My Research Notes from Planning Roatan Trip

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drrich2

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When researching trips I compile info. generously provided by others on Scuba Board and other online sources and use it to analyze the pro.s and con.s of a destination, the options for where to stay and who to dive with, and how the offerings match up against the wants and needs of different kinds of dive tourists. After the trip (in this case to CocoView Resort in Roatan), I sometimes post a report of my research notes as a reference for others, especially when other members enrich the thread with more info.

Research Notes for Roatan Trip

Honduras is a Central American nation below Guatemala, with a predominantly Mestizo population > 9 million, a mainly agricultural economy, area 43,433 square miles, tropical in the lowlands and temperate in the highlands, high topside biodiversity, a reputation for crime and drug cartels, and categorized by the World Bank as a low middle-income nation (but 66% of the people lived below the poverty line in 2016). Per Wikipedia, Honduras has had very high levels of violence and criminality, homicides peaked at averaging 20/day in 2012 (with San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa having amongst the highest registered homicide rates in the world). Mainland Honduras is mainly Spanish-speaking, but the Bay Islands are mainly English-speaking.

You probably won’t spend time on the mainland. The Bay Islands (Roatan, Utila and Guanaja, plus the Swan Islands, Cayos Cochinos and small cays), pop. 49,158 in 2010, are removed from some of the problems of mainland Honduras (e.g.: they’re safer). Honduras’ bad reputation needn’t scare you off a Bay Islands trip. Fishing is the Bay Islands’ economic mainstay (with consequences for reef life), but tourism is also important. On Scuba Board, Roatan gets the majority of scuba discussion, Utila a distant (but favorable) second, and Guanaja a distant third. DiverSteve (Post #17) described Roatan as ‘a very good, low cost, 3rd world diving destination with a certain rustic charm in most places.’ The Bay Islands are subject to ‘hurricane season’ concerns (per KathyV (Post #17) runs June to Nov., peaking in Sept.), and a rainy season (that can get intense).

Roatan (pop. 29,636, most in the western half) is largest at about 48 miles long and < 5 miles max. width, with a mountainous ‘backbone’ of hilltops running west-to-east. Has an international airport (RTB) – with a less-than-stellar reputation, so don’t get in a hurry. Coxen Hole, to the southwest, is the capital and largest town. West End and West Bay are on the north coast (DiverSteve (Post #12) wrote there’s 2 miles between them, you can walk around either pretty conveniently; West End has most of the partying and West Bay is more ‘civilized’ and has more touristy stuff). MeganW89 (Post #33) opined West End has more of a backpacking, serious divers vibe; West Bay has a nice beach but is very touristy and gets packed when cruise ships are in (note: actual ports are Port of Roatan in Coxen Hole, and Mahogany Bay Cruise Center in Dixon Cove east of Coxen Hole). Roatan Marine Park aims to protect the coral reef system. The south is the windward side (but Doc (Post #21) noted Roatan is a long, thin island, a barrier to storms that track by on the north – so the south’s protected from storms yet you get a breeze; on the other hand, the south lacks sandy beaches). Roatan.online has downloadable maps. Roatan is on Central Standard Time but does not use daylight savings time. The Honduran currency is the lempira, but U.S. dollars are widely accepted. They drive on the right side of the road and Americans can use their electrical outlets. Per CocoView Resort’s FAQ, island wide there’s a 4% service charge on credit cards where they’re accepted, but most island tours don’t accept credit cards.
 
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drrich2

drrich2

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Utila (pop. 2,772) is smaller than Roatan or Guanaja and has mangrove swamps and small hills. Reputed to have a strong backpacker culture (so good for cheap trips), good diving and a lot of dive professionals are trained on Utila. People base here to snorkel with whale sharks (per Blue Water Dive Travel spotted most often March – May and Aug. – Oct.). Has an airport. DiverSteve (Post #22) compared vs. Roatan as similar diving, the entire island like a smaller version of West End (less to do, fewer restaurants), all walking distance (few cars, some travel by golf cart, the whole town not > ½ mile long) and anything west of town across a mangrove lagoon so access via boat, including 3 large A.I. resorts and some villa rentals. (Note: Laurenceh later said "Only the area around East Harbor (Utila town) is walkable (this represents only about 25% of the island but is where 90% of tourists stay). The most beautiful parts of Utila; the south shore, west side and north side are only accessible by boat.") AboutUtilia.com – the official web site of Utila.
Utila Recommendations – 2017 thread.
Utopia Village…Luxury Valet Diving. 2016 report by giffenk. He noted emphasis on diving and luxury, valet diving, 3 dives/day (option for more), over-the-top luxury resort. Update: Utopia Village closed due to COVID-19 and will not re-open for guests. Sad…I found 3 high praise reviews!

