One of the most alluring attributes of Honduras is its diving sites. The Bay Islands have become synonymous with world famous dives. Located just 30 miles off the Honduran coast and about 840 miles southwest of Miami, the Bay Islands are a favorite destination for both seasoned divers and those just getting their feet wet.
They consist of seven islands, three of which are particularly popular, and form part of the second largest living reef in the world - the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. With the plethora of rich corals and colorful tropical fish gracing the islands, it is no wonder that divers from all over the world flock to them. Often referred to as a world apart from the mainland, the Bay Islands offer a great trip to supplement any volunteer abroad program.
Roatan - Large And In Charge
Roatan, the biggest and most popular of the three islands, has about 50 dive sites and countless dive shops to help visitors get on their way. You will find the best sights right off Sandy Bay, West End, and West Bay Beach. You will also find interesting diving sites on the north coast and along the island between Jonesville and French Harbour.
Among the popular dive sites are Doc’s Elbow, Mary’s Reef, West End Wall, Prince Albert, and El Aguila. If you are interested in seeing some crabs, lobsters, and octopuses up close, make sure you take the time to visit Doc’s Elbow. Mary’s Reef is perhaps the most popular and will have you feasting your eyes on large black corals and sponges along the fissures in the reef. Schools of surface dwelling fish and large spotted Eagle Rays will greet you as you dive into the blue waters along the West End Wall. If you are into wreck diving, visit Prince Albert, a 140-foot tanker, and the El Aguila, a 210-foot cargo vessel, that sit at the bottom of the sea.
Utila - Small And Mighty
The smallest of the Bay Islands and the closest to the mainland, Utila has a laidback atmosphere and is a favorite among backpackers. Divers like to compare the place to Roatan a decade ago, before it became the commercially developed tourist hotspot that it is today. Utila is known for having some of the best Caribbean diving locations and for whale shark sightings. Because of its appeal to younger backpackers, the place has also become a lively party hub. Expect to make a lot of friends after only a short stay.
Utila is also known for offering the cheapest certification classes on the globe, and is an ideal destination for divers on a budget. Expert divers also frequent the island and some end up staying for good and making a living as a divemaster. While accommodations in the area are mostly inexpensive, there are high end resorts that cater to those who seek more comfort and luxury.
Among the preferred dive sites are Blackish Point, Black Hills, and Halliburton. The Blackish Point is a fitting name because the dive site features a blackish wall formed by volcanic rock. Divers get to see plenty of life at even shorter dives of 20 feet, and can have fun going deeper too.
Black Hills, about 1.5 miles from shore, is a seamount or a submerged mountain. The sheer drop offs start at only 15 feet and plummets down 3300 feet. The sight of thousands of resplendent tropical fish, horse-eye jack, yellowtail snapper, and barracudas make the experience worth it even for those afraid of heights. The Halliburton wreck offers great deep diving adventure. At nearly 100 feet down, the angelfish, corals, groupers, and rope sponges weaving in and out of the ship, make the dive unforgettable.
Guanaja - A Remote Float
The least developed and most remote of the Bay Islands, Guanaja is ideal for those looking to enjoy a private atmosphere. The adventure seeker will have a blast with the variety of experiences Guanaja offers. Shallow reefs, canyons, volcanic outcroppings, wall dives, crevices, canyons and wall dives await them.
The most popular sites are Vertigo, Mestizo Reef, Jim’s Silverlode, Michael’s Rock Reef, and Jado Trader. Vertigo is aptly named, with a wall dive that drops from about 33 feet to over 160 feet and continues even further into a deep trench. Divers can feast their eyes on black and white crinoids, the lilies of the sea.
The Mestizo Reef is a delightful and unique dive that includes two statues, one of Christopher Columbus and the other of a local Indian Chief. Divers will also see a 16th century bell, Spanish cannons, and a partial shipwreck.
Jim’s Silverlode divers swim through a nearly 60 foot long tunnel then emerge in an amphitheater lined with sand. Yellow tail, groupers, and morays thrive in the area. Nudibranchs, brilliantly colored mollusks, brighten the area with colors so intense they seem to glow.
Jado Trader is a haven for advanced divers. It is one of the most famous Caribbean wreck dives where Hammerhead sharks sporadically make an appearance. One green moray eel has decided to make the site his permanent home and will even allow divers to feed him. Not far from the ship’s resting site is Frisco’s Jewel, a volcanic cave and chimney.
As a volunteer in Honduras you’re sure to come home with a slew of memories, photos, and new skills. Make one of them a world-renowned diving certification. Courses are easy to find especially on the island of Roatan and are usually affordable. The clear waters and diversity of depths and sites make for an ideal learning environment. You can even take it one step further by enrolling in a PADI Divemaster course, which is also easy to find. Who knows? You may just be one of the tourists who end up making the islands their new home!