Getting back to scuba diving after nearly 20 years caused me a little bit of paranoia. I remembered how much I loved diving, and always wanted to do it again, but it just never worked out properly for me.
Getting to Roatan, Honduras, I was excited to get at least one dive in over the 10 days I would be spending there.
Without being too detailed, here are facts about the incredible Octopus Dive Centre, in Sandy Bay, a minute’s walk from where I was staying in Roatan.
all divers will pay a $10 fee for the Roatan Marine Park, which goes towards the preservation of the reef. Many hotels or resorts include this in their price. Make sure you get your white bracelet.
Costs are about $35/dive with your PADI, $80/dive without
all of the courses are offered, so you can certified while you are there. The whole course to get your certification, including the “classroom” component, is about $300
all of the dive masters there are absolutely incredible. They are super friendly, and after diving with them even just once, they will remember you, and wave or make small talk every time they come across you.
Danny made me and my friends feel very comfortable and confident in our skills. He gave us the Discover Scuba run down, and patiently waited in the water while we mastered all of our basic skills. In the water, he was a great leader, always taking the time to ensure we were all good, and pointing out some of the incredible reef wildlife we may have missed. He always had a sense of humour, and was a tremendous guide.
On our second dive, even though most people were going to the site we had been to on our first dive, they made a special stop so that we could do a drift dive, and not have to dive the same place twice
they will sumbit information to the PADI website, if you are interested in getting certified later, so that it knocks off a couple of your dives needed for certification later.
there is a 19% charge to pay with a credit card.
the dive shop is right next to a very good restaurant/bar on the beach. Great lobster there.
the rental gear is all very good, and they make sure everything fits properly and that you are comfortable
all dive groups are very small, with 1-3 people going with their own guide. You don’t have to worry about being in a massive group, just trailing after one another in the water.
they were so great, I wish I had done more than 2 dives with them
the reef waters in Roatan are incredibly clear, and they are extremely active with sea life. We saw a ton of different creatures, and a lot of them. Never saw an eagle ray, but I guess that will be for next time.
I would recommend Octopus with my highest approval rating. They really did make diving a comfortable, and crazy fun experience. They love their jobs, and they want you to have a great a time as possible. There are definitely lots of options in Roatan for diving, with the endless number of dive sites around the island, and there is no shortage of dive shops in West End, to be sure. But I was incredibly happy that I went with Octopus, and not just because they were right down the beach for me. They made a great experience incredible.
Choosing a great vacation rental is always touch and go. You are relying heavily on the pictures that you can find online, and the reviews of the people who have stayed there before. It is tough to choose, especially since most of them seem so great, and you end up weighing your priority list against other things, make up your mind, change it, and do it all over again. Until you make up your mind. Scanning through all the properties on VRBO can become an obsessive journey.
On my first journey to Honduras, we would be staying on the incredible Roatan island, the most popular spot for travelers to the Central American country. We had our list of things we wanted in our vacation rental, and spent a couple of weeks pouring over the options, eventually whittling it down to a few. From there, we finally decided on a place called Casa Cowee, located in the Sandy Bay area of Roatan, near to Anthony’s Key Resort and their dolphin enclosure.
Casa Cowee seemed to hit all the right boxes when we chose it. It looked to be quiet and private, it was far enough away from the town of West End that it wouldn’t be a busy place, and we could enjoy some relaxation, but it was also close enough that we could easily get to the restaurants and bars on the main drag. It looked modern and pretty luxurious, but with a bit of a rustic feel, not making it like a regular condo or house one would find in their home town, but something with a little bit of charm. It had A/C in every room (more on that), and was five steps from the ocean. Sounds perfect.
Overall, Casa Cowee was an awesome place to rent. After spending 10 days there, it felt like home, and it was somewhere that I truly loved being. The location, despite its issues, was kind of perfect.
In the end, I would go back to Casa Cowee. Now that I know everything about it. But there were several things that we didn’t really know about, or find out about, until we got there. Things that didn’t at all affect the overall enjoyment of our vacation, but would have been good to know about beforehand. I’ll go through some of the perks of the place, and the down sides, along with hints for people who may be renting this awesome property in the future. I want to be fair in my assessment, because there is so much for people who are interested in renting to pour through. I want to be comprehensive, and mention some of the things that we loved, and some of the things that we found to be a nuissance (regardless of how small or arbitrary it may seem), because I hope that this can help someone else choose their place for a vacation. It is tough to be picky on a place that I really loved staying, but it’s needed.
The location. Casa Cowee is in Sandy Bay, within view of the dolphin enclosure belonging to Anthony’s Key Resort. It is awesome to be able to see the dolphin shows from your porch. Down the beach the other way are a couple of bar/restaurants, and the excellent Octopus Dive Center, which we used for our scuba excursions, and absolutely loved it. The location is off the beaten path a little bit, as you will notice on your drive in to the place. It would be kind of tough to find on your own, so it was nice that we were picked up at the airport to get there (it actually costs $50 extra to be picked up from, and driven back to, the airport). Being out of the way, you definitely get to avoid the tons of tourists that come to the island, and get to feel like you have your own little piece of it.
