Coming from Guatemala, we took a direct shuttle from Antigua to Copán Ruinas to begin our adventure in Honduras. Crossing borders was very simple, and the shuttles are far more comfortable than a bus. Based out of Antigua, Planeta Maya has the best shuttle rates around.
Our first stop just east of the Guatemala – Honduras border is the small town of Copán Ruinas. Mayan ruins are a must see while in Central America. This site is definitely not the largest, but it is by far the most intricate ruins site I have ever seen. All the rocks are artistically carved with beautiful symbols and designs, and the surrounding rain forest is full of birds including scarlet macaws!!
After a couple nights in Copán Ruinas, we made our way to San Pedro Sula’s bus terminal and caught a connecting bus to La Ceiba (about 8 hours total travel time). We made it just in time for the last ferry of the day from mainland Honduras to the Bay Island of Utila. The bay islands are a slice of paradise, and Utila is made for those traveling on a budget.
Have you ever wanted to try scuba diving?
Utila is one of the cheapest places in the world to get PADI certified. There are dozens of dive shops, dive sites, and miles of reef to explore. Add in tropical fish, dolphins, and whale sharks to make this a scuba diver’s dream come true!! Scuba diving has been on my bucket list for quite some time. This whole Central America adventure was based on learning to scuba dive.
My internet research led me to Utila Dive Center (UDC), perhaps the most reputable dive center on the island. We signed up for PADI Open Water Certification classes in advance via the UDC’s website. I knew scuba diving was going to be our “big splurge” on this trip, but I couldn’t believe I found such an amazing deal. The Open Water Certification classes, equipment rental, study material, tanks, 2 bonus fun dives at the end of the class, and 5 nights dorm accommodation at the Mango Inn was $329 per person. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.
Our certification course consisted of classroom work, shallow deck dives learning techniques, four boat dives, and two bonus fun dives after we were certified. Let me tell you, I will never ever forget my first breath under water. At that moment, we were both unsure if scuba was “for us.” I’m so glad neither of us bailed because after that first shallow dive, every dive got easier and easier. By the end of the course, we were totally in love. Scuba diving allows you to experience a whole new world under the water’s surface. There’s truly nothing like it.
Not only is Utila budget friendly, the island is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest reef in the world next to the Great Barrier Reef. After our course, we visited the “Labyrinth” dive site where we swam between massive reef walls and under reef arches.
Utila is also home to hundreds of tropical fish species, eels, turtles, dolphins, and whale sharks. Seen on the sign below, whale sharks are the world’s largest fish. They are docile, and you can swim with them safely. I was a little bummed we didn’t see any on this trip, but it just gives me more motivation to return!
Leaving was mildly heartbreaking, but we took the ferry back to the mainland and hopped a bus from La Ceiba to San Pedro Sula. At the bus terminal, we switched buses and headed to Puerto Cortes. We spent the night and headed to the docks in the morning to grab a boat over to our next destination: Belize!!
(Note: The boat from Puerto Cortes, Honduras to Placencia, Belize only runs on Mondays and costs $60 per person. It will save you quite a bit of bus time and only cost slightly more than traveling overland from Honduras to Belize.)
Despite its reputation, Honduras was quite enjoyable. We loved the Mayan ruins of Copán and found paradise on the bay island of Utila. I will note that many backpackers skip Honduras because of its history of violent crime. That being said, we were warmly welcomed for the most part. Many strangers kindly answered our questions while in the bus station, and we were never anywhere we felt unsafe. Always use your best judgement, stay in good areas, and use common sense. We made it through the bus station in the world’s most dangerous city, San Pedro Sula, twice on our way to and from Utila. It can be done.
I had a wonderful time in this country, and I look forward to going back!
(Note: There is a small airport on the island of Roatan just east of Utila with a connecting ferry. If you have the money, you can skip the buses and fly directly to the bay islands.)