Guanaja (pop. 5,660) is 2nd largest and mountainous. Known for the unique dive resort Villa on Dunbar Rock, encompassing a nearby islet, but there are other all-inclusive resorts. Has an airport. Pam_In_Paradise described the main island as sparsely populated with very tall hills, lots of trees, come beautiful waterfalls, there are nature hikes, birding is popular and fishing and windsurfing are options; she noted ‘We have jet ski’s’ (Villa on Dunbar Rock).
Guanaja, Dunbar Rock review – 2017 review by gassed.
GoPro Dives Guanaja 2015 + Trip Report – by Thook. Good detail!
Dunbar Rock Resort – a 2015 discussion thread; scroll down to posts by Pam_In_Paradise for detailed info.
Clearwater Resort – Guanaja: Trip Report – Jan. 2019 report by bcaderunr, who said it’s an intimate 8-room property and the only one on the unspoiled north side of the island, but Guanaja’s ‘out there’ and not the easiest place to get to.
Diving in Guanaja at the End of the World Resort – April 2019 report by Kellin O’Neill.
Review: G&G’s Clearwater Paradise Resort – Oct. 2016 report by ATA/BAR DIVERS, who indicated it was like a bed and breakfast sharing a home with the hosts, no t.v. and spotty wifi, nature all around, remote, outstanding food, diving at times deep but complimented the topography – they planned to go back.
 
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drrich2

drrich2

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03_02_Roatan.jpg

Copyright Avalon Travel. Available for download at Moon Travel Guides online.

The most popular Honduran dive destination is a cruise port (offering a range of non-diving excursions) and large enough to offer multiple regions and places to stay. The first decision is what kind of place you want to stay? If you want topside civilized entertainments (i.e.: to stay in or near town), consider West End (or West Bay). For a remote all-inclusive (I don’t count alcohol) resort focused on diving and perhaps lounging around and excursions, consider Anthony’s Key Resort, CocoView Resort, Media Luna Resort and Turquoise Bay Resort. For an A.I. a non-diver might like, consult All-inclusive resorts suggestions (2020 thread). If you want dive-focused over the largest area, including Utila and Cayo Cochinos in one trip, there’s a live-aboard…the Roatan Aggressor. Moon Travel Guides has a nice set of maps for Honduras, the Bay Islands and more.

Warning #1: I’ve seen a disturbing trend amongst some Roatan operators…not including the 19% tax in their basic package price. When calculating overall trip cost estimates and comparing options, be very careful to note that!

Warning #2: Sand fleas (a.k.a. ‘noseeums’) at Roatan beaches get more complaints on Scuba Board than I’ve noticed for other dive destinations. Do not go without repellent to ‘see how it goes;’ get it on, keep it on where they occur. See – Bugs on Roatan? They nailed tridacna (Post #16) in a hammock at CocoView! Honduras is also part of the ‘Mosquito Coast.’

Warning #3: Doc (Post #2) warned regarding renting cars or scooters to explore, there are many glowing reports but if you get caught up in a property or personal injury issue, you’ll regret it; the legal system is designed to suck you dry. Recommended hiring a driver for the day.
 
