Diving Roatán’s Reef
The reef topography in Roatán, as with Utila and Guanaja, is divided into a north side and a south side. On the north side of the island, the reef is separated from shore by a shallow lagoon, sometimes a kilometer wide but usually less. From the crest, which sometimes almost breaks the water’s surface, the reef slopes down to a plateau or moat, followed by the reef wall.
On the north side, sponges, sea fans, and elkhorn coral are common. The south-side reef slopes out gently until reaching the edge of the wall, normally dropping from 10 meters down to 30 meters, with a sandy bottom. Here grow a bewildering assortment of colorful soft corals. On the western end of the island, where the north- and south-side reefs meet, the reef shows characteristics of both formations.
The most popular dive sites in Roatán are in the Sandy Bay Marine Reserve, a protected water reserve between Sandy Bay and West Bay on the western end of the island, conveniently near the dive shops in West End. The reefs on the northern, eastern, and southern sides of Roatán have many spectacular, infrequently visited sites — the best bet is stay at one of the resorts out that way, or ask around in West End for shops diving more remote sites. While dive shops often have a site in mind, some are open to requests by divers.
Near West End
Hole in the Wall, a crack in the reef just around the bend from Half Moon Bay on the way to Sandy Bay, is justifiably one of the favorite dives near West End. Cruise down a steep sand chute from the upper reef, which leads downward through a cleft and pops out on the reef wall at around 40 meters. Below is very dark water — here is one of the places the Cayman Trench comes in closest to Roatán, and water depths just below Hole in the Wall are around 800 meters. Keep a close eye on that depth gauge. While the wall is the obvious highlight of the dive, leave time to explore around the labyrinth of sand chutes on the upper reef, where you might spot a barracuda or eagle ray.
Right out front of West End is Blue Channel, a canyon with a narrow opening that gradually widens and deepens as you swim away from shore. A mellow dive, good for the afternoon, the channel has swim-throughs, interesting rock and coral formations, and plenty of fish to watch. Look for a green moray that hangs out near the entrance to the channel.
Off the southwest point of Roatán is West End Wall. Because of its location, strong currents flow past the site, meaning divers need to plan a drift dive. While the wall is worth seeing, it’s also fun just to let the current zip you across the reef fields above the wall, which are invariably filled with hawksbill turtles, spotted eagle rays, and a dazzling array of colorful fish.
Near Sandy Bay
Near Anthony’s Key Resort is the wreck of El Aguila, a 71-meter freighter the resort bought and sank in sand flats at 34 meters, near the base of the reef wall, to create a dive site. Take good care not to catch yourself on any metal parts as you swim around the deck — and look for the green moray and large grouper that live at the site.
Just east of Anthony’s Key, right in front of Sandy Bay, is Bear’s Den, a cave system lit from above. The cave entrance, on the upper part of a steep reef wall decorated with much boulder and lettuce coral, is tight to get in but widens out into a spacious cavern inside. Beautiful, shifting light from above illuminates schools of glassy-eyed sweepers that patrol the cave. The cave system continues farther, but only experienced cave divers should continue beyond the main cavern.
Spooky Channel, at the eastern end of Sandy Bay, is exactly what it sounds like, a channel through the reef almost completely closed over, and a bit unnerving to swim through for the dark water. The dive starts at 12 meters or so and deepens as you go in to a maximum of about 38 meters. While rock and fossilized coral predominate in the lower reaches of the channel, up higher on the reef barrel sponges, sea fans, and hard corals are common.
Elsewhere on the Island
Considered one of the most dramatic dives on Roatán, Mary’s Place, just west of French Harbour on the south side, is a narrow cleft in the reef wall. Enter at around 25 meters, then zigzag into the cleft, where you’ll see plenty of large sponges and also lots of seahorses. Because of the tight channels, Mary’s Place is for experienced divers only.
Right in front of Coco View Resort, east of French Harbour, is Valley of the Kings, an exceptionally lovely wall dive noted for the tall stands of pillar coral, several different types of sponge, and a profusion of marine life tucked into crevasses and overhangs on the wall.
Other Recommended Dives
Other sites around the island that are highly recommended by divers who know the Roatán reef well include: Mandy’s Eel Garden, Lighthouse Reef, Half Moon Bay Wall, Fish Den, Canyon Reef, Odyssey Wreck, Peter’s Place, Pablo’s Place, and Front Porch.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition