The Caribbean island of Utila in Honduras is the smallest of the Bay Islands. It’s located about 28 km north of La Ceiba on the mainland. A favourite among backpackers, it’s well known as one of the best and most affordable places to learn to dive in the world. It attracts ALOT of people wanting to dive. Whether that be trying a fun dive or two, taking a PADI certification or even to work there as a dive master. In turn, this means that Utila has a reputation for having little to do except dive and party. We’re non-divers (at least I am these days), but still wanted to visit Utila to see what all the hype was about. I was also keen to explore and discover things to do on Utila that aren’t diving or partying. Although, of course, we did a bit of partying too.
Things to Do on Utila That Aren’t Diving
We spent five nights on Utila and were pleasantly surprised to find plenty of non-diving Utila activities to keep us busy. Here are 10 fun things to do on Utila we found that aren’t diving or partying.
1. Snorkel the Reefs
Utila Lodge provided me with a complimentary place on one of their dive boats to snorkel near Utila’s South Shore which I’ve reviewed below. Read more in our full Product Review Disclosure.
Utila sits on the edge of the Mesoamerican Reef System, the second largest reef in the world. Although best known as a scuba diving destination, it also has great snorkelling right from the shore or by boat.
I went out on a dive boat with the Bay Islands College of Diving and Utila Lodge, where we stayed, to snorkel near the South Shore. The divers were working towards various PADI certifications, so I snorkelled whilst they learnt. The dive masters from Utila Lodge all seemed friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, ensuring everyone was safe at all times.
2. Boat Trip to Neptunes Bar and Coral Beach
As already mentioned, you need to take a boat to reach South Shore, which has some of the best shore snorkelling on Utila. One of the best shore snorkelling spots there is from the dock at Neptunes Restaurant and Bar on Coral Beach. A boat trip there for a meal, beach time, hammock lounging and snorkelling makes for an enjoyable half or full day trip.
3. Encounter a Whale Shark
4. Be a Beach Bum
5. Rent a Quad Bike, Scooter or Golf Cart
6. Admire the Views from Pumpkin Hill
7. Kayak Through the Mangrove Canal
snorkel gear so you can explore underwater – we sadly forgot ours!
If I were to give two tips for kayaking the mangrove canal the first would be if there are two of you, don’t get a double kayak like Andy and I did. It was pretty hard to paddle in sync going through the mangroves, we kept crashing. Nearly grounds for divorce – haha! Single kayaks would have been much easier. The other tip is to use mosquito repellent – especially if kayaking at dusk as there are lots of mosquitoes.
8. Iguana Research and Breeding Station
In the mangroves of Utila lives the endangered Utila spiny-tailed iguana, or ‘swamper’ as it’s affectionately known. Utila is the only place in the world where this particular species of iguana is found.
The Iguana Research and Breeding Station was set up in 1998, primarily to protect the swamper and it’s mangrove habitat. The charity, run with the help of volunteers, also has a breeding programme to increase numbers of swampers on the island.
Visitors can visit the station and take a tour to learn about the endangered iguanas and gain some insight into other wildlife on Utila. It’s open Monday to Friday from 9:30 am – 12 pm and 1:30 pm to 5 pm. The station also offers three great hiking tours. They give the opportunity to explore the Iron Bound mangrove forest, the Dead Lagoon and the Fresh Water Caves.
For those that would like to get more involved, the charity relies on volunteers to keep it running. There’s all types of things you could help with so get in touch and see what they need.
9. Marvel at the Psychedelic ‘Treetanic’ Bar
I know this post is about non-partying things to do on Utila, so you’re probably wondering why I’ve included a bar. The reason is because Treetanic, part of Jade Seahorse Hotel is so much more than just a bar. It’s an incredibly imaginative, psychedelic work of art. It resembles a shipwreck lodged among the highest branches of a patch of mango trees.
Treetanic is a masterpiece which took the owner and artist, Neil Kellar, twenty years to make and it’s still not finished. It’s easy to lose yourself for an hour or two exploring the trippy labyrinth of tunnels, bridges staircases and hidey holes. Every spare centimetre is covered in mosaics crafted from mixed media including beads, glass, tiles, circuit boards, shells, bottle tops, mirror and even plastic fruit.
This secret, tropical garden hideaway, is also home to Jade Seahorse’s six ‘Nightland Cabins‘. Each cabin has a different theme and name and is decorated in a unique and mesmerising way.
Although Treetanic is a bar, which apparently hosts some of the best nights in Utila, you should visit in daylight too. It’s the only way to appreciate the quirkiness of it all and the incredible art-work – don’t forget your camera.
