Swan Islands, Honduras

Photo: Donald E. Keith (Tarleton State University) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Donald E. Keith (Tarleton State University) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Feeling brave? Adventurous? Maybe even a little crazy? Good. You need to be to reach the Swan Islands.

The Swan Islands, in the northwest Caribbean Sea, were first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502. Pirates hid on the three islands—Great Swan, Little Swan, and Booby Cay—in the 16th-18th centuries. The U.S. used them for radio transmission during the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and as a supply base to support the contra rebels against Nicaragua’s government during the 1980s. Since then, the Honduran Navy has maintained a garrison and a grassy airstrip on Great Swan Island, and guano hunters and turtle fishermen are the most common visitors. That might change now that the islands have become the center of the largest shark sanctuary in the Caribbean.

Islas Santanilla, as they’re called in Spanish, are remote. They lie 95 miles off the coast of Honduras, well beyond the Bay Islands that include the popular destinations Roatán and Útila. They’re almost closer to Nicaragua than Honduras. Plus they’re small. Together, they only have about one square mile of land. Iguanas in all sizes roam the islands. Brown- and yellow-footed boobies nest here. While the snorkeling and scuba diving sites along the fringe reefs are pristine and full of sea creatures.

After circling Little Swan on a private boat charter, you decide to anchor near Great Swan. Jacobsons Bay to the east, Smith Bay to the south, and Harbor Bay to the west all have white sandy beaches. Blowing Rock, Jim Duff Hole, and Fowlers Point are all good spots to start exploring. Corals and sponges seem to come in every size and shape imaginable. Spiny lobsters and sea urchins cling to the sides of them. Queen conchs sit on the ocean floor. Schools of bright blue tangs and iridescent queen triggerfish weave among sea whips. Plus a slow-moving whale shark quickly darts away when it starts to get close to you. It seemed surprised, even startled, by your presence. Hopefully it stays that way.

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