Beaches, Island Parties & Whale Sharks: Utila, Honduras

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 5.5/10

If 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!

Utila 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