This past six months we found ourselves the sole clients of two resorts that specialize in scuba diving: Riding Rock Lodge in San Salvador, Bahamas (Christmas 2008) and Guanaja, Bay of Islands, Honduras (Easter 2009). Both had outstanding diving opportunities; we did 24 dives over 2 weeks at Christmas and 13 dives at Easter. Though we were the sole clients for most of the time, we enjoyed the undivided attention of the dive masters and boat captains in each location. In San Salvador, we swam with hammerheads and enormous eagle rays. In Guanaja we encountered nurse sharks daily in the caves and lava tubes. We also enjoyed great drift dives in each location. In San Salvador, diving starts at 9:00 am, and in Gauanja, it starts at 8:00 am. But there were enormous differences in the two venues.
Access. San Salvador has a 12,000 foot paved airfield that can land Air Buses from Paris destined for the Club Med. We arrived on a small turboprop from Nassau. Guanaja is served by a ‘ferry’ from Roatan Island’s Oak Ridge Bay. The trip east to Guanaja sails into the prevailing wind and can be a rough two-hour passage. Wear a bathing suit: you’re going to get wet. The return passage is much smoother, and half an hour shorter, but it isn’t any dryer.
Tap water. You can drink the tap water on Guanaja. On San Salvador, every one on the island drinks bottled water. What comes from the tap is brackish.
Food. Here Riding Rock has a decided edge. The kitchen and dining room in the morning are busy with fishermen getting a java to start their day. At lunch, there is always a cup of chowder and a sandwich. And there are always two choices of entrée for dinner. Even if there are only two guests! At Coral Bay Resort, the Honduran coffee and fresh fruit are superb. Other than that, the less said about the food, the better. See previous reports. You won’t have to diet after Coral Bay.
Pools. Coral Bay Resort has one of the finest pools in the Bay of Islands: nearly eight feet deep with a view of Bonnacco Town off-shore in the harbor. Riding Rock’s pool needs some paint. Both are fresh-water.
Extra-curricular activities. Both locations have bars that attract local people. The beer is cheaper in Guanaja ($2.50) than in San Salvador ($6.00). At Riding Rock, there is an interesting trip around the island with a stop at the antique light-house, but aside from that, there isn’t much to do or see (shopping at Club Med?). On Guanaja, I’d recommend visiting some of the quaint watering holes. At Manatee Bay, you’ll find a delightful bar that stocks great German beer and provides great meals. It’s a hit with the yatching set. There’s also a nice bar at the West End Lodge. There is a great hike on the west end that takes you to some outstanding views of the island. We never got to explore the other hikes but we did have a great tour of Bonnacco Town—five or six acres of high density housing, schools, government offices and shops on three islands. Like a poor-man’s Venice. At Riding Rock, you’ll find terrific internet service. But in Guanaja, you’ll probably end up going to town ($2.50 water taxi) to use the services there; the dive shop’s service is free but it isn’t that fast. There are only 5 km of roads on Guanaja. Boat travel is essential.
The rooms. TVs, A/C, fans, and hot water are standard at both Riding Rock and Coral Beach. Riding Rock is motel-style; Coral Beach is cabanas.
The Diving. Neither island has been over-run by generations of divers. Both dive operations are small scale with boats than can handle 8-10 people at a time. San Salvador is mostly wall-diving with profiles in the 80-130’ range. At Guanaja, most dives are in the 60‘ range. There is no barometric chamber in Guanaja, so the dive profiles are quite conservative (save for a 100’ wreck dive). Both dive masters were extremely knowledgeable about local conditions and created a lot of confidence. Guanaja Island is split by a canal that gives easy access to both the windward and leeward coasts. There are wall dives, caves, lava tubes and extensive flat reefs. And unlike San Salvador, there are no exotic lion fish.
In both operations, the dive and the hotel sides of the business are managed separately. We were in Guanaja when Conquest Tours went bankrupt. The dive manager, Bill Blakey, was extraordinarily helpful in sorting out the situation. We got back to Toronto with Sky Service airways as scheduled. If we went back to Guanaja, we’d stay longer in Honduras to explore the hiking and the Mayan ruins at Copan. If we went back to San Salvador, it would be in the summer when the water is calmer and clearer. If you are looking to avoid the crowds, you couldn’t ask for better locations. But, like us, you might be the only people there!
- Also Known As:
- Coral Bay Dive Hotel Guanaja