Located about 65 kilometers off the Northern Coast of Honduras, the Bay Islands group consists of 3 main Islands (Roatán, Guanaja, and Utila), 3 smaller islands (Barbareta, Morat, and Helene), and 65 smaller cays. Between these islands and the mainland are the Cayos Cocinos (Hog Islands).
During the Maya reign in Central America (between the 4th and 10th centuries), the Paya Indians populated the Bay Islands. The Payas were a smaller and less advanced group than the Mayans. Their civilization was characterized by simpler housing and tools. Payan artifacts (pottery, jade, and shells) are often found in Island burial and ceremonial sites and are referred to by the locals as "yaba ding dings."
The island Indians mined jade which they took in small boats to the mainland to trade for tools, and other items. The islands provided an abundant variety of foodstuffs such as manioc, fish, corn, turtles, iguanas, agouti (island "rabbits"), native fruits, land crabs, and deer.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, Europeans discovered these islands. For almost 200 years Spanish conquistadores and British pirates battled for control of these islands, ignoring the Indians for the most part. During this period, the Islands were used for food and wood supplies, safe harbor, and slave trading. Remains of old British forts and towns named after famous pirates remain as their legacy. One group of slaves was "parked" here during this time during the heat of a battle. When the winners came to collect them, the slaves refused to go. These are the Garifunas who populate much of the Bay Islands to this date, still maintaining their own cultural identity and language. Punta Gorda on Roatán is one of many villages where they still make their homes.
The British eventually established control of the Bay Islands, until the early 1960's when control of the Islands was officially returned to Honduras.