The best snorkeling spots in Roatán

Roatán is the biggest of the Bay Islands, a small Honduran archipelago located  about thirty miles off the mainland coast. With Útila and Guanaja, it boasts the best snorkeling in Honduras and some of the very best in the Caribbean.

Aerial view of West Bay, Roatan
Aerial view of West Bay, Roatan.

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, should not be missed. With its corals cascading in crystal blue waters and its wide diversity of colorful fish, it offers amazing snorkeling experiences.

Coral reef in West Bay
The coral reef fringing West Bay beach undoubtedly is the best snorkeling spot in Roatan.

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 from its shallow reef flat can be tricky, so care must be taken.

Local guides can also take you by boat to other spots on the reef, such as Blue Channel, Sea Quest or Butchers Bank. However those areas are quite deep and better suited for scuba diving.

Hogfish in West End
A hogfish in West End.

If you are staying on the other side of the bay, in West End, there is good snorkeling in Half Moon Bay, where you have to swim a little over 200 yards to reach the coral areas. Fascinated by starfish? Go explore the shallow seagrass beds of Starfish Alley, halfway between West End and West Bay and inhabited by magnificent cushion sea stars.

A cushion sea star in seagrass meadows
Starfish Alley, halfway between West Bay and West End, is known for its abundance of cushion sea stars. They are found near the beach, in less than 3 ft of water.

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 that will be able 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 spot for snorkeling.

A school of French grunt in French Key
A school of grunts in French Key crystal-clear lagoon.

Between French Key and the Coco View Resort, from the surface of the water you can spot the Prince Albert Shipwreck, an impressive shipwreck over 164 feet long. Be aware that his area is dangerous and must be reached by boat.

The eastern end of Roatán, wild and unspoiled, is comprised of several islands and cays. This is where Pigeon Cay, a small sandbank surrounded by coral reefs, is located. On the island you’ll find several options for boat trips to the cay. Most of these day trips include 1 or 2 more snorkeling stops on the way.

A stingray and a bar jack in French Key
A stingray accompanied by a bar jack in French Key.

What will I see while snorkeling in Roatán?

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.

A trumpetfish among gorgonian in West Bay
A trumpetfish observed in a typical vertical posture amongst gorgonian coral in West Bay.

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), this invaluable reference guide will allow you to ID the fish you will encounter snorkeling the island.

A French angelfish in West Bay
A French angelfish in West Bay.

What is the best time of the year to go snorkeling in Roatán?

The climate in Roatán is tropical. Snorkeling is possible all year-round, except  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 and waves dangerous. March, April, and May are considered to be the best months to visit Roatán and the Bay Islands.

A flamingo tongue snail on a gorgonian
A flamingo tongue snail feeding on a gorgonian in Spooky Channel snorkeling location.

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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