Q: How is the phone service?
Honduras has two phone companies, and the one you choose can depend quite literally on where you are standing when you want to make a phone call. Tigo and Claro both offer ‘electronic’ recharges everywhere - tell one of their Agents your telephone number, give them they cash, they send a text message to Claro/Tigo and you get a credit. Signals from both companies are pretty good now, but about five years ago, you had to walk out on the end of the dock to get a signal. Everyone has a cell phone now. The country code is 504. When calling from the U.S. or Canada, dial +011 first (the code prefix for making an international call). If calling from the U.K., the code prefix is +001. Other countries will have other codes. Most of my communications with the caretaker and for purchases are done through Messenger and Facebook (since it is easy to send photos of items) and using Google Translate for messages, since my Spanish is terrible. I do not have international calling on my phone plan, so getting calls from Honduras is considerably cheaper than me calling there.
You can get some idea of what is available at http://aboututila.com/AccomInfo/Houses.htm -HOWEVER this site is not kept up to date, so the info is not current. There are some listings that are extremely cheap, but they will be part of a dive package. The next cheapest generally don't have hot water or private baths and may well be shared rooms - you need to read the details carefully. There are some Treasure Beach rentals on vrbo.com, but those houses are much grander than mine. I think Blue Bliss would go at a mid-range price for beachfront rental.
Q: How are the roads in Big Rock Beach and how do people get around, such as to go to the grocery store?
Here is a map of the Points of Interest in Utila, as well as a map of the roads. Videos of the Geography of Utila are also helpful in figuring out what is where. There is also a map of the Dive Buoys of Utila created by the Bay Islands Conservation Association that is very nice. Blue Bliss is located by Buoy #32, but the actual buoy is located much closer to shore than it appears on the map.
I spend the night in La Ceiba, staying at the Gran Hotel Paris if not with friends, and catch the morning Utila Dream ferry to Utila. I don't like trying to get a dory to the house after the late ferry, since it doesn't leave any time to shop. I just have to come back into town the next day and pay for another boat ride, plus I miss all of that sitting-on-the-porch time.
The caretaker has a small boat, so if it is not rough, he can get us. If it is rough or we happen to have large purchases, he will hire a larger boat for about $35 for the day. If it is not available, then there are other captains for hire, also at about $35 for the trip to the house.
The house has sediment and UV filters installed, but they have never been used since we are not there that often. The caretaker doesn't want to use it, since he is not that familiar with the system, so we have a bypass valve installed. The new owner can use it or not.
Q: Is this a subdivision?
How close are the other homes to yours?
Big Rock Beach is our section of the island. Jack Neil Beach is to the east of us; Treasure Beach is to the west. The entire south side of the island west of the lagoon is referred to as the South Shore. We are 18 miles off the mainland and you can see the mountains when it is clear.
There are four houses built on the lots in Big Rock Beach so far - lots 3, 8,9 and Blue Bliss on 10. I believe Utopia Village, an all-inclusive dive resort (awarded Trip Advisor 2016 Traveler's Choice) is located on Lots 1 and 2, plus more property to the west in the next section. Each lot is about 100' wide, except for mine, which is an L shape with 76 feet of beachfront. My lot is deeper than the others. Lot 11 fits inside the L to square it off. It is to the east of me, is not developed, and is the last lot in the section.
Q: Can you get insurance?
Yes. Kent Wildt <email@example.com> in La Ceiba quoted me very reasonable coverage costs through Lloyds of London. He writes a lot of the insurance policies in the Bay Islands. Honduran insurance company premiums make no distinction regarding where a property is located in Honduras. Standard insurance coverage includes flood, hurricane, fire, acts of God, etc. Unlike the U.S., flood and hurricane coverage is not an additional or extra charge. Annual insurance premiums are around 0.8% of the sum insured for buildings that are mostly of wooden construction, or around 0.5% of the sum insured for buildings that are mostly of concrete construction.
Turning on the AC will make the bugs inactive, so we do that on nights when there is no wind. Lucky for us, the prevailing winds blow the bugs away most of the time. One day, I kept finding the bedspread, top sheet and pillows on the floor in the east bedroom. I was starting to think we had a ghost. So I made the bed up AGAIN and was still in the room when the wind blew everything right back onto the floor. It was a relief to find out I was not being haunted! But we definitely can get some really strong winds.
Q: How much can the upstairs be rented for?
Blue Bliss has never been rented. The house was an investment, so I took money from my stock portfolio to avoid having a mortgage. The overhead is so minimal, I really didn't want the hassle of trying to rent it out, nor the wear and tear on the house while it is on the market. The house is not set up with Internet/TV/water toys/boat or any of the things that a vacationer would expect, although I do have family that uses it from time to time. Since I haven't rented the house out, I really don't have any figures on what the rental rates would be. Of course, it varies with the length of time and season.
