Half a millennium ago, Columbus christened what is today Guanaja as the "Island of Pines", when he landed here on his fourth and final voyage to the New World. Although there are a few patches of pine on Roatan, Guanaja is the only island whose vegetation is dominated by conifers. Michael Rock Peak (1,350 ft.) makes Guanaja the tallest of the Bay Islands, and good hiking with great views can be had up in the pine-scattered hills.
Although Guanaja was the only island to suffer serious damage from Hurricane Mitch in 1998, resisting the pounding winds for nearly 40 hours, islanders went straight to work rebuilding their towns, and now life is back to normal. The popular, secluded dive resorts on Guanaja were repaired and opened shortly after the hurricane passed. And although much of the island's vegetation was stripped of its leaves by the voracious winds, it has sprouted again and the island is reclaiming its lush landscape. And most importantly for Guanaja's growing tourism industry, Guanaja's famous coral reefs received almost no damage from the storm.
Guanaja's charm lies in its seclusion. There is only one small road on the island linking the towns of Mangrove Bight and Savannah Bight, and nearly all transportation is done over water. The majority of Guanaja's 10,000 souls live on one key called Guanaja Town or Bonacca.
Most of the island's upscale, dedicated dive resorts are located on isolated points around the island, accessible only by boat, making the Guanaja experience uniquely private and relaxing. Guanaja's 45 dive sites are known for healthy reefs, pinnacles and volcanic caverns, and the wreck of the Jado Trader.
In addition to great diving, Guanaja offers a unique and private experience for those wishing to explore above the surface of the sea:
Hiking - A number of trails criss-cross the island, winding up through the pines and down again onto pristine beaches. Although trails are not marked, they are easy to follow, and locals can guide you to the trailheads. One nice trail leads from behind the airport up into the hills, follows the ridge above Bayman Bay, and comes out around Michael Rock, site of some of Guanaja's nicest beaches. From there you can walk northeast along the beach to where Big Gully comes out, and take a side trip 30 minutes up to a beautiful waterfall. You can continue on along the beach to the typical island village of Mangrove Bight, which was devastated by the hurricane but is being rebuilt. From the western end of Mangrove Bight, the locals can show you where the trail begins that climbs over the hills and down to Sandy Bay. The mountain trails offer secluded hiking and spectacular views out over the electric blue waters of Guanaja's reef.
The Waterfall - Known mostly as "the waterfall", Big Gully Falls is one of those idyllic cascades that make a perfect photo opportunity. There is a ledge that cuts across the stone face of the falls about a third of the way up, perfect for striking an exotic pose as the water falls around you. The 30-minute hike up to the falls from Michael Rock Beach is a popular activity for divers.
Kayaking - Kayaks are available for use at most of the dive resorts, and can be rented if you are not a guest. The Bayman Bay Club rents sit-on-top kayaks that you can paddle south to the beautiful Soldado Beach (where Columbus is said to have landed) and up into a lazy stream that comes out of the hills. Or you can paddle north for a few minutes with your snorkeling gear to Michael Rock, where there are some nice, shallow reefs and one of the island's best beaches.
Fishing - Bone fishing on the flats on the south shore reefs is superb, and many dive resorts offer guided fishing excursions. Deep-water fishing is also available.