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drrich2

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Anthony’s Key Resort
Isolated but a short cab tide to West End. Doc (Posts #84 & 93) noted 67 steps to get a meal. AKR can host large groups (hotel accommodations up to 120 guests) – such as a Scuba Board Invasion in 2017 (one 2018 cancelled due to pandemic). Kids allowed and 4-year old and under stay free, there’s kayaking (and stand-up paddle boarding, horseback riding, dolphin encounters, spa and off-site overnight excursions – including to mainland Honduras) and there’s a Dolphin Scuba Summer Camp option. Warning: as of Nov. 27, 2020, Hill Standard bungalows are not air-conditioned! Watch out! Doc commented on the lengthy stair climb to the dining room (67 steps per Post #84). Their other bungalows have A.C. There’s a 30x60’ 4’ deep freshwater pool. I got the impression they’re expensive, but often run BOGO sales (which rocks if there’re 2 of you). 3 Dives/day (+ 2 night dives/week) and allegedly a shore dive (which Doc (Post #93) called a ‘huge stretch of imagination’; nippurmagnum (Post #14) thought it was nice but not as protected as CCV, and the dive shop supporting it was only open 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. DiverSteve (Post #11) quoted a source in 2014 who said the reef’s fantastic but a long hike out – water’s around 1 foot deep for ~ 100 feet, quickly drops to 3 for another 100 feet).
AKR Trip Report (Nov. 14 – 21). 2015 Report by Captain Sinbad. Nice detail and high praise…except some people wanted larger food portions.
Trip review ScubaBoard Invasion 2014 Roatan AKR – by cardzard.
Anthony’s Key Resort (AKR) trip report – November 2013. by Lorenzoid. Excellent detail.

Note: Reefhound (Post #19) June 2021 posted this about the Anthony's Key shore dive (given special attention here since it's about the most detailed and practically useful description I've found):

"...the shore dive at AKR is included. We did it a few times. It's hard to fit in as it closes at 4pm and the dive 3 boat doesn't get back til 3pm. It's at the far end of the key. They have tanks and weights there but you still need to lug your gear there. The dive is decent, about like the other dive with depths to 100'. In fact, the boats usually hit that site once in the week."
 
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drrich2

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CocoView Resort

Isolated on a cay off the southern coast. Large enough for some groups. Described as ‘summer camp for divers,’ with boat diving and a very nice house reef (shallow 140-foot wreck of the Prince Albert plus wall diving), and a range of non-diving excursions. Minimum guest age is 10-years old (truth’s a little nuanced; see Doc’s Post #17). 2 1-Tank boat trips/day…but they can drop you off on the way in to ‘dive back’ to the resort’s large house reef, so 4 boat dives/day plus unlimited shore diving (Doc (Post #2) said you can easily get 27 dives in a week; it is shallow, vertical walls facing the sun and is ‘little critter heaven’). Doc (Post #93) said a trip to West End is a planned trip. No pool or beach. Outside the pandemic, meals are buffet (and were during it when I went, though staff served). It doesn’t offer frequent or large discounts, does heavy repeat business and tends to book up well in advance.
CocoView Resort Trip Report May 8 - 15, 2021 (Mine). Great place, recommend it.
Trip Report Oct. 2020 by GirlonFire (Post #4). She noted getting menus instead of buffet meals (I presume due to COVID-19 pandemic) – they had a day trip to dive Cayos Cuchinos! Got nailed by noseeums – don’t wait! Use repellent from the start!
Roatan Trip Report: CocoView, July 2018. Extensive report by Ironborn.
CocoView Trip Report: July/August 2018. By Trailboss123, who wrote “Probably the best land based setup I have ever encountered.”
CocoView Trip report…dive camp… 2016 report by KeithG. (Post #88) didn’t like CCV’s shore dive compared to Bonaire dock dives – didn’t like the gear ‘slog’ from gear room to shore, the wading out to get deep enough to put on fins then more time finning out to start the dive, bumping other divers during that and noseeum bites after the dive…but he said the dive site was fine (Robint in the next post had a more positive experience, and said Roatan has more lush, beautiful reefs and dramatic walls but Bonaire more fishlife).
April 2014 CocoView Trip report – by oregondiver.
 
