1. Where to Stay
To make your diving trip as relaxing as possible, choose an affordable beachfront accommodation that does all the diving-excursion legwork for you.
The recently opened Turquoise Bay Dive & Beach Resort (seven-night dive packages from $966) offers modern rooms in beach-facing duplexes and diving packages that include three daily boat dives and one night dive. Novice divers, take a PADI scuba course in the hotel pool or sign up for the Open Water Diver program for an extra $370—certification takes as little as three days. For excellent local fare, the hotel restaurant can’t be beat.
For modern comforts, book a villa suite at the Mayan Princess Beach Resort (from $190). Rooms come with air-conditioning, full kitchens, televisions, and separate living rooms, steps from a 250-foot serpentine pool and a long stretch of West Bay Beach. Customize your dives through the on-site Mayan Divers shop.
Anthony’s Key Resort (seven-night dive packages from $799) in Sandy Bay has been an under-the-radar diver’s destination for 30 years. Their Scuba School has programs for kids and pros alike and also houses one of the island’s only physician-staffed hyperbaric chambers, used to treat divers who get the bends from resurfacing too quickly. Splurge on an all-inclusive diving package, which includes equipment, three boat dives a day, and two night dives. For ocean views, request an overwater bungalow—the trade winds make up for the lack of A/C.
Fun-seekers looking for a deal, stay at the Luna Beach Resort (from $127; dive packages from $1,199). The standard rooms are bare-bones, but the hotel bar is a nightlife hot spot even for locals, and the resort is a ten-minute walk from the bar-and-café-packed West End (the distance is crucial during spring break). Sign up for the seven-night Learn-to-Dive Package; it includes Open Water Certification, equipment rental, and twice-daily meals.
2. Where to Eat
One of the largest fishing fleets in the Western Caribbean sails in and out of the village of French Harbour, and the lobster in butter and garlic at Romeo’s (504-455-5854) is fresh off those boats. It’s one of the handful of restaurants on the island open on Sundays, so it’s big with the local after-church crowd. Request a seat on the back deck to get a look at the fleet.
Gio’s (504-455-5214 or 504-455-5536), also in French Harbour, rivals Romeo’s for best seafood restaurant, thanks to the fresh king crab and a “big fish” platter loaded with calamari, shrimp, lobster, and perfectly grilled vegetables. If you’re sick of seafood, try the nicely grilled Argentine-beef filet mignon. Choose a table indoors to avoid the bugs and prepare to relax—the kitchen operates on “island time.”
The recently opened Udurau at the Turquoise Bay Dive & Beach Resort has elevated Roatan’s level of dining with an eclectic wine list and a wait staff trained in European service. Fish is still the main draw. Order the perfectly seasoned grouper in shrimp sauce.
For island-style fare, head to B.J.’s Backyard (no phone) in the tiny fishing village of Oak Ridge. The open-air, overwater fish shack serves fresh shrimp and bread pudding soaked in rum sauce, mostly to fishermen docked nearby. When sated, rent a dory from B.J.’s docks and row through the neighboring Jonesville mangrove canals. You can row as far as Caribe Point, about an hour round trip.
3. What to Do
Dive the perfect beginner’s spot with Sueno del Mar Dive Center (800-298-9009), voted best on Roatan by Scuba Diving magazine. It’s located on the island’s touristy West End, and skilled instructors will take you fifteen minutes to the novice dive site—the water is 80 degrees, the current is almost nonexistent, and underwater visibility is at 100 feet.
For prime reef diving, head to Mary’s Place, where parrotfish, king crab, and hawksbill turtles are abundant. Here, the reef wall is broken in spots, exposing a maze covered in rope-and-tube sponges as well as graceful pink, purple, and yellow sea fans. Book through Subway Watersports, a National Geographic dive center. They have locations at Turquoise Bay Resort and Palmetto Plantation Resort.
Explore the sunken vessel El Aguila, a 210-foot cargo boat lying in a hundred feet of water. Then head over to the Odyssey, the largest wreck off Roatan. Lying 110 feet below the surface next to a vivid part of the reef wall, the ship’s stern lists at about 30 degrees, and it’s possible to swim through it. Subway Watersports organizes dives to both wrecks.
Swim with sharks by going on a dive through Waihuka Adventure Diving (Dixon Cove, Las Palmas; 504-445-1283), an experienced shop located on the island’s south side. Seventy feet down, groups of up to fifteen docile gray reef sharks zoom in to be fed by a dive master. Keep watch for large schools of fish, like grouper.
Snorkelers, arrange trips to the reefs through your hotel. Roatan’s waters are clear as vodka (you can even spot fish from the plane as you are landing), making for prime fish-spotting even from the surface.
4. Insider’s Tip
Camp Bay Beach, located just past the local village of Diamond Rock on the island’s far north coast, is completely undeveloped—a postcard-perfect, two-mile-long strand of deserted beach. To get there, rent a four-wheel-drive Geo Tracker at Best Car Rental at the airport or from Sandy Bay Rent-a-Car (504-445-1925) in the West End, and head down the dirt road past the local village of Diamond Rock on the island’s far north coast (if you get lost, just ask a local). Pick up picnic fare at the tiny Woody’s grocery in West End or at the larger Eldon’s in French Harbour and lunch under the shady coconut palms.
5. Oddball Day
Copán, on the Honduran mainland, has some of the world’s oldest Mayan ruins (less trafficked than the ones you’ve seen in Mexico). To see them, carry some well-concealed cash to pay off local guides, and take a flight to the industrial city of San Pedro Sula. From there, hire a driver to take you along the winding, two-and-a-half-hour drive up the mountains. At the ruins, hire a guide to hear history and legend alike, and pay an extra fee to go through the tunnels. Make a day of it by taking a tuk-tuk from the ruins to Macaw Mountain, where rescued parrots and other exotic birds are kept at a serene nature park. Then tuk-tuk over to the town of Copán Ruinas, where a local market sells traditional black and beige pottery made by the Cuenca Indians as well as hand-embroidered shirts. Stay the night at the ecofriendly, solar-powered Hacienda San Lucas, just above town—you can watch the sun set behind the mountains of Guatemala while dining on local fare at the hotel restaurant.
Get tips on dive spots and deals at Scubaboard.com’s forums.
Learn travel and diving safety tips from other travelers on Scubatoy’s forum.
Caribbean Travel Forum’s Roatan page has a helpful compilation of links to other tourism Websites and forums.
For the inside track, read the Honduras Newspaper and Magazine Directory, which links to local news sources.