Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

The Honduras Bay Islands in Central America offer a quick and convenient travel option for those of us who love the Caribbean Ocean and are on a budget . The 3 major islands -Roatan , Utila and Guanaja are all surrounded by a barrier reef that starts in Mexico & Belize. The waters here are protected and most of the corals are healthy . Roatan does have some damage as the cruise ships stop there weekly and is the most touristy of all the islands.

Utila , the 2nd most popular and relatively flat island is more challenging to get to, but offers the most competitive prices for diving . Guanaja , the most expensive but also the most secluded offers a mountainous terrain and a uique experience. Except for the infamous Whale Shark activity each spring you won’t see many sharks or large fish .

I flew into Roatan on Delta ( Continental also offers twice weekly service ) and took a charter flight ( a 4 seater!) over to Utila . Roatan Charter was 2 hours late and and we barely made it before dark .-wee were told their larger palnes are being repaired. We were stranded on our return flight and had to hitchhike a plane from the Laguna Beach resort who was flying solo to Roatan , we barely made our connecting flight with Delta. I would opt for Atlantic airlines , SOSA ,or another charter of take the ferry from Le Ceiba if you use the San Pedro Sula airport on the mainland. We then had a quick taxi to town ,and a 25 minute boat ride to our final destination – Utopia Dive Resort . There is no direct road , in fact the road downtown is a wide sidewalk that barely allows 2 vehicles to pass. This all part of the Island charm . www.utopiadivevillage.com.

This new resort is Eco-friendly and offers modern Asian inspired and comfortable rooms . Utopia Village is owned by a group of several Americans from Texas. Angelika, the general manager has survived 9/11, the bermuda triangle in a sailboat and the trauma of relocating to a 3rd world country to get married and start a new business. with her friend Debbie( very outgoing and a fabulous chef too!) She wants to be an inspiration to women everywhere who want to live their dreams. Angelika & Debbie have big plans for the resort with an upcoming new pool and dock to enhance shore & night diving & snorkeling along with a wellness center.

Hugh, the amazing chef , also from Dallas and his girfriend Ryan offer the best food I have ever experienced in the Caribbean . Due to my dietary restrictions they were able to cook wheat free and healthy food all week . No fried food or white rice. Amazing. I did however, cheat with his homemade chocolate coconut ice cream and his sorbets . The secret is portion control and fresh food. I brought my organic brown rice pasta and quinoa which he created some new recipes. Since the food is all shipped form the mainland , please bring your own staples if you are on a restricted diet. Chef Hugh will be really happy if you can bring a canof Extra -Virgin Olive oil as theyliberally use local butter.

For breakfast , other guests were enjoying his chocolate chip chip pancakes with whip cream and bacon and I had my veggies & eggs. Fruit smoothies were perfect mid day treats after diving . The ceviches and bubblegum hummus were also unique. Everybody was happy . Even the wine selection is a treat. If you don’t stay at Utopia , you must visit for dinner, although you need to make reservations in advance and reserve a boat taxi .

The outside bar with hammocks and comfy chairs, offered a remote and novel view of the lunar eclipse…..I truly felt as though I were on another planet.For those of you who want a romantic setting , this is it .

We had 2 morning dives daily and I took nitrox classes and went snorkeling or kayaking in the afternoons.

There is a full service spa on premises and Utopia can also arrange fishing trips. Between diving we looked for Whale Sharks and dolphins. We scored on the dolphins but because of the full moon, I was told not to be too hopeful ablout Whale Shark sitings, from our expert boat captain Leonard who has lived here all of his 25 years .

For snorkelers , you can just hop on the dive boat and get into the water after the divers. I will pre-caution you to wear a Lycra skin to prevent any jellyfish stings. The warm water was an average 0f 81 degrees and the currents were calm .I wore a 3/5 ml wetsuits and was comfortable the entire trip . My dive buddy wore a skin . Our boat had a canopy , many of the others did not and I was happy to be protected from the hot sun.They do not however have a rinse tankl on board for cameras or a mask wash are but are looking into it .

The schools of fish were incredible ….blue tang, sergent majors, several types of angel fish , banded & 4 eye butterfly fish , eels, hogfish , grouers, snappers, tuna, frogfish , spotted stingrays, turtles, parrotfish , wrasses, pufferfish ,spotted drums, trunkfish , cowfish , trumpetfish and nudibranches. The coral was so healthy I actually got to see black coral and one that was wedgewood blue . The entire Island is a marine park and be prepared to apy a $3.00 park fee for each day . Every site is marked with a buoy to prevent anchor damage to the corals . Mosty of the sites are 50 feet from shore . We only dove 13 sites and I counted 55 on the map .My only regret was that I did not have a camera. The visibility for most of the dives was 50-90 ft. Incredible . I could even make out the fish id’s when kayaking .

The people are delightful , talkative and eager to please. This is a simple island with people from all ove rthe planet and scores of back-packers and drifters. For an amazing land trip you need to visit the Jade Seahorse , www.jadeseahorse.com ,an eclectic artist retreat that offer inique assortment of jewelry and furnishings for sale along with a treehouse bar and raw food. They even has rooms for rent if you want to stay in town. I have never seen so many different types of glass in different formations …you have to see to believe it .More popular places to stay in town are the Utopia Lodge-425-3143 and the Mango Inn.:425-3335

For additional land activites there is hiking to Pumpkin hill and horseback riding with cave exploration.People come here to dive, fish and boat and the offerings will continue to grow. Laguna Beach Resort is another fabulous resort for divers that offers 3 dives daily and has a pool shaped like a whale shark . Their food has been traditonal bisland fare but since Utopia opened up, they are spreading their wings to look for chef. Expect new food choices there soon. Their private charter is nicer than Roatan Charter and the pilot is top-notch . In the US call 800-668-8452 for reservations or e-mail them at : res@utila.com

You can find a place to stay for just about any budget and the US dollar still offers a value here.

Things you need to prepare for : Insect bites……we did not get any while we used our Jason Organic Tea Tree Oil & Aura Cacia Lavender Oil and the Jason , Quit Bugging Me , Insect repellent . Another natural brand that works is the All Terrain Spray . For Jellyfish Stings, we used the Siver Biotics ASAP gel with a few drops of tea tree oil in it . The itching stopped within minutes. For those of you who are very sensitive you may want to pack Benedryl for emergencies.

We used Vitamin C serums( Zia & Kiss My Face ) for after dives and sun exposure with Jason Aloe Vera Gel with essential oils of lavender & geranium for external moisture and skin protection. To ensure healthy reefs, be sure to use a sunscreen with Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide in it instead of the traditional FDA approved chemicals that are slowly killing coral reefs. Many natural brands such as Jason #30 mineral based , Alba fragrance Free #18 for adults & kids , Kiss My Face #18 w/ Oat Protein, and Earth’s Best Baby 30+ Suntan lotion offer these products . They are thicker than most lotions but you can add some natural almond or olive oil or aloe gel to help them spread more easily .

Honduras is a beautiful country filled with friendly people. I hope that you get to experience some of its treasures soon….remember your passport and bring an extra $35.00 US cash for your exit fee……I may see you down there again soon. www.letsgohonduras.com/www.visithonduras.com/www.canaturh-bayislands.org.

Safe Travels,

Sally Byrd

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