Caribbean tourism is growing every year, as people from around the world seek out relaxation on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. And every year, hidden gems in the Caribbean are becoming fewer and farther between. So if you’re like me, you understand the thrill of finding somewhere untouched by cruise ports, off the tourism path, and rich in culture. And usually, I’m really great at finding these places – but I’ll admit, I had never heard of Cayos Cochinos. Hailed as one of the most precious gems of the Caribbean Sea, they’re located 22 miles off the northern coast of Honduras, and even farther off the tourist trail.
I was visiting my friend, Chelsea, in Roatan, Honduras. It was my first day on the island and she was giving me a tour of all the major points of her small town of West End. We took a stroll down the one of the narrow dusty streets, flanked by colorful shops on one side and a vast expanse of the Caribbean Sea on the other.
We wandered past an array of shops selling everything from hammocks to pastries as I snapped a few photos and we discussed our plans for the week ahead. Just as we decided to turn and head home, we were stopped by Patrice, a local dive shop owner, as he hung over the balcony of a local cafe. “I have two spots open for tomorrow, heading to Cayos”, he announced.
We quickly weighed our options that were laid out for the next day: assist in a local coral project or take the boat ride out to Cayos Cochinos. I had never heard of Cayos, and Chelsea – despite living on Roatan for the last year – also had yet to visit the islands. We decided that the coral project would be there another day, so we took Patrice up on his offer.
The boat ride took about an hour across the open sea. We sat perched on the edge of the boat, watching the deep blue water transform to vibrant aquamarine as the depth became shallow and the coral reef came into view. Then, a collection of tiny islands appeared; their virgin white sand adorned with swaying palm trees, and glistening seashells that had been arranged by the rising tides.
We stared for a moment at the tiny islands that peppered the sea around us. In just 60 minutes, we were transported from the quaint towns of the Caribbean to a patch of (almost) deserted islands reminiscent of the South Pacific.
Where is Cayos Cochinos Located?
The archipelago of Cayos Cochinos (also called the Hog Cays) is located in the Bay Islands in the Caribbean Sea. Cayos Cochinos is 22 miles off the mountainous northern coast of mainland Honduras, 20 miles from the island of Roatan, and even farther off the tourist trail.
This group islands is the tiniest speck on a map! Seriously, you can’t see them unless you zoom wayyyy in. And when you get there, you’ll see what I mean!
Cayos Cochinos are comprised of 2 main forested islands, called Cayo Mayor (also referred to as Cayo Grande) and Cayo Menor. And surrounding those two main islands are 13 small sandy coral cays. In fact, the smaller cays are so small that they’re not even visible on Google Maps at all, so I found this map on Wikimedia to help you visualize the island layout.
Map of Cayos Cochinos, Honduras in the Bay Islands
Map credit: Wikimedia Commons, Fobos92, 2014
How To Get to Cayos Cochinos, Honduras
The only way to get to Cayos Cochinos is by boat.
Chartered day tours run from the islands of Roatan and Utila, or from the mainland of Honduras in the Garifuna village of Sambo Creek in La Ceiba.
Travel time to Cayos Cochinos ranges from 40 min to 1.5 hours, depending on ocean conditions and where you leave from. Tours are weather dependent, with the most unpredictable times being November and December. But on a good day, its a relatively short trip, which makes a trip to the Hog Cays very easy!
Most people visit Cayos Cochinos on day trips, which cost anywhere from $50 per person from Sambo Creek to $240 from Roatan. Day tours typically include an entire day of island hopping, snorkeling or scuba diving, and having lunch with the locals.
However, if you’d like to immerse yourself further in the culture, beaches, and coral reefs of the Hog Cays, you can also book an overnight stay!
7 bucket list worthy things to do in Cayos Cochinos, Honduras
1. Enjoy the scenery
A unique and completely off-the-beaten-path destination, everything about the islands of Cayos Cochinos is a visual feast.
With the mountains of mainland Honduras in the background, crystal clear water lapping at white sandy shores, and palm fronds whispering in the salty breeze, you might think you’ve left the Caribbean and landed somewhere in the South Pacific.
2. Experience the local culture
There are less than 100 people living in Cayos Cochinos, Honduras. The only inhabitants of the islands are the Garifuna and local island families. Both of which have called Cayos Cochinos home for centuries. They live in small fishing villages called East End, on Cayo Mayor, and Chachahuate, on Chachahuate Cay.
If you’re the adventurous type (which I’m assuming you are if you came here in the first place), you can book an overnight stay in the Garifuna villages for a truly authentic experience. Life on the islands is rather simple and primitive – so don’t expect electricity or running water. But what the accommodations lack in 5-star amenities, they make up for in 5-star views, rich culture, and the feeling that you stepped into a postcard from paradise.
Backpackers can stay overnight in East End on Cayo Mayor or on Chachahuate Cay. There are several tours that will drop you off and make arrangements to pick you up the next day. These tours typically operate out of the Garifuna Village of Sambo Creek on mainland Honduras.
Accommodation is typically in the form of small huts, shared rooms, or hammocks for as low as $10 per night. But as you can image, they all come with million dollar ocean views!
For more information on booking overnight, contact the owners of the following listings:
3. Go for a walk
Since there are no roads, cars, scooters, golf carts, or bikes in Cayos Cochinos, the only way to get around on the islands is by foot. So if you’re looking for something to do in Cayos Cochinos, take a walk and explore the island!
There’s a network of hiking trails through the jungle on the main islands of Cayo Menor and Cayo Grande. Although most of the trails are relatively short, there is a popular hike on Cayo Grande that’s a big longer, called the the Lighthouse Loop Trail.
The Lighthouse Loop Trail is the most popular hiking trail in Cayos Cochinos. It’s a moderate 3.1 mile hike that ascends to a lighthouse before leading down to the Garifuna fishing village of East End, and then circling the island via a coastal trail. Bring a bathing suit (and perhaps a snorkel) to enjoy the beautiful, pristine beaches that you’ll stumble across along the way.
PS: Keep your eyes peeled for the pink boa constrictor that calls the islands home. It’s the only place in the world you’ll find it!
4. Go snorkeling
The coral reef around Cayos Cochinos is one of their claims to fame! The reef there is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which is the second largest coral reef system in the world (just behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). And the pristine waters around Cayos Cochinos are a vital part of what keeps that system thriving.
The marine life here is so biodiverse and ecologically unique that the entire area of Cayos Cochinos, Honduras is heavily protected and managed by the Honduras Coral Reef Fund. It was named an ecological marine reserve and Marine Protected Area in the 1990s, which ensured that the Hog Cays remain pristine and free of commercial fishing and exploitation. Only the local qualified Garifuna fisherman have permission to fish here, and it must be with hand lines only.
This, of course, means that you can expect crystal clear waters that house a vibrant, unique, and thriving underwater world to explore.
5. Go Scuba Diving
If you’re a scuba diver, you’d better add this place to your list ASAP! The waters around Cayos Cochinos are a scuba diver’s dream. Underwater mountains, neon colored sponges, massive corals, schools of fish, pods of dolphins. You name it. It’s here.
And if you can’t name it, it’s also probably here! According to Dr. Matthias Hammer, founder of Biosphere Expeditions, the reef around Cayos Cochinos is the least disturbed ecosystem in this part of the Caribbean Sea. Thanks to the strict rules and regulations governing it, the reef is home to an abundance of marine life. And some of them might not even have names yet
A word on diving in Cayos Cochinos, Honduras
That being said, you won’t find any luxury liveaboard dive boats here. To dive here, you’ll have to charter a boat from the islands of Roatan or Utilia, or from La Ceiba on the mainland. Or you can book a stay at one of the modest dive hotels in La Ceiba. They’ll take care of the logistics for you.
