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February 1998 Vol. 13, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Anthony’s Key, Inn of the Last Resort

Bargains in Honduras

from the February, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Treading water, I reached out and slapped the surface in front of me. Like magic, two dolphins thrust their rostrums (what the unschooled may call a nose) into the palms of my hands. I pushed off from them and they transferred their rostrums to the soles of my feet, propelling me over the top of the water with the explosive force of a human jet ski! It was the fantastic final session of the dolphin specialty course at the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences at Anthony's Key Resort.

While I'm mainly a fan of more exotic diving than Roatan offers, I was attracted to AKR by their two-for-one rate during early December; $1060 for 7- days, including all food, lodging, three dives/day and one night dive. Although Honduras is the least expensive dive venue in the Caribbean, $530/person is dirt cheap - if the weather behaves, which it often doesn't that time of year.

In the last decade, several resorts have sprung up on Roatan - 30+ miles above the Caribbean coast of Honduras - and foreigners are building homes; ocean front land prices have risen 30 percent in one year. AKR is the original resort, and while a few years back readers reported it rundown and unkempt, I was pleased to find its cottages and grounds are now well maintained.

Its unique setting has individual units set in lush tropical foliage, cascading down a cliff to the water. More cottages are a hundred yards offshore on lush Anthony Key, which has the visual allure of a South Seas fantasy. Rap on a dive tank, and an outboard will appear to ferry you to and fro.

My hillside unit was not far from the outdoor dining area and its breathtaking vistas of the bay and islands. Walking to meals was easy, but a trip to the dive area involved three flights of stairs. Meals were enlivened by three brilliant macaws, a parrot, and a cockatoo that perch on the railings; if offered morsels of food, they will grasp them delicately in their claw. The cockatoo sails through the trees in the early morning, then arrives in the rafters above the dining room to entertain guests with a variety of gymnastics.

Don’t Drink the Coffee

While meal service was excellent, the meals themselves were less so. Breakfast starts cafeteria-style with fresh tropical fruits, sometimes still green. The coffee was undrinkable, so I opted for tea (the water was lukewarm but the waiters were happy to nuke it). Waiters take orders for eggs, exotic omelets or pancakes or French toast with bacon or ham. Lunch starts with either soup or salad, followed by chicken or fish with cake, pudding or fruit salad for dessert. Dinner has the same pattern, offering a choice of a meat like beef or pork or a fish (usually grouper), potatoes or rice or macaroni, tarts, cakes or flan to finish off. Seconds or even thirds are available.

“Diving began on a less than
happy note when one of those
December storms produced
enormous swells ... When
trying to get back on the boat,
the violent lunging flung
divers into the side of the boat
or under the ladder.”

I found the dive operation highly efficient, with one-tank trips leaving about 8:30 am, and returning in time for a second trip at 10:30; afternoon dives were at 2:30 and night dives began around dusk at 5:30. Divers are assigned to one of three boats, each with a divemaster and assistant for their entire stay. The locally made boats, which take 16 divers, have benches along the side, but no space underneath, so weight-belts and fins slide underfoot as a result. Aluminum '80's sit in holes in the middle, less convenient than boats stashing tanks behind the divers on the benches. All boats offer oxygen on board and radio communication. A photo shop offers equipment rentals, underwater photo instruction, film, and E-6 slide processing. During my stay a staff member popped up from time to time to video me, hoping to sell me a tape when I departed. I declined.

Anthony’s Key, Inn of the Last Resort

Roatan, Honduras

Diving began on less than a happy note, when one of those December storms produced enormous swells and a few sick divers. At Lighthouse Reef, the 25-foot visibility sapped the color from the reef and in the surge, I had to constantly fiddle with my stuck inflator valve, which constantly refilled my BC, sabotaging my buoyancy. When trying to get back on the boat, the violent lunging flung divers into the side of the boat or under the ladder. Then a downpour soaked my dry clothes. I passed on the afternoon dive, huddling in my room until Happy Hour, where underwater scenes from better days on the Frangipani Bar VCR got my juices flowing once again.

