What a difference a decade makes.
I first visited Co Co View about nine years ago. Eight years later, when I was thinking about where to plan a Fall dive trip, I dredged my memory of my 2001 trip and weighed the pros and cons. Pros: An amazing and convenient shore dive, unquestionably the best single shore dive in the Caribbean region; good value and all-inclusive; and a very reasonable single-supplement price for solo travelers. Cons: Sand fleas and Mosquitoes; somewhat gloomy and dated rooms; middling quality boat dives; and complicated air routing to Roatan. After I discovered that there were now direct flights to Roatan on major US carriers, the balance shifted toward the positive, and a very attractive travel package including air on Delta sealed the deal. I have to say that my fondness for the convenience and freedom of a great house reef had me leaning toward Co Co View even before I found out you could get there without suffering at the hands of TACA airlines to get to San Pedro Sula and then breaking out the wallet yet again for a puddle jumper over to the island.
For the first time in a long while my brother was able to get away from work and join me on a dive trip, a refreshing change for someone accustomed to traveling solo most of the time. Because of my vicious snoring we both sprung for single accommodations, which at CocoView means paying a very reasonable single supplement fee. Once he had paid and couldn’t back out, I called him and proceeded to lower his expectations for the trip to prepare him for the possible realities of Honduras dive travel. First, we were traveling smack dab in the middle of both hurricane season and the rainy season, so be prepared for possible heavy rain and tropical storms. Second, bring a bucket of DEET and bathe in it as soon as the airplane door opens, and again each morning before cracking the door of your room. Third, and I know this stung my professional-chef brother the most; expect plenty of food, but nothing particularly tasty. For him, I know that one hurt the worst.
Our trip to Honduras was scheduled for October 23, 2010. Unfortunately, Hurricane Richard’s trip to Honduras turned out to be scheduled for October 24, 2010. We decided Roatan was not big enough to handle Richard, Mike, and Ben all the same week, so we coughed up the $300 each to reschedule our trip to November 28th. Now we were out of hurricane season, but even more squarely in the middle of monsoon times. Still, it presumably would be vertical rain, and it’s pretty sissified for divers to complain about a little extra water, right? Right.
We flew out of Washington National Airport, and got to experience the enhanced security and body scan first hand (I chuckled to myself a little when I wrote “first hand”). Not much to it - at my age I’ve suffered enough indignities at the hands of doctors that a little impromptu public nudity isn’t going to bother me nearly as much as the poor TSA employee who has to look at the screen. One thing to note, though, is that when they say “take everything out of your pockets”, they mean take EVERYTHING out of your pockets. I left a couple of foam earplugs in my pants pocket and earned some extra TLC from the TSA agent. I resisted the impulse to turn my head and cough.
Most travelers know that after all the planning and sweating and shlepping to get ready for a trip, the true realization of being “on vacation” really doesn’t set in until the plane is rolling down the runway. It’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it? For the past several years, though, crowded planes and surly flight attendants and kung-fu battles for overhead bin space kind of take the shine off the experience. But we were flying on Delta, and it was, for a change, a quite pleasant experience.
First, Delta is allowing 2 checked bags free on international flights. Second, the planes were only half to 2/3 full, so we scored exit row seats with empty adjoining seats on all four flights. Third, Delta is promoting their new in-flight WIFI system, and everyone on board got free WIFI as long as we were over land. Ahhh.
After a stop off in Atlanta, and a smooth landing on Roatan, we could see the Co Co View rep waiting for us on the other side of passport control, and as soon as we cleared he directed us to the correct luggage carousel (although we would have had 50% odds if we were guessing) and instructed us to identify our bags and put them in a pile with the other group of about 12 resort guests who were on our flight. We held onto our carry on bags, and boarded a Co Co View transport bus, and before we even got settled in, all our luggage had been loaded onto a truck and was speeding ahead of us to the landing.
ďLandingĒ, you say? Yes, Co Co View is actually a small islet nestled among the mangroves of Roatanís near shore area. So anything going to or from Co Co View does so by boat, and after witnessing a heart stopping near-accident as in impatient local tried to pass our bus and narrowly missed a head on collision with an oncoming truck, we both kind of wished we could have taken a boat the whole way.
CocoView Boat Dock
Open air, but screened in dining area
Our luggage was already stowed on one of the spacious dive boats when we arrived at the landing, and shortly we were slowly motoring across the narrow strait to Co Co View. After docking, the group was directed to the restaurant area for room assignments and paperwork, then off to the rooms to settle in and wait for the luggage to be delivered. All of this was very efficiently handled to make the transit easy and fast for guests.
