Just like the rest of the Bay Islands, Utila has a typical Anglo – Caribbean Architecture. Remember that before 1860, when the Comayagua Treaty was signed between Honduras and the UK, the islands were a British Colony. Because wood is the most popular construction material, few homes last a century. To my knowledge, the oldest island house in Utila is where Munchies, the restaurant is in. This is just west of the Municipal dock. This house was once in the “Cays” and the owners brought it with them to Utila Town many years ago. The new owners renovated it a few years ago, and one of the main beams in the home had the date of 1864 written on it. This means this old home is over 150 years old!
Termites, ocean salt and inclement weather take a toll on the buildings in the Bay Islands. Constant repair is a must. There is no doubt that Utila has retained its local architecture much better than Roatan, its sister island to the east. Utila Architecture boasts a pleasant porch. Usually, you will see a hanging rocking chair to enjoy the refreshing breeze. This chair is usually large and will accommodate two or more persons. Most homes have an extended roof over the porch to provide shade.
You will also notice that it is common for homes to be built on stilts, thus separated from the ground. There are several reasons for this. For one, the ground used to be swampy, and you did not want your home to sit on the swamp. During stormy weather, the swamp water could rise, and you did not want to have your home flooded. Last, but not least, the higher your home, the better you will catch the trade winds. These air currents are useful on those hot Caribbean days!
In the old days, you wanted to be able to shut your windows in case of a hurricane or a tropical storm. Regular glass windows have proven to be vulnerable to strong winds. As such, many homes have shutters or wooden louver windows. These are much more resistant to strong winds. Another important component in the construction style on the islands is tin roofs. These are light and easy to replace. You can always create an air buffer between the tin and your interior roof. This helps insulate the inside of the home, keeping you comfortable on those hot days. Remember that Utila did not have 24 hour power until about 15 years ago!
This meant that you needed to rely on natural, economical ways to keep cool. Air conditioning was not an option unless you had your own power generator. Although the wooden structures might seem quite simple, they are not. Many old Utila homes have some outstanding craftsmanship involved. Wooden handrails, with many details are the norm in Utila.
Check out the Unique Architectural Elements at the Jade Seahorse Complex.
Perhaps the most outstanding Utila Architecture is at the Jade Seahorse-Nightland Cabins grounds. Here, traditional architecture blends with the unique art of Neal Keller. The result is a true fantasy wonderland. Keller Mixes traditional elements such as wood with glass bottles. Old boat portholes recovered from scrapped ships are set to produce a clever detail. Heck, even marbles and imported ceramics add to a true, original architectural style.
No matter what hotel in Utila you stay at, you should make sure you visit the Jade Seahorse complex and take a walk in their grounds. Who knows, you may even meet Neal and get a chance to chat with him. He has many tales about his construction process and has a deep knowledge of Utilian history.
A walk through the town of Utila will present many different interesting buildings. Perhaps even more interesting is a walk through the other Utila community: the Utila Cays. The Cays are a two small islands with a bridge that joins them. There are about 500 persons living on the Cays. This is a tightly knit community with many traditions. Their homes are not as fancy as those in Utila, but they are still a fine example of Utila Architecture.