Guanaja is the second largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras, smaller than Roatan but bigger than Útila. It is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system, which is the second largest reef system in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The main town of Guanaja is actually located on one of the cays just off the main island of Guanaja, called Bonacca (or Guanaja Town). Guanaja is popularly visited today by scuba divers who enjoy the warm, clear waters and beautiful coral reefs that surround the island and make it the great diving destination that it is.
Guanaja was once inhabited by the Paya people before it was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502. Columbus originally named the island Pine Island. He actually landed on Soldadao Beach on the north side of the island. The native population of Guanaja were quickly enslaved and sent by the Spaniards to work the gold mines of Mexico. Over the ensuing centuries, the British and Spanish constantly fought over the island, with the British inhabiting Guanaja for much of the period between mid-16th to 18th century. After Guanaja was given back to Honduras in the mid-1800s, the island had already become largely populated by Cayman Islanders, whose ancestors had been brought over as slaves by the wealthy British owners residing on Guanaja.
More recently, parts of Guanaja including the town of Mangrove Bight were destroyed by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Many homes on the island were obliterated. The island, however, has since recovered and is once again a thriving vacation destination.
Guanaja is interesting in that there are virtually no cars on the island and only a few roads. Most people commute by walking or by boat. A channel, nicknamed “the cut” allows boats to get from the north to the south side of the island without having to commute all the way around.
The cay off of Guanaja, Bonacca (or Guanaja Town), is definitely one of the main attractions of Guanaja. It is often described as the “Venice of Honduras” because of the waterways that run through it. Every square inch of the cay is packed with people and houses. With very few roads (many of them winding), few cars, dozens of bridges, and most of the town’s commuting done by boat, it is understandable how some would find these unique Venice-like characteristics appealing from a tourism standpoint.
However, Guanaja is definitely best known for its diving. The island is enclosed by the second largest barrier reef in the world, which makes for great dive spots and an underwater, biodiverse marine ecosystem. But Guanaja also has some fresh waterfalls sheltered by bays and interior rocks that produce great swim and skinny-dipping spots. The Bayman Bay on the northwestern shores of Guanaja is another popular beach area, situated in the backdrop of hundreds of acres of untouched forest and a majestic mountain peak.
The seafood in Guanaja is excellent; the crabs, lobsters, and various fishes are all locally caught and cooked deliciously by the local restaurants.