Over the past few years – starting in 2020 – we’ve dispatched Peanut and Nugget off to New York for a couple of weeks of grandparent fun over the summer. In 2020, we just stayed home in Virginia and worked, but in 2021, Steve and I snuck off for a “digital nomad” week in the Adirondacks – hiking and kayaking around our remote work schedules. This past summer, my mom called and asked if we were thinking of doing the same thing this time. We shrugged and said we would be happy to loan out the kids again, and started planning Adirondack paddles. Then one evening, as I was surfing the internet on my phone while sitting with Nugget at bedtime, it occurred to me – we didn’t have to go to the Adirondacks. We love it there, of course, but there’s no law saying that’s where we have to go when the kids stay with my parents in the summer. We’d been talking wistfully about scuba diving, after the fun we had getting certified in Costa Rica, and it hit me: we could go anywhere. We could go diving. I started researching potential locations and immediately narrowed the options down to two: Cayman Brac and Roatan. After some extra research, I decided – Roatan it was.
Roatan is the largest of three Bay Islands – Islas de la Bahia – off the coast of Honduras. It sits in the midst of a section of the vibrant, healthy Mesoamerican Reef. The reef is teeming with life all year long – everything from tiny nudibranchs and seahorses – to large pelagic species like whale sharks and hammerheads. It’s also warm, relatively shallow, and mostly free of currents: perfect for novice divers. Seemed like a no-brainer, so we quickly booked into Barefoot Cay Resort, a five-star PADI dive center, and booked our dive package.
We arrived at Barefoot Cay, checked in at the dive shop, and learned about what to expect for the week. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t looking promising; one of the main points that sold me on this resort was the ability to get to dive sites within a ten minutes’ boat ride from the dock. As it happened, we were there during the windiest month of the year – July – and it wasn’t safe to dive on the side of the island where our resort was located. Instead, we were loaded into a van each morning and driven to the other side of the island (where the wind was much lower and the weather better, thanks to a line of hills breaking the wind along the backbone of the island).
Instead, we dove from a resort-owned boat that was docked off this beautiful sandy beach and charming stretch of shops and dive centers. The island is surrounded by dive sites on all sides, so we had plenty of options for incredible diving. I won’t recap every dive in its own post – each one felt very different to me, but it’s a lot of blue pictures that will probably run together. But there were a few standouts that I just have to show you.
This was our divemaster, Danny. We were paired with another couple – who were on their honeymoon, just like our dive buddies from Costa Rica; we seem to attract honeymooners – and the four of us dove with Danny all week. Our Roatan dive buddies, Alex and Emily, turned out to be just as fun, funny, interesting and kind as our Costa Rica dive buddies, Garry and Donna. The four of us hit it off immediately and I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather spend the week diving with – or dissecting the dives over cocktails with every evening.
The first couple of dives were nice and shallow – a good way to get our fins wet.
Ain’t no party like a garden eel dance party, ’cause a garden eel dance party is underwater! Mandy’s Eel Garden was a highlight in a week of highlights. And the garden eels swaying in the gentle current – well, I never thought I’d use the word “adorable” to describe eels, but they really were.
The Mesoamerican Reef was incredible – gloriously healthy and colorful. Our new dive buddies, Alex and Emily, described the bleached coral in the Caymans, and assured us that we were lucky to be exploring such a vibrant reef in Roatan. (Don’t mind the blue/green tint of the pictures here – I am still getting the hang of underwater photography. The reef was a rainbow.)
Of course, the biggest highlight of any dive is getting to swim alongside the best dive buddy. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather dive with.
Trying to use my fins to white balance. It didn’t work.
Brain coral! So spooky.
Speaking of spooky, Danny took us on one dive to the El Aguila shipwreck. Let me tell you, swimming along through endless blue gloom and then a mast looms up in front of you is a vibe. I felt a little bit like The Little Mermaid.
The couple that wreck dives together stays together, right Steve? I love this picture. Look how hardcore we look!
The opposite of hardcore: this seahorse. He was actually very large for a seahorse – several inches, with a big pregnant belly – and bright yellow. Our dive buddy, Emily, described him as a Giant Cartoon Seahorse.
Also not hardcore: this parrotfish. We saw them all over the place, and every single one looked like a child’s squeaky bath toy.
We did not see any whale sharks (wrong season – they do turn up anytime during the year, but July is not their big migration time so they’re a rare sight) or hammerheads, much to Steve’s dismay. (We’ll just have to go back to Roatan – twist my arm.) But we did see a massive nurse shark sleeping on the seafloor. See the dorsal fin and long tail tucked away? Look closely.
One pelagic species we did see: spotted eagle rays, which flew past us as casually as you please. They were gone in a flash, but what a flash it was.
On one of our first dives, Emily spotted a conch. After she mentioned seeing one, I started seeing them everywhere.
A river of “goggle eyes” on our last dive. I started diving to face and overcome a fear of fish, so to rest peacefully in the water and take in this site – and find it impressive and moving instead of terrifying – was a huge victory for me.
We also made a game out of spotting as many Caribbean spiny lobsters as we could.
Tunnels, swim-throughs and tight squeezes. Steve didn’t really enjoy these, but our divemaster added them into a few dives because Alex and Emily did. (Important for everyone to get to do what they like!) I viewed them as a personal challenge: could I make it through a swim-through without freaking out? I was really proud of myself for tackling this more intermediate level diving.
These are just a few of the highlights Roatan had to offer! Next week, I’ll show you where we spent our surface intervals. Check in with me then!