Over Thanksgiving week, 1996, my fiancee and I went on a dive trip to Roatan. This is an account of our travels.
We left for Roatan on Friday, November 22. We were booked on a Taca flight, supposedly non-stop from Houston to Roatan, but that's not how we actually got there. Taca, while seeming to know a good deal about how to make passengers comfortable on the airplane, doesn't know much about getting people to their destinations on time. When we arrived at the Taca gate in Houston, we were told that our flight had been cancelled. They put us on a flight to Belize City, where we were told we would change planes to San Pedro Sula, where a third airplane would take us to Roatan. When we got to Belize, however, the San Pedro flight had already left. We were put back on the plane, which then went to San Salvador, El Salvador. We spent the night in San Salvador, along with about 60 other Taca passengers, in the Hotel El Salvador (at Taca's expense). To Taca's credit, they took care of us in El Salvador, whisking us past customs people and bussing us to and from the hotel. Also to their credit, they changed the flight itinerary of the plane the next morning, making a non-stop flight from San Salvador to Roatan. They even got our bags to Roatan with us! The upshot of this storylet is that I wouldn't avoid Taca in the future, but I sure wouldn't trust them to get me anywhere on time.
We arrived at the Roatan airport at about 10 o'clock Saturday morning, Taca having stolen about half a day of diving from us. By 11 or so we were delivered to the Inn of Last Resort in a rattly little minivan driven by an intrepid local entrepreneur named Bert. If you ever find yourself travelling with Bert, be sure to keep him talking, as he is a fountain of local lore. He never ceased to surprise us with the depth and breadth of his knowledge about the island.
The Inn of Last Resort is a beautiful sight to see, built lovingly from Honduran pine brought from the mainland. The facilities consist of 4 main buildings. There are three guest buildings, each with two stories of guest rooms. The fourth building consists of the dining room, bar, kitchen, offices, and staff lodgings. Other structures include the boat docks / dive shop, a small wood-working shed, and another lounging dock in the lagoon behind the resort.
The accomodations at the Inn of Last Resort are certainly not 5-star, but they are plenty comfortable and clean. Each room is roughly 20 feet by 25 feet, with a queen bed, two twin beds, a bathroom, a small closet, and several shelves for gear storage. Every room at the Inn has its own air conditioner. As mentioned, everything is built of pressure-treated Honduran pine, which means that walking around the room dripping water from your gear or your body is not a problem.
Food at the Inn was served three times daily. The kitchen was open for breakfast from 7am to 9 am, for lunch from 12 noon to 2pm, and for dinner from 7pm to 9 pm. The food itself was imaginative and tasty, varying every day from American favorites (like burgers and spaghetti) to local-inspired fare (lots of seafood). None of it would inspire the eater to write home, but it was plenty appetizing for me.
The Inn is not a place to stay if you don't like animals. Roaming the grounds are three dogs, two monkeys, at least one cat, uncounted hordes of various lizards, and one night we even had cattle in the courtyard. Of all the animals, the two long-haired spider monkeys, Mingo and Pancha, were the most adorable. Mingo is free to roam (and he does), while Pancha wears a harness and is kept on a leash most of the day (in order to keep her out of the pantry, where she knows the food is). They are both playful, mischievous and cuddly creatures. Just beware of Pancha jumping onto your head if you walk down the porch near the dining room!
On to the diving.
OK, I'll be honest: I was thoroughly disappointed by the diving on Roatan. Some of that dissatisfaction comes from the fact that it rained 5 of the 7 days we were there, thus hammering the visibility with runoff from the island. Our travel agent neglected to warn us that November is in the middle of the rainy season for Roatan. Even worse, we were told that Roatan received more rain this year than it had in any of the 53 previous years. The visibility was a far cry from the 150 feet we were told to expect, averaging somewhere areound 30 feet, with a high of 40 or so on one dive.
But even disregarding the visibility, I was not overly impressed with diving on Roatan. On the north side (Inn of Last Resort, Anthony's Key, West End), where the marine sanctuary is largest, the reefs were in fairly good shape, with plenty of soft coral and even some black coral at depths below 75 or 80 feet. However, the fish life was almost non-existant. We saw one or two schools of creole wrasse the whole week, no grouper larger than 2-3 feet long. There were occasional angelfish, some squirrel and damsel fish, and plenty of cleaner wrasses, but overall I felt that the density of fish life was much lower than other places I have been diving. We did see several giant King crabs (at least, that's what the locals call them), and a spiny lobster or two on every dive. I mentioned the scarcity of fish to the owners of the Inn, and they mentioned that the fish life was coming back now that the marine sanctuary has been established, but right now the reef still looks fished out to me.
The south side of Roatan (CoCo View, Fantasy Island, Romeo's) was almost the reverse. The reef life seemed much more numerous, but the reef itself was in bad shape. Things looked a little better below 90 feet, but above 60 feet much of the reef is over-run with algae growth. Perhaps this is a side effect of development on the island. I don't know.
We managed only 11 dives in 7 days, due to horrible weather. On at least two days we were not able to dive at all, because the cove (Gibson Bight) where the Inn is located has a very narrow channel leading from the cove to the ocean, and the surf was high enough that the DMs felt that they would not be able to get the boats in or out safely. These conditions held for at least 3 or 4 days; for the latter 2 days of this, Donna arranged for us to dive with operations on the south side of the island, where the seas were calm. This only accounted for 3 dives, however, spread over two days.
So here's my summary of the Roatan trip: my feeling is that there are better places to go. If I ever do go back to Roatan, it won't be for several years (to allow the fish life to regenerate, if it can), and it certainly won't be in any month from October through February. I'll almost certainly stay at the Inn of Last Resort again, as that was a really pleasant part of the trip.
Last modified: February 1, 1997