Útila is the smallest of the Bay Islands of Honduras, located in the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is the second largest reef system in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Enclosed by the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Útila is naturally surrounded by a diverse set of marine life and has some of the most beautiful scuba diving spots in the world. Today, Útila is a recreational diving destination, playing host particularly to divers preferring this less expensive island over the larger and more crowded Bay Islands of Roatan and Guanaja.
Christopher Columbus landed on Guanaja in 1502 and neighboring Útila was discovered soon after. Útila was inhabited well before Columbus set foot on the island, as evidenced by the ruins. The Spaniards enslaved the indigenous islanders and sent them to work the gold mines of Mexico and the plantations of Cuba, effectively emptying the island’s native population by the early 17th century.
Between the mid-16th century and 18th century, British, Dutch, and French pirates established various settlements on Útila, where they launched their raids on Spanish cargos shipping gold and silver back to Spain. In the mid-1800s, Útila was finally given back to the newly independent Honduras. Today, a significant portion of the islanders have Caymanian roots, their ancestors having been brought over to Útila by past British slave-owners.
Útila is the most unspoiled and undiscovered of the Bay Islands. With its coral reefs, resort bungalows, and private decks overlooking the lagoon waters, it reminds visitors somewhat of the French Polynesia.
Útila, of course, is known best for its diving. Some say the island has more than 50 spectacular dive sites. Deep in the waters of Útila, you’ll find underwater caves, remains of shipwrecks, and encounters of exotic fishes including the legendary Whale Shark, the world’s largest fish. Many scuba divers also enjoy the lure of underwater treasure hunts, with century-old, yet-to-be-recovered sunken treasures like Captain Morgan’s lost booty from his 1671 raid on Panama. There are also on-shore remains of British and Spanish forts and towns in Útila that shed some light on the havoc wreaked by the Caribbean pirates back in the day.
The diving facilities in Útila are first-rate. There are great rental shops and diving centers and schools for beginner divers.
Besides scuba diving, Útila offers great spots to engage in the typical array of water activities such as kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, sailing, surfing, and fishing.
The nightlife in Útila is as good as you would expect in a small island. Interestingly, there is lively bar in the middle of the tropical forest, the Bar in the Bush, which is a bit of a hot spot. There is also the open-air Treetanic Bar, which plays some nice dance music specializing in the music of Coco Locos. Other than that, there’s not much else in Útila.
Útila has some great seafood, caught locally. You’ll find a wide variety of local fruits and vegetables as well. The local cuisine of Útila features, interestingly, a special white bread made with coconut oil, mango jam, crab, iguana, and lizard.