Some dive destinations brag about diversity and convenience. Fine. But visit the Bay Islands in Honduras and bragging rights come in spades. The math: Upwards of 200 recognized dive sites lie scattered around main islands of Roatan, Utila and Guanaja; more than 99 percent of all Caribbean marine critters live here, including Rhincodon typhus (a.k.a. whale shark), and the islands pony up some of the Caribbean's best lodging and dive package bargains.
Easily the most popular and accessible is serpentine 33-milelong Roatan, largest of the Bay Islands. There's a bounty of dives here: more than 132 moored sites and nearly twice that number in GPS-identified sites. You want big pelagics, head to the north shore to renowned sites like Spooky Channel, where upwelling currents steer in denizens of the deep. On the south shore near French Harbour, Mary's Place is a must. Fissures in the coral form a deep sheer maze, home to seahorses, huge crabs and massive schools of silversides. And for a two-forone dive, drop in on CoCo View Wall before finning over to the nearby Prince Albert wreck.
If it's tranquility you want, slow-paced Guanaja offers an Rx in the form of fewer crowds and at least 12 headliner sites with hefty credentials. Its stellar sites like the black coral forests of the Pinnacle and the 130-foot drop-offs of Vertigo that are worthy entries in any dive log.
Rounding out the trifecta is Utila. Sure, it looks like a backpacking outpost (clue: no international chains, and dorm-style rooms for under $10 per night). But the earthy little seven-mile island packs a wallop for divers with around 100 named sites. And Utila is the place for whale shark encounters. Near and around the offshore 200-foot seamounts known as Black Hills, boat sightings of the behemoth fish are common during March, April, August and September.
DESTINATION PRIMERAverage Water Temp: 78- 83°F
What to Wear: 3/2 mm fullsuit or shorter
Average Viz: 70-100 feet
When to Go: Year-round; March-April and August- September for whale sharks