Roatan, Utila & Guanaja

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Roatan diving

Scuba Diving in Roatan, Utila & Guanaja, Honduras

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Roatan, Utila & Guanaja Diving Highlights

Described as the last undiscovered dive destination in the Caribbean, the Bay Islands of Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja lie west to east off the coast of Honduras and are conveniently accessed from the US. Part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, all three islands boast pristine beaches, clear warm waters, and a rich and diverse marine life with plentiful dive options. 

 

 

ROATAN, UTILA & GUANAJA DIVE RESORTS & LIVEBOARDS

As the largest of the Bay Islands, Roatan is more developed and as such attracts more tourists and families than the other islands, however, this does mean a wider choice of accommodation options and a modern airport.

Utila's laid back attitude and budget-style accommodation options make this a popular destination for backpackers and independent travelers. 

Almost all visitors to Guanaja will stay at one of the island's several luxury all-inclusive resorts. Getting there is a bit more involved than travel to Roatan or Utila, however, this tropical paradise is worth the journey. 

There are a couple of liveaboards that service the Bay Islands, including the Roatan Aggressor which runs out of French Harbor in Roatan.

Intro to DIVING Roatan, Utila & Guanaja

Thirty miles (Fifty km) from Honduras' Caribbean coast, Roatan offers fabulous dive resorts at reasonable prices along with easy and plentiful scuba diving. The Roatan dive sites offer a lot of variety including wrecks, caves, walls, shark dives, and dolphin dives. Conditions are easy with minimal currents and plenty of shore dives perfect for beginners and snorkelers. 

Just to the west of Roatan, Utila is the smallest of the major Bay Islands and is less developed than Roatan. The scuba diving in Utila is fantastic, in particular the chance to dive with migrating whale sharks. The majority of the island's 100 dive sites are on the sheltered southern coast, with a range of walls, caves, and caverns, as well as the wreck of the Halliburton.

Furthest east, Guanaja is lush, green, and home to only three small settlements. Ringed by a fringing reef and encircled by dive sites, visitors will discover sheltered reefs and a myriad of reef fish and intriguing critters.

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when to go 

Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja are year-round dive destinations.

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Diving Information 

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Marine Life & PHOtography subjects

Roatan, Utila, and Gunaja boast a wide variety of Caribbean reef life along healthy reefs covered in encrusting, elkhorn, and pillar corals, impressive sea fans, sponges, and unique patches of black coral. Expect to spot trumpetfish, groupers, parrotfish, and triggerfish going about their business while grunts, tang, and wrasse add splashes of color in the foreground. Small schools of chromis mingle just above the coral heads, and spotted drum, octopus, and moray eels loiter in crevices and overhangs. Divers can also expect to see squid, porcupine fish, pufferfish, eagles rays, and turtles on a good number of dives. Rarer spots include barracuda and nurse sharks.

There is also some interesting macro to be found, in particular around Guanaja. Lettuce slugs, arrow crabs, lobsters, flamingo tongue cowries, numerous crustaceans, and the occasional seahorse are waiting to be discovered.

 

Whale Sharks, Reef Sharks & Dolphins

Whale sharks are occasionally seen in Utila, and if one is spotted word quickly spreads through the Utila resorts. These huge filter feeders gather along the banks to the north of the island, and are most often spotted between March and May, and again between August and October.

Many resorts in Roatan run shark dives on a weekly basis. As many as 15 Caribbean reef sharks are attracted to feed on buckets of fish, giving visitors the opportunity to photograph and interact with the sharks face to face.

Some resorts in Roatan also offer dolphin dives with semi-wild dolphins. The dolphins play and interact with divers on the ocean floor.   

 

  

The video shows octopus, eels, seahorse, trumpetfish, eagle ray, and various other Caribbean marine life. 

 Diving Conditions

  • Water Temperatures: Warm throughout the year, around 81-88°F (27-31°C).
  • Diving Difficulty: Suitable for all levels.
  • Visibility: Averages at 66ft (20m).
  • Depth Range: 33 - 131 ft (10 - 40m).

