The Bay Islands of Honduras are a small archipelago just off the Caribbean Coast of Honduras. They are, by far, the best of two worlds. For one, they offer a taste of Central America. On the other, they are an authentic Caribbean destination. Today, travel between the Bay Islands of Honduras is somewhat easy. When I first came to Honduras, twenty-six years ago, there was no regular service between the islands. If you wanted to travel from one island to another, you would have to come back to La Ceiba. From there, you could arrange to travel between the Bay Islands.
Back in those days, in the mid-nineties, there was no marine ferry service. Travel was by air between La Ceiba and the islands. Roatan had the most service, but then again, it was pretty much through La Ceiba. There were a couple of flights that SAHSA, the old, now defunct Honduras flag carrier served from the USA to Roatan. Roatan did have a good runway. The airport terminal was an old wooden house that functioned as immigration and customs, as well as a check in for the passengers.
Travel to Utila was only by air, although you could catch a ride in the cargo boats that took supplies to the island. The runway was a noticeably short dirt landing strip, with water on both ends of it. It was in what today is Bando Beach in Utila. Landing and taking off in Utila was certainly an exhilarating experience! I dare say as exciting as landing in Tegucigalpa on a jet aircraft!
Finally, there was the Island of Guanaja. This island did have a good asphalt runway, and there was service only from La Ceiba. The one exception was when SAHSA would fly their old DC3 between Roatan and Guanaja specifically to accommodate passengers en route to Guanaja. Mostly these were staying and the luxurious Posada del Sol or the more eco friendly Bayman Bay Club. Sadly, both resorts could never recover from the blow that Hurricane Mitch dealt to Guanaja.
The Age of Ferry Services Makes Travel Between the Bay Islands Possible
By the late nineties, a group of islanders purchased a crew boat like those used to service the offshore oil rigs in the gulf and modified it to function as a ferry. The very first ferry was the Tropical, which began service between Roatan and La Ceiba. Soon, the ferry schedule included a daily trip to Utila. However, both trips were via La Ceiba. This means that although you could travel on the same boat between both islands, it was always via La Ceiba.
The Utila entrepreneurs decided that they needed to get their own ferry. Thus, the Utila Princess came to be. It was a similar crew boat to that used by the Roatan Ferry. Although these crew boats are extremely seaworthy, they tend to roll a lot in rough or choppy seas. As such, the Utila Princess came to be known as the “Barf Boat” because many passengers would get seasick! A rather unpleasant sight, I must say!
It was agreed that the Utila ferry would only serve Utila, and the Roatan Ferry would only serve Roatan. Although there were different attempts to get a ferry to Guanaja, the distance and the lack of demand ended most attempts. Most were made from the municipal dock in Trujillo instead of travel from La Ceiba. There was never enough traffic to create a lasting business plan for this project. For some time, an effort was made for a ferry between Oakridge in Roatan, and Guanaja, but they did not have success.
In time, the marine transport business grew. The new Roatan Ferry is a state-of-the-art waterjet catamaran that made the run between Roatan and La Ceiba fast and comfortable. The regular service offers two daily departures from Roatan to La Ceiba and back. Service is back up and running after the shutdown due to Covid-19 earlier this year.
The Utila ferry business plan went another route. The old crew boat was replaced by a brand-new 48 foot motor catamaran. The boat was fast and comfortable, but it was more of a party boat for use in lakes and rivers, and not out in the open ocean. The canvas top soon leaked through the seams. When the sea was rough, water could crash on the side canvass and get everything wet, including the passengers. The local solution was to build a solid top on the boat. This meant that they also had to add air conditioning. To me it always seemed liked a floating coffin, waiting to sink… fortunately, that never happened.
By now, it was evident that there was a need for an option to travel between the bay islands. A US expat who settled in Utila saw an opportunity and set up a regular service between Utila and Roatan in a sailing catamaran. Captain Vern soon became a popular service provider and proved that there was enough demand by visitors to provide a service that would allow travel between the Bay Islands. Captain Vern transported only a few passengers on each passage but ran a successful business.
A group of islanders decided that Utila needed a modern, seaworthy ferry. After talks between them and the owners of the Utila Princess did not prosper, they set out to buy their own ferry. Thus, a price war, that I called the Utila Ferry price war, took place. For several weeks, the price of a one-way ticket to travel between La Ceiba and Utila was as low as 4 dollars per person! Eventually, the new boat, the Utila Dream came out as the winner of this price war. Passenger fares immediately went back to normal! The new ferry, the Utila Dream is a state-of-the-art waterjet catamaran that takes less than an hour to travel between La Ceiba and Utila.
Finally, Travel between the Islands of Utila and Roatan is Easy and Affordable!
This new ferry soon started offering ferry service between Utila and Roatan. At last, there was an easy, comfortable alternative for travel between the Bay Islands! The Utila Dream offers this service daily, departing Utila at around 10:00 am for a quick, 50-minute trip to Roatan. The return trip departs from their dock in Coxen Hole at 2 pm.
There have also been attempts to provide air service between the islands. For some time, a retired American pilot who was an expat in Honduras but his 9 passenger islander aircraft to fly between Utila and Roatan. Occasionally, he would provide charter air service to other destinations within Honduras. Currently Lanhsa Airlines provides service between Roatan and Guanaja on weekends to connect passengers landing on international flights in Roatan to continue their travel to Guanaja Island.
Travel between the Bay Islands has become much easier. To be honest, the three main Bay Islands, Utila, Roatan and Guanaja are so different from each other, that you should try to visit more that one of them. They each have their own charm.