La Ceiba, Honduras… a vibrant, hustling metropolis whose people are just as colorful as the streets they occupy. With less than 200,00 residents, it’s not hard to understand why this town gets it reputation as a party town. At first glance, one would think that there not much to this place, as it’s not particularly attractive or distinctive. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find more than just a drop off point for the Bay Islands or La Moskitia. Sitting ever so proudly below its own Pico Mountain, you’ll discover not just a pulsating bazaar filled with fine drinks and fabulous food… but its people are as warm and friendly as the smiles on their faces. Come prepared with a phrase book and a bit of Spanish to get by, as English is not widely spoken here. But make an effort and its people are more than willing to assist…if they can.
I only experienced its pleasure by accident. The original plan was to pass through on my way to the Bay Island of Utila, but problems with the last boat from the mainland sidelined me long enough to experience just a taste of what I would have missed out on. The next boat would leave out at 9:30 am and I was bound and determined to be on it, since partying isn’t really my thing. But when it Rome… or La Ceiba…
Utila on the other hand has a slightly different vibe… a small island once idyllic for the British elite, now known to backpackers and party people alike as a diving haven. More quaint than it’s bigger and more popular brother Roatan to the east, its inhabitants will more than make up for the lack of beaches and fewer snorkeling sites. Your pocket will thank you as well, as food and lodging are less expensive here. The longer I stay, the more it grows on me. At the time of this posting, I would have been here a full eight days, and I can honestly say that I am not yet ready to leave.
My main focus here was indeed diving. Sharing the same fabulous reefs and eco-system with its more famous and noticeably more expensive neighbor Belize, Honduras is one of the most economical places in the world to gain your diving certifications. Everything from entry-level open water to dive master and instructor certifications can be obtained here at a fraction of the cost as lesser destinations offering similar amenities. There are currently seven different dive centers on the island and each with a different vibe, but something for everyone. Many also offer free accommodations while diving. For me, the choice was Bay Island College of Diving who did a spectacular job of walking me through the certification process, as well as their fabulous facility... even BEFORE that had my money. Charla and Remis... Thanks for the love! Everyone on staff, from the other divemasters and instructors, right down to Seth, our boat captain was warm, friendly and outgoing. Overall, I can sum this up as a great experience.
Should you be less interested in diving and more interested in snorkeling or kayaking, Utila can certainly meet your fancy. If rest and relaxation is on your list, then you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised, and your belly will be satisfied too. I have yet to have a meal that was less than fabulous. From the street vendors and little cocinas to the more established restaurants listed in the guidebooks and trip advisor, you’ll find everything from Indian and Italian to Sushi and locale fare. Sadly, I was here for three days before I was able to find seafood on anyone’s menu… but proudly practicing responsible sustainable seafood practices, you’ll find no pouching on this island. Posters are proudly published all over the island. That was enough to lift my disappointment.
These are certainly some of the warmest people I've met during my travels. Special shout out goes out to The Bodden Family who truly opened their hearts as though I were a member of their own family, during my stay at the Bayview Inn. Driftwood Cafe' had one of the best seafood stews I had ever eaten, and Joya's, Ultra Light Cafe reignited my love of "the falafael." And although its not a regular item on her daily menu, Joya’s chocolate cheesecake flan was out of this world! Care for a taste of grilled kingfish, wahoo or baracuda, then let me suggest RJ's Bar and Grill... FANTASTIC! For a quick but fabulous breakfast try one of Liddia's delectable cinnamon rolls or egg sandwiches made on a homespun sweet coconut bread rolls baked fresh daily…Oh so yummy!
With still a few days left to dive, my stay on Utila will probably end on Tuesday. Then it’s on to the next stop… Nicaragua!