Colorful fish making an arc in Roatan.

Diving in Roatan: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go

If you like laidback vibes with calm, clear waters and a stunning range of dive sites, then diving in Roatan, Honduras is for you.

I found scuba diving in Roatan to be world-class quality, convenient to get to, and showcasing healthy reefs and beautiful Caribbean marine life — all at a fairly attractive price!

Read on for a complete guide on what you’ll see, best dive sites, and travel tips for diving in Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras.

My 5 min overview of the highlights of diving in Roatan

My Experience Diving in Roatan: Most Laidback Boat Dives Ever

Diane diving under the seas of Roatan.
This would be my postcard from Roatan, enjoying my dive!

I’ll admit that the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras wasn’t always on my dive list.

I’ve heard of Bonaire and the Bahamas in the Caribbean, but the Bay Islands never stuck out.

That is, until a Honduran coworker kindly told me that Roatan is an amazing dive destination.

I went on a whim in May to escape a cold snap at home, and I’m so glad I did!

Personally I found diving in Roatan to be special for five reasons:

1. Roatan is full of marine life, as part of the second largest barrier reef in the world

Azure Vase Sponge in roatan with cleaner fish.
An exemplary azure vase sponge. I am lurking in the back! (Source: Deep Photos Roatan)

Second only to the Great Barrier Reef, the Mesoamerican Reef covers Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize and is 600+ miles long.

This gives Roatan a vast coral landscape that left a big impression on me!

During my 9-dive trip, I’d dip in to find completely different underwater topography compared to the last dive site.

Sometimes I find myself floating during a wall dive ending in a deep blue, or gazing across beautiful pinnacles, or admiring neon-like azure vase sponges.

Other times there’s small canyons, or a sandy eel garden!

There’s lots to explore: on a typical dive I’d spot a shrimp or something small in the coral, but then look up and see schools of blue-violet creole wrasse whizz overhead!

2. Short boat rides to/from Roatan dive sites help save your energy

All the dive sites around Roatan.
Example map of all the many dive sites in Roatan.

Roatan’s reef system wraps around most of the island, creating a lot of good locations to dive. There are as many as 150+ dive sites on Roatan!

Where I was on the West End, many sites are just a short boat ride from the shore (boat rides as laughably short as 2 minutes).

It’s almost like you’re visiting the dive shops’ back yard.

And often times, you’re ferried back onshore to the dive shop for dive intervals, where you can comfortably dry off, rest, and use the bathroom before your next dive.

With boat diving as convenient as it is, it’s never been more tempting to fit in more than 2+ dives in a day!

3. Roatan offers calm, clear waters

Another nice geographical advantage is that Roatan is located pretty far west, allowing it to skip hurricane season that other Caribbean islands may encounter.

I found Roatan waters to be very calm and clear with little current, making it great for beginners.

4. Passion for sustainability in Roatan

Coral nursery trees in roatan.
Coral nursery trees in Roatan to help protect and conserve more at-risk coral.

One positive note is the dive shops and general culture of the island of Roatan are focused on conservation and sustainability.

The island’s economy depends on the delicate reef system, and it’s great to see so much grassroots organizing around it.

Roatan Marine Park (established 2005) supports conservation of the marine ecosystem of the island with patrols, coral research, lionfish hunting workshops, and more.

The non-profit is supported by multiple dive operators (including the dive shop I went with, Roatan Divers) and they often run specialty coral restoration programs or you can even “adopt a coral nursery tree.”

5. Roatan diving is relatively low-cost

A side shot of the boat from Roatan Divers.

Compared to other world-class dive destinations, including those in the Caribbean, diving in Roatan is fairly attractive.

Many dive shops include gear rental in the fees, or charge only a low amount for equipment, which is nice on your wallet.

I did 9 dives total with Roatan Divers and it cost about $41 USD a dive, inclusive of gear rental, and before taxes.

This is comparative to other popular dive shops in Roatan’s West End and the range is usually $40-50 a dive.

As always, buying multi-day dive packages will net you better pricing.

What You’ll See Diving in Roatan

a hawksbill turtle in Roatan.
A hawksbill turtle greeted me on my first dive!

With over 500+ species of fish and 65+ types of coral, there’s a lot to explore and see underwater!

Common pelagic life includes barracudas, jacks, snappers, groupers, and turtles (both green turtles and hawksbills), often with a sharksucker or remora fish hitching a ride.

It is possible to see eagle rays, although I was unlucky in spotting any during my specific trip in May.

Whale sharks are purported to be rarer, and you’ll likely have more luck spotting one in the neighboring island Utila (one hour ferry away!).

A french angelfish in Roatan.
French angelfish are always colorful.

You’ll also see Caribbean reef fish, such as French Angelfish, the brilliantly-hued Queen Angelfish, and flamboyantly colored parrotfish (such as pink Princess Parrotfish, teal Queen Parrotfish).

To find more cute critters, try to keep an eye out in the reef for banded coral shrimp or macro life such as nudibranchs.

Spotted drumfish can be hiding in caves or under ledges. Trumpetfish (while common) are very fun to look at and often floating vertically next to pipe sponges to blend in.

Trumpetfish hiding with diver in the back.
You can find trumpetfish hiding in the coral, vertically.

Moray eels are often hanging out in caves or holes, and I find the green moray eels to be the most curious. Sharp tail eels may also snake their way around the reef.

Finally don’t forget to look carefully at the sand. Sometimes it’s easy to miss flounders because they camouflage so well. But you can look for distinctive spots or eyes.

Look carefully for seahorses and even their smaller cousins, pipefish, hiding in the reef.

Octopus approaching the coral.
Octopus can change color and will take on a blue tint at night.

Night dives are an easy way to see lobsters, king crabs, shrimp, and other crustaceans out and about more actively.

If you’re lucky, you’ll see an octopus hunting. And apparently octopus in Roatan tend to have curious behavior, making them easier to see!

Best Roatan Dive Sites

Roatan is 40 miles long, with many sides of the island having dive sites.

Here’s a selection of my favorite dive sites in Roatan.

Beginner Dives in Roatan

Mandy’s Eel Garden

hundreds of garden eels in a sandy area.
The garden eels of Mandy’s Eel Garden (source: Deep Photos Roatan)

Easily accessible, shallow, and beginner-friendly, Mandy’s Eel Garden is one of the cutest dive sites in Roatan.

So why is it the cutest?

Exactly how it sounds: it has a sandy bottom covered with hundreds of garden eels poking their heads out.

Once you swim too close, the garden eels will hide! It’s fun to watch them retract.

And don’t be fooled into thinking this dive site is only for beginners.

At the start there’s a lovely swim through where it’s possible to see a moray eel. Afterwards there’s a smaller wall with sea fans and sponges, as well as a shallow coral garden to explore.

Moray eel coming out to say hello at Mandy's Eel Garden.
Moray eel coming out to say hello at Mandy’s Eel Garden.

The coral gardens are teeming with life, such as Christmas tree worms, sea cucumbers, and schools of sergeant majors, blue tangs, and butterflyfish.

If you’re lucky, you may find hiding in the sand or rocks little pipefish — a cousin of the seahorse.

It’s also possible to snorkel Mandy’s Eel Garden, if there’s a non-diver in your group.

Max depth: 70 feet or 21 meters

Seaquest Shallow

Squid swimming away at Seaquest Shallow.
One of the squids I saw at Seaquest Shallow.

True to it’s name, Seaquest Shallow has a shallow reef that is also ideal for new divers as there’s a sandy bottom area.

One of the best parts about diving in shallower waters is the great visibility!

Seaquest Shallow is a great place for underwater photographers, where you get plenty of natural light on the rich marine life here.

The underwater topopgraphy features a coral reef on a plateau or hill to explore.

We spotted a group of squid on the dive, which are surprisingly colorful!

There were also turtles, groupers, angelfish, graysbe, and a school of goatfish probing the sandy floors.

My depth: 60 feet or 18 meters

Advanced Dives in Roatan

El Aguila (The Eagle) Wreck

Diver approaching El Aguila

El Aguila is one of the most popular dive sites on Roatan, as it features a shipwreck that is relatively easy to access and is close to Sandy Bay.

Despite being commonly visited, the large 200+ feet size of the structure make it a relatively easy experience to navigate if more than one dive group shows up.

The wreck was originally purchased and sunk in this site by Anthony’s Key Resort in 1997, and sits on the ocean floor in 3 pieces with a max depth of 110 feet.

While you don’t need to go to the max depth to appreciate the wreck and see it up-close, you’ll go fairly deep. It is required to have an Advanced Open Water certification from PADI or SSI to do this dive.

To enter the wreck, you’ll need a PADI Wreck Specialty course, since there are specific skills to wreck diving such as surveys and finning techniques to navigate inside the wreck.

El Aguila tilted on its side.
El Aguila is a little tilted.

My group had a fairly straightforward dive profile, approaching the stern of the boat after descent, floating over the rubble and crushed middle portion, before approaching the bow and mast (which is a great place for photo ops as it’s still intact!)

This was my first wreck dive ever, and while I have done deep dives before, I noticed that I felt slightly seasick at the beginning of my dive (it doesn’t help that the wreck sits tilted at a 45 degree angle!)

So if you’re new to wreck diving, take it slow.

Nitrox diving may also be a good option if the entire group is using nitrox to increase their time at a certain depth.

My favorite part of this dive was the mast, as you can ascend alongside it and observe colorful coral structures on this artificial reef!

The mast of el aguila with coral on it.
The mast from El Aguila has lots of coral to see.

Lastly, don’t skip out on the reef towards the end of the dive, it’s filled with pinnacles, lots of nooks and crannies to explore.

There’s plenty of life to see: I happened to see a group of large rainbow parrotfish which capped off an already epic dive!

Max depth: 90-110 feet or 27-33 meters

Barry’s Corner

beautiful yellow coral pinnacles in the light
Barry’s Corner felt like another world, with many pinnacles.

Barry’s corner is a memorable dive if you’re a lover of coral and interesting underwater topology.

Descend into what feels like another planet: you’ll see beautifully large pinnacles with endless coral formations as far as your eye can see.

Here you can easily find very tall azure vase sponges, large barrel sponges (big ones can be 100+ years old!), lettuce coral, brain coral, scroll coral, and much more.

Picturesque purple gorgonians are also easily spotted at this site.

Max depth: 95 feet or 29 meters

Mary’s Place

Mary’s Place is a famous dive site in Roatan, located on the south side of the island, further away from popular diving areas like West Bay and West End.

This world-renowned dive site offers many swim-throughs, cracks, and caves that offer endless exploration.

However, since it’s further away, you’ll likely need to check wtih your dive shop first if they can schedule for a boat dive out to Mary’s Place. It may cost a little extra compared to a normal dive, per person.

This site is best suited for advanced divers as it is deeper and requires good buoyancy to move through the the maze-like crevices and swimthroughs without damaging soft coral.

Night Dives in Roatan

El Aquario

A bright blue octopus at night
A very outgoing octopus showed a lot of curiosity for divers.

With night dives, the average dive site becomes a sensational feast for the eyes as nocturnal marine life comes alive.

The site matters a bit less as it will depend on your luck, and what’s important is to have a sandy bottom to stop, turn off your lights, adjust your eyes, and observe the bioluminescence.

Night dives are fun in Roatan, and you may find a curious octopus (a divemaster told me that they are not shy in Roatan waters) or large crustaceans like a king crab!

A very large king crab found during a night dive in Roatan.
A very large king crab found during a night dive in Roatan.

Looking for the best bioluminescence show? Try to time your night dive in Roatan for the new moon (monthly).

The added darkness of the new mooon helps you see an extra special occurrence called “String of Pearls,” bioluminescent phenomenon that’s special to Roatan.

It’s light created by tiny crustaceans as part of their mating cycles.

The best way to describe it is, it looks like a pulsating string of lights that appears to cascade through the depth of the ocean.

Kind of like you’re on a psychedelic acid trip!

What’s the Best Time of Year to Dive in Roatan?

Barrel sponges, azure vase sponges, and many more varieties pictured.
Barrel sponges, azure vase sponges, and many more varieties.

I always get frustrated whenever dive shops tell me that a destination is great “year-round.”

That said, Roatan does have good weather year-round (with some trade-off for rain during low season in the fall).

The best time to dive in Roatan for maximum visibility is either in December through March (their high season), with April, May and June being lower in traffic.

When it comes to the summer (July through September) it tends to get hotter which may not be comfortable.

Generally you can’t go wrong with the diving, and Roatan is more sheltered from hurricanes than other Caribbean destinations.

Best Dive Shops in Roatan (+ what I picked)

Roatan Divers shop front in West End next to the sea.
Roatan Divers in West End (source: Deep Photos Roatan)

You can scuba dive all over Roatan, presenting you with many options for dive shops depending on where your hotel is.

