WHERE ARE WE GOING?
Today we are diving in Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras, in the Caribbean Sea!
WHY ARE WE DIVING IN ROATAN?
Diving in Roatan is still a bit of a hidden gem in terms of what it is known for. The area boasts diving on the second biggest barrier reef in the world (after the Australian Great Barrier Reef), the Meso-American Barrier (or the Great Mayan Reef).
Roatan is becoming a dive hot spot in the Caribbean and is being recognized as one of the healthiest reef systems in the world. While most of the world’s coral populations are suffering, Roatan’s coral coverage is increasing! It is the only Marine Protected Area in the Caribbean with increasing coverage, outperforming nearby neighbors such as Utila, Belize and Florida.
Diving in Roatan is also comparatively cheap when considering other locations such as the diving in the Cayman Islands or Bonaire.
Roatan is also renowned for its great visibility with conditions allowing for 30-meter lateral visibility 90% of the time, including rainy days. The reason for this is the reef wall where water depths quickly reach 50m+ is keeping the waters clear of sediment, allowing for maximum visibility.
MARINE LIFE IN ROATAN
Roatan is also home to 85% of all known Caribbean reef species ranging from pods of sperm whales and dolphins to nurse sharks, hammerheads and reef sharks. You can frequently see eagle rays and giant green moray eels. The turtle population is on par with some of the best-protected areas in the world. And on almost every dive you can see hawksbills (critically endangered), green turtles (critically endangered), Loggerheads (largest sea turtle species) and the occasional Leather Back turtles. In the last 2 years, 16 females have been recorded as using the beaches of Roatan for egg-laying and the marine park authority protects these nests 24/7 with armed guards, ensuring the greatest survival success for the next generation.
There is an abundance of fish stocks with herbivorous and carnivorous species in perfect balance. There is a wonderful abundance of macro life, nudis, slugs and all sorts for those with a keen eye.
If you are into sport fishing Roatan is a location where you can receive training and become a Lionfish certified hunter. This allows you to spear the lionfish (which is an invasive species) out the water on any dive, take them home and make your own fresh lionfish ceviche (delicious). Some locals do this to make a living by selling their catch to restaurants. If you ever see fresh lionfish tacos available, don’t hesitate to get involved as by eating them you are in fact saving the reef!
HOW DO WE GET THERE?
Roatan has an international airport with daily direct flights from Canada and the USA. There is also a ferry service from mainland Honduras from the port of La Ceiba which takes 1.5 hours or domestic flights from San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa that take around 30 minutes.
For international flights from the USA – Miami, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta are the easiest with a 2 hour flight time. Other locations can be connected to from these airports.
From Europe, flying through Madrid or London is a very easy way to connect usually long-haul flights being less than 9 hours. Madrid connects directly with San Pedro Sula and makes for the easiest connection. London connects with most airports in the US and options are extensive for getting to the island.
From Canada, there are direct flights from Toronto and Quebec that take around 5 hours or there are plenty of options for connecting flights in the US or Honduras itself.
You can also go by land using bus routes to get to the port of LA Ceiba and get the ferry from there. The ferry is called the Utila Dream or Galaxy Wave (two different operators) and costs around $30 USD for a one-way ticket.
BEST DIVE SITES IN ROATAN HONDURAS
Because Roatan is one big reef wall there are over 400 dive site moorings currently set up around the island offering a great variety of dives. You can even drop in random places along the wall to experience areas where little to no others have been. You can even purchase and name your own dive site here by donating to the marine park authority. More sites are becoming available every year! Some of the best areas when diving in Roatan include:
West End Wall
Right at the tip of the Westside of Roatan, this site offers gentle to medium current for drift diving with topography to blow the mind. The wall drops to 50m but generally, divers are limited to 30m max. Due to its location and current welling, it is one of the best areas to see sharks, mantas and pods of aquatic mammals cruising by. There is also an abundance of seahorse there, you just need to be extra vigilant to spot them!
This site is located on the southern shore (most of the diving is done on the Northern shore) Once again the depth goes all the way to 60m+ but the dives are limited to your training and experience level. Mary’s Place has one of the biggest schools of jackfish (giant trevally) around the island and the reason for this is the underwater valleys. A fissure in the coral drops to 30m and allows you to swim through 2 different trenches, one open and the other covered from surface view for a brief period with plenty of space for multiple divers to get through.
Because of the reef system in Roatan, there is an inner lagoon, great for snorkeling, an outer lagoon, great for beginner scuba divers, and then the reef wall suitable on most occasions for beginners and experienced divers alike. Roatan offers something for everyone in terms of availability of dive sites.
TELL ME MORE
Roatan offers both resort diving and liveaboard availability. The Roatan Aggressor is the Liveaboard company but most people opt to stay on the island as the reef is a swimmable distance away in most areas.
Generally, the speed boat service used by the majority of operations on the island gets you to the reef in minutes with an average travel time of 3-5 minutes to the dive sites. This means you don’t have to spend much time on the boat, with a trip back to the dive center in-between most dives.
The boats offer all safety equipment, first aid, and O2 on board with the marine toilets being the sea! Usually, people manage to wait for the 5 minutes it takes to return to shore so you can feel comfortable using land-based facilities.
