Island Dreams' owner Ken Knezick has made more than a dozen dive trips to Honduras. This report is based on the knowledge and experiences gained over these many wonderful visits to the Honduran Bay Islands. It strives to compare and contrast the major diving and tourism options available on the islands of Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja. I hope that you find it of interest and value. KDK
ROATAN ISLAND - Roatan is the largest and most developed of the Bay Islands, but compared to Cozumel or Grand Cayman, it is still a natural and unspoiled tropical island secret. Thirty miles long, and a mile or two wide at most, Roatan is mountainous and lushly forested in jungle foliage. Water birds stalk the shallows, and wild parrots squawk overhead, while colorful hibiscus, frangipani, bird of paradise and other resplendent tropical flowers abound. The native populace is a mixture of the descendants of English and Spanish settlers, black slaves, and native Indians. English is the official language, though Spanish is also spoken widely. Tourism is welcomed, growing rapidly, and scuba divers are leading the way.
COCOVIEW RESORT - I first visited Honduras in the early 80's, when Caribbean Sailing Yachts was still offering its solid CSY 42's for weekly bare boat charter. Old salts will remember that at the time, Roatan's airport was a grass shack beside a dirt airstrip serving SAHSA's old DC-3 aircraft. One afternoon, Kenny Young and I commandeered our sailboat's Zodiac and ran before a following sea down the coast to the then fledgling CoCoView Resort. At the time, it was a modest work in progress on a remote stretch of waterfront surrounded by acres of mangrove. Though we arrived unannounced out of nowhere, I well recall the warm welcome extended to us by the resorts owners, builders, managers, and guiding lights, Bill and Evelyn Evans. Much has changed in the ensuing years, but fortunately that friendly, relaxed, "one of the family atmosphere" has been preserved.
Today, CoCoView can comfortably accommodate sixty guests, without seeming in the least crowded. The new lodgings are built cabana-style on stilts right out over the water. The entire wall that faces out to sea is screen from floor to ceiling. With this much ventilation, the ceiling fans keep things comfortable, and it's quite lovely to awaken in the morning and feel surrounded by a warm and (usually) passive sea. However, if you are the type who simply won't do without air-conditioning, CoCoView's original rooms have been expanded and completely rebuilt, with both ceiling fans and air conditioners included.
CoCoView's main house is a spacious two-story affair, with a substantial dining room, bar, and game room. Various pet parrots provide entertainment by shouting, "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up," followed by a rousing chorus of "Jesus Loves Me!" Meals are all served buffet style, and while the fare should not be described as gourmet, the food is good, varied, and plentiful. There are always choices of entrees and side dishes, plus home made soups, freshly baked breads and desserts, and a nice salad bar every evening.
The atmosphere is friendly, the lodging comfy, and the food good, but have no doubt about it...guests keep coming back to CoCoView for the diving. In my near twenty years of experience, I have never encountered a resort that offers a diver more ease and freedom in the way the diving is provided. A spacious gear room directly abuts the dock from which the dive boats depart. These boats are custom designed by Bill Evans and they fit the bill superbly. They offer plenty of room for gear and tanks, tables for cameras, multiple entry ways into the water, and three good ladders for coming back out. The service on board seems casual, but is actually quite precise. Over the years, I've logged more than 200 dives at CoCoView, and I can never remember returning to the boat when there was not a crew member standing by ready to take my fins and lend a helping hand coming up the ladder.
There are two individual boat trips each day. The rides are generally short, and the bottom times are at least an hour. You can follow the dive guide, which is advisable if you'd like them to point out the sea horses, sleeping nurse sharks, and other recurrent reef habitues, but if you prefer to go it alone, you and your buddy are free to make your own dive. The best part is that after you've returned to the boat and had a bit of a surface interval, you can elect to do a "drop-off dive." You change your gear over to a full tank as the dive boat motors back towards the resort. When they get close enough to suit you, you may bail off the boat and literally swim along the wall right back to CoCoView's front yard, over the wreck of the Prince Albert freighter and an old DC-3 aircraft, finally coming up right in front of the resort for the short walk back to the gear room. If you follow each daily boat dive with a drop off, and then make a beach night dive after dinner, you can easily log five dives per day here. CoCoView's dive shop is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., so you can make even more shore dives if you so desire.
All this diving freedom is a wonderful and valuable thing...but keep in mind that it can also pose a serious danger to people who do not have the knowledge, ability, or good sense to dive safely and conservatively. The dive team at CoCoView is willing to "cut you plenty of slack," and treat you like an adult. Just be sure that you don't abuse the privilege and get tangled up. There is a functioning recompression chamber on Roatan, but I strongly suggest that you keep if off your holiday itinerary.
