Moored 30 miles off mainland Honduras, the Bay Islands make up a pristine archipelago that covers about 92 sq. miles along the world’s second largest coral reef. And thanks to that reef, divers have been coming to the main islands of Roatan, Utila and Guanaja for decades. Diving facilities and snorkeling draw beginners and experts to Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands. They come to explore a marine world of plummeting walls, crevices and caverns, with the most memorable dive sites being Hole in the Wall, West End Wall, Spooky Channel and Mary’s Place, and other divers head for Utila to swim with the whale sharks. At the same time, Roatan offers an extensive list of other water-bound things to do including glass-bottom boat rides, sailing, sea-kayaking, deep-sea fishing (sailfish, blue marlin, barracuda), and swimming with the dolphins at the research station at Anthony’s Key Resort. On land, visitors enjoy excursions to quiet fishing villages, a bird park, an iguana farm, a butterfly or botanical garden, or just stretch out on an island-wide choice of beautiful beaches. A single road connects the main towns of French Harbour, Coxen Hole, Sandy Bay, West End (Roatan’s party central) and West Bay (whose beach and cafe scene are the island’s best). New on West Bay is the recently expanded property of stylish Infinity Bay Spa & Beach Resort, set on a prime stretch of beachfront and offering 1- to 3-bedroom condos. And what’s made the biggest splash here recently is golf: the island’s first golf course, the 18-hole, 7,064-yard Black Pearl, designed by architects Pete and Perry Dye. Located just outside the town of French Harbour, the course made its official debut during the Central American Golf Championship last February. February also saw the opening of the first of two beachfront hotels planned for the Pristine Bay Resort; it will be by far Roatan’s biggest development, presently with accommodations available in 17 two- to four-bedroom villas.
BEST TIME TO GO: Inland: November to May; Roatan: January to August
FUN-FACT: Some 96 percent of all species of marine life known to inhabit the Caribbean—from glowing bioluminescence to the whale shark, the largest fish in the world—have been identified in the waters that surround the Bay Islands’ reef system
GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta to Roatan, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa
ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport
MUST-TRY LOCAL FOOD: Conch ceviche, grilled and steamed fish platters, and a seafood stew (called tapado) made with coconut milk are Honduran coastal and Garifuna specialties
BEST BUYS: Lenca pottery made in the highlands is unique to Honduras, as are the paintings, crafts and jewelry fashioned by Honduran artists found in the Wave Gallery on Roatan Island
INFORMATION PLEASE: Honduras Tourism Institute— letsgohonduras.com