Top Dive Island: Roatán

Roatán is one of the most laid-back of the Caribbean islands, which, when you think about it, is quite an accomplishment. But should you find yourself contemplating this fact from a beach-edge stool at Sundowners Bar (and you definitely should), don’t think too hard. Simply find a place and listen in on the local instructors as they drop dive secrets and tall tales.

Roatán Highlight

Make the day trip to Cayos Cochinos and its famed football-field-size seamounts. They attract reams of sea life and the possibility of seeing huge hammerheads. Pelican Point also has terrific swim-throughs.

Roatán rests mellowly upon the southern reaches of the 340-mile Mesoamerican (Belize) Barrier Reef, the world's second-longest. More than 150 species of coral and 300 species of fish are found here, from the waddling juvenile cowfish no bigger than your thumb tip to decidedly larger whale sharks that occasionally pass through. There are great wrecks too, thanks to the pirates who once trafficked in these waters as well as the reefs' willingness to embrace its share of poor navigators. These reefs, as well as the island's spectacular walls, are reached by the boating equivalent of a good spit. And so, clambering aboard a dive boat headed from Coco View Resort to Mary's Place (one of Roatán's signature dives), the captain will even announce that you're in for a 10-minute ride, causing the distinguished Englishman seated beside you (the world comes to dive here, which is half the fun) to raise a bemused eyebrow as well as comment, "Well, that's quite a trip." — Ken McAlpine

Travel Tip: Visit Punta Gorda, Roatán's oldest village (established in 1796). Ride the treetop zip line through Gumbalimba Park, hire a water taxi at the Oak Ridge dock and tour the mangroves on your way to the small town of Jonesville.

When to Go: Year-round, but Roatán does have a rainy season (between the months of October and February), which can turn waters murky with runoff.

Getting There: Continental Airlines and TACA offer direct flights from Houston to Roatán (RTB). Delta offers a direct flight from Atlanta, Georgia, and TACA offers direct flights from Miami, Florida.

Dive Conditions: Winter water temps average 78°F and rise to a balmy 84°F in summer. Visibility ranges from 60 to 100 feet.

Operators/Accommodations: Anthony's Key Resort (www.anthonyskey.com); CoCo View Resort (www.cocoviewresort.com).