Introducing Bay Islands
Honduras is filled with natural treasures – biosphere reserves, national parks, wildlife refuges – but most travelers come here for the mother lode: scuba diving on the Bay Islands. The three Islas de la Bahía – Roatán, Utila and Guanaja – lie along the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-longest coral reef in the world. Beneath the clear turquoise waters is a trove of unbelievable riches: vibrant coral, massive sponges, multicolored fish and large pelagic species, like manta rays, sea turtles and whale sharks. Yet prices remain remarkably low, making the Bay Islands a great place to learn, and in turn love, scuba diving.
Even before Jacques Cousteau popularized diving, the Bay Islands attracted treasure hunters of a more literal sort. Pirates and buccaneers used the islands as a base for attacking Spanish galleons laden with precious metals, woods and other New World bounty bound for Andalusia. Roatán, the largest of the islands, was scallywag central, with as many as 5000 living (and hiding their booty) there in peak years. Much later, British ships dumped more than 2000 rebellious Black Caribs on Roatán; descendents of Arawak Indians and escaped African slaves, the indomitable Caribs morphed into the more mellow but equally resilient Garífuna people of today, found in seaside communities in Roatán and along Honduras’ north coast.
For modern-day wayfarers, the Bay Islands offer three distinct experiences. Roatán has a bit of everything: budget and luxury hotels, independent dive shops and all-inclusive resorts, tangled mangroves and easy eco-parks, as well as activities for divers and non divers alike. Utila is a classic backpackers’ haunt with sand roads, cheap digs and cheap food. Guanaja is the least visited, with an off-the-beaten track feel and just a handful of hotels and restaurants. Repeat visitors tend to develop favorites: ‘Which island should I go to?’ is a much-debated issue on LP’s Thorn Tree. Some travelers will definitely find one more suitable than another, but don’t sweat the decision too much – you’ll strike gold, no matter which island you dig into.
Last updated: Mar 2, 2009
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