BEST Dive Sites

  • Coco View Wall, Roatan 
  • Just a short swim from Coco View Resort, this dramatic, coral-encrusted site features exciting overhangs and crevices full of crustaceans and other critters. In the sand at 82ft (25m), garden eels and sand divers play hide and seek.
  • Mary's Place, Roatan 
  • One of the most popular sites on the island, Mary's Place can get busy at peak times. This beautiful site features mazes and canyons covered in huge gorgonians, sea rods, and sea plumes, the perfect environment for abundant macro life.
  • Dolphin's Den, Roatan 
  • On the north side of Roatan, this site boasts a similar topography to Mary's Place but is far less crowded. A honeycomb of tunnels and swim-throughs is full of shrimps and other crustaceans, and the skull of a dolphin sits deep within one cave.
  • Fish Den, Roatan 
  • On the west side of the island, 8 miles (13km) of protected marine park is home to an abundance of reef life. The shallow Fish Den site is perfect for photographers and teeming with schools of jack and grunts, angelfish, and feeding turtles.
  • El Aguila, Roatan 
  • At 108ft (33m), the wreck of El Aguila, or The Eagle, is relatively deep for recreational divers. However, she rests against a wall that allows divers to shallow up and enjoy a longer dive after the first few minutes at depth. This is one of the few sites featuring larger fish life, including black and goliath groupers, barracuda, and big moray eels.
  • Jack Neil Point, Utila 
  • On the sheltered southern coast of Utila, this long, shallow dive features hard and soft corals in a unique tongue and groove formation. A good number of Caribbean reef fish inhabit the reef, and green and hawksbill turtles often make an appearance.
  • CJ's Drop-Off, Utila 
  • The north coast of the island is exposed to the open ocean, and sites such as CJ's Drop-Off boast dramatic drifts along sheer walls. Unique rock formations, deep caverns, and huge sponges and corals make for exciting diving. 
  • Black Rock Canyon, Guanaja 
  • An intriguing trail of caverns, canyons, and tunnels created by ancient volcanic activity, this site is alive with silverside sardines, glassy sweepers, and barracuda. It's not unusual to come across a sleeping nurse shark or moray eel during exploration.
  • Jim's Silverlode, Guanaja 
  • At 70ft (21m), a long tunnel follows the wall down into an amphitheater-like bowl full of grouper and moray eels. Schools of yellowtails and silverside sardines flit in and out of the shadows creating a dramatic dive.
 

best time to dive ROATAN, UTILA & GUANAJA

All three islands can be dived year-round. If there is swell or wind on one side of the island, the opposite side coast is usually calm. The rainy season is mid-October to late February, and during this time November, December, and January get the most rain. However, these are also the coolest months, and May through to September can be quite hot.

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Travel Information 

 


How to Get to roatan, Utila & guanaja

Roatan - Fly directly from the US to Juan Manuel Gálvez Roatán International Airport (RTB) from various cities including Houston, Miami, New York, and Atlanta.

Utila - Fly to Utila Airport (UII) from Roatan, or from Ramon Villeda Morales International Airport (SAP) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. There are also ferry services from Roatan to Utila. 

Guanaja - Fly to Roatan and then take the Saturday flight on to Guanaja Airport (GJA). Alternatively, from Roatan or San Pedro Sula, fly to La Ceiba and then on to Guanaja. This is longer but offers more flexibility. There are also several boat charters available from Roatan to Guanaja.

How to Dive Roatan, Utila & Guanaja

 A good number of resorts on all three islands include an on-site dive center and will offer shore and boat diving to guests and day visitors alike. There are also many professional dive shops and operators.

The Roatan Aggressor runs 7and 10-day trips around the Bay Islands, and this is a great way to discover all the best diving this area has to offer.

 other things to do in ROATAN, UTILA & GUANAJA

The Bay Islands are a great family destination, but also offer a variety of wildlife experiences. On Roatan, there is a nature refuge where you can see white-faced capuchins, howler monkeys, caimans, and various birds. Roatan also has a butterfly garden, an iguana farm, and botanical gardens. Visitors can explore the rainforest canopy with exciting jungle excursions, or swim, snorkel, or dive with dolphins.

Utila offers a whole host of watersports including stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, and fishing, as well as the chance to do some white knuckle activities such as caving and horseback riding. Most visitors spend their time relaxing on tropical beaches and swimming in turquoise waters.

Other than diving, visitors can enjoy snorkeling and fishing around Gunaja's coast, or venture into the jungle interior on a hike to the island's only waterfall.

 

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ROATAN LIVEABOARD AVAILABILITY

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Other Useful Information 

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Practical Information

  • Currency: Honduran Lempira (HNL)
  • Electricity: Generally is 120V
  • Time Zone: Central Standard Time (GMT-6)
  • Language: The official language in Honduras is Spanish, but English is the primary language of local islanders.

