Hazy blue-green mountains speckling the horizon beckon from the mainland with pristine coral reefs and a thriving Garífuna culture. The Cayos Cochinos (Hog Islands) archipelago is emerging as a must-see day trip for travelers on Honduras's northern coast. But visitors aren't the only ones who come out. Dive instructors on the larger Bay Islands, it turns out, come here to dive themselves.
The Cayos Cochinos consist of two larger cays, Cayo Mayor and Cayo Menor, plus 13 smaller coral cays. The islands have been a designated Marine Protected Area since 1993. In 2003, the Honduras Coral Reef Fund (HCRF) declared the enclave a Marine Natural Monument. The titles mean that tourism and development are strictly regulated around the archipelago, maintaining the impressive natural beauty of the waters, reefs, and shores.
All visitors must pass through the HCRF office to watch a short video on guest guidelines and marine life. Foreigners must pay a L220 tariff toward the conservation and maintenance of the cays. A fine of L5,000 is imposed for anyone caught lifting bits of coral or seashells off the island (with larger fines for illegal fishing), a strict rule meant to keep the Cayos Cochinos intact.