Honduras 2004 - Not of This World

JAN. 6—I got my first taste of warm-water scuba diving in the mid-1980s, when I moved to Puerto Rico to start up a dive operation with my uncle Jack. Though that plan ultimately didn't pan out, it was still an idyllic place for a 20-year-old to spend a few months. I didn't dive in tropical waters again until 2003, when I visited Cabo San Lucas and realized what I had been missing. There, I saw a seahorse, a shark and a variety of other exotic sea creatures, and remembered how nice it was to dive without a full 7mm wetsuit, hood and 24 pounds of lead on my waist. Yet the experience in Cabo still didn't prepare me for the otherworldly dives I made in Roatan and Utila, two of the three Bay Islands off the north (Caribbean) coast of Honduras.

I had of course seen coral reefs before, mostly from snorkeling excursions in Hawaii. But the coral covering Roatan's barrier reef—which extends northward to Belize, making it the second-largest barrier reef in the world—was like no coral I'd ever seen before. I saw nothing larger than a barracuda on the many dives I made, but the word "disappointment" never entered my mind. Floating over the brain coral, the elk coral and the many other bizarre and beautiful corals whose names I don't know, I felt like an astronaut cruising above the surface of some alien world. Schools of brightly-colored reef fish swam all around, yet my attention always returned to the breathtaking coral structures of the reef.

Thanks to the great divemasters who led my adventures, I dove some of the best sites on the two islands. I did wall dives, wreck dives, drift dives, and even a cave dive, if you count the swim-through tunnel I got to explore on one of my dives. On Roatan, I dove with Pura Vida Dive Center, the dive operation in the hotel by the same name where I stayed. Sofia and Juan took me and my dive buddies to the following sites:

Blue Channel: A fabulous introduction to Roatan's gorgeous barrier reef.

El Aguila: A phenomenal wreck dive to 110', with visibility about the same distance. El Aguila is a 230' freighter, and you can spend the second half of your multilevel dive exploring the many crevices on the wall alongside the wreck.

Hole in the Wall: A thrilling ride down through a "hole in the wall" of the barrier reef to about 110' (the hole keeps going down to several thousand feet).

Butcher's Bank: More cool coral reef diving. Run of the mill for Roatan, but hey, I'm from California.

West End Wall: Fun drift dive, lots to explore along this wall.

Topside, Roatan boasted some great nightlife, from the laid-back beach bars Sundowners and Foster's (the latter of which is built over the water) to the techno-pulsing dance joint Loafers, now known as The Black Pearl. Actually, The Black Pearl is also a beachside watering hole where you can enjoy a relaxing game of pool most nights; I just happened to hit it on New Year's Eve, when you could barely push your way through the throbbing hordes.

Utila definitely offered a change of pace. While I actually had the opportunity to interact with Karla and Claudia, I still managed to get in some diving. At Deep Blue Divers, divemasters Thomas and Chris took me on some memorable dives.

Jack Neil Point: Mostly unimpressive, especially after coming from Roatan. Visibility wasn't that great either.

Pretty Bush: Poor visibility at first, but once we got past the lagoon outflow, a fantastic site.

The Maze: Most amazing wall dive of my entire visit to the Bay Islands.

Raggedy Cay: Gorgeous, gorgeous coral reef, but lacking any distinctive features, it started to feel like "more of the same."

The girls and I spent our last night in the islands at the Tranquila Bar, little more than a bar built on a rickety wooden dock—pure island charm. I could think of no more appropriate place to wind down the trip than in a drinking establishment whose name roughly translates as "mellow."

Table of Contents | E-mail comments | Back to Home Page

Content, photography & design © 2001-2005 Michael Strickland
All photographs digitally watermarked
· Unauthorized use prohibited