The three islands of Roatan, Utila and Guanaja, plus some 60 smaller cays are the country's prime tourist attraction. The smallest of the Bay Islands, Utila lies closest to the Honduran Mainland and is often on the top of a travellers list - white tropical sands, lush green vegetation and blue waters with incredible visibility hiding one of the most magnificent coral reef systems in Central America.

A popular place for novice divers and backpackers Utila has become a diving mecca; in fact you would be hard pushed to find a cheaper or more convenient place to dive. The island has developed around and caters specifically for the dramatic increase in diving tourists arriving on the island since 1960, becoming famous for its teaching environment with some of the most experienced instructors available to teach courses through from Open Water to Instructor.

Utila's reef is particularly varied due to its location on the edge of the continental shelf, allowing a rare chance to see the transition between shallow and deep environments. This transition permits nearly 96% of all Caribbean marine life to be supported in the waters around Utila and the Bay Islands. On a typical dive you can expect to see a wide variety of coral, sponges, fishes, anemones, seahorses, turtles, rays, dolphins and of course, if you`re lucky, a whale shark as Utila boasts the largest local population of whale sharks, the biggest fish in the ocean. The reef system is a fringing reef, essentially beginning at the shore and stretching out around the island. The south side reef on average drops down to around 15-30m, whereas the reef on the North Side forms almost a complete wall dropping down to depths yet to be explored, presenting the perfect opportunity for deep diving expeditions to investigate a second, unexplored reef system recently discovered. Dive sites on both sides of the island allows a wide variety of different types of dives, ranging from shallow reef and sheer wall dives, to wreck dives with our very own purpose sunk wreck the Halliburton 211 and swim-throughs.

Life out of the ocean on Utila is full of history and interest to the traveller as well however. The first full-time residents are thought to have arrived no earlier than A.D. 600, and there are a number of archaeological sites found throughout the Bay Islands. Utila's current culture has developed from pirate raids, immigration, deportation, escaped slaves and conquests, giving the island a rich and varied history. The native language spoken is English; however the local dialect is a strong Caribbean English you may find hard to understand! Life is slow paced on the island and is strongly focused around the fishing and tourist industry. Nearly all of the approximate 6000 resident Utilians live in East Harbour on the south side of the island; the town wrapping around a large harbour that is protected from the open ocean by reef. While not a large town by any imagination, the small wooden houses and shops offer a wide range of facilities to the tourist; small grocery stores, bicycle/motorbike rental, hardware shops, two banks with 3 ATM's that accept all major credit cards and one that accepts Maestro, gift shops selling traditional Central American products, a small cinema, a number of cheap internet centres, 2 medical centres and a huge variety of restaurants covering local BBQ style food to Italian, and local Honduran dishes including the very popular balliadas served from tiny shacks on the roadside. Not to forget of course the nightlife that Utila is famous for, after it's diving, with the most popular night's being Wednesdays and Fridays where most people meet at Tranquila and Coco Loco's for waterside drinks, moving on to Treetanic before heading to Bar in the Bush, the late night club on the island found literally in the bush!

There are many other interests on the island, besides diving and partying; the Iguana Research and Breeding Station is a nice walk into the island and allows you to watch the endemic iguana species, now in danger of extinction due to overhunting and destruction of their mangrove habitat; alternatively be an explorer for a day and take a 20min walk west of the town to the point of Blue Bayou, where the cross-island canal begins. From here you can take a boat ride to the start of a trail leading to Turtle Harbour Pond, the site of a pre-Columbian ruin. Utila also possesses one small mountain reaching 82m high, Pumpkin Hill. There are a number of beaches you can stop at on your way, and from the top you can see Roatan. Here you will also find the Brandon Hill Cave, reportedly where pirates hid their gold, and a number of other caves you can explore, just don't forget your flashlight and watch out for bats! If a day of relaxing and fun in the sun is more your style there are 2 beautiful beaches close to the town. The first is Bando Beach, a private beach costing $3 entry. Here you can read a book in the shade of a typical beach hut, or hire snorkels and kayaks and explore the inner reefs. The second is the public beach to the west of the town, free for all with a number of small restaurants and shacks for you to purchase food and drinks.

Utila is also famous for 2 main events that take place each year. The first is the Utila Carnival; held in the 3rd week of July this offers a chance to experience the local culture in full swing with a number of different events being held throughout the week. The second is Sunjam, held in the first week of August; a massive techno music festival offering all night partying on Water Cay. With a perfect tropical climate the whole year through you will never be disappointed with the weather. Daily average temperatures range from 25 - 30C, drop to around 21C at night, and there are east-southeast trade winds blowing throughout the year. Water temperatures range from 26C in winter to 30C in summer - meaning you very rarely need a wetsuit thicker than 5mm for diving! The wettest months are October and November, with rains usually starting in June and continuing to January, however weather patterns are highly variable and so rain can fall at any time.

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