SAN MIGUEL BEACH HOUSES - I suppose that I've been a guest at CCV at least ten times by now, but for the last five stays, I've made a point of staying in one of the beach houses that are just down the "road" from CoCoView. These extremely spacious lodging options are mostly two bedroom, two bath homes with a large living room, complete kitchen, a fridge for ice, cokes and beers, and a wide screened-in porch that runs the length of the house and overlooks the ocean. While the beach houses are independently owned and have their own management staff, meals and diving services may still be taken with CoCoView, as its just a five minute walk from your beach house up to the dive shop or dining room. With four people sharing a two bedroom house, the price comes out about the same as lodging in one of CoCoView's more conventional rooms. Are these beach houses really comfortable? The only recommendation I need offer is that last year I brought my wife to CoCoView and we lodged in Beach House #5. When we were not diving or dining, Susan spent her time swinging in a big hammock on the porch, sipping a cool drink, reading and working her needle point. She pronounced it the most relaxing holiday she had ever spent - and believe me, my wife is beginning to be quite spoiled as dive travelers go. So if you appreciate the extra space and privacy, and don't mind the walk, the Beach Houses are provide delightful way to eat, sleep, and dive.
ANTHONY'S KEY RESORT (AKR) - Anthony's Key Resort was Honduras' first major dive resort, now in continuous business for more than 25 years. Located on the north side of Roatan, it is a large property, with individual palapa-style lodgings built both on the mainland and on a small detached Caye 50 yards or so from shore. Five dive boats and a major dive operation stand ready to provide three boat dives per day to all comers. Also on site at AKR is the Bay Islands' only recompression chamber, and a small marine science center that has captive dolphins and sells both dolphin swims and scuba dives. Guests of any Roatan resort may partake of this program, but if you are interested, be advised to book well in advance, as it is a very popular option and the group size is limited in an attempt to avoid over whelming the dolphins.
ROATAN'S WEST END - In the past few years, a substantial real estate and building boom has been underway around Roatan. Southwind Properties "For Sale" signs have sprouted up on choice beach front property everywhere. A variety of new hotels, restaurants, and small resorts are now coming online, many of them clustered around the West Bay region. Thus far, for the most part they are patronized by European back packers. I have toured most of these properties, and frankly for my dollar they do not yet measure up to Roatan's more established properties. Then again, it's possible that I may be getting spoiled in my dotage. There are a number of little dive shops in the area, and a few nice lodgings as well. One stand out is Half Moon Bay Cottages. If you are on a budget, and/or interested in hanging out with what's left of the hippie crowd, the West End may be the place for you.
UTILA ISLAND - Utila is a smaller island west of Roatan. It is becoming known as a spot with a good chance to see whale sharks during the months of March, April, and May. Up until now relatively unknown to U.S. tourism, Utila's popularity has been strong with European travelers. Tiny Utila already has more than one dozen different dive operations, and due to its affordability, hosts many Instructor Training Courses. While there are also a handful of small guest houses and backpacker style lodgings dotting Utila's one and only "main" street, I will report on Utila's two dedicated dive resorts.
LAGUNA BEACH RESORT - This is the new resort on the block, and a fine one it may well be. Owned by two young native Utilans, Troy & Bobby Bodden, it is reported that they have already spent more than two million dollars developing this beautiful oceanfront property a mile or so outside of "town." The rooms are spacious individual cabanas, built on a narrow sandy Caye separating the ocean from a large saltwater lagoon. Both the dive shop and the communal areas are impressive in their design and quality of materials and construction. Laguna Beach Resort is an excellent Caribbean dive resort.
UTOPIA VILLAGE - Utopia combines the beauty of the Caribbean with the comfort of a small boutique hotel. The pristine surroundings of Utopia Village are enveloped by both sea and jungle providing an ideal location for the unique ambience. It is of considerable import to note that Utopia is the only resort on Utila with an Eco Permit issued by the Honduran government ~ the site design and building of the resort followed guidelines for reef, jungle and marsh preservation, septic systems, recycling and water catchment systems. Accommodations at Utopia Village are designed to be an inviting retreat away from home. The rooms include custom furnishings, linens, and artwork with a fusion of upscale Caribbean, Caymanian, and Balinese elements. You may enjoy panoramic views of the jungle, ocean, and mountains from every room’s spacious balcony.
MAYAN RUINS of COPAN - A Honduran cultural experience of another type is a visit to the superb Mayan site at Copan. Located in the mountains, a two hour drive from the city of San Pedro Sula on the mainland of Honduras, Copan is one of the finest of all the Mayan cities. Recent discoveries indicate that Copan was one of the centers of the Mayan world, and home to some its finest works of art. The new sculpture museum at Copan, inaugurated in August, houses a spectacular quantity of original stellae, artifacts, and stuccos; many of which have never before been available for public viewing. Large enough to house three football fields under roof, the Copan Sculpture Museum alone is worth a visit to the ruins.
A visit to Copan will require just two or three additional nights stay in country, and includes lodging at the lovely Marina Copan Hotel. If you have any interest in the history and ancient cultures of Central America, a side trip to Copan is exceedingly well worth the time.
THE BOTTOM LINE - The days of the Contras and political instability in Central America are long gone. Air connections to Honduras are quite good, with service provided by TACA, Continental, and American Airlines, among others, serving gateways that include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New Orleans, and Houston. The beautiful Bay Islands of Honduras offer good diving, comfortable lodging, service oriented resorts, and an overall excellent tourism value. In another ten or fifteen years, Roatan will have become as popular and well known a destination as Grand Cayman is today. If you are anything of an adventurous traveler, please don't wait for that to happen, as you may well then be too late. Experience Honduras and the Bay Islands now, while all is at its best...my guess is that you will find yourself coming back for more.
Wishing you great diving, and a world of adventure...
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