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Reviews (9)

  • Top Reviewer
Fountain Valley, CA
United States
5
5
4
4

I’ve traveled to Roatan many times and stayed on different parts of the island. West End is my favorite area and we’ve stayed at a hotel there and a couple of times in a private villa right on Half Moon Bay. We have also stayed in a villa near Gibson Bight, which is not too far from West End. There are many dive shops, bars, and restaurants in West End and this seems to be the place where most of the action takes place, other than at the resorts. I’ve also stayed several times at an all-inclusive resort on the north side.

Diving is done all around the island, but overall, I prefer diving on the west end. Some of my favorite sites here are: West End Wall, Hole In The Wall, Canyon Reef, and Spooky Channel. On the south side of the island, near French Harbor, you can dive one of Roatan's signature dive sights, Mary's Place. Valley of the Kings is another excellent dive in this area. On the north side, some of my favorites are Turquoise Bay Channel, Turquoise Bay Wall, Dolphin’s Den, and Rockstar. Every time I’ve been to Roatan the visibility has been exceptional. Typical sea life seen here: schools of tropical fish, groupers, turtles, lobsters, dolphins, sharks, eagle rays and octopuses. Occasionally, whale sharks can be seen here, but are most often seen off the sister island of Utila. This is also an excellent place to experience bioluminescence on night dives. We have seen the String of Pearls many times.

On a non-diving day, a great excursion is to hire a boat in Oak Ridge and explore the large patches of mangroves. We also visited a legendary restaurant/bar in this area, called Hole In The Wall. We enjoyed a couple of hours eating and drinking here.

Bottom line: Roatan is one of the most economical places in the Caribbean. Everything, including accommodations, food, and diving, is really cheap. The diving is world-class, the people are extremely friendly, and the vibe is really laid back. Two small downsides are that it can get crowded if a cruise ship is in port at West Bay, and the insects can be unbearable at times. Bring plenty of insect repellent and sunscreen.

Visited on 04/2017 - Submitted on 03/14/2020
  • Reviewer
Minneapolis, MN
United States
4
4
3
3

Want an additional dive certification? Roatan and Utila are great for dive training - warm water, easy conditions, close dive sites and very inexpensive diving on both islands. You can also take ferries between islands (not super simple, but doable). Whale sharks often frequent Utila waters in season. At ~$25USD/dive, I consider this a great value destination for diving but there is not much to do topside and the marine life is not comparable to other Caribbean destinations like Cozumel, Bonaire or Cayman. Inexpensive accommodations are widely available and Utila is well known as a backpacker paradise. Watch out for biting sand flies and sand fleas in the hot month of April unless you do not mind spots on an exposed regions though :) Also, wear exposure protection when the water is warm because the jellies coming out during this time, as expected.

Visited on 03/2013 - Submitted on 02/27/2018
  • Reviewer
Culver City, CA
United States
4
4
5
5

Roatan never disappoints. Except, maybe the 1st time I went there over Thanksgiving and the rains, but the topside activities, mainly having drinks with divers from allover the world at the bars, made up for for the storms. But fast forward to May, where conditions were superb. No rain for 5 days, calm waters, perfect temperatures (above and below) and low humidity.
The diving is close to perfect: Water temp. 82, visibility 80-100 ft., marine life has the usual players from large turtles, tons of spiny lobsters (many were in clusters), frequent groupers, large porcupine fish, etc. Of course there is the shark dive on the other side out of Coxen Hole featuring a dependable showing of at least 30 large reef sharks, and some large groupers attracted to the bait, then there are the night dives ( I took 2, one with just me and a guide that lasted and hour and 15 minutes) with gazillions of urchins, common octopus, crabs galore, banded shrimp, many spotted eels and then some. There is actually an excellent downloadable Roatan reef life book (written be a long term Roatan expert) that can also be downloaded for a few bucks and pretty much features everything that can be seen underwater. On the West End the scene is basically dive shop, bar, hotel, dive shop, bar, hotel and so on. Nice people, down to earth, cheaper than other Caribbean islands, no mega resorts, but many simple cheap and clean hotels.
Roatan has a multitude of excellent dive companies offering any type of certification. Overall, a great destination for beginners and advanced divers since one has a diverse choice of shallow sand bottom dives to deeper wall dives.

