By Denise Mattia
A profusion of coral and sponge formations and marine species are located along the submerged Sierra de Omoa mountain range, minutes from the shores of the idyllic Bay Islands.
Just 11 miles north of Honduras are Cayos Cochinos (Grande and Pequeno), two small hilly tropical islands surrounded by a dozen tiny cays. Many of the dive sites are macro and it’s not unusual to see divers pointing out small nudibranches and snapping shrimp.
Still, the panoramic splendor of Saucer Coral, Deepwater Gorgonian Fans, Black Coral, sponges and reef fish are so close to these two islands that it’s difficult to pass up wide-angle shots, as well.
Some 20 miles northwest of Cochinos is Utila, where little 16-square mile island is rimmed by more cays. The island’s fringing reef slopes gradually and is pocked with wide caverns. Huge mounds stud the ocean floor. A breathtaking wall traces a portion of the island on the north side. Eagle rays glide silently around these healthy formations. Swarms of silversides escape maraudering schools of tuna and are met near the surface of the water by whale sharks and dolphins in search of food, while giant barracuda watch patiently ten feet below for a panicked fish.
About 25 miles northeast of Utila is a long, narrow serpentine island framed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the western Caribbean. Only slightly more urbane than Cochinos and Utila, Roatán has been a popular favorite of island seekers and divers for decades. Both sides of the island are paralleled by a deep wall, which yields in places to cracks and overhangs. Huge red sponges protrude from the walls, and the fissures are perfect hiding places for grouper and schools of snapper.
It’s also possible to snorkel with more than a dozen Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins in a special enclosure at Bailey’s Cay.
Fourteen miles northeast of Roatán and rising 1200 feet from the sea is the tropical paradise of Guanaja. Reef- and Common Octopi and every known crustacean can be found among the cays that circle the island.
With the atmosphere of the Bay Islands relaxed and casual, the reefs easily reached, the clarity of the water almost always perfect and marine life prolific, the most difficult decision may well become which island to visit first.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.