Roatán is the biggest of the Bay Islands, a small Honduran archipelago located a few tens of miles off the mainland coast. With Útila and Guanaja, it boasts the best snorkeling in Honduras and one of the very best in the whole Caribbean.
Roatán is almost 50 miles long and barely 5 miles wide. Its northwest coast is bordered by a breathtaking coral reef, which offers world-class snorkeling experiences, especially in West Bay. Elsewhere, many other reefs can be explored, both on the island itself and around the islets and coral cays that surround it.
The West End and West Bay area, in the west of the island, is the hotspot for snorkeling in Roatán. West Bay reef, healthy and easily accessible from the beach, is just unmissable. With its corals cascading in crystal blue waters and its wide diversity of colorful fish, it offers amazing snorkeling times.
Around West Bay, there are several other options for getting in the water. Lighthouse Point, at the western tip of the island, can be snorkeled when there are no waves, but entering the water (on a flat) is tricky.
Local guides can also take you by boat to other spots on the reef, such as Blue Channel, Sea Quest or Butchers Bank, but they are quite deep and more scuba diving spots.
If you are staying on the other side of the bay, in the West End, there is a cool snorkel in Half Moon Bay, where you have to swim about 200m to reach the coral areas. Fascinated by starfish? Explore the shallow seagrass beds of Starfish Alley, studded with magnificent cushion sea stars.
North of West End, the coral reef follows the coast for another 22 miles. You can explore many locations on the barrier, but they are quite far from the beaches. You will find many tour operators to take you there by boat. Some of the best spots on this side of the island include Sandy Bay, Anthony’s Key, the Palmetto Bay Wreck, and Spooky Channel.
The more exposed south coast of Roatán is home to fewer coral reefs. French Key “lagoon”, which stretches between Little French Key and the Fantasy Island Beach Resort, is one of the most beautiful spots on the coast. Its shallow depth, crystal clear water, and loads of fish make it a perfect snorkeling location.
Between French Key and the Coco View Resort, you can also spot from the surface the Prince Albert Shipwreck, an impressive shipwreck over 50m long. This area is dangerous and must be reached by boat.
The eastern end of Roatán, wild and unspoiled, extends with several islands and cays. This is where Pigeon Cay, a small sandbank surrounded by coral reefs, is located. You’ll find on the island several boat trips option to reach it. Most of these day trips include 1 or 2 more snorkeling stops on the way.
It is estimated that more than 400 species of fish and 70 species of corals inhabit Roatán’s reefs. While snorkeling around the island, you will easily spot schools of grunts and surgeons, butterflyfish, soldierfish, bluehead wrasse, and several species of parrotfish (including very beautiful rainbow parrotfish and midnight parrotfish).
On the spots located in the Sandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve (which includes West Bay’s reef), you may encounter angelfish (the French angelfish, the gray angelfish, the queen angelfish), huge groupers, tarpons, and barracudas. In West Bay, snorkelers also report occasional green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, and southern stingrays sightings.
If you are planning a snorkeling trip to Roatán or anywhere else in the Caribbean, we recommend the excellent Reef Fish Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas (also available in ebook), the reference guide to ID the fish you will encounter snorkeling the island.
The climate in Roatán is tropical. Snorkeling is possible all year-round, except very occasionally when the weather and sea conditions don’t allow it.
The three months of the rainy season (from October to December) account for as much precipitation as the other nine other months put together (January to September, the dry season).
The rainy season is less suited to snorkeling since the wind makes sea conditions dangerous (waves). March, April, and May are reckoned to be the best months to visit Roatán and the Bay Islands.
December and January are the coolest months of the year (about 77°F/25°C), and July and August are the warmest (an average of almost 30°). The water temperature is between 79 and 86°F (26 and 30°C) all through the year, with a peak in August-September.
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Frequently sighted on West Bay and Lighthouse Point reef drop offs
Common on most of reef spots; often seen at West Bay
Large colonies at Starfish Alley; also found in West End seagrass beds
Occasionally found on West Bay reef drop off
On all spots, generally in large schools
On all spots
On all spots, but uncommon
Vibrant coral reef with a great diversity of fish
Level: Free shore access Resort nearby
Shallow lagoon with coral and reef fish
Level: Resort nearby
Shallow seagrass meadows with cushion starfish
Level: Free shore access
Fringing reef and seagrass beds
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