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Turquoise Bay Resort

Very popular value option chosen by dive clubs in my area (Doc (Post #3) said there’s a very simple reason – the price structure commission/rebate to group leaders is by far the most attractive on the island). Dive op. is Subway Watersports. 3 Boat dives/day (+ 1 night dive if you stay 6 or more nights) and there’s no shore dive. Isolated east end resort. DiverSteve (Post #16) said there’s a small, nice-looking beach (Yoda-X (Post #8) said it’s gorgeous). Isolated – per their website “We are located 15 minutes from French Harbour where you will find banks, supermarket, boutiques and local restaurants. We are 45 minutes from the tourist area of West End/West Bay which has a variety of bars and restaurants,” and 30 minutes from the airport. They offer topside excursions. There’s a pool.
Turquoise Bay Resort/Subway Watersports August 2017 – by Scubadada. Noted it’s beautiful, on a lush, green hillside overlooking the bay. Meals were buffet. Kayaks, paddle boards, hiking and horseback riding and other excursions were available.
Roatan, Turquoise Bay Resort, Subway Review- Long, but complete - 2017 Trip Report by JayFarmLaw.
Turquoise Bay Resort, Roatan, Honduras. Oct. 2016 Undercurrent online magazine.
Tarponchik (Post #2) said they dive mostly in the north but also dive the south.
 
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Roatan Aggressor

Expensive compared to the other options unless you catch their seemingly annual >30% off (Nov. 2020 37th Anniversary 37% off!) sales, a very easy all-inclusive experience offering up to 5 dives/day covering Roatan, Utila and Cayo Cochinos, and at that sale price…hard to say no! A common lament with live-aboards is the potential to miss the boat due to travel delays, so it’s wise to fly in a day early and overnight in a hotel – but that may not be an issue with the R.A. (see Doc’s Post #36).
Roatan Aggressor Trip Report – Sept. 2017 by CajunDiva (pay attention to Post #23, comparing diving in different regions).
Trip Report – Roatan Aggressor July/August 2018. By JasonReid50 (27 dives offered, 1 a shark dive).
So…is the Roatan Aggressor. 2017 Thread. Cut to Post #38 by Jameseg for a Nov. 2017 trip report.
Roatan – CocoView Resort or Aggressor Liveaboard. Cut down to Post #32 for jrmdad’s 2018 review comparing both. He noted the Aggressor includes the shark dive and lets you take your own photos and video, unlike local operators.
Belize or Roatan for February Liveaboard – Doc (Post #2) noted some dive site choice comparisons and weather issues.
 
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Others

Roatan has a range of dive op.s and stay options with good reviews.
NDL_Diver (Post #4) recommended West End if you want easy access to good bars and restaurants, a safe t-shirt & flip flop atmosphere with a decent beach and lots of dive shops close to the reef, but West Bay if you want beautiful beaches, close to reefs and dive shops, restaurants and bars (but cruisers go there). Bay Island Diver (Post #16) noted West Bay is stunning but West End cheaper in hotels and food. Nic Lin (Post #23) described West End as quieter and less touristy, more of a beach town with a mix of hotels, restaurants, dive shops, gift shops and houses, the town pretty much a main road following the beach, with a beautiful beach at Half Moon Bay; West Bay is more of a resort area with the best beach, larger hotels and resorts, a few independent restaurants, and it’s much more expensive in everything. His favorite is Jackson’s Dive Center in West End.
Mayan Princess Beach & Dive Resort – per Carlos Danger (Post #16) a very nice place centrally located in the middle of West Bay, with gorgeous beach, nearby snorkeling and convenient access to topside activities.
Bottom Time Scuba – per Chiggins (trip report) a boutique single boat op. offering 100-cf steel tanks (unusual in Roatan), and a 3 unit bed and breakfast an easy 10-minute walk from West Bay Beach (albeit along a 2-lane road with no shoulder or side-walk most of the way). He said it was a 10-minute drive to West End.
Media Luna Resort & Spa – a remote all-inclusive resort on the southeast side, praised by CajunDiva (Post #27); she said (Post #11) they offer 3 boat dives/day, plus there’s a house reef with ‘incredible shore diving’ within dive shop hours, a lovely beachand 3 pools.
Coconut Tree Divers at the West End – DiverSteve (Post #3) and Bay Island Diver (Post #16) liked; ScubaJeffy (Post #17) liked Splash Island Dive Resort in West End Village.
DiverSteve (Post #8) liked Barefoot Divers; Barefoot Cay Boutique Resort is near French Harbour (south coast) where large markets are, and a few restaurants (but the majority of those are at West End on the other side of Roatan, 20-30 minutes away); good shallow snorkeling in a lagoon protected by a barrier reef. He also noted Barefoot Cay is pretty upscale, and they spray/rake the beach (for sand fleas), and mentioned Beachfront Villas. He said the best beach on Roatan is in West Bay.
Roatan for non-diver – 2015 thread.
Roatan Dive Resort – Stay At Reef House Lodge – Southern site on a cay east of CocoView Resort. I haven’t seen reviews on Scuba Board in awhile. I recall Reef House Resort described as smaller and cheaper than CocoView, more limited food options, good shore diving more apt to get blown out than CocoView’s. In Recent Reef House Resort Thoughts? (2015 thread ran into 2016), Doc described it and at least 3 other people spoke well of it. Trip Report – Reef House Resort, Roatan – 2015 report by Stoo.
Seagrape Plantation Resort – a West End op. NDL_Diver (Post #7) said there’s shore diving. Seagrape Trip Report 3/26-4/2 (2015) by mellowwee. Just back from Roatan and Seagrape Plantation – 2014, by DonPropinas.
Infinity Bay Resort – cpace (Post #8) did several shore dives out front of the resort in West Bay.
 
