The variety of diving in this Bay Island is equal only to the diversity of fish in the sea.
About 30 miles off the northern coast of Honduras lies a precious Caribbean gem: the island of Roatan. The island’s dazzling array of marine life can be found on both shallow reefs and plummeting walls. It is well-known as a destination for hunting macro critters but equally famous for encountering the largest fish in the sea: majestic whale sharks. Roatan is perfectly suited for new and veteran divers alike. With coral gardens, shipwrecks such as the Odyssey and Aguila, sand flats full of hidden delights, and action-packed shark dives, there’s never a dull moment underwater.
Roatan is a favorite among divers and this Bay Island took home the following 13 accolades in the 2018 Scuba Diving magazine Readers Choice Awards:
|Cave, Cavern, Grotto|
1 ) EL AGUILA
This spectacular shipwreck has swim-throughs, giant grouper, passing eagle rays and an adjacent reef, but the real showstopper is its mast. Take your time perusing the coral-covered structure, and look out for neck and arrowhead crabs, slender filefish, fireworms and charming secretary blennies.
2 ) SEE HORSES
Seahorses have mastered the art of hiding in plain sight. Go slowly and keep a sharp eye out, and you just might be able to spot one. Pipefish, a relative of the seahorse, can also be found here.
3 ) JAWSOME
While swimming over sand patches, scan the seafloor for yellow-headed jawfish. You’ll find them hovering over their burrows — or hiding within, should you spook them. Males carry their eggs inside their mouths, and if you are patient, you can catch one aerating the clutch by popping the eggs in and out of its mouth.
4 ) PRETTY PEAS
Baby trunkfish make for an exciting find while touring the reef. They’re called “peas” because of their round shape and diminutive size. They’re also super adorable.
5 ) MANDY’S EEL GARDEN
You’ll find streams of creole wrasse, scorpionfish, yellow tilefish and more at this dive site off the northwest end of Roatan. But the main attractions are the sand patches packed with garden eels.
6 ) ROATAN MARINE PARK
Sandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve was officially established in 1989 on the northwestern part of Roatan. It has since been expanded to stretch across 17 miles of coastline and now protects approximately 10,400 square miles of reef.
7 ) CORAL CORRAL
The abundance of corals present in Roatan’s sunlit shallows and steep walls is almost unreal. Every color of the rainbow is represented on the reef, and the variety is equally astounding — everything from flower and pillar coral to elkhorn and staghorn coral can be seen here.
8 ) CARAMBOLA
Spend some time on terra firma taking in the natural beauty of Roatan’s topside at Carambola Gardens. Hike up Carambola Mountain for a spectacular view of the island, and marvel at exotic flora and fauna, including orchids, monkey lala lizards, and Honduran mahogany.
9 ) RIMS
The Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences provides educational opportunities for students studying tropical marine ecosystems. They host college, university and high school groups in their classroom and laboratory facilities and take them into the field.
10 ) MESOAMERICAN REEF
Roatan, and the rest of the Bay Islands, is part of the southernmost portion of the Mesoamerican Reef, which spans more than 600 miles. It’s the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the second-largest reef in the world.
11 ) ON THE EDGE
Roatan sits atop the Bonacca Ridge, an underwater mountain range that rests on the edge of the 25,000-foot-deep Cayman Trench. The result is spectacular walls and dizzying drop-offs where the ocean floor plummets hundreds, and even thousands, of feet straight down.
12 ) MARY’S PLACE
The narrow crevices of this famous dive site are covered in black coral and sponges, offering a unique view as you gaze up from inside the fissures. Even after you finish its iconic swim-through, there is more to see. The top of the site is home to a beautiful reef that overlooks a steep drop-off.
13 ) WEST END WALL
This site’s coral-and-sponge encrusted walls are as deep as 100 to 200 feet. It is a magnet for sea turtles and tarpon, and is frequented by schools of horse-eye jacks, chubs and creole wrasse.
14 ) CALVIN’S CRACK
This swim-through starts around 20 feet and drops you off 90 feet down the wall. Schooling silversides only add to the magic, and those with keen eyes might come across the elusive toadfish.
15 ) THE ABYSS
Curious to see what lies below recreational limits? Take a submarine ride down the wall with Stanley’s Submarines. Your expedition into the deep will take you up to 2,000 feet below the surface into the realm of sixgill sharks and other deep-sea oddities.
16 ) SWIM WITH DOLPHINS
Anthony’s Key Resort offers guided snorkel trips and a dolphin encounter that gives you the opportunity to meet their resident pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.
17 ) FOR THE BIRDS
Visit Pigeon Cay, a beautiful, uninhabited sandbar off Roatan’s east end, to get off the grid and relax. Spend the day picnicking, lounging on the beach, and snorkeling off this sandy islet.
18 ) OVER THE MOON
Half Moon Bay is easily accessible from shore and is full of marine life — juvenile fish, lobsters, eels and sea turtles are in abundance here. Don’t forget to check out the sunken submarine.
19 ) ROOM WITH A REEF
Many resorts have beautiful house reefs, giving you the option to snorkel (or dive) to your heart’s content without ever having to hop on a boat.
20 ) WRECK SPOTTING
The Prince Albert is close enough to be a shore dive for guests at CoCo View Resort. The ship sits in the channel just past the resort’s house reef, and when viz is good, the entire 140-foot tanker can be seen from the surface.
21 ) AROUND TOWN
Day boats tend to stick to a single side of the island, but Roatan Aggressor traverses the whole thing. This liveaboard will let you experience the best of Roatan and will take you to nearby Utila and Cayos Cochinos as well.
22 ) BIRD’S-EYE VIEW
Roatan’s jungle-covered hilltops are as beautiful as its coral-studded reefs. Head to one of the island’s many zip-line tour operators for an adrenaline-filled ride through the canopy and an experience you won’t soon forget.
23 ) WHALE SHARKS
After a great dive at one of Roatan’s many fantastic sites, what better cherry could top this scuba sundae than encountering this famous fish? Whaleshark sightings are common in the Bay Islands. They are most often seen February through April and August through October, but can make an appearance anytime.
24 ) WEST END
You’ll find this lively mix of restaurants, hotels, bars, souvenir stores and (of course) scuba shops on the northwestern end of Roatan. Situated on the palm-lined Half Moon Bay beach, this hot spot is great for those interested in local bands and nightlife,as well as catching dive trips and fishing charters.
25 ) CARA A CARA
Spanish for “face to face,” this shark dive on Roatan’s south side lets you get up close and personal with the island’s toothy inhabitants. Enjoy some face time with half a dozen or more reef sharks, and if you’re lucky, a scalloped hammerhead might swing by.