Q: Does the road at the house go all the way to town?
No, the island is divided by a canal, so the house is boat access. However, you can travel by boat in the lagoon if the weather is bad. Also, once you get used to the idea of using a boat instead of a car, it is not as isolated as you would think. It's sort of like living in the country where you go to town a couple of times a week instead of living in a city. Personally, I find Utila town to be very similar to Key West in the 70's. (Yes, I remember it!) I don't like living someplace that crowded anymore and I don't do bars or nightlife, so the South Shore is much more to my liking. You might like being in town better. That is something you should think about.
Q: How is the electric service?
Most of the time, it's great! UPCO (Utila Power Company) does a good job at keeping the lights on. Of course, there are outages, but they do their best to notify everyone of scheduled work on Facebook. They also post the current cost of power on Facebook under the "About" tab. Our power line is underground from the pole to the house, so we don't have to worry about trees falling on the lines. Our meter is a pre-paid one, so you buy power from UPCO in town and get a code to punch into the box on the rear exterior wall. You can always see how much power you have. When you run out of kWh, the power simply shuts off. This is contrary to most people's experience, but it is easy to get used to this way of thinking. The upside is that you can never run up a huge bill accidentally. The current kWh tariff is Lps. 8.50 (about $0.36).
Q: What are the current duties of the caretaker and his wife? What is the current arrangement for the caretaker's housing and wages? What a fair wage in Utila?
The caretaker's main job is security for Lots 8, 9 and 10 (Blue Bliss). He works 4 hours per day doing yard work and general maintenance, 6 days per week. One day per week he cleans the beach. Generally, he will do a week at each of the three houses in rotation. We hire him for other jobs as needed and negotiate the price. He gets about $500 per month (paid by the other two owners), plus the apartment and 65 KWH (about $75) worth of electricity per month (my share). To give you an idea of the wages, a carpenter will make about $15-20 per day, an experienced roofer commands as much as $30 per day, and a maid is $12.50 per day. I hire the caretaker's wife to clean the house twice a month, which comes to $25 per month. I throw in a bit extra for cleaning supplies and phone calls. If I have guests using the house, they pay her for a day to do the laundry and cleaning after they leave. Generally I figure $90-100 per month for expenses, depending on the exchange rate, when I am not there. I use xoom.com to send money to individuals and stores in Utila and La Ceiba for a reasonable fee and exchange rate.
By Blue Bliss Beach House owner Gail Collins
A lot of common questions about the house that I have been asked over the years are listed below, in no particular order. Please note that this is based on my personal experience, but I believe it will help those who are not familiar with Utila.
NOTE: Prices do fluctuate from season to season. Also, the currency exchange rates are not fixed, so all prices listed below may change at any moment. A simple rule of thumb is 20 Limpera to $1 US for figuring prices in your head, since the official exchange rate hovers around 22-23 Limpera per $1 US.
All of the underwater photos on this page were taken while snorkeling off the dock in June 2017.
One thing that we do to reduce the power bill is to turn the water heater breaker on for about 30-60 minutes per day, instead of leaving it on all the time. That gives us enough hot water for showers and dishes at night and into the next day. It's a simple way to conserve energy.
Q: What about bugs?
Bugs are a fact of life in the tropics. If the wind is not blowing, we get mosquitoes and sand fleas at dusk and dawn, or in shady spots. Some people are bothered by them much more than others. The best solution is Deep Woods Off bug spray. I have also sewn a netting pair of pants and jacket that go over my regular clothes that worked very well, but was not exactly fashionable. The house has screens on all of the windows. Because regular mesh will not keep out sand fleas, I replaced the screens with finer mesh fabric (no-see-um netting as opposed to mosquito netting), which I also used for bed nets. This is the site that I bought netting from:
http://store.skeeta.biz/fabric-mesh/no-see-um-netting . They also sell tops and pants that you can wear over your regular clothes.
There are three fairly large grocery stores that I know of (Bush's = gringo/upscale store with wonderful hydroponic lettuce from Roatan; Bodden = regular store on the main street; and a local store that's up the hill = best prices and meat), four hardware stores (Delco has everything under the sun including large appliances, dishes, school supplies and bikes), four bakeries (Thompson's Bakery with killer cinnamon buns, Camilla's with fancy breads like black olive or sprouted wheat, and bagels). There is a movie theater, designer coffee shops and a lot of restaurants, bars (most with free wi-fi) and smaller stores selling everything. Of course, businesses come and go rapidly, so what was there last year might not be there now. There is not as much variety as the mainland, but you can get pretty much anything you can think of in Utila. It's just not in a mall or even a single store.
Q: How is the Internet?
There are now four Internet service providers in Utila, but only three can provide service to Blue Bliss:
Utila Digital - over cable (also cable TV) and over radio service (radio antenna installed at your house)
MetroNet - over radio service
D&D Internet - over radio service
I do not have Internet service installed at the house, since I'm not there enough to justify the cost. There are plenty of wi-fi spots in town. I generally use Mermaids, on the main street, when I go to town with my laptop. If you are a commodities trader who needs excellent connections to make (or lose) a fortune within minutes and must be connected 24/7, then you may need to do some serious research into (very expensive) satellite services.
Q: How is the water?
The house is supplied by a well located on the rear of the property. It is located in solid coral rock (not dirt) and has never run dry. It is impossible to test for bacteria, since the labs require the sample within 24 hours and we just can't get it to them that quickly, so we shock the well with bleach once a year to be on the safe side. We purchase drinking water, delivered to the house in five gallon jugs, and use the well water for showers, toilets and the hoses. There has never been a problem with bad water from the well.
Q: How do you get to Utila and what is the approximate cost to travel?
The best description that I've heard about traveling to Utila is that it is "fluid." Routes and dates change rapidly; you may be delayed or detoured by any number of events; airlines and other businesses come and go... It's best to be flexible in your attitude and expectations. A good place to start looking for info on hotels and travel arrangements is the Utila Guide.
One thing of importance to know is that the island is divided by a canal, so you have to take a boat to the house. It is possible to hire a boat to go inside the lagoon when there are rough seas, but then you have a longer way to go on the utility road (behind the house) or beach. Neptune's at Coral Beach Village (about a 15 minute walk east) has a ferry from the main dock in town to their marina on the lagoon for a nominal fee, so that is also an option. There is talk of a bridge over the canal someday. If that happens, there will be a building boom on the west end of the island.
The town has about 2000-3000 full time residents. The economy is tourist-based, with divers coming from all over the world to get certified here, since it is the least expensive place to do this.
The following information comes from Julie Shigetomi, who lives on Utila full time, and is excellent advice for first time visitors to Utila:
Utila is a very special place. It's probably due to it requiring a little more effort to arrive here. Chances are that your trip will need a bit more planning than most travel arrangements you have made in the past. But then again, you've probably never visited any place like Utila before! Getting to Honduras is easy. Getting to Utila requires help. Here's some advice on your travel plans that should make things easier, and if all else fails, contact me and I'll be happy to help.
Julie's #1 Travel Tip: First check for connections to Utila from Roatan (1 hop away), San Pedro Sula (two hops away) or La Ceiba (one hop away), before booking your international flights.
Houston, Newark and Ft. Lauderdale are good connections to get directly to Honduras. During November to May, there are many extra flights and charter flights from North America.
Fly on Saturday. On Saturdays, there are direct flights to Utila from Roatan (RTB) & San Pedro Sula (SAP)
From Canada, on Mondays, there are charter flights direct from Toronto and Montreal to La Ceiba (LCE)
Contact these Utila travel agents for help. They all speak English.
Morgan’s Travel - Linda Jones
Tel: +(504) 2425-3166 (Honduras) +(786) 623-4167 (Florida USA)
World-Wide Travel - Cynia Aguilar
Tel: +(504) 3387-7595 or +(504) 2425-3300
When dialing Honduras from US/Canada replace +(504) with 011504. 011 is the prefix for making an international call from US/Canada. 504 is the country code for Honduras.
Julie's info on air travel lists the airlines currently providing service. Julie's info on arriving by boat has the schedules and rates of the ferries from Roatan and La Ceiba to Utila. Julie's info on traveling by land lists the bus lines that run on the mainland between Honduran cities and to other countries.
I usually fly from Miami to San Pedro Sula (large airport on the Northeast coast) using whatever airline is reasonable. Costs vary from season to season, but I generally try to get a round trip flight, booking 6 weeks ahead of the trip. From the airport, I take the Hedman-Alas bus (luxury tourist bus, very safe, comfortable, runs on schedule, excellent employees) to La Ceiba.
We walk or take tuk-tuks in town. If I were living there full time, I'd have a bike to get around town. A car is overkill, frankly. A four wheeler would be nice at the house or in town. All of the stores deliver purchases to your dory at the municipal dock as part of the service (tip is expected), or you can hire a kid with a three wheeled delivery bike to follow you around.