Fly to the Bay Islands and you’ll likely trade dive tales with a seatmate before take-off. Here, scuba is affordable — and tourism’s biggest draw. Most dive shops have perfected the art of keeping groups on schedule in the morning, then letting individuals choose their own adventures come afternoon. If you’re looking to fill a logbook, check to see if your resort has a house reef (many do). Topography ranges from sheer walls to gradually sloping drop-offs, but no matter what, inclines are noticeable enough to simplify navigation.
Though Roatan is the biggest and most developed of the three main islands, it still has an outpost feeling, whether you’re wandering reefs or streets. It’s mostly wall diving, but you’ll delight in finding seahorses, frogfish and other macro life on reefs colorful enough to rival a Picasso painting.
Utila boasts great diving deals, which explains its cult following among backpackers, though there’s also plenty there for the high end traveler. Every March and April, the water between Utila and Roatan is also prime whale-shark territory.
Located in the very heart of Central America, Honduras is a short flight from major U.S. gateways — two hours from Miami, and less than three hours from Houston and Atlanta.
But once you arrive, it’s a whole new world. Inland, Honduras is mountainous, giving this geographically tropical country a whole range of climates, including some regions that seemingly enjoy an endless spring. Bordered by Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, Honduras has a 100-mile southern coast that is washed by the Pacific, and a 500-mile Caribbean Sea coastline — the nation includes islands off both coasts. While the country is approximately the same size as the state of Tennessee, the current population of Honduras is less than that of New York City, and much of the land here remains pristine and wild. The color palette tends toward the green of tropical and rainforest foliage, and the blue of sea and sky.
This makes Honduras a favorite with many travelers whose focus is ecology, adventure and culture. That includes dive travelers, and for divers, the focal point of Honduras is the Islas de la Bahia or, as they are known locally, the Bay Islands. Most Bay Islanders use English as their primary language, even though Spanish is the official language.
The three principal Bay Islands — Roatán, Utila and Guanaja — are surrounded by the second-largest coral-reef system in the world, and Cayos Cochinos (the Hog Cays) is a sparsely populated marine reserve. Bay Islanders are friendly and helpful by nature, and the lifestyle here is laid-back tropical. For many divers, this is a destination that they return to year after year.
The easy accessibility of mainland Honduras makes this country an ideal “two-in-one” vacation. Travelers can pair a week of diving with a week exploring the mainland: shooting the rapids on the raging Río Cangrejal, flying through the rainforest canopy on a zip line, or simply experiencing a place where all the elements of nature are in perfect balance.
Beautiful, natural and inviting, Honduras is the antidote to schedules and stress — a whole nation of tranquility, easily accessible in a single morning’s travel.
The expat scenes are huge thanks to a wildly favorable exchange rate, a languid pace and easygoing communities that don’t care what time you order that first Salva Vida cerveza. Roatan receives more dive groups, and Utila is for those seeking killer deals on open-water and tec certs. On Roatan, you’ll also enjoy white-sand beaches and horseback riding, and on Utila, watersports such as stand-up paddling and kayaking.
With submarines, the pilot rarely builds the craft. But when you have something to prove, you tighten the bolts yourself. And so Karl Stanley built Idabel, a submersible that carries himself plus two as deep as 3,000 feet (and he swears his budget was a fraction of a million). From the portholes, witness the stuff of Dr. Seuss books: dumbo octopuses, ghost sharks and bioluminescent sponges and corals — plus oddities yet to be identified.
Accommodations: A list of lodging and resorts by location at letsgohonduras.com under “Hotels”