Finally after months of wanting to do so, I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to go on an excursion to Cayos Cochinos (aka the Hog Islands) Marine Natural Monument which is a marine biological reserve. It is a largely undeveloped archipelago of islands 19 km off the Caribbean coast of Honduras. The Cayos were declared a marine reserve in 1994 and all marine and terrestrial flora and fauna within a 460-square-kilometer area is protected from fishing, development, or any other harmful activity. From any point of land in the islands, the reserve extends eight kilometres in all directions. Largely overlooked by travelers to this region, the dive sites have some of the most pristine reefs in all of Honduras and the Caribbean.
My day started early as I had to be at the Barking Monkey @ Foster’s West End Bar and Grill at 7:30 am. Ray Diaz is the brother of Lana Diaz a good friend of mine here in Roatan. She asked Ray the previous night if I could come along on this trip to see what it was all about. He graciously accepted to have me accompany them on the trip. Ray owns Bay Islands Adventure and has two boats he operates for excursions. The one were going on today, the Island Life is a 35 foot speed boat with 3 200 HP out board engines which really give this boat some serious speed. It’s a very nicely equipped ship that can comfortably seat 12 people plus the crew.
Shortly after I arrived two passengers staying at Barefoot Caye arrived. Once we were all see and our gear stowed away we headed for Half-Moon Bay to get some snorkelling gear and some ice for the refreshments. We then proceeded to the dock at the Infinity Bay Resort in West Bay to pick up the remainder of our passengers. It turned out that my friend Leanne who works as a bartender and tour guide was coming on this trip with us. Leanne has been living in Roatan for almost 4 years and is a very upbeat person to be around. All together we were 10 passenger and 4 crew and little Anthony, Ray’s son. The Boat ride was pretty straightforward and lasted about 45 minutes.
The large islands were a lot higher in altitude than I had expected and covered with lush green jungle. We arrived at the Cayos and passed in between Cayo Grande and Cayo Menor and circled around to the other side of Cayo Menor where the Natural Marine Monument offices and laboratories are located. Every visitor to this marine biological reserve must sign in and pay the visitor fee of $10 however most tour operators include the fee in their prices. We spent about 20 minutes looking around the facilities (offices, bungalows, education classroom and laboratory) and then boarded the boat again.
Our next stop was Cayo Timón, a very small caye that has only two huts built on it. The water was so clear and turquoise blue and the sand white and very fine.
We anchored the boat and we all got our snorkelling gear on and headed out to explore. Ray had asked me to take those that wanted a guide around snorkelling. Out of the group only Justin and Krista decided to follow me. When I’m working at West Bay Divers I take snorkelling groups out all the time and have a habit of making it as informative as possible. What I noticed right away is that the coral here is very healthy. Some marine vegetation that is all but gone in Roatan is flourishing here. As I sighted interesting fish I would show Justin and Krista so they could attempt to get pictures. Some of the more interesting things we saw were Red Lipped Blenny’s, lots of Sea Anemones, Honeycomb Cowfish, Needlefish, Spanish Grunts (my first sighting of this fish), Juvenile White Spotted Filefish, loads of Princess Parrotfish, Caribbean Reef Squid, Dog Snapper, Elk Horn Coral and loads more.
Once we were done snorkelling we boarded the boat again and headed for our lunch destination Cayo Chachahuate.
Chachahuate is a Garifuna village of 200 souls on a small Caye in the South end of the Archipelago. Ray had called ahead and had them prepare our meal. When you see Chachahuate it’s hard to believe that so many people live on this small sliver or real estate and have done so for many generations. The Garifuna are very close knit communities, descendants of the Carib, Arawak and West African peoples and are very friendly.
Before we sat down for lunch we were allowed to wander around the entire island which takes about 5 minutes. The main beach is lined with fishing boats and pirogues. The houses are basic wooden shacks with Palm thatched roofs which are positioned side by side. We were served a lovely meal of freshly grilled fish, rice and bean, fried plantain, fresh out of the oven coconut bread and cinnamon rolls. We were even treated to a shot of Güfity which is a mixture of herbs soaked in rum which they claim has healing properties for all sort of ailments. I enjoyed the taste of it but even I have to admit it’s an acquired taste.
After our meal the various craftsmen of the village came around with their wares to try to make a sale. Most of what they offer is made of shells, coral (even the endangered Black Coral) and turtle shell. For the Garifuna there is no conservation issue since they only take what they need to survive and for the small amount of tourists that come every year.
When we went onboard to head to our next destination we ran into a minor technical problem. One of the hydraulic lines for the outboard engines had ruptured and without it there was no steering capability. After trying to improvise a solution on site, Ray decided to go to the Marine Park offices to see if they had something to help cap off his lines. To get there Ray would use two engines occasionally reversing one to correct course all the way back to Cayo Menor. Once there they went about trying to do the repairs which took a little longer than expected. Once we were all done and aboard again it was about 3 pm and Ray asked if we all still wanted to go to a second snorkelling spot. We all responded in the affirmative and so we headed to Cayo Grande and Pelican Point. We tied up at a dock where there used to be a medical clinic run by an NGO. I don’t know what became of the operation and no one seemed to know.
This time we all headed out snorkelling on our own and I explored further out then anyone. The corals here are magnificent and healthy as well. There are beautiful formations and sandy bottoms that thought to myself would be well worth diving one day. I did notice that Pelican Point is one of the recommended dive sites to do in Cayos Cochinos. The fish were pretty similar as what I found in Cayo Timón but I did see a Porcupine fish, lots of Silversides and a very cute Juvenile French Angelfish. Once we were done it was about 4 o’clock and time to head back to Roatan.
Since we were leaving a little later than we probably would have had we not had mechanical difficulties the trip home was a little bumpier. As the day goes on the winds and currents always pick up in the gulf between the mainland and the Bay Islands. Everyone except Leanne and I moved to the rear of the boat. I would say that for those that get really seasick, some Dramamine is an absolute must have, especially for the trip back. After an hour we were back in Roatan and dropped off most of the guests at Infinity Bay and then back to West End where it all started. A truly memorable experience and one that I highly recommend to all visitors to Roatan!