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drrich2

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Comparisons

AKR and CocoView together – 2017 thread. Docs (Post #3) said AKR dives the west/north and CCV the south. Lorenzoid (Post #61) said AKR was fine, but he preferred diving with West End Divers. Robint (Post #97) said AKR has a pool, allows kids, seems better for families – CCV doesn’t (kids < age 10), a non-diving spouse would be bored there but it wins hands down on diving setup dock and shore diving. Nippermagnum (Post #14) said AKR has a nice shore dive less protected than CCV’s (the dive shack supporting shore diving only open 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.), CCV has 24-hour shore diving, 2 massive reefs and a very substantial ship wreck, and he though CCV’s food ‘a notch better.’ He deemed AKR’s northern side dives better in terms of larger marine life than CCV’s southern sides; AKR is walking distance from a nice beach.
Roatan – CocoView Resort or Aggressor Live-aboard? 2018 Thread.
Bay Islands in November: Weather and CCV vs. Aggressor. 2017 Thread.
CocoView vs. Buddy Dive, Bonaire – 2013 thread.
Next trip: Cayman, Cozumel or Roatan – 2017 thread.
How Does Roatan and CCV Compare? (To diving the Caymans; 2016 thread). The Caymans get dogged for overall high costs (except car rentals and airfare from U.S.), but offer excellent diving, Grand Cayman a more ‘first world’ experience with a good mosquito abatement program, I don’t hear complaints about sand fleas and there’s not that pesky 19% tax on many package prices! How does CocoView Resort stack up in overall value?
Is It Possible to Dive Grand Cayman on a Budget? 2016 Thread by KathyV confronting the stigma of the Caymans as an expensive dive destination by comparing Cobalt Coast Resort in Grand Cayman with CocoView Resort in Roatan in terms of what you get (or not) vs. true trip cost.
Media Luna vs. West End? 2017 Thread.
 
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drrich2

drrich2

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Roatan Diving

From Scuba Board review, known for varied, rather lush reefs with lots of small creatures but over-fished so not much ‘big stuff’ on routine dives. You can pay for 2 ‘big animal’ excursion dives – a shark feeding dive with Caribbean reef sharks, or a trained dolphin dive. Roatan is mainly a boat dive destination, but a few places offer shore diving (CocoView Resort #1, with wall diving and the wreck of the Prince Albert for a house reef), Fantasy Island Resort (across from CocoView; not as convenient) and Reef House Resort (smaller resort with shore diving more apt to get blown out compared to CocoView from what I read).

Scuba Board members Dennis and Roxanne organize annual Surge and Invasion trips; Roxanne compiled a useful info. resource – Packing, Travel, Resort and Diving Trips for SB Invasion 2017 Roatan (they stayed at Anthony’s Key Resort).
 
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