10. Take a Day Tour
The island can feel a bit small after a while, so a day trip off the island is a great option. These can be booked from your accommodation or from a tour agency in town. The best agency in town is Bush’s Bay Island Adventure Tours and Charters. It’s to the left of the big supermarket, about halfway down the main road. They have a huge range of tours on offer, but two of the most popular ones are:
Utila Cayes –are located off the southwest of Utila and is the smallest community in Utila. There are several cayes (tiny islets) in this area, many which are privately owned. The only inhabited cayes are Pigeon Caye and Jewel Caye, connected by a small bridge. These form a small fishing village, with about 500 inhabitants and is the second largest community in Utila. It has several small restaurants and hotels which make it a nice place to stop for lunch or even stay the night.
For those looking for a real tropical island paradise experience, head to Water Caye. This undeveloped tiny, white sand island is surrounded by coral reef and sparkling blue water, perfect for snorkelling. There are coconut palms which give shade from the sun and to sling up a hammock. There’s also a toilet, but other than that there are no other amenities. Be sure to take your own food, water and biodegradeable, reef safe sunscreen.
Cayos Cochinos – also known as the Hog Cayes, are a short way east of Utila. They consist of a set of two small, stunning islands and 11 smaller coral cayes, and are a protected national park.
These islands and cayes have postcard perfect white sand beaches, coral reefs and great viewpoints. On the tiny island of Chachahuate there’s a Garifuna community who welcome guests with open arms. You can stop here for a delicious seafood lunch and gain a unique insight into Garifuna culture.
Two other things that are a big draw for visitors are the two endangered spieces that make Cayos Cochinos their home. The first is the pink boa constrictor and the second is the Jamo Black iguana.
At first it can be difficult to know where to stay on Utila as much of the accommodation is attached to dive shops and dive schools. The accommodation is often included in a dive course package. It can range from backpacker dorm-style to quieter private apartments and the quality can vary wildly. So, if you’re planning on diving, I’d recommend arriving on Utila and checking out the dive shops, schools and accommodation before booking.
Utila Lodge provided us with a complimentary three-night stay in their dive resort which I’ve reviewed below. Read more in our full Product Review Disclosure.
As we didn’t go to Utila to dive, we wanted accommodation that could be booked separately from a dive package. Part way through our research Utila Lodge kidly invited to host us there. Although a dive resort it also offers rooms to non-divers and it seemed like the perfect water-front spot so we decided to go for it. We hoped we wouldn’t stick out like sore-thumbs as non-divers, but our concerns turned out to be unfounded.
The resort has eight rustic, but beautiful rooms, each with a comfortable queen and double sized bed and all the modern amenities you’d expect. These included a private bathroom with his and her sinks, cable TV, hi-speed WiFi and air-conditioning (although this is at an extra charge).
Bay Islands College of Diving
Utila Lodge provided us with a complimentary two-night stay in a Bay Islands College of Diving apartments which I’ve reviewed below. Read more in our full Product Review Disclosure.
The Bay Islands College of Diving (BICD) is partnered with Utila Lodge and offers dive courses and accommodation for divers. Dorm accommodation at BICD is included with all PADI scuba diving courses and fun dives. It’s also possible to upgrade to a private apartment for an additional charge.
Other Utila Accommodation
Being a hugely popular dive destination, Utila also many other dive resorts, and dive shops offering accommodation. There are also several non-dive related hotels, hostels, guesthouses and Airbnb’s so it should be straight forward to find something to suit your needs.
So don’t let Utila being mainly a dive destination, stop you from visiting. As you can see there are plenty of other fun things to do even if you don’t dive or party hard. It’s still very much worth spending at least a few days there, maybe combined with some time on Roatan or Guanaja, before or after a trip to La Ceiba and Pico Bonito National Park on the mainland.
Honduras Trip Planning Resources
Planning your trip to Honduras? Here are some of our recommended useful resources to help you.
● For the best flights we use Skyscanner, I usually find great deals there.
● We use Booking.com or HotelsCombined to find the best hotel prices and Airbnb for longer stays.
● We always check accommodation reviews on TripAdvisor before booking.
● Even in the modern days of Google we still like to use guidebooks for ideas.
● If you prefer organised day or multi-day trips Get Your Guide has plenty.
● And most important: DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE.
If you’re from the EU you can’t beat True Traveller. If you’re from other countries worldwide, World Nomads is good.
A new contender for shorter term travel insurance is SafetyWing, which you can pay for on a month by month basis.
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Product Review Disclosure: Utila Lodge provided us with a complimentary all inclusive three-night stay in their dive resort, a two-night stay in a Bay Islands College of Diving apartment, plus a place on their dive boat to go snorkelling. This did not influence my post in any way and as always I’ve provided a balanced and honest review. Read more in our full Product Review Disclosure.
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