For any guests of the resort that have not visited within the last 5 years, an orientation shore dive is required before you are cleared for any diving, and the orientation dive is scheduled for 9:00 AM the day following your arrival. This translates into no diving until the next day, and missing the morning boat dives for the orientation. Since our flight arrived at 1:00 island time my brother and I asked about getting the orientation taken care of early so we could get the party started, and found that you could hire a DM for $10 per diver to conduct the orientation at any time. That was a no-brainer, and less then three hours after touchdown in Honduras we were below the surface of the warm Caribbean sea and finning out to the famous Co Co View Shore Dive.
For the folks who have not visited either Co Co View or Fantasy Island (which is located across the bay from Co Co View and shares access to this dive), the shore dive here really deserves the reputation. No other single resort shore dive that Iím aware of in the world has the topographical variety of this dive.
Aerial photo of CocoView
Top view diagram of the resort and the shore dive.
The Co Co View dive dock is a series of bays containing gear storage lockers. Each bay is open on two sides, one side leading to the dive boat you have been assigned for the week, the other to the rinse tanks, showers, and a pathway across the resort to the gently sloping sandy entry for the shore dive. For shore dives, you grab a tank, gear up completely except for fins, and walk to the water. Once in, you wade 150 feet or so along a pathway worn clear of the turtle grass to a permanent swim platform, then submerge and follow a route marked by a chain on the bottom with plastic bottles tied to the chain and floating above. The chain leads you to a sloping drop-off, and when you reach 20 feet you have the option to make a left turn and explore Co Co View Wall, a lovely deep and steep wall that extends along the shoreline for a distance too great to explore on a single tank.
If you elect to follow the chain straight ahead, you will arrive at the wreck of the Prince Albert, a 120 foot freighter sunk in 1987 as an artificial reef. The PA is in about 65 feet of water, very well encrusted with coral, harbors many marine critters, and is completely safe for penetration and exploration of its inside rooms and chambers.
This lovely ocean view from my brotherís room shows the path divers follow from shore, past the gazebo, and out to the beginning of Co Co View Wall
Crossing over the deck to the port side of the Prince Albert and moving astern for about 40 feet, you will pick up yet another chain/bottle pathway, which leads to Newmans Wall, another fine wall dive which is noticeably different in structure and form to Co Co View Wall. If that isnít enough, when you return from Newmanís wall, you can swim out in front of the Prince Albert and find yet another wreck, an old and nearly disintegrated DC-3 airplane in shallow water.
Our orientation dive consisted of a quick buoyancy check and a guided tour of the shore dive, and 40 minutes later we were fully oriented and cleared to dive. We waded back to shore, rinsed and stowed our gear, and went to our rooms to finish unpacking. It was soon time for dinner.
The standard package at Co Co View includes lodging, round trip transportation to and from the airport, unlimited shore diving plus two boat dives a day, and all meals and soft drinks. When I last visited Co Co View, I remembered basic and filling meals, but as we sat down to eat after raiding the buffet, we were both surprised as how good the food tasted. Each night there is a seafood and meat dish entrťe offered, along with fresh salads, sides, and yummy desserts. The seafood was usually some form of shrimp or fish fillet, and the meat ranged from roast pork and beef to poultry. Where most all-inclusive resorts offer a bewildering array of food choices and attractive presentations, Co Co View concentrated on reliable and savory home cooked dishes like the food Mom made for you, if you were lucky enough to have a mom who was a really good cook. In short, the food was simple, plentiful, and consistently delicious. Iíll take this food any day over the expansive but bland and middling buffets of the Iberostar or Occidental resorts.
After dinner we geared up and made the first of our five night shore dives. Night boat dives are not routinely offered at CocoView, but can be arranged upon request. However, I canít think of a good reason to hire a boat and a guide for a night dive with the amazing Co Co View front yard only a few steps away. With the possible exception of the pier dives of Bonaire, Iím not aware of a better night dive anywhere in the Caribbean, much less one that more easily accessed and inexpensive.
The Co Co View night dive system is simple and unique. At the dive shop is a board with a submersible strobe light and 24 numbered tags with brass clips. If the strobe light is on the board, then nobody is night diving at the moment, so you grab the strobe and a tag, and sign out. When you reach the drop off there is a chain from the ocean bottom to a buoy near the surface, and you attach the strobe and your tag to the chain at about 15 fsw. The strobe acts as a navigation beacon back to the start of the dive, and also alerts the staff if there are divers in the water for an unusual amount of time.
Subsequent divers just grab a tag and attach it to the strobe as they begin their dive. When you complete your dive, you retrieve your tag, and if your tag is the only one attached you bring the strobe back to the shop. If there are other tags, you leave the strobe. Pretty clever, eh?
In fact, ease, convenience, and refinement describe the Co Co View experience from top to bottom.
