I was undecided for a while about whether to write a post about this or not.
It’s not the sort of thing I usually write.
It’s very niche, very specific, and a fairly information packed and intense read. I know, I’m really selling this one aren’t I?
But if you’re looking for ways to get from Placencia in Belize to Utila in Honduras, then hopefully this mini post will save you some time and frustration.
When it was coming towards the end of our time in Belize, we assumed (I know, that was mistake number one right there) that it would be relatively easy to get from Placencia in the south to La Ceiba in Honduras, which is the launch point for Utila.
Well, as the saying goes, that assumption certainly made an ass out of me.
After a couple of hours of research and head scratching (then a couple more of swearing at the laptop screen), we found out that we couldn’t have been more wrong.
Getting from Placencia to Utila is actually a bit of a nightmare.
A 2 day nightmare to be exact.
And there’s no up to date and reliable information out there. You just have to piece it together from a few scraps online here and there.
So I decided to take a couple of hours out and put together a detailed run down of how we recently did this journey in the hopes of winning some good travel karma and preventing someone else from having to waste an afternoon sitting on Google. There’s heaps of much better things to do in Placencia besides that.
What’s more, for those of us who are trying to travel Belize on a budget, the journey isn’t actually too expensive. I’ll guide you through the prices for each leg along the journey in the post below to help you plan your budget too.
Here’s how you do it.
How you do this is going to depend which day of the week you want to make the journey.
Some travel options don’t run every day of the week.
So, in the hopes of making this as easy to follow as possible, I’ll break this down into different sections for the different days of the week, so you can go ahead and skip straight to the section for the day you want to travel on.
Placencia to Utila on Fridays
If you want to make this journey on a Friday, you’re in luck.
Friday is the one day of the week where this long and complicated root is made marginally easier. Not easy. Just easier.
It’s made easier by the existence of a ferry that runs from Placencia into Puerto Cortez in Honduras. It only runs one day per week, so expect it to be fairly busy.
It leaves every Friday at 9:30am from the main dock in Placencia and costs $65 US.
From there it’s a short hop down into Big Creek, where Belize Immigration officers will board the boat and give you your exit stamp.
As you might already have heard, there is an exit fee payable when leaving Belize.
We weren’t really sure what to expect at this point, since noone we spoke to in Belize was able to give us a definitive answer as to how much the exit fee actually is. Even the immigration department official when we initially crossed into Belize by bus from Guatemala was able to tell us how much her department charge as an exit fee.
It turns out that it’s different depending on how and where you exit Belize.
On this particular route, and because you’re exiting the country by boat, you don’t have to actually pay any exit fees at all. You only pay $7.50 Belize dollars per person in ‘park fees’ to the immigration officers when they stamp you out. You can pay this amount to them in Belize dollars or US dollars. Whichever you have handy.
Once you arrive in Puerto Cortez, you’ll need to clear immigration. There’s usually two immigration officers stationed at the port and they will meet you off the boat and take you to the office to get stamped in. I couldn’t help but smile when they told us the visa has a 5 US dollar “charge”, which I knew full well was going nowhere near the till. Welcome to Honduras!
Once your bribe is all paid up, exit the port on foot. Don’t listen to any of the taxi drivers hovering around – they will rip you off big time and you don’t need a taxi. The taxi drivers in Honduras seem to be a bit of a law unto themselves. A local guy we got chatting to in the port was shouted down by a bunch of taxi drivers for helping us with directions. Apparently they didn’t want to miss out on the 50 US dollar fare they were trying to charge us for the 4 min journey we needed to do.
Later on, inside the immigration office, once we’d paid our contribution to the officers Christmas party, one of them wrote down the name of the bus we needed to catch. On our way out he told us to hide the piece of paper in our pockets otherwise the taxi drivers would “come in here and be very angry” with him. I don’t know many other countries where officers of the law get scared of the local taxi drivers, but apparently tat’s the way it is in Honduras!
Anyway, back to the journey…
Look out over the water you just sailed in on. To your left there is a yellow bridge. Cross over it, and continue walking straight. Take the first right, just before the main busy road, and there should be a bus stop almost immediately.
From this bus stop, you’ll catch a collectivo to the bus terminal in San Pedro Sula. Most of the collectivos that pull up here are heading that way, but if you’re unsure you can ask them when they pull up as long as you’re “rapido, rapido!”.
The collectivo should cost you no more than 50L or just over 2 US Dollars.
The bus ride from here to the terminal is supposed to take an hour. Ours took 2 hours, largely due to our crazy driver who wanted to get everywhere fast and ended up getting nowhere, slowly. He had one actual collision, after which he literally shooed the driver of the car he drove into away so he could get going again, and then a whole host of near misses. But nothing was quite as funny as the time he tried to cut through a toll road in the express lane and the woman refused to open the barrier for him, making him reverse out and join the correct line. At the back.
