Snorkeling the Mesoamerican Reef in Roatán

Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

When I was 10 years old I went snorkeling for the first time while on a family vacation on Mexico’s Pacific coast, and from that moment on I was obsessed. So much so, that after that first snorkeling tour I begged and pleaded until my parents caved and booked another tour for later that same day. In the years since, I have been lucky enough to find myself in half a dozen other countries where I’ve been able to get a glimpse of the underwater world, but none has impressed me and left me longing for more than the little island of Roatán.

Christmas Tree Worm
Fan Coral

Always keen to discover new water, I eagerly signed up for a snorkeling tour on the Honduran isle and the experience was so extraordinary – an out-of-this-world underwater landscape, wildly colorful fish, and a small personalized tour – that it wasn’t long after I had returned home that I begun brainstorming how I could possibly go back in the future to explore more of Roatán.

Roatan

When I arrived on the island I was met by Herbert Woods, a born and bred Roatánian, whose company, Roatan Ocean Adventures (ROA), specializes in sharing the beauty and natural wonders of the area’s reef and ecosystem. When he’s not out on the water himself, whether touring visitors or defending the reef from invasive species, Herbert educates local schools on how they can help to keep the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef system in the world, in pristine condition.

French Cay Harbor

Some of the best snorkeling sites around Roatán are found close to shore, but without the guidance of someone who knows the area they are easy to miss. From a pier in French Cay, Herbert and his team took me out to one of his favorite snorkeling spots. We were fortunate to have clear blue skies and the ocean had calmed down significantly from the choppier morning swells. Within five minutes we had reached our destination, and after a quick run-through of the types of fish we hoped to see, I jumped into the ocean with goggles and fins in place along with Preston, one of ROA’s local guides who is, for lack of a better phrase, like a fish in water.

Looking into the blue water, I was absolutely spellbound by the unfamiliar world below. Rows upon rows of swirly brain coral lined the ocean floor, rainbow hued creatures like angelfish and blue tangs gracefully sailed by, enormous purple sea fans waved in the currents, and every now and then harmless white jellyfish the size of apples brushed my body, giving me the sensation that I was getting a rare glimpse of another planet.

Snorkeling Roatan
Blue Tangs
Reef
Blue Tangs
Caribbean fish
Fan Coral
Snorkeling
Angelfish
Reef

Following Preston’s lead, I swam out to the edge of the reef where the corals suddenly dropped off into the unknown. Gazing out into the blue void was unsettling yet exhilarating to say the least, but I quickly focused my attention back onto the lively reef where schools of bright fish were passing by.

Drop off
Tropical fish
Reef
Reef
Fish

Next thing I knew, I was gazing down on a lone trumpet fish gliding through the water, spiky lionfish camouflaged between rocks, and a mysterious lone conch covered in green algae. Out here, it felt like time stood still. I probably could have floated for hours and hours, but thankfully Preston kept an eye on the time and we leisurely headed back towards the boat after being in the water for about an hour and a half.

Roatan Ocean Adventures
Papaya
Tour

Taking a break in between snorkeling, we refueled on the ripest, juiciest papaya I’ve ever had in my life and went for a quick zip past the shoreline towards thick mangrove forests. Here, Herbert told me he often went canoeing as a child to see iguanas lazily hanging in the maze of branches. Today, there are rarely any iguanas to be seen in the trees, a result of over-hunting and poaching the species to use as a food source.

Mangrove forest

After we left the mangroves, we headed back out onto the reef and moored at our second snorkeling spot, equally as beautiful as the first, but with a higher reef causing the water to break over the coral and rocks. It was here that we found patterned lobster peeking out from little caves in the reef.

These spiny little creatures were unlike any lobster I had ever seen. Their shells were covered in a colorful design that extended along their body out all the way to the ends of their antennae. When Preston dove down to take a photo of one of the lobsters for me, their shy nature quickly became apparent as the lobster scuttled back inside his dark cave.

Lobster
Blue Tangs
Christmas Tree Worm
Lobster
Snorkeling
Blue Tangs
Mesoamerican Reef
Jellyfish
Snorkeling
Cuttlefish
Reef
Caribbean fish
Mesoamerican Reef
Fish
Caribbean fish

After what felt like no time at all, it was time to head back to the boat. Sad to leave, I cast one last glance around, trying to let the beauty and colors of the landscape sink into my memory. As we floated back to the boat, the coral reef fell away and I looked down once again into the blue void. This time around, a ghostly ship appeared out of the abyss, my last look at this strange but beautiful world.

Sunken ship

Many thanks to Roatan Ocean Adventures for helping me to make the most of my short amount of time on the island. I did receive a discount for the snorkeling tour, however all opinions are, as always, my own.

All underwater photos in this post were taken with the Olympus TG-4. A full list of my photography gear can be found here.


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Roatan