Visited on 05/2014 - Submitted on 09/03/2014
5
5
5
5

When I think of Roatan and diving, I think of how this location is the destination that made me fall in love with my favorite thing to do in the world: diving. I got SCUBA certified on the island in 2007 and spent 15 days there exploring, meeting locals and exploring marine life as much as I possibly could. Marine life include beautiful coral, trumpet fish, huge grouper, a variety of rays, sea turtle, barracuda, parrotfish, puffer fish. When I dream of diving, this is the destination that I always think about returning to. I went in November and the year that I went, it was one of the stormiest seasons that they had seen in approximately 30 years. Initially, this prevented us from diving, but I was able to complete my PADI course top-side and when the storms cleared, visibility ranged from 15 feet (right after heavy storms and low visibility was only experiences once or twice) to approximately 95 feel. Even despite the stormy season, I still completed 14 dives while there-each as beautiful as the next.

Top-side, there are restaurants, bars, beach lounging opportunities and plenty of exploration to be done. Roatan is only about 30 miles long, so depending on how long your trip is, you have an opportunity to explore much of the island. From hiking, to renting a car and taking a day trip to loop the island and explore different communities, to just spending time lounging at the dive shop and meeting locals. In addition, if interested, you can also take some time and go to the mainland to explore other areas of Honduras.

On a side-note, Roatan is a cruise destination as well. On the days that cuise ships come in, locals raise their prices and are much more adamant about trying to get you to come into shops. The culture and community are a little different on these days and on non-cruise days, the culture and community are much more laid back, calm and inviting.

Diving Raotan stole my heart. For all of my friends are new divers, this is the destination that I ALWAYS say they must explore.

Visited on 11/2007 - Submitted on 03/02/2014
0
5
5
5

We visited Roatan twice last year and are going back in a few months. I chose Roatan because I like to do some freedive photography in addition to scuba, and research showed that many consider Roatan good for snorkeling/freediving since the reef is close to shore in many places. Using Google Earth is a pretty good way to see the reef location at various spots on the island.

West End and West Bay are on the northwestern end of the island, and this is the more tourist-oriented area, with lots of hotels, restaurants, and shops. West Bay seems to have the nicest beaches in the area, although there are various other spots around the island that also have great beaches. Most of the dive spots are just offshore along the whole north side, and it's pretty much a continuous reef with great diving anywhere along the north coast. We haven't explored many sites on the south side, but there are plenty there too. In case of rough seas, it is often possible to just switch to the opposite side of the island to get good conditions.

We chose to stay in Sandy Bay, which is on the north side just a few miles east of West End and West Bay. We've stayed at 3 different resorts here, each much different, but we loved all three. We like Sandy Bay since it is more tranquil than the tourist areas, but we did head over to West End and West Bay a couple times to check them out. If you want a more active nightlife, Sandy Bay might not be your top choice. Depending where you stay in Sandy Bay, the reef can be just feet away, or a 10 minute swim across a lagoon.

Dive spots are close, so each operator does one-tank dives, then you do shore intervals back at your resort. The water seemed about 80 degrees in February and a bit warmer in July. We always had excellent visibility, warm water, and zero to very little current. Fairly typical Caribbean sea life, though we saw lots more groupers than other destinations, 4 species. Two wrecks near Sandy Bay, swimming through 4 levels of the Odyssey was very cool. Lots of turtles, eagle rays, some eels...great variety and a few species I hadn't seen before like sharp tail eel, a couple grouper species, blue parrotfish, and a few more. In July/Aug we were able to locate and snorkel with whale sharks about 8 times, brief but cool encounters, as each one was solitary and moving. I had great freediving on each trip too. There is an operator on the south side who offers dives with Caribbean reef sharks. Whether or not you are a shark enthusiast, it would be a crime to miss this dive if you are on Roatan. We did it both times we were there, just a very cool (and safe) experience, and a must for photographers. If currents are light, after watching the sharks from a fixed position, you are allowed to swim amongst them.

We mostly just dived and stayed around our resorts. We did do a tour of a wildlife sanctuary, and my wife enjoyed horseback riding on the beach (and in the ocean). Next time we will probably have one of the taxi drivers give us an island tour.

Pretty easy to get here from the US...many flight fly to Roatan from Houston..also, TACA flies in from El Salvador, we did it both ways and it was a relatively short trip from SF.

If you like diving the Caribbean and Belize and Cozumel but haven't tried the Bay Islands, I think you will love it!

Visited on 08/2013 - Submitted on 03/01/2014

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