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Introducing The Bay Islands

Spectacular diving and snorkeling draws visitors from around the world to the three Bay Islands (Islas de la Bahía) – Roatán, Utila and Guanaja – between 25 and 50km off the north coast of Honduras. Their reefs are part of the second-largest barrier reef in the world, and teem with fish, coral, sponges, rays, sea turtles and even whale sharks.

The islanders have a fascinating heritage that includes African and Carib, European and other ancestry. English is the dominant spoken language, and Spanish is a second language. In Utila, there are still white descendants of early British settlers (with names like Cooper and Thompson); in Roatán there's a Garífuna settlement at Punta Gorda. You'll also find plenty of resident foreigners, working for dive shops and other tourist-oriented businesses.

The islands' economy is based mostly on tourism and fishing, and shrimp and lobster catching. Diving here is very affordable, but lodging and food on the islands are more expensive than on the mainland. Utila is the most affordable island (popular with backpackers), while Roatán has better beaches and a beautiful forested interior. Diving is also good on Guanaja, though the prices here are prohibitive for most travelers. To save costs, look out for free wi-fi (internet costs are sky high in cybercafes) and get a liking for street food (restaurants can be very expensive). And if you're still struggling, rent a snorkel and mask – the reef itself is gratis.

The rainy season here runs roughly from October or November to February. March and August are the hottest months; at other times sea breezes temper the heat.