About 75 million years ago, in the mid- Cretaceous geological era, the tectonic plate on which Honduras  sits constituted itself in the mid-Pacific Ocean and began drifting in a northeasterly direction. By the Miocene era, this plate—called the Caribbean Plate—had plugged itself neatly into an existing gap between the North American and South American Plates, forming a land bridge between the two continents. But as it happens, the gap wasn’t as big as the landmass, so the Caribbean Plate has been gradually pinched by its two larger neighbors—a principal factor shaping Honduras’s tumultuous topography. Although the pinching has slowed its progress, the Caribbean Plate obstinately continues moving east and northeast at a rate of 2–4 centimeters a year. At that rate, Honduras should be nudging up against Cuba in 25 million years or so.
Crashing into the Caribbean Plate from behind is the Cocos Plate, the culprit in a great deal of seismic and volcanic activity in Mexico and on the western coast of Central America. The Cocos Plate, apparently propelled with a great deal of energy, is thrusting under the Caribbean and parts of the North American Plates, forcing these landmasses upward and creating the region’s steep Pacific slope mountains. Tiny slips between these plates, pushing up against one another with unimaginable force, unleash regular earthquakes and volcanic activity.
Situated on the northwestern part of the Caribbean Plate, Honduras  forms part of the border (geologically speaking) against the North American Plate. Offshore, the Bay Islands  and, farther off, the Swan Islands are located right at the edge of the fault—which at that point is a deep undersea trough called the Bartlett or Cayman Trench. Because the two plates are slipping past each other here, rather than meeting head-on, this fault is less prone to geological activity than the Cocos.
Although plate tectonics are a prime factor in creating Honduras’s tortured topography, the country is largely free of volcanoes, and earthquakes are rare. That said, spring 2009 brought a series of significant earthquakes, most notably a quake off the coast of Roatán  that registered 7.1 on the Richter scale. Incredibly enough for a quake of such a magnitude, damages were relatively mild—five deaths, and some structural damage, but nothing devastating.