Next day, the sun was out, the water still, my BC operated, and I was ready to dive! Visibility at Half Moon Bay Wall was better than 100 feet, illuminating the brilliant colors and spectacular canyons. Five enormous groupers cruised about, eyeing me. All the typical reef fish appeared: butterflyfish, massive schools of black and blue tangs, queen, black and brown triggerfish, hogfish and resplendent angels. Turtles appeared almost every dive. Once, floating over a rise, I spotted a large turtle reclining by a sponge and flanked by two queen angels, a rock beauty and a porcupine puffer, a wonderful tableau that dissolved just as I readied my camera.

Roatan diving is constantly interesting, but seldom spectacular. Most of my dives were "drift" dives, but the current was so slight that I had plenty of time to explore without losing track of the divemaster, who constantly pointed out interesting critters. We could go off on our own once he realized we knew what we were doing and could be trusted to respect the recommended depths and dive times.

Sometimes divers get lucky and see a whale shark. A local fellow told me that diving alone last week - "shoulda been here last week" - he spent two hours circling one, petting it, sitting on it and taking videos filled a whole tape; in fact, he returned to his boat, reloaded and returned to shoot another. On our boat the staff was alert for signs of whale sharks; we spotted a school of tuna that apparently attract them by stirring up the plankton, but nary a whale shark.

The Inn of the Last Resort

A short ways from AKR, is the charming Inn of the Last Resort, where I went for a dive and inspection. Situated on its own bay and tiny lava rock lagoon of its own, it has a charming, laid back atmosphere, with engaging buildings fitted into and around the natural landscaping. They have thirty new hillside air-conditioned rooms, less rustic and larger than AKR. My partner and I enjoyed a nice meal in their treetop high dining area and bar, which overlooks the lagoon and the diving dock. Anthony’s Key, Inn of the Last ResortA little more local fare than AKR, the repast was beef empanadas, beans-and-rice, salad and flan, along with a local beer.

While the dive boats are similar to those at AKR, they sport space under the benches for gear, tanks behind the divers on the benches, and platforms for camera equipment. With only one other paying customer, the divemaster, Silke, was eager to take us wherever we wanted. (Their location is so near the reef that quick access to lots of spots is possible). We dove "Pillar Coral" which had a series of interlocking pillars at the top of the wall, then narrow canyons running down the wall and bottoming out at various depths. Of course, marine life was similar to other Roatan dives, but the topography was more spectacular. Silke was a fine divemaster, keeping tabs on us without being in the least intrusive and working hard to try to find us interesting creatures and features of the reef. After the dive we rinsed and hung our gear on the dock.

Either resort, I think, is a good choice for the beginning to intermediate diver. Comparable in price, setting, service and diving, you can also take in the dolphin dives too. Perhaps the significant consideration is whether one needs air conditioning, available only in the rooms at Inn. Prices at comparable year round, but the December AKR special was better than anyone had going. But, then you have to watch these months. While I had good weather from the second day on, the morning of my departing flight a major storm descended and all dives were canceled for the day. Good timing!

PS.: A word about no-seeums; the owners at the Inn of the Last Resort said they deliberately avoided having a sand beach to minimize the problem of "no-seeum" sand fleas. I didn't get bit much at AKR, but wind and weather can keep them down as can a lot of DEET and insect spray - but, they're sneaky buggers; after driving in my rental car, I ended with scores of bites from critters harbored inside. For some travelers, they're a serious problem and if you have allergic reactions to insect bites, you might avoid Honduras altogether - which has the worst critters in the Caribbean.

Anthony’s Key, Inn of the Last ResortDIVER'S COMPASS: I made my travel arrangements through Island Dreams in Houston (800) 346-6116 . . . Honduras Air Charters has begun once a week service from Roatan to Miami for $250 round-trip and from Houston (713) 973-9300 . . . other perks at AKR: weekly barbecue picnics, crab races and limbo contest, horseback riding, wind surfing, kayaking, boat trip/picnic to the end of the island, reef critter slide show . . . AKR has a decompression chamber and clinic, staffed by a doctor and on call 24-hour emergency medical services; each diver pays $12 as insurance to operate the facility . . . for local color, walk next door to AKR and the Ocean Cafe, a tiny, attractively primitive place with a small deck and colorful upstairs and downstairs rooms; I enjoyed a beer and conch chowder under an enormous moon.

X.A.

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