New Year Escapes
Everyone has their favorite New Year's fireworks display. For some, it's the burst of bottle rockets in New York's Time Square as the boisterous crowd counts down to midnight. For others it's the garish collage of anglefish and damsels, fire corals, and sea fans pulsing along the spine of a barrier reef. When the choice is presented to a consummate diver, the reef will triumph every time. There are plenty of beautiful dive sites to ring in the year, but for stellar seascapes, laid-back hospitality, and rock-bottom prices the pick is an easy one: Go to Honduras.
There are three principle Bay Islands, located just a hop from La Ceiba on Honduras' Caribbean coast. All offer world-class diving, though each boasts distinct underwater highlights and divergent styles of service and accommodation.
Utila, the westernmost and smallest island, tends to get the bulk of shoestring travelers. Accommodations are simple (small rooms with ceiling fan and shared bath are a few bucks a night), dive packages are absurdly cheap (typically around $150 for a certification package, which includes eight boat dives, equipment, and classroom materials), and the town itself is a string of whitewashed bungalows along a bay. The diving at Utila is good, particularly on the cliffs that run along the northern shore, but due to strong currents the visibility isn't exceptional, and the local fishing has certainly had some impact on the number and diversity of fish along the reef.
Roatan and Guanaja are larger and far more developed islands. They offer upscale resorts, specialized services, and extensive villages that add to the Caribbean experience. The costs are, predictably, higher (weeklong packages that include rooms, food, and all diving cost around $1,000) but far less is left to chance. The diving tends to be better as well, since there is a strong conservation effort to maintain the reef and restrict fishing. The people on the island are friendly, and tend to approach life with the laid-back appreciation more typical of Jamaica than the rest of Honduras. Adventures Honduras is one company that offers excellent packages to the islands.
Having covered the three most popular dive destinations, it's worth mentioning the smaller island of Barbareta, off the eastern coast of Roatan. Privately owned and relatively unexploited, this sandy caye has several modest resorts that afford spectacular access to virgin reefs. Dive packages to Barbareta are available as package deals or on day trips from Roatan.
Though diving is the main attraction on the Bay Islands, there are plenty of diversions. The fishing is great (particularly for bonefish on the flats), there is plenty of jungle to explore, and the beaches are broad and sandy. New Years is a major celebrationthe adults drink and dance, and children set off an inexhaustible supply of firecrackers. The bottom line is that under water or on land, you're bound to get your share of intrigue.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication