Scuba Diving in Honduras
While there is some diving off the mainland coast of Honduras, the most popular place by far for scuba diving is the Islas de Bahia (the Bay Islands) in the Caribbean Ocean, which are located about 30 miles away from east coast of mainland Honduras. It is a combination of seven larger islands as well as numerous small cays. The islands lie along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system, which is the second-largest reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The underwater world of these islands are populated with all kinds of Caribbean reef fish and creatures, including angelfish, triggerfish, green moray eels, turtles, rays, sharks (Caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks, hammerheads, and even whale sharks at certain times of the year), lobster, crab, nudibranchs, butterflyfish, trunkfish and more. The Bay Islands are famous for the underwater mountain range known as the Bonacca Ridge. The Bay Islands are the top most area of Bonacca Ridge.
Popular Scuba Diving Locations in Honduras
The most famous island in the Bay Islands chain is Roatan, which packs a lot in its small size – the entire island is only about 50 miles long by 3 miles wide. There is something for everyone on Roatan. Many divers who have visited Roatan say it’s the best diving they’ve ever done. Roatan is situated on the edge of the Cayman Trench and its dark blue water seems to spread to infinity. On Roatan divers can experience shallow dives on beautiful reef plateaus as well as sloping bottom and shear wall diving. The north and south sides have very different types of diving despite being such a small island. The south side is characterized by plenty of shear vertical walls and dramatic drop offs. The north side has more varied topography with gradual and sloping bottoms, finger canyons, crevices, and coral pinnacles. On both sides there is tons of healthy soft and hard coral, as well as lots of creatures with great visibility year round. Water temperature varies from 84F-76F (29C-24C) depending on the season. All dive shops on the island collect marine park fees ($10 yearly or $5 daily) from divers and snorkelers which helps support the Roatan Marine Park. The marine park is very involved in the local community and local fisherman to ensure the reef and marine life will be healthy for years to come.
Popular Dive Sites on Roatan
Mary’s Place – Roatan’s signature dive site. Mary’s Place is a reef peninsula that split into pieces in an earthquake, which created three large cracks that divers can swim through and enjoy the dramatic scenery. Due to the depth (the bottom of the cracks is close to 100ft) and the delicate coral inside the cracks, this dive is only available to advanced divers with good buoyancy skills. The first crack has plenty of sensitive black coral and therefore no flash photography is allowed. After swimming through the cracks divers are treated to a beautiful coral garden plateau with tons of macro life. Divers should not expect to be able to dive Mary’s Place as their first dive as all dive operators are required to observe their divers buoyancy skills first before taking them to this sensitive site.
Blue Channel – also known as Herbie’s Fantasy, this striking channel has lots of swim throughs and canyons with huge overhangs. At certain times of the year the channel is full of massive swarms of silversides, which are fun for divers to swim around and makes for stunning photos.
Hole in the Wall – good for divers and snorkelers alike, Hole in the Wall has a huge sand chute that leads to the wall where intricate swim throughs abound. There is a sand chute experienced divers can follow to more than 120ft and look out into the blue abyss.
Dolphin Den – also known as Verde Grande, this site has an astounding shallow cave system in the inner reef, some as deep as 35’ and as long as 150’. The exit takes you to a beautiful wall with lots of hard and soft corals. Dolphin Den got its name from a series of dolphin pods found dead inside the caves. The most popular theory is they got disoriented after entering the cave system, but this has never been proven.
Overheat Reef – the reef starts in 15ft shallows full of macro life, then at 40ft makes a dramatic drop to 80ft. The wall here is full of cracks and crevices to explore with lots of soft coral. A good site for any experience level as anywhere from 30ft-70ft makes for a great dive with lots to discover. Turtles are commonly sighted at Overheat Reef.
The Odyssey Wreck – a 300ft long cargo ship that was intentionally sunk in 2002. Both the bow and the stern are sitting on an angle and resting at 110ft. The majority of the ship is sitting in 70-100ft so this one is for advanced divers only. Wreck-certified divers will enjoy winding up and down the staircases inside, and checking for green moray eels in the engine room. Non-wreck certified divers can spiral up slowly around the stern’s several stories while peeking in the windows, or heading up the outside staircase at the very back. After reaching the top, head over the sand to the reef wall and find huge schools of creole wrasse and jack.
Rockstar – a gem on the north side. Divers descend directly into a large crack and head east through the crack. Free swimming nurse sharks are often sighted here. After exiting the crack, divers can investigate coral pinnacles before arriving at a shear wall to explore, and finally heading up into the shallows where a resident green moray eel likes to come out and play.
Keyhole – for experienced divers, this site offers numerous ways to do it but the most popular is getting dropped off on the inside of the reef, then finding and following the passage that opens up to a huge cavern as you pass from the inside to the outside of the reef. Incredible views upward, especially on a sunny day. Once you reach the outside of the reef, the wall to both the east and west is lush. If you head west, look for the resident porcupine pufferfish who loves to come and say hi to divers.
Prince Albert Wreck – the south side’s best wreck, the Prince Albert wreck lies in the channel between CocoView and Fantasy Island (do not surface in the channel, there is lots of boat traffic). The Prince Albert is a 165ft freighter intentionally sunk in 1985. Since then the surface of the boat has been covered in extensive coral growth. Visibility can be hit or miss due to the location in the channel, but on a good day this is a spectacular dive. Follow the rope branching off the hull on west side of the wreck, and you’ll find yourself in the scattered remains of a DC-3 airplane! After exploring the wreck, head east off the bow (check out the garden eels in the sand below) and start down CocoView Wall. Numerous overhangs make for beautiful views, and keep an eye out for seahorses in this area.
