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Diving in Roatan

All you need to know about one of the best scuba destinations in the Caribbean

25/May/2023

Roatan is a scuba diver's paradise that should be at the top of your bucket list. This Caribbean island is known for it’s crystal clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and an abundance of marine life. No wonder why it is considered one of the best dive destinations in the Caribbean. In this ultimate guide, we will take you on a virtual diving tour on Roatan, complete with tips on the best dive sites, the ideal time to visit, how to choose where to stay and what to expect underwater.

Roatan. Honduras

The island of Roatan is located in the Honduran Caribbean. It belongs to the Bay Islands Department, a group of 8 islands which also includes the Cayos Cochinos, the islands of Utila and Guanaja among others. Roatan is located over the second largest barrier reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and it’s waters are part of the Roatan Marine Park. This fact makes for a rich and diverse underwater environment, filled with vibrant coral, sponges, and an abundance of marine life. The water is generally incredibly clear, offering outstanding visibility. Additionally, mild to no currents year round provide divers with a breathtaking view of the underwater world.

 

The reef of Roatan is also popular for its closeness to shore which gives dive operators the ability to offer single tank dive trips -out for a dive and back to spend the surface interval on land- or double tank trips -out for the morning and back after two dives-. In most cases, depending on availability, scuba divers can choose and plan their morning schedule accordingly and if they want, also dive in the afternoon.

When to go scuba diving in Roatan

Roatan has a tropical climate, which means it is warm and humid year round. However, it does present two main weather seasons. The summer season which aligns with the months from May to October and the winter season, which aligns with the months from November to April.

During the summer season, you can expect to have dry and hot weather and calmer oceans with sporadic rain. Water temperature ranges around the 29°C/84°F. This weather improves diving conditions since water tends to be clean of debris, presenting great visibility with little to no surge or waves. During the winter season, temperature drops and rain makes itself present, often in the mornings and late in the afternoons. Water temperature drops to around 27°C/80°F and visibility can be affected by the amount of rain water flowing from land into the ocean. However, the colder water also brings more wildlife activity.

The best time to visit Roatan for diving is from March to June and from October to November. During these months, the water is calm, visibility is excellent, and there is usually minimal rainfall. The summer months from July to August can be too hot and humid for some, and there is a higher chance of strong rain and storms.

black rock dive site in west bay, roatan, honduras

Where to stay

Since on Roatan the reef is so close to the island, most dive operations tend to scuba dive the sites that are closer to them. On a daily basis, some of the furthest trips can be a 20 to 40 minutes boat ride, always subjected to the speed of the boat. The Roatan Marine Park takes care of setting the infrastructure for the boats to moor on the sites and there are mooring lines every 40 to 50m/130 to 165ft. The area you are most likely to scuba dive in depends on the dive operation you choose to dive with. Some adventure a bit further than others but always in a range of proximity to the base operation.

The dive activity on Roatan concentrates on two main towns located over the southwest shore, West End and West Bay. This is the leeward side of the island, meaning that the wind here tends to be less than on eastern or northern front. Both West End and West Bay can provide great lodging and have many dive operators to choose from. West End tends to be more picturesque and has a better imprint of local culture, while West Bay has many resorts to stay at and a long beach with white sand and palm trees to relax after scuba diving.

The topography near these locations can present an area of large sandy bottoms with depths that range from 6m to 30m/20ft to 100ft at the bottom of the deeper walls. It also offers some steeper drops like West End Wall dive site or Boris, Moose, Squirrel, and many of the best dive sites are located here.

If you decide you want to stay away from the tourist epicenters of the island but still occasionally make it into town, the dive operations running in Sandy Bay may provide what you are looking for. Sandy Bay is a neighborhood close to West End and can offer great diving. The topography on this area usually presents steep walls, and large coral platforms.

If in any case you would rather be in a more secluded area or your plans of coming into town are thin to none, on the furthest east part of the island you will find a number of dive resorts with only local settlements around and more unexplored dive sites. The resorts here can provide all-inclusive lodging and transportation from and back to the airport or ferry.

