Diving the Reefs of Roatan, Honduras
Do you dream of tropical vacations? I’m talking about imagining yourself on a relaxing island with powder-soft white sand beaches amid coconut palms swaying in the breezy sea air. You sip an icy tropical drink while swinging in a hammock on the porch of your cozy bungalow, stilt-mounted over a lagoon of brilliantly transparent, tinted turquoise and azure water. Below the deck tangerine-colored star fish cling to the stilts and yellow-tail snappers dart about. Offshore an incredibly healthy coral reef is teaming with dazzling fish and invertebrate life. Sitting at my desk on a rainy day, that’s exactly what I dream of!
Then I think of the price tag and reality hits home. Is it possible, in the Caribbean, to indulge in this tropical dream without dipping into a second mortgage on your car and home?
Yep! Honduras, specifically Roatan in the Bay Islands is an affordable, must-do dive or snorkel destination. For example, all-inclusive seven nights dive packages at Anthony’s Key range from $675 to 1,075 per person, depending upon the season and the bungalow location. This price includes all meals and up to three dives a day. Do the math! Even in peak season, renting the very best bungalow, that’s only $153 a day. And
Snorkel only packages are much less expensive.
Roatan is rimmed by the world’s second largest reef, creating an underwater environment for spectacular scuba diving and other water sports. Visiting divers can expect excellent visibility of 75 to 150 feet or better, superb and divers dives along miles of fringing reefs, precipitous walls dramatic walls beginning at 40-feet of water and fish-filled coral gardens. The reefs are protected by a Marine Park and the marine life is so extensive and ever-changing you could see virtually anything that lives in the Caribbean, even when snorkeling of the water’s surface.
Snorkeling I saw barracuda, eagle rays, squid, lobster, huge parrot fish and the majestic adult angelfish. I joined the diving groups and explored crevices in deep sea caves, floated among schools of blue Tangs and yellow-tailed damselfish with neon blue spots,and saw a wealth of coral formations, from huge purple sea fans to barrel coral. Turtles, spotted rays, sharks, even whale sharks are often seen. Wreck diving on a 200 foot ship is an attraction for other divers.
Compared to other Caribbean dive destinations, the reefs are very close to the island so it is possible to do three dives a day. A string of permanent moorings are located just 5-30 minutes from the resort dock. You have the flexibility to do an early dive, return to the resort, have a nap, then go for a night dive, or perhaps, like me, you want to sleep in and go for the 10:30 a.m. morning dive. The resort offers numerous certification courses and everything divers or snorkelers need, from gear to underwater photo processing to the
opportunity to interact with dolphins. Diving has never been easier! You store all your gear on the dock next to the dive shop, and the dive guides service the tanks for you and put them in the boat! Anthony’s Key has a fleet of eleven custom dive boats to ensure small groups.
Anthony’s was one of the first scuba diving resorts in the Caribbean, opening in the late 1960’s. The restaurant and lounge areas are a sprawling structure in the trees, reminiscent of the Swiss Family Robinson home. They are perched on stilts on the main hillside amid a tropical jungle of frangipani trees, lush palms, hibiscus and colorful croton bushes. The restaurant deck reveals a panorama of the lagoon below and a narrow islet fringed with sandy beaches and frothy mangroves. This tiny 8 acre island is Anthony’s Key where 40 wood bungalows on stilts are poised over the lagoon. It’s a two-minute boat-ride off the main island.
Anthony’s Key has the charm of being very Caribbean, with a warm, friendly and smiling staff. The dive guides are attentive and very knowledgeable about the best places to dive to see turtles, seahorses or eagle rays.
The resort’s theme is relaxed, upscale rustic, with lush gardens and everything built out of wood. You choose from 56 bungalows, arranged around the shoreline of the island or staggered up the main island hillside, all with incredibly scenic views. The Galindo Family, who own and operate the resort, has maintained the beauty and environmental integrity of nature. Many returning guests greet the Galindo brothers who are seen on the property daily, keeping an eye on the high level of service, the quality of the food and all aspects of the resorts’ operation. They oversee the full time staff of dive guides, mechanics for the dive boats, three doctors, chefs for the food preparation, from freshly baked bread and pastries to grilling the fresh-from the sea Tailapa. The resort also boasts a fully equipped decompression chamber, housed on the dock.
Discoveries Outside the Water
Diving is only part of the island’s allure. There are three white sand beaches on Roatan: West Bay, Palmetto Bay, and Camp Bay. Other island activities include kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, canopy rides, botanical gardens and a remarkable Meso-American museum, with its professional displays of the ecology and the many cultures that developed in the Pre-Columbian Era.
The Institute for Marine Sciences, located within the Anthony’s Resort grounds, has fascinating explanations about the life and behavior of dolphins. It is also the home of the Dolphin Discovery Program which offers snorkelers the chance to interact with dolphins in their natural habitat, accompanied by a dolphin behaviorist. Nineteen bottlenose dolphins live in a large enclosure circling adjacent Baily’s Key. Science Departments from major U.S. colleges and universities send students and professors here to do field work combined with classroom lectures about tropical reef and marine life.
Pirates of the Caribbean
The islands’ first introduction to western civilization occurred when Christopher Columbus stopped at the Bay Islands on his final voyage to the Americas in 1502. The island’s geopolitical importance began around the XVI century with the traffic of riches, from America to Europe. On the high seas, wherever there were riches, there were pirates and Roatan was no exception. As a strategically located small island close to the Central American coast, it served as a gateway for merchant vessels traveling to Spain. Eventually the island became a refuge for French, Dutch and English pirates. For more than a century pirates fought to control territories such as Jamaica, Panama and Venezuela but they always kept their favorite hideout: Roatan.
Today Roatan hides its treasure beneath the mountains painted 1,000 shades of green and beneath the gleaming water on the coral reefs. “I think Roatan today, is like Costa Rica was twenty years ago. We heard about Anthony’s Key from friends, then looked it up on the Internet and discovered it’s beautiful and very reasonable,” explained Elly and Eric, a honeymoon couple from Anchorage. Middle-aged veteran divers Doug and Jane from Denver, Colorado are repeat guests. “It’s not a boozy atmosphere. We enjoy the “Happy Hour” with live music on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but we also love the quiet time on our deck, lounging in our hammocks over the water, just soaking in nature.”
So the next time you dream of a tropical vacation and want to get away, really away, try a dive or snorkel holiday in Roatan.
About the Author: Marybeth Bond, the Gutsy Traveler, National Geographic author of 11 travel books, featured guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and founder of the Online Travel Magazine www.GutsyTraveler.com She has been featured over 1,000 times on TV, radio and print. She is a Contributor to CNN, CNN Airport Network and CNN.com Speaker, spokesperson, author, travel expert, Marybeth, the Gutsy Traveler walks the talk. She's an adventurer; biked two months across the USA, traveler to over 90 countries, media travel expert for CBS News, CNN, ABC, NBC, NPR and National Geographic.