Cara a Cara – this is the site for Roatan’s Caribbean reef shark dive. The shark dive operator, Waihuka Adventure Diving Center (link = http://www.sharkdiveroatan.com) , has sole control over this site and does not accept direct bookings from divers. You must book through a local dive shop, and all the shops will require you to do one or two dives with them first so they can observe your diving skills and air consumption. The shark dive is for advanced divers as there is often a strong current and the entire dive is done at 70-80ft. After a thorough briefing in Waihuka’s shop, they take the divers on a 15 minute ride to the site. Once the group has descended down the mooring line, the divers are positioned kneeling or standing in front of a small coral wall that rises up 10ft behind them. This prevents sharks getting behind the divers as well as some protection from the current. The divemaster then will give the sharks a chum bucket and you can observe a feeding frenzy with anywhere from 6-12 sharks. Depending on the current and the sharks’ mood, the divers will then get to circle the area and swim with the sharks! Waihuka does not allow divers to use GoPro-style cameras although regular underwater DSLR or point-and-shoot cameras are allowed. They have a videographer on every dive and the video will be played for all divers after the dive and offered for sale. A great experience if you’ve never done a shark dive before.
Tiny but beautiful Utila is around 8 miles long by 3 miles wide. A diving mecca and famous training location thanks to rock-bottom prices, tons of dive shops can be found on this little island, located along the street just in front of the sea in Utila Town. With a reputation as a backpacker’s party haven, Utila draws a younger crowd looking for a good time. This is slowly changing over time as luxury resort development begins on Utila. Although most of the activity is located in the port city of Utila Town, the less-populated parts of the island now offer eco-resorts and specialty lodging. The laid-back vibe is evident from your first steps on Utila, and you won’t find many people here who aren’t diving. A true diver’s paradise with over 80 buoyed sites surrounding the island. The areas with the dive sites are commonly referred to as the South East, North Side, South West, The Cays and Offshore Banks (Black Hills).
Popular Dive Sites on Utila
The Pinnacle – a pretty coral garden at 40ft, with a dramatic wall with a chimney-shaped pinnacle coming up from 100ft to 25ft, and a tunnel that starts at 70ft and exits at 130ft.
C.J.’s Drop Off – beautiful wall starting at 30ft and dropping to past recreational limits with loads of barrel sponges and huge canyons.
Blackish Point – one of Utila’s most popular dive sites. There are coral gardens at 25ft, with a small wall from 25-80ft with lots of shallow caves, many with collapsed ceilings that allow light down from the reef above. There is a resident midnight parrotfish seen here often. Check the sandy plain at 90ft often inhabited by Southern stingrays.
The hidden jewel of Guanaja has Michael Rock Peak with approximate height of 1,348ft, making this place the tallest in the Bay Islands chain. Guanaja is second largest in size, measuring in at 11 miles by 3 miles. It is also known as Isla de Piños (Pine Island) – the island is dominated by numerous pine trees. If you are planning to visit this place then keep in mind that you will have to travel by boat, because there is only one small road connected to the town. The fringing reef around Guanaja is populated with huge diversity of sea life, canyons, volcanic outcroppings and coral life. Guanaja has received relatively little tourism and development compared to her sister islands of Roatan and Utila, and so is unspoiled for divers who can afford the high price tag of the transportation to the island, the accommodation and the diving. There are over 38 buoyed sites around Guanaja.
Popular Dive Sites on Guanaja
Black Rock Canyon – an intricate maze of caves and tunnels created by volcanic rock. Check in all the nooks and crannies for nurse sharks and moray eels.
Don Enrique Wreck – a shrimp boat sunken down the side of the wall just past 80ft. Look around for spotted eagle rays that frequent the area.
Vertigo – a wall dive with spectacular drop-offs. Keep an eye out for black and white crinoids along the wall.
Cayos Cochinos (Hog Cayes) is a group of several small cays, some uninhabited, with some of the best diving in the Bay Islands. Relatively little development or local fishing means pristine reef and loads of marine life. A gradually sloping bottom on many sites means you can have a great dive at any depth, so any level of diver can enjoy diving here. One of the only dive shops in the area is Turtle Bay Eco-Resort, who takes divers out for spectacular dives off their top of the line boat and has night dives right off the dock on their house reef.
Popular Dive Sites on Cayos Cochinos
Pelican 3 – a flat bottom with huge overhangs and vertical swimthroughs. Looks like the Grand Canyon underwater!
Pelican 1 – a huge vertical wall with lots of gorgonians, barrel sponges and schools of creole wrasse.
How to reach Honduras and the Bay Islands
Via air – most big cities in Honduras have airports. Tegucigalpa (the capital city) and San Pedro Sula are common cities to fly into. Check government safety reports as the crime on the mainland is a serious concern. You can fly directly into Roatan (airport code RTB) through Delta, United, TACA or TropicAir. Island Air also flies between La Ceiba, Roatan and Utila regularly, as well as charters to Guanaja, Trujillo and San Pedro Sula.
Via ferry – the Galaxy Wave services the Roatan-La Ceiba route and the Utila Princess does the Utila-La Ceiba route if you’re looking to get from the mainland to the Bay Islands by ferry.