Day boat dives are sorted to a degree that would shame some live-aboard dive vessels. Groups of divers are assigned to specific boats, and your boat is moored directly in front of the gear lockers. If you plan to be on the next boat dive, you attach a wooden tag to your locker, which alerts the staff to load your gear on board, and, if you like, set it up completely for you. The staff did a great job of handling my quirky rig and they all went out of their way in general to be friendly and accommodating.
The boats are roomy, comfortable, and well outfitted, with adequate storage below each seat and PVC tank holders set up so you donít need to be Houdini to gear up and get to the water. Camera tables and rinse buckets are provided, with separate rinse facilities for masks. These boats are unique in that they all feature an alternate underwater entrance in the center of the vessel to make rough water boardings less dramatic, but we found these entrances to be tricky and the ladder steep and a bit hard to manage. Of course, we didnít experience any rough water that week or else that entrance might have looked much more appealing.
The boats leave promptly at 8:30 AM and 2:00 PM each day, and the imminent departure is announced by a clanging bell easily heard inside the rooms, over the air conditioner, and through a deep nap. Each boat trip begins with a dive on a nearby reef, followed by a brief surface interval and a drop-off at the beginning of either house wall or on the wreck of the Prince Albert. On the second dive (if you choose to partake) you enjoy a leisurely one-way tour of part of the Co Co View shore dive, and end up back at the dive locker whenever your computer, SPG, or hungry stomach tells you itís time. On all boat dives a DM is in the water and you can take advantage of his guide services if you like, or you can strike off on your own. It was suggested that we not venture below 100 feet, but that was the extent of the ďrulesĒ and I didnít see even that one being strictly adhered to. There is no time limit on the dives beyond the courtesy you would extend to the other divers on board waiting.
Unlimited Nitrox costs $100 for the week, full tanks are only a few steps from the lockers, and O2 analyzers and log sheets are kept in the storage area for each boat. We caught a few short fills and some low test Nitrox before they made it onto the boat, but for the most part we found reliable 32% and 3000 psi fills. The dock crew kept plenty of full air and Nitrox tanks ready, and they filled my 13 cu. Ft. pony tank without question or charge.
The few, but serious concerns I had about Co Co View were melting away by day two. Back in í01, I learned quickly that if I didnít splash on a generous coat of DEET when I was walking about the resort, I was going to be mauled by ďno see umsĒ, the pernicious sand fleas of Roatan. The bite of these tiny critters is almost imperceptible at first, but they leave a very distinctive red circle on your skin, and some people react with itching and swelling. At first I wore DEET religiously, but once or twice I forgot, and was only bitten a couple times. I believe that Co Co View must be treating the pathways for insects now, and much of the resort is accessed by raised wooden walkways which acts as a barrier to the sand fleas. Also, at the entrance to every building is a footwash basin containing some sort of repellant, which helps keep the little monsters outside where they belong. After a while I stopped bothering with the DEET during the day and remained for the most part unscathed, but I did lather up in the evenings and at night to ward off the mosquitoes. There are reports of Malaria on Roatan, so it is wise to take precautions against mosquito bites and to take appropriate Malaria meds when visiting the island. We did.
The rooms have also been spruced up quite a bit since my last visit. While basic in dťcor, the rooms are very spacious, and have what you need, as long as you donít need a television or phone. The beds are extremely comfortable, and the water views are scrumptious whether you have chosen an over water cabana (surcharge added) or an oceanfront room. But by far the biggest improvement is powerful, ice cold AC in every room. Even my polar bear brother had to say ďuncleĒ and set the thermostat a few degrees above the lowest setting.
Drinking the tap water is not recommended, but each room is equipped with a five-gallon bottle of filtered water, which is refilled as needed, for free. This was a nice touch that any tropical dive venue might consider adopting. Since each room has a small fridge, you can keep drinking water and other beverages ice cold.
No, wait, almost forgot about the diving!
Juvenile French Angelfish
Close up of a garden eel, courtesy of my 100mm macro lens
Redbanded Shrimp foraging for food around a scallop.
Back side view of a Flamingo Tongue snail
Getting involved with underwater photography really changes how one looks, literally, at any given underwater landscape. When you are looking for something interesting or alluring to photograph, you see things you would miss otherwise. When I visited Roatan ten years ago, it was during my pre-photographer days, and I recall the diving as beingÖwellÖaverage. Not bad, not 5 star. Vis was average, crittersÖaverage. During this trip, though, I might as well have been diving a different ocean.
Completely contrary to my recollection of my last trip, I found the dive sites around and near Co Co View to be unusually dense with animal life. Most of the dives we did were unguided, and even without the expert eye of a local guide we located interesting creatures by the bucketful. Animals that can be elusive in some of the better-known Caribbean critter locations such as Bonaire and Dominica were plentiful here. We spotted reef squid on almost every dive, and every night we observed multiple octopuses out in the open, ignoring our glaring lights while taking care of octopus business. Of course, squid and octopus are not rare, but seeing them this often was unusual.
