Guanaja has somehow ended up as the forgotten Bay Island, overlooked in the rush of travelers and migrants to Utila and Roatán. This oversight is surprising considering Guanaja’s fantastic reef, wide-open north-side beaches, and quirky fishing towns. News reports have frequently heralded big hotel investments for Guanaja by the wealthy and famous, but tourism on the island continues to be low-key and small-scale dive.
It is possible to survive on the island on a budget, though not as easily as on Utila. This is definitely a more unusual destination, not the mainstream feel of Roatán or the backpacker vibe of Utila, but something else altogether, funky and remote. Big-time tourist development may well hit Guanaja soon, but it hasn’t yet.
Christopher Columbus landed here in 1502, on his fourth and final voyage to the Americas. Columbus named it Isla de los Pinos—pines long covered the terrain, but were wiped out in 1998 by the 290-kph winds of Hurricane Mitch. The fishing town of Mangrove Bight was also demolished (miraculously with no deaths), and Savanna Bight and Bonacca were heavily damaged as well.
Reforestation projects got underway shortly after the storm passed, and the island cover is coming back. The vast majority of Guanaja’s population lives in Bonacca, but there are also sprinklings of people at Mangrove Bight, Savanna Bight, and the post-hurricane town of Mitch, for a total of some 10,000 people.
The sand flies can be thick on Guanaja, so be sure to bring your repellent. The north side has many more than the south—but also the best beaches. Remember that DEET damages the coral, and either rinse off before getting in the water or look for a repellent with natural ingredients.
Guanaja is a diver’s paradise. Many divers find the wildlife more varied here than at Roatán, with some very dramatic tunnels and caverns (“better than Mary’s Place” claims one diver who has been to both Roatán and Guanaja). Sea life includes black, wire, and gorgonian coral, spotted eagle rays, moray eels, turtles, nurse sharks, lobsters, crabs, and much more.
Many hotels do not have hot water, but showers in the afternoon are typically pleasant, the water having been warmed by the sun.
Getting to Guanaja
Sosa (tel. 504/453-4359) flies once daily except Sunday to Guanaja from La Ceiba; Isleña (tel. 504/453-4801, www.flyislena.com) flies daily, charging US$52 one-way. The airstrip is on the main island, with no terminal except a simple shelter. Boats always come out to meet the flights and charge a few dollars (depending on current fuel prices) for the 10-minute ride to town. A water taxi out to one of the farther-flung resorts will cost more, perhaps US$25, although transportation can also usually be arranged directly with the hotel. Both airlines have offices in Guanaja where tickets can be purchased.
There has been intermittent ferry service between Guanaja and Trujillo in the past, but in early 2009 it was suspended. There has also been talk of establishing ferry service between La Ceiba and Guanaja, but for the time being that also remains just talk.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition