Roatán, 29km (18 miles) east of Utila, is the largest, most developed, and most visited of the Bay Islands. The real estate market has been hot in recent years, but is now closer to spewing lava as once-quiet beach communities become full-scale resorts or second homes for North Americans, who are flocking here like barracudas and snapping up every inch of available land. The cruise season is also expanding rapidly -- Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruises alone have invested a combined $80 million in two new cruise terminals, Mahogany Bay and Town Center at the Port of Roatán, which are expected to bring nearly a million cruise passengers each year. When a cruise ship (or three!) docks, look out: the island teems with craft markets and tour buses, and the best beaches like West Bay become crowded with families of sun worshippers.
Much of the new development is on the west side of the island, where tourism and a growing condo scene is concentrated, while Garífuna communities dominate the much more rural and raw eastern half. But if you look in the right places, you can still see the Bay Islands of yesteryear. Many of the island's hills remain undeveloped enough to be covered in tropical oak, evergreen palms, and gumbo limbo trees, and just one road (partly paved, partly potholed) runs the length of the island.
Diving and snorkeling remain the most popular activity on the island, but other options are expanding rapidly. Now, you can also zip-line across the jungle-clad hills, take a submarine hundreds of meters into the ocean, search for pirate booty in little-explored sea caves, or take an aerial real estate tour.
A Tale of Two Currencies -- The U.S. dollar is sometimes thought of as the official currency of the Bay Islands as it is accepted almost everywhere. Many resorts, restaurants, and tour operators, especially on Roatán, list prices only in dollars, and most ATMs will dispense both currencies. For your convenience, we have listed prices in the Bay Islands in both U.S. dollars and Honduran lempira.