Three shots of a Caribbean Reef Octopus hunting during one of our many night dives.
Stalking, pursuing, and tenting over the victim to prevent escape.
As a diver who has logged a fair number of hours diving the Caribbean, Iím always excited to see something new, but that doesnít happen very often these days. So finding at least four creatures Iíve never laid eyes on before was beyond my highest expectations for this trip.
On dives when I selected a 100mm Macro lens, I concentrated on the tiniest of the reef inhabitants. Along with the many usual residents, the creatures I found that were new to my eyes included two crabs, a colorful whip coral shrimp, and an uncommon Nudibranch inching his way across the floor of an interior room of another Roatan shipwreck, the Mr. Bud. Following are photos of the four, with thanks to Keri and Les Wilks of Reefnet for IDís on the three crustaceans.
Juvenile Black Coral Shrimp
Red Ridged Clinging Crab
Ceratophyllidia Papillagera Nudibranch - common name unknown.
Speck Claw Decorator Crab
And the most exciting find was not an entirely new animal. In all my diving Iíve gotten one quick glimpse of a Viper Moray under the Customs Pier in Bonaire. But on my 4th night dive, I finally found one on Co Co View Wall that was bold enough to hang around and pose for a couple photos, and then slipped into a hidden recess of the coral structure and disappeared for good.
Larger reef fish noticeably less numerous than other creatures there. We saw few groupers and only a handful of larger fish, clearly sustenance fishing is affecting the edible fish populations here as at all other inhabited islands in the region, but there were still good numbers of smaller schooling fish and the reefs were teeming with tiny Basslets, Gobies, Blennies, and varieties of cleaner fishes. Lionfish have populated the Roatan reefs in great numbers; we saw them on every dive.
One of the dozens of lionfish we spotted over the week.
Arrow Blenny, about ĺ inch.
Black Cap Basslet
These tiny but very common reef fish are not in my ID books.
I donít want to give the impression that there were only small animals to be seen at Co Co View. We did find two Nurse Sharks lazily napping on the bottom, with agitated Ramoras nearby who didnít seem to appreciate the layover. A couple beefy Barracudas allowed us to approach closely, and on the final dive of the week we were just reaching the end of Newmanís wall and ready to cross the sand flats to the Price Albert when my brother spied an Eagle Ray gliding past us in the opposite direction. I reversed course and slipped around a coral head to intersect its path and got one shot of him before he accelerated and left me behind, smiling.
Spotted Eagle Ray
An irritated Remora on the rough sandpaper skin of a dozing Nurse Shark.
And I mustnít forget my brotherís large creature encounter. Mid week, we were inside the Prince Albert when I felt a hand on my arm and turned to see two bulging eyes staring at me, which happened to be behind the glass of my brotherís mask. His emphatic hand signs seemed to indicate he had been eaten and expelled by a Great White Shark, but later on at the surface he confirmed that he had enjoyed a face-to-face meeting with the huge resident Green Moray that lurks the shadowy hidden spaces of the wreck. It seems that the immense eel had snuck up on him from behind and passed nearly under his arm. His first reaction was to exit the room. His immediate second reaction was to exit the room through a door. That worked.
Make note that you are never diving alone in the Prince Albert. Be sure to let your buddy know about the toothy inhabitant.
On second thought, never mind about that warning. I donít think the event would have been nearly as entertaining had he known ahead.
Beefy Channel Clinging Crab, just hanging out.
Face close up of above crab.
A Lobster Cha Cha on a night dive.
Feisty Ocellate Swimming Crab, ready to fight.
Sponges, Coral, and Sea Fans fighting for real estate on the reef.
Beautiful tunicate cluster.
As I have described here, the concerns I had about Co Co View diminished quickly as the week wore on. The new owners have really done a fine job taking a dive resort that already had a good reputation and a very loyal client base and improving it further. Getting to Roatan is easier than ever, and once there everything, from the rooms to the staff to the food to the diving itself was even better than I remembered it. We were very lucky and had almost perfect weather despite out visit being in the middle of rainy season. Donít forget to look at the predicted rainfall charts if you are planning a Roatan visit and want to increase your odds of sunny weather.
Co Co View is best described as a land based live-aboard diving experience. My brother and I logged 24 dives each, 5 of which were night shore dives. I checked, and on my last one-week live aboard trip I only logged 23.
By the end of the week we were already very satisfied with every aspect of our stay, so the All-You-Can-Eat Lobster Tail and Filet Mignon dinner (with unlimited free rum punch) that is served every Friday night was just icing on the cake. I canít think of many ways to put an exclamation point on a fine week of diving better than sitting down to a plate full of fresh Lobster and melted butter. Thatís pretty impressive for an All Inclusive.
It wonít be ten years until I go back again.