The bad part about the location. You are at least 3 miles from West End. Which means you won’t be walking there, especially at night. The cab ride is not terribly expensive to get there (if you can find a cab, which isn’t terribly difficult, if you walk to Anthony’s Key or behind the dive shop), but is not something that you would want to be forking over for every day. If you are looking for more nightlife, I would recommend staying in town, instead of down here. There are bars that are close enough walks along the beach (like, a couple of minutes away only), but if you are looking for a big party scene, Sandy Bay is not where it is at. Also, for things like groceries, you are limited to a couple of hidden stores in the area, where you can wander through the flea-infested dogs to get into them, and take your chances with the food inside. We had good luck with them, as we ran out of basics like bread and beer a couple of times, and used these local joints to stock up once again. I liked these places, because they definitely feel like Honduras. Dilapidated houses, strange selection of products, random way of calculating prices. Felt like travel.
The house has its own private dock, from which you can enjoy swimming in the ocean at any time of day. Except there is nothing private about the dock, aside from a sign that says “Privado” over it. The dock is used extensively by the locals, and is by far the most popular gathering space along the whole beach, probably because there is a significant amount of water that has a sandy bottom. The locals are mostly all friendly, and it is fine sharing with them. The dock is basically there as a place to soak up some sun and leave a couple of things while you swim in the bathwater warm ocean. But the noise gets annoying. Screaming children lasts most of the day. And some of the night. There were times when there were close to 40 people using the dock, making it less fun to be a part of, and definitely not making it private, as it is advertised. There are times when you can have it to yourself, usually in the day before 2PM, after which it is invaded by school-aged kids, and occasionally their parents as well. The owner told us that it was usually busy on Sundays, but really, it was busy every day we were there.
If you are a beach person, there really isn’t a great option in from of Casa Cowee, as the beach serves as a road. We spent most of our time on the balcony, however, so I was fine with this.
The snorkeling in front of Casa Cowee is exceptional. There are tons of dive and snorkel spots around the island, but you can save yourself lots of money by staying here. It is really easy to swim out to the reef, where you get great views of the sea life. It is always clear views in the water, and it is shallow enough that it is always safe. You don’t even need fins to enjoy it out there, or need to be a particularly strong swimmer, since you float easily in the salt water. We snorkeled nearly every day, to rave reviews every day.
It is advertised as having air conditioning in every room. In the main house, there is AC in the bedroom. But not for the loft area. If you want to use it, you will be charged $75 extra. There are ceiling fans, but the one in the main room does nothing for the person sleeping in the loft. We went 10 days without AC, during the hottest part of the year. This lead to a couple of terrible sleeps, but we got pretty used to it. There is generally decent breezes that come through the house, which has windows literally everywhere, but you need to rely on these breezes to cool you off. If it is a windless night, prepare to sweat, and not sleep a lot. I think there is AC in the room in the nearby tree house, however. I was extremely disappointed upon first inspection of the rooms, as I would be sleeping in the loft, and was expecting some nice, cool nights, at a time of year when the temperature only drops to about 28 Celcius during the night. I am not a warm weather sleeper, but I was forced to get used to it. The breezes feel great, and there were nights that I slept incredibly well. But it would have been nice to have the AC that we thought we were getting from the ad on VRBO. It would also be great if the owner bought a couple of standing fans, as having a constant breeze would have gone a long way in helping with the heat and humidity. I can see this not being a problem during the colder months, but August is hot, plain and simple.
The noise. I was hoping for a quiet getaway, where I could lounge and read books. But Casa Cowee has its share of noise, not all that can be controlled. During the day, there is a pretty constant noise from the dock, of kids swimming and screaming (why do kids always need to scream? I don’t get it). That’s fine, as it is kind of the sounds of summer, and it wasn’t obnoxious enough to ruin our lazy days that we would spend in lounge chairs and hammocks. At night, you can sometimes hear the soothing waves (they are never big, and the water is always calm as the waves are broken by the reef), which help to lull you into sleep. Or you can hear the incessant barking of dogs. At all hours of the night. For hours at a time. I don’t know where these specific dogs were, but they were loud, and they could easily wake you up from whatever slumber you were managing to get in the heat. At times you could ignore the barking, but other times it was close to driving us insane. There are also a decent amount of cars that drive in front of the house on the beach, at all hours, and noisy locals wandering around, sometimes with impressive volume. Casa Cowee, for as great as it is, is not really quiet.
