Dive the second largest reef system in the world and discover the stunning Bay Islands; famous for their visiting whale sharks. From entry-level dives to Tec adventures, this affordable Caribbean destination has something for all, with beautiful thriving reefs, seamounts surrounded by pelagics and a 130-foot vertical volcanic reef crack.
Diving in Honduras
Diving in Honduras is accessible and affordable Caribbean diving at its best. Honduras, like neighboring Belize and nearby Mexico, claims part of the Mesoamerican reef, the second largest reef system in the world. Honduras diving mainly revolves around the Bay Islands, a collection of eight islands and fifty three cays in the southwestern Caribbean Sea. And the heart of Bay Islands diving is the central trio of Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja, along with the pristine Cayos Cochinos.
With lots of dive shops on Roatan and Utila, visitors can choose from a huge range of underwater experiences. While Honduras diving offers excellent value in general, Utila beats Roatan with extremely competitive rates. For that reason, Utila is a mecca for dive students. Roatan is more developed, with fancier accommodation, while Utila maintains a simpler backpacker vibe. Guanaja is the most remote and pristine of the Bay Islands, and getting to it requires domestic flights. Roatan and Utila can be more conveniently reached by ferry or air, and Roatan even has an international airport. Most diving in Honduras is organized by land-based dive centers and resorts, but a small and intimate liveaboard industry offers unique opportunities to cruise the dive sites with peace and flexibility.
When diving in Honduras, divers will encounter plentiful marine life on colorful coral reefs, enjoy crystal clear Caribbean water, and meet special fish like whale sharks. The verdant green islands offer fun land-based activities as well. Currents in Honduran dive spots are usually mild, allowing even beginner divers to enjoy its world-class sites.
Best time to dive
Diving in Honduras is possible year-round. The local rains are heaviest from October through January; this can reduce visibility, but the diving is still good. Because the islands have dive sites on all sides, it’s always possible for the operators to find a sheltered area. Divers who choose to visit between June and October should be aware that hurricanes can pass the area at that time. The water temperature is always warm, at 26 C or 78 F in winter to 30 C or 86 F in summer. Visibility is excellent in Honduras waters, usually around or above 25 meters.
Whale sharks have traditionally visited Utila’s waters from mid-February to April. Some operators and divers have reported variations on that schedule in recent years, citing climate change as a likely explanation. In this era of changing seasons and shifting migration patterns, it’s best to ask local dive centers for up-to-date information on animal sightings before you plan your trip- and choose a carbon offset for your air-miles.
Types of diving
The Honduras dive industry offers a huge range of options. First of all, Honduras'Bay Islands are a regional epicenter of dive training. Entry-level scuba courses are plentiful, but so are professional courses like divemaster, instructor, and instructor trainer, specialty courses like underwater photography, and technical courses for tec deep, trimix, and more. There is tec dive training available on Roatan and Utila, where tec instructor courses are also offered. The Bay Islands’ deep walls and deep wrecks are a perfect playground for tec and deep divers to practice their skills.
The walls, wrecks, and seamounts of Honduras dive sites can all be explored at a beginner or advanced level. Some seamounts do present challenging currents though, and some wrecks are too deep for recreational divers. Unique Honduran dive experiences include a baited shark dive with elusive Caribbean reef sharks, and a ‘black water dive’ to see plankton rising from the deep- so far, only one operator offers a nighttime trip to the Cayman trench to witness this phenomenon. Diver who love bioluminescence but don’t want to night dive over an oceanic trench might consider a ‘dark dive’ near shore, where divers turn off their lights to witness ‘strings of pearls’ plankton glowing in the water.
Liveaboard diving in Honduras helps divers see all the best dive sites while avoiding day-trippers. Divers can also be sure of reaching all the top-tier Honduras dive sites on all three Bay Islands, plus Cayos Cochinos, and even the remote seamounts between them.
What to see
Honduras is famous for whale shark encounters, and is sometimes called the whale shark capital of the Caribbean. Whale sharks are gentle giants; while they’re the largest fish in the ocean, they eat tiny plankton. In the Bay Islands they can be spotted all year long, but the prime season is mid-February through April, with another spike around September. Dive boats usually head to the north side of Utila first thing in the morning to maximize their chances of spotting a whale shark. Dolphins are also frequently encountered in this area, and divers may get the chance to swim with them as well.
Scuba diving in Honduras offers a special opportunity to see sleek Caribbean reef sharks up close. At a dive site off Roatan called Cara a Cara (Face to Face), schooling females have naturally congregated for decades, according to local fisherfolk. These females are larger than the males, at two to three meters in length. They circle gracefully and calmly until the dive guide releases the chum from her/his bucket- the sharks then whip into a feeding frenzy which is over in a flash.
In general, Honduras reefs teem with fish life and color. Swaying soft corals and sea fans form a perfect backdrop for nurse sharks, eagle rays, sting rays, barracuda, jacks, triggers, chubs, groupers, puffers, filefish, and moray eels. Hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles all nest, breed, and swim in the Bay Islands.
Best places to dive
When it comes to Honduras scuba diving, the Bay Islands are the hotspot for most diving.
Roatan, Bay Islands
On busy Roatan, most of the dive centers are clustered along a commercial beach street called the West End: right in front of West End is Half Moon Bay, a premier Roatan dive site. Half Moon Bay is a large reef with a sunny, shallow coral flat and a plummeting deep wall. Parrotfish, surgeonfish, eagle rays, turtles, lobsters, and moray eels are plentiful, as well as huge sea fans, black coral bushes, and orange elephant ear sponges. Mary’s Place is another famous Roatan dive site, known for the thrill of diving into a 130-foot vertical crack in the reef, created by volcanic activity. The picturesque El Aguila wreck, broken into three pieces by Hurricane Mitch, is another favourite of Roatan divers.
Utila, Bay Islands
Utila has its own enormous bounty of dive sites. The most famous is Black Hills, a seamount with masses of fish. At Black Hills, Atlantic spadefish, horse-eye jacks and creole wrasses swim in the hundreds. Black Coral Wall is beloved for the otherworldly beauty of its many black coral bushes. CJ’s drop-off is a plummeting wall which gives divers a good chance of seeing turtles, stingrays, and moray eels. There are also caverns at Jack’s Bight and a labyrinth of passages at the Maze. The amount of local dive sites and the relaxed, dive-centered vibe make Utila a perfect place for divers who want to indulge their underwater passion to the maximum.
Guanaja, Bay Islands
Guanaja, the most remote of the three main Bay Islands, is also a diving paradise. This island is known for its lava landscape of tunnels, cracks, and pinnacles. It also has steep drop-offs and an 80-meter long wreck called the Jado Trader- now one of the richest artificial reefs in the area. Guanaja’s fringing reef is a protected marine reserve, keeping it healthy and beautiful.
Cayos Cochinos, Bay Islands
Cayos Cochinos is actually the southmost Bay Island group. Both liveaboards and day trips make the crossing to Cayos to find some of the most pristine reefs in Honduras. Cayos is exposed to current, so divers should have some experience before going. It’s the current which attracts the fish: expect to see barracuda, batfish, nurse sharks, jacks, schools of triggers and schooling silversides, as well as sponges, soft corals and sea fans adorned with colorful small reef fish. Cayos cochinos marine park helps preserve local marine life, and the fact that the island is barely inhabited helps as well.