The department covers a total surface area of 261 km² and, in 2005, had an estimated population of 43,018 people. It comprises three geographically separate groups:
- Islas de la Bahía (with the main islands Roatan, Guanaja and Utila, and numerous satellite islands)
- Cayos Cochinos, further south
- Swan Islands, 120 km to the north
The Bay Islands were first discovered by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage to America in 1502. They were later claimed, and successively held, by Great Britain, Spain, and theDutch United Provinces. England finally took control in 1643 and, with the exception of a one-month period of Spanish dominance in 1780, held onto them as a Crown colony, dependent on Jamaica. In 1860 the British crown recognized Honduran sovereignty and ceded possession of them. The department of Islas de la Bahía was officially incorporated into the nation on 14 March 1913.
Roatan is an island in the Caribbean Sea. It is a part of Honduras, lying about 50 miles from the northern coast of the Honduran mainland. Roatan has a colorful history that weaves in stories of Indians, invaders, pirates, buried gold, and a blend of races and languages. Roatan is surrounded by various cays and smaller islands. Roatan Island is 33 miles long and 4 miles wide. A paved road crosses the island 75% of its length. It is a true paradise off the northern coast of Honduras, Central America.Blue skies, wonderful turquois waters, and a warm sun will welcome you to Roatan, Honduras. Roatan is an island with various beaches, distinctive for their quietness, and crystal clear waters that will make you enjoy the sea as if you were in an enormous natural swimming pool.
The coral reef that surrounds the island of Roatan is the second largest in the world. It is a source of permanent attraction and entertainment for those who enjoy scuba-diving. Easily available is the necessary training to join in an adventure through a marvelous underwater world, with all the appropriate safety and help.
There are several well developed communities with their own attractions, such as Coxen Hole, French Harbour, West Bay, West End, Port Royal, Punta Gorda, Oak Ridge, the Barbareta and Morat Island, Jonesville, etc. Every one of these small towns or communities have their own charm, and it is worthwile to see each one of them.Although Spanish is the national language and is spoken on Roatan, the English language also lives on Roatan. Roatan is a colorful mixture of people, languages, and culture. Today, tourism is the primary industry on Roatan. Cruise ships and planes bring thousands of tourists each year. Roatan is known around the world for its scuba diving.
Utila is the third largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands, afterRoatan and Guanaja, in a region that marks the south end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest in the world. The eastern end of the island is capped by a thin veneer of basaltic volcanic rocks, erupted from several pyroclastic cones including 74 m (243 ft) Pumpkin Hill which forms the highest point on the island. It has been documented in history since Columbus' fourth voyage, and currently enjoys growing tourism with emphasis on recreational diving.
The Cayos Cochinos or Cochinos Cays are a group of two small islands (Cayo Menor and Cayo Grande) and 13 more small coral cays situated 30 kilometers northeast of La Ceiba on the northern shores of Honduras. Although geographically separate, they belong to the Bay Islands departments and are part of Roatan municipality. The total land area measures about 2 km².
The Cayos and surrounding waters were declared a marine reserve in 1994 in order to protect all marine and terrestrial flora and fauna within a 460 km² area.] The reserve extends eight kilometers in all directions. Laws prohibit all commercial fishing, netting, and trapping within the marine park. Local Garifuna are permitted to fish with hand lines, but prohibited from netting and spearfishing. In designated areas, there is a lobster diving season for qualified Garifuna fishermen.