Utila Main

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Útila (Isla de Útila) is the third largest of Honduras' Bay Islands, after Roatán and Guanaja, in a region that marks the south end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest in the world. The eastern end of the island is capped by a thin veneer of basaltic volcanic rocks, erupted from several pyroclastic cones including 74 m (243 ft) Pumpkin Hill which forms the highest point on the island. It has been documented in history since Columbus' fourth voyage, and currently enjoys growing tourism with emphasis on recreational diving.

Ruins on all three of the Bay Islands indicate that they were inhabited well before the Europeans arrived. Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage to the new world, landed on the island of Guanaja on July 30, 1502.[citation needed] He encountered a fairly large population of indigenous people whom he believed to be cannibals.[citation needed] The Spanish enslaved the islanders and sent them to work on the plantations of Cuba and gold and silver mines of Mexico.

They did not stay uninhabited for long, however. English, French and Dutch pirates established settlements on the islands and raided the Spanish cargo vessels laden with gold and other treasures from the New World. The English buccaneer Henry Morgan established his base at Port Royal on Roatán, about 30 kilometers from Útila, in the mid-17th century; at that time as many as 5,000 pirates were living on that island.[citation needed]

Colonization by the Spanish began in the early 1500s. Over the next century, the Spanish plundered the island for its slave trade and eliminated the island of its natives by the early 1600s. Britain, in its aggressive attempt to colonize the Caribbean from the Spanish, occupied the Bay Islands on and off between 1550 and 1700. During this time, the buccaneers found the vacated, mostly unprotected islands a haven for safe harbor and transport. Útila is rich in pirate lore that, and even presently, scuba divers look for sunken treasure from Captain Morgan's lost booty from his raid on Panama in 1671.

The British were forced to give back the Bay Islands to the Honduran government in the mid 1800s. It was at this time that the nearly uninhabited islands were being populated by its now Caymanian roots. They remain rich in Caymanian culture and dialect.

Útila has been a part of Honduras for approximately 150 years.[1][2] For nearly 200 years Spanish conquistadores and British pirates battled for control of these islands, ignoring the native people for the most part. During this period, the Islands were used for food and wood supplies, safe harbor, and slave trading. Remains of 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.[citation needed] These are the Garifunas who still populate much of the Bay Islands, maintaining their own cultural identity and language. Punta Gorda on Roatán is one of many villages where they live.