that tower over Honduras's Caribbean coastline submerged beneath the sea, and you get an idea of what the underwater view of the Bay Islands-Roatan, Utila, the Cayos Cochinos and Guanaja-looks like. The islands, 12 to 35 miles off the north coast of Honduras in the western Caribbean are the tips of a subsea mountain range called the Bonacca Ridge. These are divers' islands, where you can dive the full gamut of reef structures in one day: fringing, patch, barrier, seamount and atoll.
With their healthy and extensive reef system, the Bay Islands offer something for divers of all skill and experience levels. The shallow inshore reefs begin a few kicks from the dock and give way quickly to coral valleys and mini-walls ranging from 80 feet to 300 feet. More advanced divers are drawn to the spectacular canyons and exhilarating drop-offs where the islands' continental shelf ends. There are also several superb wreck dives and numerous pristine seamounts throughout the islands.
Roatan, at 33 miles long and three miles wide, is the largest and most developed of the islands. Dive sites are clustered on the south and north shores; the sites off the island's western tip are protected by a marine park. The shallow fringing reefs along the north shore slope down to a vertical wall starting at 40 feet, while the drop-off on the south shore starts in 25 feet of water. Dive operators tend to visit the sites on their respective sides of the island, ensuring short boat rides. European backpackers love tiny Utila for its funky nature and its diving diversity: fringing reefs, dramatic walls, a string of small cays and submerged seamounts. Guanaja is surrounded by a beautiful fringing reef: south side sites are only minutes from shore and offer plunging drop-offs. The Cayos Cochinos are a cluster of six small islands and a handful of sandy cays.
The Bay Islands can also boast some of the greatest diversity of coral, sponge and invertebrate species in the Caribbean. Towering monuments of pillar coral, giant barrel sponges, anemones, blue bell tunicates and azure vase sponges are common to most dive sites. In addition to the vast array of brilliantly colored tropical fish commonly seen throughout the Caribbean, there are groupers of every sort-yellowfin, blacks, reds, tigers-because the islands are an important spawning area for them. Moray eels and spotted eagle rays are often sighted, and no visit to the islands is complete without at least one night dive, when basket starfish, shrimp, crabs and lobsters emerge from their darkened crevices and daytime hiding places.
Finally, if you're looking for big stuff-Caribbean reef sharks, dolphins and whale sharks-you'll find them in the Bay Islands. Off Roatan, Cara a Cara Point is a favorite hangout of Caribbean reef sharks because of its proximity to the deep water of the channel that separates Roatan from mainland Honduras. Whale sharks, the biggest fish in the sea, congregate around the banks north of Utila and may be encountered any time of the year, though the sightings occur most dependably March through May and August through October.
Daytime highs hit the mid-80s and drop to the mid- to high 60s at night. The rainy season runs from December through January.
Ranges from the low 80s in summer to high 70s in winter.
80 feet, less when storms and runoff muddy the ocean.
The Honduran lempira is the official currency, but U.S. dollars are readily accepted throughout the islands.
Central Standard (no daylight saving time).
Spanish is spoken on the mainland, but English is preferred in the Bay Islands.
110 volts/60 cycles.
A passport that is valid for at least six months from arrival date is required. Keep the tourist visa you’ll be issued on arrival.
www.letsgohonduras.com, www.bayislandstourism.com, Anthony’s Key Resort, www.anthonyskey.com.