Offshore Retreat Area Analysis: The Bay Islands of Honduras

I recently did some research about some offshore retreat locales on behalf of a client, who ultimately decided not to opt for an expatriate lifestyle. She has kindly consented to letting me to post my research notes to the blog. Hopefully a few of you might benefit from this data and analysis. Over the next few days I will be posting this information in several parts. Today, I’m presenting the first increment:, which is my research on the Bay Islands of Honduras.

The Bay Islands, called La Bahia in Spanish, are located about 30 miles off the eastern coast of Honduras. The predominant language spoken is English, albeit in a Creole dialect. To outsiders, the islands are best known for their snorkeling and SCUBA diving. The islands have the second largest coral barrier reef system in the world–second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The water clarity is amazing–sometimes providing underwater visibility of 200 feet or more–which is typical of the Western Caribbean. The reefs are home to an incredible variety of fish, so the islands will probably never lack a source of protein. The islands have a surprisingly large expatriate population, mostly American retirees, plus a few assorted dive instructors and would-be dive instructors from all over the world. 

There are three main islands in the Bay Islands group:

Roatan – The largest and most populous of the islands, roughly 22 miles long and just four miles wide at its widest point. It has a major airport, which has regular flights from the Honduran mainland as well as U.S. cities such as Tampa and Houston. (For example, a round trip ticket from San Francisco: $511.)

Utila – This island is the dive bum’s dream land. Utila is a mecca for twenty-something world travelers–especially those that like to snorkel and SCUBA dive. There is so much competition among the dive schools that you can get  PADI open water diving certification–with loaner equipment–for under $350. You can often can negotiate a package price that includes lodging.(For essentially free lodging.)

Guanaja – The least developed of the islands. This island has no significant roads, and virtually no cars. Most of the travel from point-to-point around the island is via boat. The economy is primarily cattle ranches and a few small resorts.

The aggregate population of the Bay Islands is estimated at 65,000. (There has never been an accurate census. The latest figure was extrapolated based upon electrical utility usage.) The population is slightly above the agricultural carrying capacity of the islands, in the event that the Schumer ever starts flying around. The economy is roughly 30% fishing/agriculture and 70% tourism.

The Plusses:  Hey, its the tropics! Beautiful sunsets. White sand beaches. Great fishing. Low cost of living. Affordable houses. Virtually no expense to heat a house. Minimal gun laws–and the few that exist are not enforced. In these days of satellite Internet service, great connectivity.

The Minuses:
Mosquitos–complete with malaria.

Ma?íana Syndrome –It is agonizingly slow to accomplish anything–like getting a house built, or even just getting a driver’s license or mailing a letter. The power utilities are unreliable, so a lot of folks have installed photovoltaic power systems. (Particularly on Guanaja and in Roatan’s East End.)

Machetes y Pistolas–This one takes some explaining: Gang members is nearby La Ceiba (on the Honduran mainland) take the Galaxy ferry to Roatan and burglarize the homes of wealthy gringos. They soon developed an extensive fencing network utilizing native islanders. Nowadays, they prefer to wait for the owners to return, hold them at knife or gun point, rob them of their jewelry, wallets and purses, and force them to open vaults and/or show them where valuables are hidden. Ex-pats have taken the law into their own hands, getting guard dogs and hiring “watchie-men.” But the Honduran courts do not seem to be doing anything substantive to deter the criminals. Here are some examples: An ex-pat shot and killed one of three armed men that were invading his house. That ex-pat is now facing murder charges in the Honduran courts. An ex-pat who was assaulted on the beach identified the perp and even had a piece of fabric that she had torn from his shirt as evidence–and the crooked Honduran court still let the perp go free. In the course of our research, The Memsahib corresponded with an American ex-pat that lives at Roatan’s West End who said that his home had been broken into four times in five years

The bottom line:  If it were not for the crime rate, I would recommend La Bahia. But with the current situation, I cannot.  For further research on the Bay Islands, I suggest that you start with back issues of The Bay Islands Voice, which are available on-line. See:  The latest issue (January, 2006–Vol.4, No. 1) has some interesting statistics on crime.