Some schools even offer breakfast delivery between dives so you can have your bacon and egg muffin while waiting for the next dive briefing (Vegetarian and Vegan options are also available). The diving is generally an hour-long due to the fact that it is so easy to get around efficiently, allowing you more time in the water, increasing your chances of seeing something amazing!
DO I NEED ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT?
You don’t really need any specialized equipment to dive in Roatan. If you are a person that is more prone to getting cold then a 3-5mm wetsuit is recommended. The water temperature rarely gets below 26°C. At the height of summer the water temperature hits 31-32°C so a T-shirt/rashie and shorts or swimsuit is more than enough!
All the shops on Roatan offer equipment rental. More often than not this is included in the price anyway so don’t worry about hauling all your gear over long distances. Gloves are in fact banned by the Marine Park Authority unless you have medical reasons to use them so don’t pack your gloves. This is aimed at reducing contact between divers and the environment and has proved a success as the reef system is in the best condition in the Meso-American reef barrier system.
WHAT LEVEL CERTIFICATION SHOULD I BE?
You do not have to be certified to dive on Roatan but it helps!
Roatan offers courses from entry-level all the way up to instructor levels and beyond. There are also perfect protected bays for try dives and pre-open water training. There are also more advanced sites for experienced divers. Something for everyone!
WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS?
Being in the tropical Caribbean the temperature doesn’t fluctuate too much ranging from 26°C at its coldest to 32°C during summer.
Even in the rainy season (November – January) the visibility remains above 25m so at all times of year Roatan is a great choice for a dive holiday. September is generally the hottest month with the land temperature hitting close to 40°C so getting in the water during this time definitely feels the best!
Christmas and New Year are naturally busy periods with most places being fully booked during this time. January and February are the months associated with Canadian season, with most of the population venturing to Roatan to get away from the perma-winter experienced there during that time of year!
March and April is Easter and in Honduras, we take that very seriously. The whole country takes a week off, locally known as Semana Santa (not to be confused with Santa Claus) and this is the Holy Week and the island becomes jam-packed full of people. There is a week-long festival with food stalls set up, live music and special events to keep you entertained. If you are looking for a peaceful getaway, perhaps don’t choose the week of Easter to come down to Roatan.
For the rest of the year, the diving is still excellent. It is during these quieter periods where we find the island is at its best, becoming its namesake the ‘Goldilocks’ of diving destinations; as it’s not too busy but not too quiet, it’s not too hot nor too cold. For us locals that live here, it is the best parts of the year, offering a great balance between diving and non-diving enjoyment.
HOW MUCH WILL I SPEND?
With the diving in Roatan, prices can vary quite a bit with your cheaper options offering dives for around 35 USD. It can also go up to exclusive dives costing as much as 150 USD for a black water dive (a dive done in the dead of night about 1km away from the shore, this is mainly for photographers wanting epic shots of macro bio-luminescence). It is on these black water dives where you have the highest chance to see a string of pearls light show! (something I have never experienced anywhere else in the world.)
Most operations provide a ‘the more you dive the cheaper it gets’ policy where pro-rating diving becomes more cost-effective the more you are in the water. Generally, courses cost between 300 and 400 USD with some offering included accommodation during the course. By comparison to other locations in the Caribbean, the pricing here is a steal, especially with the quality of diving you will be doing.
Gear rental is included in the price so don’t expect any discounts if you do provide your own gear. Saying that most of Roatan offer Valet-style service which means that the dive professionals are responsible for setting up your gear for you. We definitely recommend checking your gear before every dive to make sure it is set up the way you like it but it’s another thing you don’t have to worry about once you are here.
Some shops offer a discount for dive pros with some operators only charging 10 USD for a dive especially when you can provide your own gear.
WHAT TYPE OF ACCOMMODATION IS AVAILABLE?
Roatan has a massive, almost limitless range of accommodation available. There are rooms in hostels going for 10-15 USD per night. All the way up to luxury all-inclusive private villas that can set you back a fair chunk. Most dive operators don’t have their own accommodation on site but are affiliated with other hotels or villas. Some such as Roatan Divers will even come and pick you up by speed boat if you are staying in one of their affiliated locations. One heck of a way to start your diving day by getting a free private water taxi service door to door!
WHAT DO WE DO ON SURFACE INTERVALS?
Besides diving, Roatan offers a plethora of alternative activities to get involved in during your days off from diving. There are water parks, sports facilities (soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, 3 golf courses, jet skiing, jet boarding, paddle boarding, para-sailing, banana-boating the list goes on and on)
There is also wildlife preserves where you can hug sloths and play with capuchin monkeys. There are zip lining tours through the tropical rainforest canopies. You can travel the mangrove passageways by kayak with local tour guides.
If you head out to the east end on a Sunday you will see the local Garifuna population who celebrate with huge street parties every week. My personal favorite, however, has to be the on-island micro-brewery where they craft delicious Caribbean beers; ales, stouts, and lagers. Every Sunday is a special BBQ day where we usually see a beautiful hog roast to compliment the different beer available.
Fishing trips and specialist dive trips are available. When the weather permits, we like to head out to Cayos Cochinos (The Pig Keys) for some even more remote and pristine diving where encounters with some of Earth’s most beautiful species are common.
Roatan is a diver’s playground all year round and with so much going for it, it won’t be long before everybody finds out. Make sure you get a chance to visit this slice of Caribbean Paradise!