I realize that everyone has their own opinions about politics, art, and scuba sites, and th quality of a site can be influenced by weather. I'm just back from 2 weeks in West End and Paya Bay on the east, and the clear winner is (drum roll here): the west end. What I consider a good site is a place that has (in order of importance) dense healthy vibrant hard coral, awesome swim-thrus and canyons with sunlight streaming in, healthy sponges and soft coral, little fish, big fish. With luck (or by picking the right area and dive shop) you get all of the above with Roatan, but not at all sites all over the island. I managed to dive four areas and found profound differences, most of them positive.
After 8 prior trips to Roatan I have learned my favorite sites around West End. This year I got stuck with a dive master who for some reason thought that Roatan's famous canyons and caves and swim-thrus are unsafe, well beyond the abilities and competencies of your average 200-dive beginner. SO we were faced with day after day of boring reef crawls at sites off West Bay. Sort of like going to Squaw Valley and being confined to the bunny slopes day after day, watching the other kids get to ski the top of the mountain. BEgging and pleading did no good. Even in the hands of a dive master so expert as HE, were were in deep water (so to speak) risking our lives in open canyons. Of course he had no problem diving the Texas site, with the boat transom bucking up and down 4 feet out of the water as you try to grab the ladder. Since there are lots of other shops in West End, I guess the choice is simple. Too bad. I liked the shop otherwise.
So West End-Sandy Bay still rates as my favorite. Basically Blue Channel to Bear's Den.
Some heavy weather blew in from the north Friday and diving was cancelled over most of the island. Saturday the shop moved the boat around to Flowers Bay, where there was a fleet from a lot of the west shops. Two dives right off the shore here were spectacular. What was exceptional was the size and density of the soft coral, biggest sea fans I've ever seen in a true forest of soft coral. Also we ran into a fish ball composed of flashy fish, bigger than silver sides, and since they decided to hang around, we stayed with them and i got a 6 minute video of them. WOW.
Then I drove out and stayed at Paya Bay, a lovely place to take a date or spouse (why not both?) with well designed rooms, good food, a unique site, friendly people, good AC, wifi about 95% of the time, and a constant breeze. OK, so more of a wind than a breeze. The wind messed up the visibility inside the reef, so snorkeling was out. But perhaps because of the steady wind limiting sunlight, the hard coral isn't happy, so there is way less than there is further west. I've dived as far east as Turquoise Bay and did nor encounter this situation before. We dove at Pinnacles and Mongoose, which would be spectacular if you could see 15 feet, but it was spookier than Spooky Channel on a bad day. Pinnacles has formations where hard coral would LOVE to grow, but they were totally bare, lacking the necessary sunlight. So those far eastern sites along the north side were quite a disappointment to me.
But then last Thursday we found that 6 of us wanted to go dive at Pigeon Key, and with 6 sharing the boat fee, the ride was quite cheap. This was probably the highlight of my years on Roatan. We packed up lunch and headed out through the mangrove cut and dove Morat Wall, which I would include as a south side site rather than an east site. Then we landed at Pigeon Key and had it to ourselves. After lunch we rode a few hundred yards and dove the Pigeon Key site, with possibly the clearest water I have ever seen, a long valley of huge barrel sponges, and one very testy green morey (2 minutes of video). Then on the way home we stopped at La Sirena for a Salva Vida and to watch the kite boarders enjoy the local wind.
Maybe that's the rule: if there are lots of kite boarders inside the reef, maybe it's not a great place to scuba.