GETTING THERE: Most major airlines offer connecting service to the Honduran port city of La Ceiba, including Continental, US Airways and TACA, with round-trip fares from D.C. starting at $540. You will have to spend the night in La Ceiba and then catch a morning ferry for Utila (one hour, about $7 one way), or take an Islena Airlines puddle jumper for $22 one way.
WHEN TO GO: Utila enjoys moderate temperatures year-round, but you might want to avoid the rainy season, from October to January.
WHERE TO STAY: We enjoyed the local color at Blueberry Hill guesthouse (no address -- there are no addresses on Utila -- and no phone) on Monkey Tail Road, where we paid $10 a night for a cabin with two beds, a bathroom and a fan.
We also treated ourselves to a stay at Nightland (011-504-425-3270, www.jadeseahorse.com) on Monkey Tail Road -- four cabins set amid a lush garden and eccentric artworks. We paid $65 a night for the Fantasea room, which featured an ocean view, stained-glass windows, intricate woodwork and a spiral staircase leading up to a private "moon deck." Even if you don't stay at Nightland, it's worth a tour of the grounds, which also include the Jade Seahorse restaurant and a treehouse bar.
The Utila Lodge (800-282-8932, www.utilalodge.com) has spacious rooms with screened-in porches overlooking the harbor starting at about $40 a night. Dive packages are also available.
WHERE TO EAT: For seafood, try R.J.'s, the Island Cafe and Tranquila's, all on Main Street. Mango Cafe serves delicious brick-oven pizza in a garden setting off Monkey Tail Road. Entrees at all of these restaurants range from about $5 to $10.
WHAT TO DO: If you need to take off a day from diving, several dive shops rent kayaks so you can explore the harbor or the mangrove.
The Iguana Station, up Mamilane Road, is worth a visit to see the endangered "swamper," a species unique to Utila. Afterward, follow the trail behind the Iguana Station to the top of Pumpkin Hill for a 360-degree view of Utila.
At sunset, the place to be is Coco Loco's on Main Street, just east of the ferry terminal. The Bundu Cafe, also on Main Street, has occasional live music, and the Bar in the Bush, which is only open sporadically, is a favorite dance spot for locals.
INFORMATION: Honduras Tourism Institute, 800-410-9608, www.letsgohonduras.com. The Web site of the Utila Dive Center, one of the island's main dive shops, is a good place to start for general information: www.utiladivecentre.com.
-- Carol Clark