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Bay Islands, Honduras, Caribbean island
Bay Islands, Honduras (Image by Michelle Raponi from Pixabay)

Bay islands


Columbus found the Bay Islands on his fourth voyage in 1502, and Britain held them from 1643 until they were Ceded to Honduras in 1860. On the three principal islands — Utila, Roatan and Guanaja English is the first language, but the true lingua franca is scuba diving. They sit on the Bonacca Ridge, surrounded by reefs which form part of the biggest system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. Furthermore, the Cayman Trench flanks the islands, creating spectacular drop offs from the coral walls, some just 100 m from the shore. Typically amazing is 'Spooky Channel', one of 50 major dive sites on Roatan's 62 km length — you navigate from a dock on the beach through huge coral formations that open to cathedral size before narrowing over your head in a long channel that emerges the other side of the wall. Adventurers go back and swim it at night.

Utila is smallest and flattest, wonderfully safe for children to learn watercraft. Roatan, the biggest, has a lush green mountainous backbone and the most developed infrastructure for visitors to its staggering coves (called 'bights') and beaches. Guanaja's mountains go higher still, and are covered with Caribbean pine trees; it has no roads, and its development appears to favour super-luxury resorts at odds with its largest community, Bonacca, which is a tiny, crowded cay next to the main island, criss-crossed with canals full of colourful boats and canoes and nicknamed 'Little Venice of the Caribbean'. You pay more to stay closer to Guanaja's forests, rivers and miles of unspoiled beaches, but Bonacca itself, like Roatan and Utila, is where backpackers and billionaires can meet on the equal terms of enthusiasm for crystal waters, marine menagerie and the blossoming corals of the living reefs.