Sorry…sidetracked again. Getting back to the journey (again)…
Once you get to the bus terminal in San Pedro Sula, you need to catch a local bus to La Ceiba. That’s the ferry port and the launch town for Utila. This bus should cost you around 120L or around 5USD depending on which bus company you go with. We went with Christinas but Mirma is usually the recommended company for this leg – they’re faster and also a little cheaper. When you enter the terminal building, each bus operator has their own stand or ticket office within the building, so find the company you’re looking for and then go buy your ticket and wait for the bus.
Depending on what time you get into the terminal and how good your collectivo driver is, you may or may not be able to get all the way to La Ceiba in one day.
If you’re planning to do this, make sure you don’t waste any time getting from the boat in Puerto Cortes to the bus stop for the collectivo. We had to get cash out, which meant walking the opposite direction for a while. This set us behind schedule and by the time we eventually caught the collectivo, we arrived at the terminal in San Pedro Sula too late and missed the last bus to La Ceiba.
The last bus from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba leaves at 5pm. Costs vary a lot depending on which company you use, so ask around. As a general rule, the 120L or 5USD we paid is pretty standard.
If you get there too late like us, grab a taxi from the stand outside to La Hamaca Hostel. It’s only 2 or 3 miles away and shouldn’t cost too much.
We decided to get some sleep here for the night and hit the trail again in the morning.
The next morning, after navigating our way back to the bus terminal, we caught the bus to La Ceiba and arrived in time to catch the 4:40pm ferry to Utilla.
As of June 2017, Ferrys leave the mainland twice a day from La Ceiba to Utila – one at 9am and then again at 4:40pm.
Top tip for the ferry – if you’re buying a round trip ticket, you have to purchase a return leg for a specific day. They don’t sell open returns. Luckily, 2 singles is the same price as a return, so there’s no real reason to commit yourself to a particular date. Or weight yourself down with the burden of not loosing the return ticket. Just buy a single out there and then buy another single when you decide you actually want to come back to the mainland.
TLDR? Here’s a quick summary:
Placencia , Belize – Puerto Cortez in Honduras by boat. Leaves 9:30am, $65 USD
Puerto Cortez – San Pedro Sula by collectivo. Leaves every 10 mins. $3 USD
San Pedro Sula – La Ceiba by bus. Leaves every hour or so. Last one around 5pm. $5 USD
La Ceiba – Utila by ferry. Leaves 9am and 4:40pm every day. $25 USD
Placencia to Utila NOT on Fridays
If you want to make the trip on any day other than a Friday, things start to get a little more complicated.
Not impossible, but just a little bit more of an ordeal.
In true Central America style, some of the transport methods discussed above don’t run every day.
So if you by some chance need to get from Placencia to Utila and it’s not a Friday (I know, what are the chances of that?!) here’s what you’ll need to do…
First off, you’ll need to take a quick water taxi from Placencia back across to Independence. This will only take a few mins and shouldn’t cost you any more than 10 Belize dollars and you can find the schedule here.
But don’t get used to the short journeys. That’s the last one of those you’ll be making for a while.
Make sure you arrive into Independance quite early, because the next leg of the journey isn’t very flexible.
From Independance you can catch a James bus down to Punta Gorda in the South of Belize. Timetables and info can be found here.
Punta Gorda itself is a small little port town, and it’s where you’ll need to transfer to your 2nd boat of the day.
This boat will take about an hour to an hour and a half and will get you from Punta Gorda to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala.
There’s one boat per day and it leaves Punta Gorda every morning at 9am. See what I mean about getting to Independance quite early?
The ferry is run by Requena’s Charter Service and costs $50 Belize or $25 US each way.
An exit fee of BZ$37.50 is payable when exiting Belize from Punta Gorda
An exit fee of US$10.00 is payable when exiting Guatemala from Puerto Barrios or Livingston
So that should have you in Puerto Barrios by around 10:30am.
Two countries before lunch! Not bad.
But you’re not done yet.
Now you need to get from Puerto Barrios to La Ceiba in Honduras. La Ceiba is the port town for the Bay Islands including Utila and Rotan and this will be your third and final country for the day.
From the port in Puerto Barrios you can jump on a shuttle to take you all the way to La Ceiba.
I’ve heard quite a few stories from people who have done this particular border crossing by shuttle and all the stories have gone pretty much the same…
The ‘private shuttle’ only takes you to the border. After that the driver will walk you across the border and point you in the direction of a 2nd bus which will take you the rest of the way.
So just be prepared for that. It seems to be pretty standard.
Once you get to La Ceiba though, you’re pretty much there.
The ferry from La Ceiba to Utila is your final leg, and they leave every day at 9am or 4:40pm and cost $25 USD each way.
Chances are you’ll be arriving into town around midnight, so your chances of catching the last ferry are basically non existent.
There are plenty of cheap accommodation options in La Ceiba though and you can easily find somewhere to get your head down for the night and wake up fresh and ready for the 9am ferry the next day. Or treat yourself to a sleep in after your long travel day and catch the 4:40pm one like we did 🙂
Have you gone from Placencia to Utila? What did you think of the journey? Is there anything you did differently?
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