Bay Islands

A string of islands off the northern coast of Honduras, the Bay Islands are the country's most popular tourist attraction. Warm, clear Caribbean waters provide excellent reef diving - some of the cheapest in the Caribbean. Equally enjoyable are the white-sand beaches, tropical sunsets and the relaxed atmosphere which positively encourages you to take to your hammock, lie back and relax. The culture is far less Latino than on the mainland. English is spoken by many and there are still Black Carib descendants of those deported from St Vincent in 1797.

The islands

The beautiful Bay Islands (
Islas de la Bahía
), of white sandy beaches, coconut palms and gentle sea breezes, form an arc in the Caribbean, some 32 km north of La Ceiba. The three main islands are
Utila
,
Guanaja
and, the largest and most developed,
Roatán
. At the eastern end of Roatán are three smaller islands:
Morat
,
Santa Elena
, and
Barbareta
, with many islets and cayes to explore. Closest to the mainland are the small, palm-fringed
Hog Islands
, more attractively known as
Cayos Cochinos
.

The underwater environment is one of the main attractions and is rich and extensive;
reefs
surround the islands, often within swimming distance of the shore.
Caves
and caverns are a common feature, with a wide variety of
sponges
and the best collection of
pillar coral
in the Caribbean. There are many protected areas including the
Marine Parks
of Turtle Harbour on Utila, and Sandy Bay/West End on Roatán, which has permanent mooring buoys at the popular dive sites to avoid damage from anchors. Several other areas have been proposed as marine reserves by the Asociación Hondureña de Ecología: the Santuario Marino de Utila, Parque Nacional Marino Barbareta and Parque Nacional Marino Guanaja. The Bay Islands have their own conservation association .

The traditional industry is fishing, mostly shellfish, with fleets based at French Harbour; but the supporting boat-building is a dying industry. Tourism is now a major source of income, particularly because of the scuba-diving attractions. English-speaking blacks constitute the majority of the population, particularly on Roatán. Utila has a population which is about half black and half white, the latter of British descent mainly from the settlers from Grand Cayman who arrived in 1830. Columbus anchored here in 1502, during his fourth voyage. In the 18th century the islands were the base for English, French and Dutch buccaneers. They were in British hands for over a century, but were finally ceded to Honduras in 1859. Latin Hondurans have been moving to the islands from the mainland in recent years.

The islands are very beautiful, but beware of the strong sun (the locals bathe in T-shirts), sandflies and other insects. Basic etiquette for snorkelling and diving applies. Snorkellers and divers should not stand on or even touch the coral reefs; any contact, even the turbulence from a fin, will kill the delicate organisms.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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