date than Google or blogs!
Hang out at Neptune’s for some great snorkeling.
There aren’t a whole ton of places on Utila where you can do snorkeling from the shore, but Neptune’s is an exception!
Part of the Coral Beach Village resort, Neptune’s is a lovely beach bar with that perfect Caribbean island vibe that’s perfect to spend a day at.
To get to Neptune’s, have a tuk-tuk to take you to the Neptune’s ferry dock — it shouldn’t cost more than 40-50 Lempira (less than $2 USD) per person.
The water taxi used to be free, but now it costs 50 Lempira (about $2 USD) to take it…. Still a great deal to bring you straight to a great snorkel spot (tip: BYO snorkel gear!)
The Neptune’s water taxi leaves from the dock about once an hour on the hour, typically from 9 AM onwards.
To come back, boats return about every 30 minutes until about 5:30 or 6 PM. Be sure to check — you don’t want to miss the last departure!
Note that Neptune’s gets very busy on weekends, and you’ll want to arrive early if that’s your plan — the water taxi has a limited capacity and can get filled up quickly! Better yet to go on a weekday.
The coral gardens at Neptune’s are great, and what makes it so good is their huge pier, stretching nearly 200 feet into the sea so that it’s easy for you to just jump into the water without having to make a long swim out!
You can also rent paddleboards here, enjoy the hammocks, eat at the restaurant, and just enjoy a peaceful day in Utila.
Learn to spearfish lionfish to preserve the reefs.
Lionfish may look spectacular and graceful, but they’re a huge danger to Caribbean reefs.
While invasive species are nothing new, lionfish are particularly devastating creatures on the reef — studies show the presence of a single lionfish can wipe out 80% of the native fish in a reef in a mere 5 weeks.
Why are they so damaging? They have no natural predators in the Caribbean, and they breed incredibly rapidly, so their population is very hard to control.
Enter divers: spearfishing lionfish is becoming a popular skill to learn in order to protect the reefs (and go home with some tasty fish to prepare as well).
That said, it’s not something you can just grab-and-go — you need a specialized tool like a Hawaiian-style pole spear, as the spines of the lionfish are venomous and can give you quite a sting!
A few dive shops in the area offer organized lionfish hunts: Tank’d offers a 2-tank lionfish hunt for $75 USD, including safety training, all the gear you need, two tanks for diving, and the opportunity to taste your lionfish once it’s cooked and prepared!
Eat lionfish one of many ways at a local restaurant.
With so many lionfish being hunted, it would be a shame for that meat to go to waste!
Luckily, many restaurants on Utila are exploring creative (and delicious) ways to eat lionfish.
Whether it’s lionfish burger or lionfish ceviche at Mango Tango, or lionfish tempura sushi rolls at Mister Buddha, be sure to try a local lionfish dish while you’re in Utila!
It’s perhaps the most sustainable fish you can eat, as hunting lionfish literally increases the population of native fish on the reefs and helps preserve reef biodiversity.
Dig into massive baleadas at Mama Rosa.
The baleada is the Honduran street food staple, and it’d be a shame to visit Honduras without trying one (or several).
What pupusas are to El Salvador or tacos are to Mexico, you’ll find baleadas basically everywhere in Honduras.
So what are they?
A handmade flour tortilla, pulled and stretched thin before being freshly griddled, spread with a refried bean paste and cheese, then stuffed with whatever your heart desires.
One of the most special ways to eat a baleada is to have a lobster baleada at Mama Rosa!
At 100 lempira or $4 USD, it’s one of the cheapest ways to enjoy some lobster.
Hope to swim with a whale shark or dolphins.
While diving in Utila, I got the amazing opportunity to swim with a pod of dolphins during a surface interval (the time you wait in between dives).
If you dive with Utila Dive Center, the captain will often keep an ear out for fellow boat captains letting each other know about a pod of dolphins.
If the conditions are right and the captain can find dolphins, he’ll bring you to swim with them for a mere 250 Lempira per person ($10 USD) as a “finders fee”.
This is the cheapest you’ll ever pay to swim with wild dolphins!
We got to swim with spinner dolphins for about 10 minutes before they left our area — some were dancing underneath, others racing each other right near the surface.
Some even came within about 10 feet of our group! It was utterly magical.
There’s also a potential chance to swim with whale sharks at any time of year, but particularly March through May and August through October.
This is rarer than spotting dolphins, but it is possible!
Rent an ATV or golf cart.
For a small island, Utila is somewhat spread out, with some attractions, like the Utila Chocolate Factory and Pumpkin Hill located rather far from the main town.
While you can take a tuk-tuk virtually anywhere you want on the island, it can be fun to have your own set of wheels!
ATV rentals (as well as golf carts and scooters) are available at a few different places around the island.
Roneey Shuttle offers scooters for $35/day and ATVs and golf carts for $60/day.
They also organize shuttles around Central America if you’re looking to move onward to El Salvador or Guatemala after your time in Utila.
Visit the Jade Seahorse mosaic gardens.
One of my favorite places in Utila is the spectacular Jade Seahorse, a beautiful mosaic garden that you can wander through.
This magical garden features a labyrinth of winding pathways, hidden niches, bedecked stairways, and tile-covered bridges, all lavishly decorated with vibrant mosaics.
It’s a bit of an Utila hidden gem — you wouldn’t know about it unless you specifically looked for it, since it’s just the gardens that are part of a small hotel with six little bungalows that are available to stay in!
The entrance fee costs only 50 Lempira (you just enter and pay in the back when a groundskeeper approaches you), or $2 USD!
It’s a small price to pay to help maintain this special place!
Go to a party at Treetanic Bar.
Also part of the Jade Seahorse area, the Treetanic Bar is one of the most unique bars you’ll ever see.
Built in the shape of a ship in the tree canopy (hence the name!) with views over the mosaic garden, this stunning treetop bar is a unique find.
However, ignore the times on Google Maps (as you often have to in Utila) — Treetanic is not open regularly anymore, unfortunately.
However, twice a month they host electronic music party nights, typically one on the full moon and presumably one on the new moon as well.
The party starts at 9 PM, when they illuminate the beautiful mosaic garden and get the music pumping — tickets are on sale at the door for 200 Lempira ($8 USD) per person, which includes your first drink.
If you don’t happen to come to the Utila during one of their parties, you can still walk around and enjoy the views during the daytime, as I did.
Spend the day at Water Cay.
While Utila may be a small island, it feels huge when you compare it to the Utila cays, the small islands that surround Utila!
One of the most popular things to do in Utila is take a day trip to Water Cay, a little palm-fringed islet where you can relax on the beach.
Several local tour operators offer trips to the cay, usually including snorkeling gear and sometimes even a barbecue lunch.
The cost of these excursions can vary, so it’s worth shopping around a bit, but the best-reviewed is Sunbliss Tours & Charter.
Allison Green is a former teacher who has been travel blogging since 2016. She has a Masters in Teaching and a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Her blog posts merge her background as an educator with her experience traveling to 70+ countries to encourage ethical, meaningful travel. She has been a speaker at the World Travel Writers Conference and her writing, photography, and podcasting work has appeared in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, CBC Canada, and Forbes, amongst others. Now a full-time traveler, she has lived in Prague, Sofia, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area.