Right now, at the time of writing, I’ve returned to the island of Utila. It’s the smallest of the Bay Islands, just off the coast of Honduras in the Eastern Caribbean Sea, and it feels wonderful. It feels like we’ve come home.
The Backpacking Husband and I are now in our sixth year of travelling the world and that’s not including the past two pandemic years because we spent them renting a house in Scotland. But eight years ago, after selling everything we owned to facilitate a life of travel and adventure – it was right here on this particular island – that those travel adventures first began.
We’d been exploring the islands of the Caribbean and Utila was our special find.
It felt like not too many people knew about it.
It felt like we’d discovered a secret place...
A tiny tropical island paradise sitting on the Meso-American reef – the second largest coral reef in the world – tucked away in a bay where the water is warm and clear. Back then we stayed on Utila on and off for over a year and in between other travels, except for the necessary visa runs, renting a little Caribbean style house near the beach.
And, I suppose, when we left the West to continue our travels and to explore the East, I expected to find another island like Utila somewhere amongst those tiny islands in the Sulu Sea between the Philippines and Malaysia or perhaps off Thailand amidst those verdant jewels in the Gulf of Thailand or on the Andaman Sea. And, if not there, then surely somewhere in Indonesia?
But no…. there was no other place just like it.
There really is nowhere else in the world like Utila.
The first time we came to Utila was for the scuba diving. The island is known as a haven for scuba divers and The Backpacking Husband was going to do his Dive Master internment and certification from Utila.
It’s a long haul to get here. I remember we flew from Glasgow Scotland via New York then Miami and onto Roatan (the larger of the Bay Islands) and all the time the planes were getting smaller.
Finally, we took a tiny plane over to Utila.
I’d never flown in a Cessna before and I remember being terrified and exhilarated in equal measures.
That first summer spent on Utila exceeded and yet set our expectations for all our travels to come. We fell in love with the island and its people. We became intoxicated (sometimes quite literally as the rum is delicious) with the no news, no shoes, snoozing/reading in a hammock and never really knowing or caring what day it is, kind of lifestyle.
And, despite the troublesome biting sand flies and the intense throbbing heat and the blistering sunshine and the exhausting humidity – and lack of air conditioning – we immediately fell into sync with this island’s laid-back vibe.
Sure, there have been some changes on the island over the years we have now been coming here and especially since our last visit (four years ago). I’m sure the pandemic and lack of tourists has been to blame for the negative ones.
Last time, we found our favourite dive shop Gunter’s Ecomarine had changed hands and for us and for our Ecomarine family, it felt like it was the end of an era. I’m not one to resist inevitable change, and so now I just feel privileged to have known it back then, in what was for us those Golden Years.
Back then, life on the dock at Ecomarine was sweet and the days consisted of ‘hanging out’ with friends at the dock, swimming in the warm sea or having fun taking turns on the rope swing. Or taking boat tips out on the reef or to the ‘cays’ (smaller tropical islands off Utila) on the Salva Vida. And, while my dear backpacking husband was scuba diving and lionfish hunting (an invasive species to the islands) I would sunbathe and swim and read in a hammock.
The sultry evenings on Ecomarine dock were filled with open air movie nights, beers, rum, music, and dancing.
Right now, Gunter’s Ecomarine Dive Shop is temporarily closed.
Our favourite local store on the island has moved 200 yards down the street to occupy a slightly larger space. That’s great progress for our shopkeeper friend Wardy from whom we like to buy our fruit and vegetables. Fresh supplies still come to the island from the Honduran mainland but only on a Tuesday and a Friday so you have to be quick to buy what you need!
These days, there is a touristy ‘I Heart Utila’ sign on the beach and this year I noticed a huge Instagram ‘picture frame’ on the public beach that looks to be very popular for the essential holiday beach shot.
I’ve been told that there are many new houses built and being built on the island, especially on the beachfront areas, and I cant help but wonder how the infrastructure of such a small island will take an influx of new residents.
Change will continue for sure.
The Backpacking Husband and I have found a new dive shop to be part of at Tank’d Pro Dive Centre on Utila.
And thankfully lots of things on the island remain the same. Fresh supplies still come to the island from the Honduran mainland on a Tuesday and a Friday and the rum and local beer remain delicious. The sea is still warm and crystal clear. The sun continues to shine.
And the best thing of all? Our lovely friends here still remember and welcome us. So, I guess we could be staying a while….
Where in the world is your special place?