2010 World's Best Diving & Resorts: BAY ISLANDS, HONDURAS | Sport Diver

2010 World's Best Diving & Resorts: BAY ISLANDS, HONDURAS

From the beautiful cracks in the reef and the Odyssey wreck off Roatán to the seamounts and whale sharks in the waters off Utila, the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras have long been renowned for the great variety of dive experiences they offer.

The first question all divers ask each other when they get out of the water — What did you see?" — becomes a little problematic in Roatán. That's because every single creature identified in the Caribbean fish ID books calls the waters off this 37-mile-long island home. Chances are the answer to that question is a long one, best told at a beachside bar in West End, the sleepy town that has become a gathering place for all divers that make it to this corner of the dive world. In fact, it's such a laid-back place that the main road through West End remains unpaved. And the bar tales — well, the talk will meander down absolutely vertical walls, lush with sponges, sea rods, sea fans and myriad creatures. It will recall face-to-face encounters with dolphins, Caribbean reef sharks, hawksbill and green sea turtles, groupers lined up at cleaning stations and eagle rays passing by in the blue. And, as the evening slips into night, stories of wrecks with regal names such as Prince Albert and Odyssey will mingle with the awe of the lucky who got to explore the cracks and crevices of Mary's Place.

From March through May and August through October, one of the coolest animal encounters in the world — whale sharks — can be had fairly reliably off Utila in the deep waters north of the island. Off the island's southern shore you'll find open-ocean seamounts like Black Hills, and off the northern side, lots of dive sites line the wall outside Turtle Harbour. Utila is small — it's about eight miles long — but there's plenty to explore in its main village, Utila Town.

DESTINATION PRIMER AVERAGE WATER TEMP: 80ºF WHAT TO WEAR: 3-5 mm fullsuit (or diveskin in summer) AVERAGE VIZ: 100-plus feet WHEN TO GO: Year-round WHAT TO EXPECT: Gentle seas with little current, lush walls LANGUAGE: English and Spanish CURRENCY: Lempira; exchange rate fluctuates, but at press time, U.S.$1 = 18.92 HNL. TAXES: 12 percent sales tax, 4 percent tax for tourist services, $12 deco chamber insurance ELECTRICITY: 110V, 60 cycle (U.S. compatible) TIME ZONE: Central Standard Time

MUST KNOW AIRPORT/EXIT FEES: $33 departure tax KEY GIFT: Hand-woven Honduran blanket DON'T FORGET: Sunscreen and bug spray THE VIBE: Edge of the Earth chill TOPSIDE: Diver-savvy eco-resorts

MUST DO On Roatán: Thrill yourself on a jungle zip-line tour. On Utila: Explore Utila Town by foot and find cool seaside bars.