Take note: there’s a small dive hotel called Turtle Bay Eco Resort that was grandfathered into the marine park. Its the only one in Cayos Cochinos, but I wouldn’t recommend staying there. Word has it that the facilities and equipment are less than satisfactory.
Chelsea and I joined a dive crew from Roatan. For our first dive, they dropped us off in the middle of the sea above a huge mountain of coral. On our way to our second dive, we passed a group of locals hand fishing from a small boat. We pulled up next to them. One of the dive masters conversed in Spanish with one of the fisherman and next thing we knew, the fisherman was climbing into our boat. He promised to show us the best dive sites in Cayos if we promised to drop him back off on his island later. We agreed and then offered him a beer.
Basically, its more of an adventure to dive here than it is a luxury. And everything is super relaxed. But that’s what you get for the privilege of diving somewhere few people have ever been!
For more information on the quality of diving and a list of the best dive spots in Cayos Cochinos, visit this article written by Rico Besserdich, a professional underwater photographer and journalist.
6. Visit Chachahuate Cay
The island of Chachahuate Cay is tiny! So tiny, in fact, that it can be toured in about 5 minutes. But despite its small size, it’s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the Hog Cays. And it’s also home to the most authentic Garifuna community in the world!
Stepping onto Chachahuate Cay is like taking a step back in time. The only infrastructure on the island consists of wooden huts surrounded by thatch palms, that are set in white sand, and totally encircled by the turquoise blue Caribbean Sea!
About 80 people, permanently live in the Garifuna village on the island. Once solely a fishing village, the community of Chachahuate now makes a living by offering food and colorful handicrafts to travelers that visit the Hog Cays. The community, however, has retained all of its original character and authenticity, giving you the unique opportunity to mingle and immerse yourself in the rich, lively Garifuna culture.
Most (if not all) day tours disembark at Chachahuate Cay so visitors can enjoy a delicious lunch of fresh fish, plantains, rice, and black beans cooked by local families in the island kitchen. But, if you’d like to stay a bit longer to enjoy this island paradise (and some seriously INCREDIBLE sunsets), then you can book an inexpensive stay in one of the island huts.
7. Enjoy the incredible effort put forth to protect the beauty, culture, and biodiversity in Cayos Cochinos
Its becoming harder and harder to find locations like Cayos Cochinos, Honduras, where the environment is pristine and and so heavily protected from commercial fishing and exploitation. The protections governing this Biological Marine Reserve allow the unique flora and fauna that live here to thrive, creating a tropical wilderness paradise.
Not only are the waters here protected from commercial fishing, but they’re protected from commercial diving as well. All divers must abide by the strict principles of responsible diving and eco-tourism. There are also limits and restrictions on the number of divers allowed on each dive site at one time. This, of course, means you may very well have a site all to yourself!
Something that I really love about the tourism in Cayos Cochinos is that its all aimed toward promoting a deeper understanding of the fragility of the marine and terrestrial ecosystems that thrive here. Upon arriving in the park, visitors are required to watch a short film on the history and culture of the islands, and pay a $25USD entrance fee that goes conservation efforts. There are also rangers who regularly patrol the area, ensuring that everyone abides by the principles and area protections set in place.
There’s even an island (Cayo Menor) that’s off limits to tourism. The only people allowed here are scientists studying the reef and people working for the Honduras Coral Reef Fund.
But if you’re interested in marine biology, you can contact the station of the Honduras Coral Reef Foundation. They’ll tell you everything you need to know about all the critters that call this unique island paradise home! You can even request that one of the marine biologists accompany you on your diving adventures.
& special thanks to Chelsea for being a great model and an amazing host xo
Have you been to Cayos Cochinos, Honduras? Is a visit to the Hog Cays on your bucket list? Let me know! As always, I’d love to hear from you!
Interested in some more bucket list adventures in Central America? Check out these posts!
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How to Visit Tikal in Guatemala Without a Tour
Diving the Great Blue Hole in Belize: What It’s Really Like
How to Drive Yourself to Caracol Mayan Ruins in Belize
Hike The Tiger Fern Falls Trail in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
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