My recommendation is to stay in the West End because it has more a “downtown” bustling feel to it, with multiple restaurants, bars, night life, and shops to see when you’re not diving or taking a break.

In the West End, I recommend Roatan Divers. They were very organized with scheduling, and I found every dive master to be highly-trained and professional. Their facilities were also well-maintained, with a convenient seating area right next to your lockers to stow your things.

While diving with them, I felt unhurried and I liked the quiet, convenient area to rest between your dives or chat with other divers.

For those who prefer to go to Roatan to dive constantly, then CoCo View Resort may be the best place. Aside from organized boat dives and trips, it’s possible to do their “house wall” located right in front of the resort.

It truly allows you to dive, sleep, eat and repeat.

So the best dive shop depends on how you like to travel, whether you like to do some sightseeing of the island or focus on diving only!

Frequently Asked Questions About Diving in Roatan

A blue and white and black striped fish.
An indigo hamlet, one of my favorite fish to spot.

Is scuba diving better at Roatan or Utila?

Aside from world-class diving at Roatan, the neighboring tiny island of Utila (1 hour away by ferry) also has a huge reputation as an excellent dive destination.

The question of whether diving is better at Roatan or Utila is a matter or preference, as the vibes of the islands are completely different, as well as the types of sites you see.

From my experience of diving at both islands back-to-back, Roatan features grander underwater vistas with pinnacles, canyons, and walls, since the island and reef is larger. By contrast, Utila (while also having rich marine life) features smaller underwater vistas with gentle rolling hills, small caverns, and a lot of soft coral and sea fans.

The sea life is slightly different as well: since Utila is closer to the open ocean, there’s a much higher chance of seeing whale sharks and dolphins year-round than Roatan.

You should also take into consideration what draws you to a destination as a traveller.

Topside, Roatan is a common destination for cruise ships, and features a lot of big attractions like sloth/monkey sanctuaries and zip lining. Utila is a much smaller island, for a quaint, boutique or backpacker experience at budget-friendly rates!

A flounder camouflaged in the sand
A flounder camouflaged in the sand in Roatan can be easy to miss!

How do you get to Roatan?

Conveniently there’s an airport right on the island of Roatan. Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport is near the city of Coxen Hole and takes about 20-30 minutes to reach from West End or West Bay.

A cheaper route would be to fly into airports on Honduran mainland (Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula), bus transfer to La Ceiba, then take a ferry into Roatan (via Galaxy Wave) near Dixon Hole.

Overall, flying directly into the Roatan Airport is the easiest way.

What to do in Roatan when you’re not diving?

As a major cruise ship destination, there’s a ton to do in Roatan topside!

If you’re with family, there are multiple ziplining destinations, and even multiple sloth/monkey sanctuaries, with Daniel Johnson’s Monkey and Sloth Hang Out being the most reputable.

In the West End, there’s also family friendly destinations like The Roatan Chocolate factory which makes for good souvenirs home.

For a romantic date, there are multiple nice restaurants in West End, although I recommend making the drive up to Camp Bay for casual dining on the water (with hummingbirds!) at La Sirena.

An asian woman is holding a sloth with both hands.
One of the sloths at Daniel Johnson’s Monkey and Sloth Hang Out.

Are sand flies bad in Roatan?

Before going to Roatan, I had never encountered sand flies before.

Sand flies are present in Roatan, especially near the shore or the sand where they cluster.

But it depends on the person. After one week in Roatan I had multiple sand fly bites, but my partner was hardly affected.

My best advice is to cover up near the beach with a towel or coverup, or wear bug spray.

I used DEET or picaridin (or even baby oil) effectively.

But I didn’t want to introduce chemicals to the sea on my dive days, so I went spray-free and covered up carefully with towels or wetsuit at the dive shop. It worked until I got careless on my last day and ended up with 10 sand fly bites. 🙁

How do I pay dive shops in Roatan (what kind of currency is used in Roatan)?

Most dive shops and businesses accept both Honduran Lempiras and US Dollars equally. Paypal tends to be accepted, but you may need to pay 5% additional for the service.

So if you’re comfortable bringing cash and want the convenience, then bringing USD cash is a good idea.

Using credit cards in Roatan can be tricky as there may be a high transaction fee for credit cards (that restaurants may not tell you up front).

If you want to take out Lempiras there’s ATMs, although I found many local ATMs in West End tended to run out of cash most days. So plan accordingly!

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