The Republic of Honduras is the second-largest country in Central America. Situated between Guatemala and El Salvador to the west and Nicaragua to the south and east, this diamond-shaped republic is packed with beauty, tropical weather, and friendly people. The name Honduras translates to “great depths” in Spanish – named by Christopher Columbus after the deep waters along the coast. The Honduran government divides the country into 18 departments. The smallest department in both landmass and population, The Bay Islands Department, is the one that attracts tourist especially scuba divers from all over the world.
Islas de la Bahía, Spanish for Bay Islands, is a chain of small islands of northern Honduras, strung in a gentle curve 60km off the north coast with their clear waters and abundant marine life. Comprised of eight islands (with 3 main Islands: Roatan, Guanaja, and Utila) and more than 60 smaller cayes with a total surface area is close to 250 km2, the islands chain lies on the Bonacca Ridge, an underwater extension of the Sierra de Omoa mountain range, near the entrance to the Gulf of Honduras and near the Belize Barrier Reef.
This remarkable archipelago serves as major visitor attraction for the Honduras’s growing tourism industry. Tourism to the Bay islands is all about the water. The majestic natural resources of Honduras offer incredible recreational opportunities and grand adventures including some of the best whitewater rafting and finest and least expensive diving in the Caribbean. Scuba diving and snorkeling is high on the list of things to do. The waters and the marine life of the Bay Islands hold a particular place in the Caribbean, and the show, for divers and snorkelers alike, is almost guaranteed thanks to a year round pristine visibility. The coral reef borders the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world and boasts a few sizeable and crazy shaped creatures (parrotfish and whale-sharks would be the perfect examples). A few coral gardens around the islands are home to one of the most dense and diverse marine life in the Caribbean. The beaches are world class and that is what most of the cruise ship passengers do when they visit the islands. There is also a wide variety of water sports and some hiking. Guest who is staying on the islands for several days might want to take a day trip to the mainland and visit some of the ancient Mayan ruins. The Bay Islands also sport a few caves, protected Marine Parks and a few beautiful shipwrecks.
The climate of Bay Islands is tropical with warm weather throughout the year. As elsewhere in Honduras, there is a rainy season on Bay Islands approximately from May to October, with afternoon rain showers and occasional hurricanes reaching the islands during the summer and fall months. However, travel to Bay Islands can be enjoyable all year-round. Temperatures do not vary dramatically throughout the year, staying around 27°C to 32°C along the coast and islands, and 33°C to 37°C inland. Weather-wise, the best time to visit Bay Islands run from December to April when slightly cooler temperatures and fewer rainy days make this season more favorable for visitors.
The three main islands of The Bay Islands collectively represent the heart of Honduran diving. The beckoning waters surrounding each island can be explored via live-aboards/safari boats, day boats and shore dives.
The largest of the three islands, Roatan is the gateway to the Bay Islands with an international airport and two international cruise ports. The island, which was discovered by Explorer Christopher Columbus in 1502, is part of the Mesoamerican Reef Barrier and the top of a granite mountain rising from the sea. This gives Roatan its lush, hilly landscape, which offers dramatic sea view vistas. Its natural wealth and rich history with the presence of the Mayas and Payas, the Spanish and English occupation, and piracy during and after the colony, has generated the development of the island to make it one of the most visited tourist places in Honduras. While it is true that the beauty and charm of the island is not only in its surface, its greatest potential is in the number of coral banks or diving sites. The majority of the reef line lies close offshore, following the contours of the coastline. Curious divers can explore the wreck of the 300-foot Odyssey, sunk in 2002 off Roatan’s south shore. The wreck plays host to impressive schools of parrotfish, barracuda, and jacks. The bow is at 70-feet, with the stem resting on the ocean floor at 110-feet. Another popular Roatan dive site is Mary’s Place, marked by a cut in the wall that at certain times of the day, allows light into the crevice creating an eerie, exotic ambiance. The cut is up to 12-feet wide in some spots.
Known as the “Venice” of the Bay Islands because of its waterways and canals, Guanaja is arguably the most remote and most exotic of the Bay Islands, also the only island with a natural waterfall. Guanaja is only 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) from Roatan’s east end. Columbus named it the Island of Pines (Isla de Pinos) due to its dense pine forest. While trees decorate Guanaja’s landscape, intriguing wrecks and enticing shallow reefs are its underwater adornments. The artificial wreck of the Jado Trader, a 260-foot (79-m) freighter sunk in 1987, is Guanaja’s signature wreck dive. It lies on its starboard side at 110 feet (33 m) with its bow facing a nearby wall. This photogenic wreck and the generous local divers, who frequently carry food, have attracted a variety of animals to the site. While it is possible to penetrate the wreck, only experienced wreck divers should attempt it.
Like both of its larger siblings (Guanaja & Roatan), Utila, also sits on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Utila is the smallest of the islands and the closest to the mainland, which is only 18 miles (29 km) away. Pumpkin Hill is the official highest point on Utila, rising 243 feet (74 meters) above sea level. Most visitors come to Utila specifically for the diving, attracted by the low prices, beautifully clear water, and rich marine life. Even in winter, the water is generally calm, and common sightings include nurse and hammerhead sharks, turtles, parrotfish, stingrays, porcupine fish and an increasing number of dolphins. In all of the Caribbean, Utila is the prime location for sightings of Caribbean whale sharks. The largest concentration of these stellar rulers of the sea occurs March dependably through May as well as August through October when they congregate along the northern banks of the island.