The guys who work on the property, Johnny and James, are great. They are willing to help out with whatever you need. They will drive you into town, or take you to an excursion, and all you need to do is call them. James was particularly helpful, even helping us procure some fresh fish (note: getting a massive barracuda was perhaps our best purchase. For $25, we got a beast of a fish, that fed us for many massive meals, and it was absolutely delicious. Plus, saying you are eating barracuda is pretty cool).
The house itself. In the pictures, it looks like a semi-rustic, semi-modern place. It is more rustic than anything, and really, it is like a summer cabin. It sort of surprised us at first, but we definitely loved it. Nothing is really as new as it looks in the pictures, as the couches are worn down, there are some holes or missing planks on one of the decks, and it is not nearly as big as it looks in pictures. But we really liked this place, as we did not want a modern condo, but instead something that was at least a little bit Honduran. Casa Cowee gives an impressive look from the beach, as its strange pyramids stand out among the trees. It looks awesome. The decks here are fantastic. There is a sun deck along one side of the house, which gets sun for the majority of the day. The best part, and the place where most of our time was spend, was the covered main deck, overlooking the ocean and dolphins. It was perfect, with table and chairs, and a couple of comfy hammocks in which to nap and spend lazy days. Really, Casa Cowee is worth it for this deck. The bathroom here is pretty good, quite spacious, and with a decent shower that always had some warm water (not terribly hot, but we didn’t care for hot water). The kitchen is pretty well equipped with dishes, cutlery and cooking pots and pans. We didn’t find wanting for any appliances. The gas stove works well, and there is a microwave that gets the job done for most of your cooking needs.
Things you need to buy on your trip in. Whoever picks you up at the airport will stop at a grocery store for you, where you can load up with supplies for your stay in Sandy Bay. I would recommend taking advantage of this, as there is not much selection from the mini places near the house, and eating out for every meal would prove to get incredibly expensive. There were several things we would have liked to know about, but we kind of lucked out in the end, and it all worked out. It would be great to have a list of basics that you need to pick up, to make your stay more enjoyable. Here are a few off the top of my head: matches to light the BBQ and the stove, briquettes for the BBQ (don’t expect there to be any leftovers when you get there), lighter fluid for the BBQ (a must-have, getting briquettes going without it is impossible, we lucked out and there was still some there), coffee filters if you want to make pots of coffee instead of using the French press, spices (there are some spices there, but they are pretty old and stuck together from the humid air, this includes the salt and pepper), cooking oil, bug spray (the sand fleas, or noseeums, are pretty incessant, and the mosquitos will sneak attack you in your sleep!), dish soap, hand soap (there was some of both there, but not much, and I don’t know if the supply is updated that often…better safe than sorry to bring your own), dish scrubber, ice (if you are making your own drinks, it would be nice to have clean ice), any condiments you like. These things, plus your regular groceries, will help ensure that you have the things you need for your trip.
Water. Clean water is provided, but we got 2 small jugs for our 10 days. We ran out. It costs $5 extra if you want more. It seems a tad ridiculous that you need to pay for fresh water in a place. Maybe that is being picky, but I think you should get all the fresh water you need, within reason.
Money. Bring cash! US or Honduran money! Make sure you do your exchanging before entering Honduras, as there is no place (even in the airport) that will exchange Canadian money. This left us cash poor for the entire trip, which was a massive struggle. The only bank machines are in West End, so be prepared. Credit cards don’t work everywhere, and for the small stuff, cash is a must. Also, paying with credit cards often incurs a massive 19% fee.
The ocean. Incredible. Steps from the house. Incredibly warm (30 degrees Celcius when we dove), and peaceful. There are no waves to speak of, and you can simply float around to your heart’s content.
The amenities. There are two kayaks to use on the property, which is awesome. They are fun, and easy to use. There is also access to all the snorkel gear you may need, such as fins. We brought our own masks and snorkels, but the fins came in handy.
The tree house. It is possible to rent the whole property, but we couldn’t afford that, so there were other people staying in the small tree house. It is very close to the main house, but is still private, as you don’t have to listen to their conversations all the time. It was quite nice, and there were very nice people staying there the whole time. The great and useful outdoor shower is in front of the tree house.
My first trip to Honduras was amazing, and it is absolutely a place I would go back to. Casa Cowee, despite having some issues, was also a great place to stay. I would recommend it to anybody, as long as they know what some of the problems are, and are able to be prepared for their trip. I loved the feeling of it being a summer cabin, and in the end, despite the noise, I loved the location. Sandy Bay was the perfect choice for us, and what we were looking for in our vacation. There is still some work to be done on this house to make it the perfect vacation house. For us, by the end of the trip, it had become home, and none of us wanted to leave.
I would recommend Casa Cowee for anyone who is looking for a more secluded place to stay on Roatan, away from it all, but still within proximity to certain amenities (like dolphin excursions and scuba diving) that make a trip to Honduras memorable.