BLISSFUL BAY ISLANDS
One of the most challenging things I’ve just had to do is to write a feature on the beautiful Bay Islands of Honduras for a sailing magazine. I love writing and don’t usually find it a challenge, but to complete this particular feature, I’ve had to reflect back over the last couple of months, when Molly, our beautiful dog, was still firmly part of our family.
The writing has conjured up bittersweet memories; looking at photos of the happy times we’d enjoyed while exploring the Bay Islands with Molly. Every anchorage, activity and beach analysed for possible inclusion.
Going over the achievements we celebrated, such as Skipper becoming a PADI Divemaster; me getting additional writing commissions for the UK national press. Our day-to-day life settled into diving and writing,; all the time we were nursing a sick dog and hoping against hope for a miracle for Molly.
Discussing our future and looking forward to making a go of being in Central America; making it work for us, the boat and Molly. Meanwhile, talking of offering bespoke charters to keep the money flowing.
Then, everything changed as Molly took a very swift and final downward spiral and we were forced to say goodbye to her in Roatán. A heart-breaking time, which we’re still reeling from.
But it’s now time to put my emotions aside, as the Bay Island of Honduras are simply wonderful and well worth spreading the world about. So let me share some of our experiences with you…
The main islands of Guanaja, Roatán and Utila all promise white-sand beaches, lush greenery, spectacular marine life and safe anchorages; however, rather refreshingly, they each differ in personality.
In Guanaja, there’s very little tourism but oodles of natural beauty, waterfalls and hiking. Rowdy Roatán, caters to the masses, offering a wealth of attractions, nightlife and diverse diving. Utila, frequented by backpackers and trainee divers, is charming and very laid-back.
And then we have Honduras’ hidden secret; the amazingly beautiful Cayos Cochinos (The Hog Islands); a group of islands surrounded by a national marine park where the beauty lies as much below the water as above it.
One of the beautiful cays, part of the Cayos Cochinos
Part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – the second largest barrier reef system in the world –it’s no surprise the Bay Islands boast incredible diving and snorkelling. The warm Caribbean Sea is a myriad of blues and plays host to an abundance of tropical fish, sea turtles, sharks and whales, which are found among the vibrant coral reefs. At the right time of year, it’s also one of the best places to see giant whale sharks, especially in Utila.
Off-the-beaten-track, Guanaja is the easternmost of the Bay Islands and offers an abundance of lush green scenery, mountains, waterfalls and magnificent pine trees.
The main town is Bonacca, lies half a mile off Guanaja and is built on its own cay. Heavily populated with over 6,000 people squeezed into just 100 acres, many of the buildings are on stilts over the water, and there’s labyrinth of alleyways and passages to wander around.
A complete contrast across on the island, there’s an unspoilt terrain, although the coastline is seeing an increase in houses being built to cater to a growing expat community consisting mainly of Americans, Canadians and Germans.
There are a few anchorages to choose from, but our favourite was at El Bight, Guanaja’s most well-protected bay. Within dinghy distance of Bonacca, it’s a great place from which to explore the island. There are numerous hikes, through the pine trees, with waterfalls to cool down in and spectacular views across bay.
Around El Bight, there’s an awesome Tiki Hut Bar where we might have been known to frequent…a lot! It also offers excellent pizzas. While for fine dining and superb views, climbing the coloured steps to reach Mi Casa Too, a hidden restaurant in the hills, was a delight and it served the best food on the island.
For those tempted by a night on land, Roland’s Guest House in the hills above El Bight offers accommodation in a specially designed tree-house. They also sell the most divine home-made breads, jams and granola and can do laundry for cruisers.
Taking a day trip out, a 30-minute dinghy trip took us to Michael’s Point on the west coast, which we reached by cutting through a small canal which divides the north and south of the island. Here we found amazing snorkelling, rugged beaches and pristine-clear water. Anchoring is also possible in the right weather conditions.
The largest island in the chain, Roatán offers a variety of bays and marinas, with the most sheltered anchorages on the island’s south and west coast.
One of our favourite anchorages was at Fantasy Island Resort & Marina, where the beaches, snorkelling and diving were aplenty. The marina offered a great community with a weekly free bus to the local supermarket and a lovely Palapa Tiki Hut, with great views across the bay and an honesty bar.