What to Expect Underwater

Roatan is known for it’s clear waters and wild life. The visibility underwater can range from 25-30m/80-100ft. Divers can expect to see colorful coral formations, schools of jacks, big moray eels, sting rays, eagle rays and turtles. If you are a macro enthusiast, you will be able to look for all sorts of tiny nudibranchs and colorful sab-sucking slugs as well as small aglajas worms and shy seahorses. Roatan´s biodiversity make this calm waters a paradise for experienced underwater photographers as well as photography enthusiasts offering an amazing scuba dive experience for divers of all levels and interests.

In addition to the natural beauty of the reef, Roatan is also home to a variety of wrecks. This sunken vessels and structures have become home to a variety of marine life, making for some exciting diving opportunities. On the South-east shore you can dive the popular El Aguila and the stunning Odyssey while on the North-western shore you will be able to dive Mr. Bud and the amazing Prince Albert.

eagle rays swimming away from the camera in roatan, honduras

Photo: Juan Darhanpe

Best Dive Sites in Roatan

Roatan offers a wide variety of dive sites for all levels of scuba divers, from shallow reefs to deeper walls, wrecks, canyons and all sorts of underwater structures. Here are a few of the best dive sites in Roatan. Depending on where you are staying and which dive operator is closer you might be able to dive some of them:

West End Wall - located on the west end of the island, across West Bay, this dive site offers a sheer drop-off. The wall is covered in colorful sponges, coral, and sea fans, making it an ideal spot for underwater photography.

If you are a TEC diving enthusiast, you will be able to find the deepest wreck there is on the island here at West End Wall. The Jocie J, which lies at  a depth of 70m/230ft.

Texas - the end of West End Wall gives place to a particular dive site. Texas, as its name depicts, is a large plateau full of coral hills and winding sand trails that lead into the depth. Here you will find some of the largest Giant Barrel Sponges on the island with over 700 years of age.

Mary's Place - this beautiful dive site is known for its maze of crevices and canyons that divers can swim through. The walls are covered in gorgoneans and sponges, and schools of fish are a common sight. One of the favorites on Roatan.

Blue Channel - a fantastic passage that connects the reef with the lagoon. A narrow channel covered in coral and sponge formations and winding swim-throughs where the light penetrates giving place to a dive you will not forget.

El Aguila Wreck - this former cargo vessel was sunk intentionally in 1997 to create an artificial reef and offer divers the possibility to dive a wreck on Roatan´s south-east shore. In 1998 it was struck by Hurricane Mitch, which split the ship in three pieces. This 75m/230ft wreck lies at a depth of 33m/110ft and is home to a variety of marine life, including groupers, jacks, and snappers.

Dolphin´s Den - one of the biggest known cave-like structures on the island. Connecting the reef with the lagoon, this dive site is one of the most thrilling ones to scuba dive on.

Rock Star - a massive canyon parallel to the outer wall will lead to scuba diving under ledges, overhangs and pinnacles. Massive sponges and mystic rock formations guide your way along this beautiful dive site.

Spooky Channel - if you are up for putting your buoyancy to the test, Spooky Channel is your site. Ups and downs, winding swim-throughs and structures that will blow your mind. This dive site will make you feel like you are diving on another planet.

Calvin´s Crack - beautiful healthy reef and a small entrance that will lead to an amazing underwater canyon which will take you out to the deep wall facing a wide open deep blue window.

How to Get to Roatan

Roatan is a small but busy island that comes with an international airport capable of receiving numerous flights a day. There are direct flights from Houston, Atlanta and Miami, but during the high season -from December to March- airlines often offer new routes.

A different way of making it onto the island if you are already in Honduras or some of the neighboring countries is through the local airlines. Their frequency is great and they are not expensive, but you must be sure you dare to fly in a tiny little plane.

Another option for making it to Roatan if you are already in Honduras is through the ferry. There are two trips a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon and the ride takes around one hour. You will usually have no trouble getting a seat but the trip is entirely subjected to the weather. The price of the ferry is $70 for a round trip and $35 for a one-way ticket.

 

Scuba diving in Roatan is an unforgettable experience that every diver should add to their bucket list. The vibrant coral reefs, clear waters, and abundant marine life of Roatan offer some of the best scuba diving in the Caribbean. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced diver, an underwater photographer or a tec-diving enthusiast, there is something for everyone in Roatan. Grab your dive gear, pack your bags and get ready for an underwater adventure like no other!

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