Beaches, Island Parties & Whale Sharks: Utila, Honduras

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 5.5/10

utila beachIf you’re the kind of backpacker who wants to hit the road, see great sights and have wild parties every step of the way then Utila is certainly a destination that should be on your list. It certainly doesn’t have the glamour of it’s neighbour Roatan and isn’t as blessed in the natural beauty stakes, but it still has some great, busy beaches and is packed with travellers looking to have a good time.

One thing you don’t want to forget when visiting is your sleeping bag; the beds in even some of the better hostels obviously see a fair few visitors and the likelihood of being ravaged by bed bugs is pretty high! Most folks don’t worry about that when they hit the sack though as they’ve been partying hard and just finding their own bed can be a challenge! The party scene is certainly very prominent here and the main bars are packed every night of the week for those that want to partake.

Utila has been overrun by backpackers. It doesn’t have the same cultural impact as Roatan, but it is certainly the cheaper option and still comes with glorious, crystal clear seas and white sands. If you’re looking for a budget island getaway with some nightlife then look no further.

The majority of travellers who flock here come for the diving. It’s one of the cheapest places in the world to do your PADI course and also one of the most rewarding in terms of sea life and surroundings. I met a lot of people who had come to do a 4 day dive course and ended up getting stuck, working their way up to divemaster and hitting the town most nights. Not a bad lifestyle!

whale shark UtilaUtila also has a secret. For a couple of months a year (March/April and sometimes August/September) Whale Sharks come to play in the surrounding waters and you can get the chance to play with them! Some of the boat captains on the island are amazingly talented at spotting the clues of their whereabouts and can almost guarantee a sighting if there is one to be had. Some people go and scuba dive in the area and hope to come across them, but when i was there we went out on a boat with our snorkels at the ready and waited for the call from the captain. After much anticipation, the call came – there was one right beneath us! Everyone threw themselves over the side of the boat and tried to find it in the water. I managed to fall pretty much onto its rear fin! Once I’d regained my composure after coming much closer then i ever imagined to this 8metre monster, i swam with it as far as possible as it headed away from us into the deep blue. After about 15 seconds i couldn’t follow any further and headed back to the surface.

It was an incredible experience and certainly amongst the best i have had on my travels, if you’re around Utila at the right time you should certainly make the extra effort to go there just for that. I dubbed Utila the ‘Faliraki of the Caribbean’, but it’s not every day you get to swim alongside a beast so big and yet so tame. For that reason, Utila will always have a special place in my heart…

If you like the sound of Utila, then check out more great destinations in Honduras & Central America here

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6 Travel Insurance Tips Backpackers Can’t Afford to Miss

backpacker travel insurance - La Paz, BoliviaBuying travel insurance is a tedious process at the best of times so you could be forgiven for letting a few things slip through the net when you’re checking which policy to take out for your backpacking trip. But travel insurance is a necessity and it’s important to choose the right policy for you. We all know that a travel insurance policy is a complex document, stacked full with information which any person would struggle to read without having a snooze. But it can be a minefield as often policies don’t cover what you expect them to and there is almost always a large amount of small print which could potentially cost you severely if something goes awry on your travels.

That said, there are perfect policies out there for everyone and you can find yours! Below are 6 key things to look out for when making your choice which might well save you a lot of time, money and struggle in the long run:

1. Baggage
Policies often feature a Single Item Limit which is the most that will be paid out for one item. If you have high value items with you, it’s unlikely it will be covered. Be aware of a Total Items Limit as well, this is the total amount that will be paid if multiple items are lost/damaged. If you lose 4 items worth over £200 each, you might only get £300 back in total if that is your Total Items Limit.

2. Personal Liability
This is when someone claims against you for injury or damage to their belongings. There are a huge amount of things that are rarely covered in this area such as when you are in charge of a car, working or activities like horse riding. Make sure you’re aware of which things your policy covers.

3. Legal Expense
This does not cover the cost of any legal defence if you get yourself in bother whilst you’re travelling, it’s for something much worse. If you get into any trouble, injured or die whilst abroad then this is what you or your family can use to legally fight against someone who caused it.

4. Excess
Most policies have excesses. This is the amount that is deducted from your claim and means you can’t make small claims. Be sure that you’re aware of your excess so you don’t get caught out.

5. Cancellation
Cancellation is usually only relevant if it is caused by illness to you or your companion, maybe jury service, but little else. If you realise you can’t afford to travel then you’re unlikely to be covered, likewise if your airline or tour operator goes bust. Keep a close eye on this one, it doesn’t apply to much…

6. Medical
Again, this is one to go through with a fine toothcomb. Policies rarely cover common conditions like diabetes or asthma or existing ailments prior to the trip. Things like sports injuries also often fall outside the boundaries, so be careful if you’re going for a Thai Boxing session or plan to be hanging off mountains somewhere. Make sure you get your teeth checked thoroughly before you head off too, policies only go so high when covering dentist fees.

These are some of the key, and often overlooked, things to keep an eye out for when choosing your travel insurance policy. Travel insurance is essential when going away and I wouldn’t recommend anyone to get on a plane without it, but it is important to be aware of what things are covered before you head out to unknown shores and distant lands.

If you’ve got any of your own tips or experiences it would be great if you could share them in the comments!

Happy Travels!