West End Bay is by far the most popular anchorage. There are laid moorings, managed by the Roatán Marine Park, which yachts are encouraged to use instead of anchoring to help protect the turtle grass. The suggested fee is US$10 a night.
The beaches are also some of the best on Roatán, but don’t swim far from your boat as the local boats and jet ski’s tear through the mooring buoy field at a rate of knots. The shore plays host to countless bars, restaurants, and dive centres.
There’s also a lovely little anchorage on the north-east of the island by a small eco-resort at Mango Cay that’s worth a visit, especially if seeking solitude after a spell at West End!
With an international airport, Roatán is immensely popular with holidaymakers. It’s busy, brash and buzzing, especially on a cruise ship days when up to three ships can be in port at the same time. It pays to keep an eye on the cruise ship schedules as visiting the beaches, attractions and dive sites are so much quieter on a non-cruise ship day.
On land, there’s lots to do from horse riding to visiting the Roatán Brewery and touring animal sanctuaries, ogling sloths, monkeys, iguanas and even tigers. The shopping is also great and it’s the best place in the Bay Islands to provision with well-stocked supermarkets and hardware stores.
A shop we loved in West End was Rusty Fish, which specialises in creating handicrafts and artwork from recycled metal, wood, plastic and glass. Getting most of their materials from the municipal dump, they convert them into the coolest works of art and jewellery. Top of our list were the Corona and Coke bottles turned into neat drinking glasses, can ring pulls linked to provide a neat decoration on a handbag and fridge magnets made out of recycled tin and oil drums.
Roatán also excels in the underwater world. The coastline is fringed by a diverse coral reef teeming with tropical fish, making it a real pleasure to snorkel and dive the reefs and wrecks. Our favourites included ‘Hole In The Wall’, ‘Canyons’ and ‘Mary’s Place’.
Utila Laid-back Utila is one of the smaller islands. In East Harbour, the main anchorage, it’s safe, the holding is good and there’s several dinghy docks along the water’s edge for cruisers.
It’s a popular destination for backpackers and those learning to dive or expanding their diving skills, so the vibe here is much younger. Getting around is via golf cart, motorbike or Tuk-Tuk taxis and there’s a diverse range of bars and restaurants to enjoy.
The legendary Skid Row is everything a hard-drinking bar should be, just without the spit and sawdust where they invite you to take up the ‘Giufity Challenge’ – downing shots of a Garifuna herb-enhanced moonshine. Our Skipper may have tried just a sip of the moonshine and then decided against taking the challenge!
And it came as a complete surprise that we enjoyed the most delicious selection of food while on this charming island. Our taste buds were tempted by freshly made thin-crust pizza at Mango Tree and the best-ever eggs benedict brunch and tasty tapas supper at Mango Tango. So good was the food, we had to return to the island twice and, there’s no doubt that for us, Utila is the culinary capital of the Bay Islands!
Rarely visited by yachts; Cayos Cochinos comprises two small islands and 13 tiny white sand cays, some of which are inhabited. Situated just 10 miles off the coast of Honduras, it’s a national marine park where there’s room for just five boats on mooring buoys off the main island, Cayo Grande.
While we were there, just three buoys were operational, but we understood anchoring is also possible if the buoys are full. We paid US$92 for a month’s pass, and could come and go as we pleased.
Occasional tripper boats visit from the mainland and Roatán, taking in the beautiful white-sand beaches, lunch at one of the local restaurants, and also hoping to see the infamous pink Boa constrictors. They don’t stop for more than an hour or so in any one place.
The beauty of Cayos Cochinos is the serenity and the scenery, with views across to the vast mountain range of Honduras. The water is gin-clear and the diving and snorkelling some of the best in the Bay Islands with an out-of-this-world underwater landscape. The pristine reef wall at Pelican Point is possibly the best wall dive Skipper has ever done.
Despite our bittersweet time, the Bay Islands of Honduras are most definitely one of our highlights of sailing in Central America. Taking the time to slowly explore them and creating so many lasting memories, made it all the more special for Two Drifters.
Dedicated to Miss Molly 17/08/2008 – 03/06/2019
The last photo of Molly taken in Utila on 26 May 2019. She was having such fun on the beach chasing stones, swimming and her tail was wagging incessantly. A total legend.
© Two Drifters Travel