In November 2016, our family went on a Western Caribbean cruise with nine others. It was a trip of a lifetime, as we all spent a week together on board the ship, the Carnival Breeze. We went out of Galveston, and our ports of call were Cozumel, Belize City and Roatan, Honduras.
I had read the Meso-American barrier reef is one of the best in the world to snorkel in. So my friends and I worked to find a suitable excursion for our day trip. Only three families wished to go snorkeling, the rest were trying their hands at the ziplining that this island is also famous for. We checked with a couple of operators in West Bay. Their responses seemed either too rushed or did not give us adequate comfort to pursue further.
We eventually came across this site called Upachaya. An eco-friendly wellness resort and spa, set at the northern end of the island, nestled among lush jungle, and fronting a dock at the Man O’ War harbor, this piece of property is a perfect getaway. The brain child of Barbara, the owner, who left behind a high pressure corporate lifestyle to create this heavenly bit of real estate, this resort welcomes guests who wish to stay as well as day trippers.
From the start, Barbara was very quick to respond to all our queries, taking the time to detail her answers. She offers pontoon boat snorkeling tours (max 12 people), kayak snorkeling tours (max 10) and paddle board tours (max 4). We chose the pontoon boat tours and had exactly 12 members in our group. We were assigned a boat captain who is PADI Dive Master Certified and a First Mate who is CPR and Water rescue certified.
As I have mentioned in a post before, I am terrified of swimming but no way was I going to be left behind, while the others went looking at the world’s second best reef system! I got adequate assurance from Barbara that the crew would look out for novice swimmers.
Before our trip, Barbara had emailed us detailed instructions on where to meet our driver and how to identify him/her. We landed at the Mahogany Bay port in Roatan and walked outside to the street near the taxi stand. A van was waiting for us with our names and Upachaya listed clearly. We were all able to fit in and were driven to the resort, maybe about 20 mins away.
The resort itself is built beautifully, amidst and in tune with the lush vegetation around it. There were tropical plants and trees, fruit bearing and otherwise, that surrounded the buildings and provided a great canopy from the heat. The resort was built without tearing down any trees. In addition, many other eco-friendly processes are in place here.
Barbara met us at the resort and escorted us down some flights of stairs to the pool area. There is a small shop nearby where one can get drinks or small snacks. We were then introduced to our boat captain, (think his name was Alex or maybe Abel), anyway, I’ll call him Captain A.
Barbara had asked us to make an initial deposit of $28 per person online, using credit cards. The remaining $600 (for 12 people, so total of $78 per person), was paid at the resort. After using the restrooms, which were clean and changing into our swim clothes, we were each fitted with our snorkeling equipment.
The pool and the equipment room are a short distance to the boardwalk that lead past mangrove trees to the dock. There are different species of mangroves here, including black, white and red. The mangroves, as with elsewhere, provide a home for iguanas, various crabs and birds. We tried hard to catch sight of the crabs. Walking all the way down to the dock, we caught sight of our pontoon boat, Upachaya II. There we were introduced to our first mate, a young lad, who seemed quite efficient and knew what he was about.
The captain first gave a description of what to expect and safety instructions. We donned our inflatable snorkeling life vests and carried our snorkeling gear. We were all agog with excitement and trepidation (in my case)! Then Captain A took us all the way out of the pier to our first anchoring spot. The ride here was beautiful, the weather was perfect with beautiful clear skies. But now came the moment of truth, could I actually do this?
The kids were the first out, then the men and they were all enjoying their swim. That left three nervous women on board. One of things Captain A taught us well was how to properly wear the snorkel mask and to relax the jaw. Seemed easy enough then, but several times in the water, I kept biting down on the valve and making it hard for me to breathe. Ugh!!
Once in the water, Captain A pointed out where we had to swim to, and the others started swimming towards the spot. Captain A asked us women to hold on to him, so two held on to his shoulders and one to his back and off we went. For most of the time spent in the first anchor spot, we were mostly attached to the Captain’s extremities, clinging on for dear life (at least that’s how my brain perceived it)!
The beauty of the reef broke through the fear and anxiety clouding my mind and we enjoyed watching colorful fish, coral of all kind, eels etc. Unfortunately, I did not think to pack an underwater camera and we didn’t own a Go Pro then. I have not yet visited the Great Barrier reef but this was a great introduction to reef systems for me.
It was then time to move on to the next anchor spot that was deeper still. So we piled back onto the boat and rode to the next one. Here the Captain ensured that all of us were in the water and then swam a short distance away, trying to ensure everyone in the group got adequate attention and pointing out the marine life. My two friends were nervous but braver than me and launched out on their own. I clung to the side of the vessel for a while, afraid to take the plunge. Until I realized the tour was going on without me, and whether I liked it or not, I had to set out and swim. Eventually, I found the courage to join the others, and enjoyed the remainder of the tour, as best as I could.
Rather quickly, it seemed, as it often does while having fun, it was time to head back to the resort. Once back at the dock, we took turns showering in the outdoor shower and indoor stalls and changed back into dry clothes. We then accompanied Barbara to her thatched roof hut, the Mangrove Center, where she does her Yoga classes and retreats. Made of all natural Honduran materials, it’s completely screened in with wood floors and a thatched roof. Here, we were served a vegetarian meal of rice, beans, salad, chips, salsa and a drink. It was simple and filling!
Post meal, we wandered around a bit enjoying the tranquil settings before it was time to head back to the ship. Our other friends had finished their ziplining and headed to the beach, as it was still early. So we joined them there (I think it may have been West Bay beach). There were dozens of vendors selling local wares like jewelry, hammocks, massages, etc. The children went out on a parasailing excursion which looked fun to us but was a bit nauseating to them. Still, it was all good fun!
In retrospect, I must say we had a wonderful excursion. The whole experience went seamlessly. It was easy to work with Barbara from start to finish. Everything was detailed clearly ahead of time, so we knew what to expect. The crew members were efficient as well as empathetic and made it an enjoyable trip, even for one with my fears and concerns. The other members also enjoyed this trip much, there being something for all age groups. The restrooms and showers were clean and well maintained. The food was restorative. I was very satisfied with our day trip here.
Things to know before you go:
Upachaya Resort in Roatan, Honduras
Available facilities at resort: Suites to stay in, Yoga, spa services, massages, pool, poolbar, snorkeling, paddle boat tours, kayak and snorkel tours.
Total tour time: 4.5 hours from pick up to drop off
Total fees: we paid $78 per person ($28 initial deposit per person payable online by credit card, $50 on site, per person, in cash, USD or Honduran Lempira).
The website currently indicates tours are $58 per person. Price includes transportation to and fro, the excursion, the equipment and one meal. We were asked to carry some extra cash for things like last-minute rashguard, tips, beverages, Honduran coffee, local honey, etc. I think credit cards are now being accepted as well at the gift shop, pl confirm that.
Equipment provided: mask, snorkel, fins, inflatable vest
To protect the reef ecosystem, we were asked to wear PABA free sunscreen and all natural bug repellant. Also, we were instructed not to touch any of the marine life that we came in contact with, as the oils from our pores can be fatal to them.
Various dietary restrictions are accommodated.
If you are on a cruise ship with a Roatan port of call, consider this excursion.