I spent almost two weeks in The Bay Islands, Honduras in January 2011. If you’re looking for a cheap place to get your scuba diving open water certification or just do some cheap diving, Utila is the place to go. If you’re looking for diving with beautiful beaches and luxury and lots of Americans, Roatán is the place to go. Here are some travel tips on safety, where to stay, and of course, food and drink.
- It is not safe to travel in Honduras at night. You especially do not want to arrive in San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa at night because you will not have many close hotel options, and you will get ripped off by taxi drivers. Plan your travels wisely and ask multiple people multiple times what time buses are supposed to arrive before buying your ticket. I took an international bus from San Salvador to San Pedro Sula, and two different bus station employees told me the bus would arrive at 9pm (not ideal but not horrible). They were lying. The bus made many stops and after nervously asking another passenger where in the hell San Pedro Sula was at 11:30pm, she told me the bus is always scheduled to arrive at midnight.
- If you have to arrive very late into San Pedro Sula, there is one main bus station (convenient), and you can sleep there. The front door will be gated, but if you go around the left side, a security guard will let you in.
- There are multiple bus stations in Teguc, so you have to carefully plan any changeovers. Always know where your next bus leaves from before you get there, how far away it is from your arrival point, and if necessary, a hotel near the bus station.
- If you are driving in Honduras, be aware that the police are corrupt and will stop you multiple times and make sure your documents are all perfect (check the requirements thoroughly) and basically ask you for a bribe. I met two different sets of travelers who had this experience..
- The Bay Islands are generally safe from robberies and thefts, but you should still take appropriate precautions. I would avoid the beaches at night and of course, do not leave valuables unattended on the beach.
|Baleadas – These are amazingly good and filling for a reasonable price. There is a wide variety of ingredients ranging from eggs, beans, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, etc. This picture is the super baleada from Big Momma’s.|
|Salvavidas – This beer really isn’t that impressive compared to other Central American beers, however, I love the name. Translated it means “lifeguard” or “saves lives.”|
- The easiest and fastest way to get there is to take the 5am Mirna bus from the main terminal in San Pedro Sula. All other lines don’t start running until 6am. This will get you to La Ceiba in time to catch the morning ferry. You will have to take a taxi to the ferry, but do not pay more than 40 lemps per person.
- To get to San Pedro Sula from El Salvador, take the King Quality bus from San Salvador. It leaves really early, and you need to call to confirm the time. The other bus options take much longer and will arrive in the middle of the night.
- To get to San Pedro Sula from Nicaragua, take the Tica bus from Managua. If you are in Leon, the Tica bus will usually pick you up in Leon to save you from going to Managua. Just ask.
- If you’re going to get a diving certification, do some research and visit 2-3 different shops before you make your decision. It’s all about your comfort level with the way the course is outlined and the instructors. Also, it is nice if they have equipment in good condition that is regularly serviced.
- I chose Cross Creek based on the recommendation of a traveler I met in El Salvador, as well as a detailed overview of the program from one of their instructors. It is affiliated with one of the most reputable shops on Utila (I think Utila Dive Center is the name), so they have the same high standards and equipment requirements, but Cross Creek is more laid back and has more open space by their rooms and dock. Cost for Open Water Cert: $275, including 4 nights accommodation, 2 free fun dives, and I talked them into throwing in 2 more nights free to be comparable to cheaper certifications. I had a private room with A/C (not all have A/C so ask). My room also came with cockroaches, but I have a feeling most places in Utila do. Note that once I finished the free nights, I only paid $6 a night to continue staying there.
- Bring over as much food as you think you will eat and can carry because food is much more expensive in Utila, and the selection is very poor, especially fruits and veggies. There are a couple of supermarkets, but all are expensive.
- Restaurants are much more expensive than on the mainland, so be sure to stay at a place that has a guest kitchen.
- Baleadas are the cheapest and most filling food if you are not cooking for yourself.
- This place is so walkable, there is not need to take a motor-taxi, not even from the ferry. Suck it up and carry your luggage.
- Bakery – Yep, that’s the name of it. You’ll see a yellow sign on the door of this house that is set just off the main road near Cross Creek Dive Shop. By far, the best fresh-baked bread on the island (although a little pricey – baguette for around 36 lemps (around $2). They also have good cheap coffee (13 lemps) to go.
- Big Momma’s – This restaurant is on the ocean-side of the main street in a bright yellow house. They serve up tasty and reasonably priced food. The super baleada is the best on the island and is worth the 45 lemps (around $2.25). The fried plantains are delicious. I also heard the chicken wraps are amazing.
- Che Pancho – It is easy to miss this small cafe on the ocean-side of the main street. They have the best and largest licuados on the island. The choripan (sausage on toasted bread with chimichurri sauce) is also delicious although not completely filling.
- Babalu’s – This is the oldest dock bar/ restaurant on the island, and it has great ambiance. A regular crew frequents this place having drinks and watching the sunset on the dock out back. Restaurant is a little pricey, but the fresh fish is very good. I recommend the whole snapper.
- Munchie’s – Chicken fajitas are gigantic and delicious (although I haven’t heard good things about the rest of the menu). And if you go on Monday, the main dishes come with an all-you-can-each salad bar that actually is quality and has a lot of options.
- See the same instructions for Utila. You just take a different ferry from the same dock in La Ceiba.
- If you are coming from Utila, you have the option to take the ferry back to La Ceiba and then take the ferry to Roatán. Or you can save time and enjoy a leisurely ride on Captain Vern’s catamaran for about 1100 lemps ($55). Taking the ferries will cost you about $45, so I think it’s worth it to go direct.
- I stayed in West End which is one of the main tourist areas that is supposed to be cheaper than areas like French Harbor and West Bay (although cheap is a relative term). After a night at a mediocre and overpriced hotel in a very loud section of West End, I moved about 50 meters down the road to a beautiful group of cabins tucked a little ways off the road. Although still pricey ($25 for a single with bathroom and fan and mini-fridge), it was much better than the previous place and a little quieter. The owner is also very helpful with information and arranging a taxi to the ferry when you leave. Note that if you’re with other people, you can get bigger, nicer cabins and really cut the per person rate.
- There are a couple of hostels that charge between $10 and $25 a night and have shared kitchens, but they were full when I was there.
- Bring over as much food as you think you will eat and can carry because food is much more expensive in Roatan (US prices or higher), and the selection is very poor. There is one small supermarket in West End and lots of mini stores, but all are still expensive. A trip to Coxen Hole may be worth it to stock up on food at the larger and slightly cheaper market there. Also, there are pickup trucks of fruits and veggies that park on the main street in West End during the day where you can get the best and cheapest selection.
- Restaurants are much more expensive (once again US prices and higher). Stay at a place that has a guest kitchen (or at least a refrigerator). There are not many places in West End that have a kitchen, but you can find some hostels for $10-20 a night with guest kitchen.
- The island is very large, and it’s expensive to get around via taxi. Take the mini-buses (20 lemps a ride). You’ll have to transfer in different towns depending on where you want to go, but the taxis really are extortionists here.
- Creole’s Rotisserie Chicken – There’s a very tiny restaurant at the entrance of Georphi’s. This was the best value I saw in West End. Order a set meal with chicken and two sides with generous portions (starting at 100 lemps for 1/4 chicken). The food was delicious and fast. I recommend the coconut rice and beans and the pasta (don’t remember the name in Spanish but it’s couscous).