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  • Guanaja's Posada del Sol

    Savor the Tranquility of this Bay Islands Retreat
    While Enjoying World-Class Diving

    BY RICK FREHSEE, May 1997



    'Posada del Sol, Posada del Sol,' the boatman called out from the dock next to the airstrip. I looked at the island's verdant peaks to my right and left. Our twin engine aircraft had just landed on the airstrip in this valley. The 'terminal' was a thatched roof house set off to the side. Moments later we were cruising over a cobalt sea past a jungle choked coast that looked as if it might conceal Jurassic Park.

    On the way we passed a town that rose out of the sea on posts. This was Bonacca, the island's capital, a town that outgrew two tiny cayes, forming a 17 acre stilt village. It was christened a 'little Venice of the Caribbean' by author Jane Houlson (Blue Blaze, 1934).

    Past Bonacca the coast grew even more dense and mysterious. Huge outcrops of volcanic rock jutted between white sand beaches crowded with coconut palms. Behind, lush hillsides arched upward toward pine topped mountains.

    This view of Guanaja, the second largest of the three major Bay Islands of Honduras (between Roatan and Utila), is exactly what Christopher Columbus described during his fourth and final voyage to the New World in 1502. It was while he was anchored off Guanaja (Columbus called it the 'Isle of Pines') that the intrepid explorer encountered a large canoe with its Maya merchant and cargo, often cited as the first European contact with the higher cultures of the Americas. The modern inhabitants are descendants of English, Scottish, Welsh and Caribbean immigrants, with a sprinkling of Mestizos from the mainland.

    Today's Baymen, as the islanders are called, pick and choose from modern civilization. Although their stilt houses are often equipped with TV and PCs, they have shunned roads; transportation is by personal boat or water taxi.

    Just when all signs of human habitation seemed behind us, a Spanish villa peeked out of the greenery. I had been here before and knew what to expect but the other guests onboard were in for a surprise.

    There are basically two kinds of vacation destinations for divers; primitive and developed; each with its advantages and limitations. At Posada del Sol I have found a most pleasant compromise: an island preserved in time, with many miles of wilderness reef tract and a resort that looks as if it popped off the pages of Architectural Digest. I have also found a special brand of service that is more an art form than an obligation.

    Visitors can find this combination of adventure diving and pampering without traveling halfway around the world. Total flight time, from U.S. coastal gateways (New Orleans, Houston and Miami) through Honduras and on to Guanaja, is less than three hours.

    The impression presented by Posada del Sol's mainhouse is of a mansion in the jungle. The handsome two story structure has an exterior of beige stucco, a red-tiled roof with accents and an interior of native hardwoods. Inside is the resort's social focus; a beautiful restaurant with high cathedral ceiling, a charming indoor/outdoor bar, reading and TV lounge, a registration/information desk and a boutique/gift shop. The outdoor patio forms the roof of the beachside guest wing and the floor of the poolside guest wing. A third villa/guest wing is hillside, a short walk away. The wooden patio surrounds a swimming pool and includes an outdoor restaurant for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Guestrooms are spacious and richly appointed with hardwood furnishings, tile floors, marbled bathrooms, slatted windows and ceiling fans. Outside, stone pathways lead through groves of fruit and flower trees, past tennis courts and picnic area, to the marina and dive shop. Also at the marina is guest wet storage, a photo/video shop and a complete workout center. A fleet of well maintained mid-sized boats is poised to take small groups of divers to dive sites.

    Once the private villa of an eccentric millionaire, Posada del Sol was discovered and converted into a complete dedicated dive resort by George Cundiff. A former entrepreneur in the field of commercial diving, Cundiff had previously owned and designed an impressive dive resort in the Cayman Islands. Now, on Guanaja and with Posada del Sol, he had found his personal Shangri-La.

    Guanaja's dive environment is in pristine condition and extremely varied; I can think of no other small Caribbean island that exhibits such a rich variation of undersea topography. The size of the island (12 by 4 miles) is large enough for variety and small enough to easily navigate in a single day. There are two impressive reef tracts, the northern barrier reef and the southern fringing reef, each about four and a half miles long. The northern reef is a nearly solid, continuous formation about a mile offshore. It is interrupted only by four distinctive cuts or channels that lead through the reef to a patch reef dotted lagoon. The southern fringing reef is also nearly continuous, marked by a series of small, striated coconut-crowded islets.

    Dive sites along both coasts are often very dissimilar, even at sites a short distance apart. Underwater panoramas include rolling reefs, shallow sea gardens, spur and groove systems and vertical walls. On the northern reef system, at Black Rock, there is a series of vertical-walled canyons that lace together forming a labyrinth of swim-throughs. Off the east end of the island is a network of smaller, shallower canyons with caverns that often contain schools of baitfish and occasionally, Tarpon or Nurse Sharks. Farther out, off Guanaja's southeast coast, is a number of pinnacles isolated from the main reef that is a kind of marine life oasis in the sea. The deeper reefs often provide encounters with Eagle Rays, schools of jacks, sharks or turtles.

    Ironically, one of Guanaja's most popular and impressive dive sites is a result of human engineering rather than marine biology. The wreck of the Jado Trader lies off the southern coast in 100 feet of water. Nearly whole and intact, the 220 foot island freighter lies on her starboard side on a sand and patch coral bottom. Underwater 10 years now, the wreck has attracted an assortment of marine life, ranging from schools of tiny baitfish to groupers, morays, turtles and a huge Jewfish. Ladders, superstructure, cargo holds and companionways provide access and exploration.

    As we motored back toward shore one late afternoon, I watched the falling sun as it approached the mountains behind Posada del Sol. A great warmth rose within me as I remembered Jane Houlson's description of 'the lovely islands with their wordless peace and savage sunsets' and 'the magic of the reefs like great fire opals.' If one were making a movie about Guanaja, it could logically be divided into various historical periods that would include actors playing discoverers, pirates, kings and adventurers. Through it all, it would be the island and the reefs that would remain the star.

    For more information, write to Posada del Sol, 1201 Highway One, Suite 210, North Palm Beach, FL 33408 or (800) 642-3483, (407) 624-3483. You can send e-mail to posadadel@aol.com.

    Forte Joins Cayman Madness: Forte, a full-line manufacturer of quality scuba diving equipment, has become a full sponsor of Cayman Madness '97.

    Forte's latest lines of regulators, BCs, masks, fins, snorkels and other equipment will be available for use; free; by Madness participants during the six week event, scheduled for September and October 1997.

    Other major sponsors include SKIN DIVER Magazine, Nikon, PADI, Sea Vision Masks, Sport Diver Manufacturing Company, Cayman Airways and the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. All sponsors make major contributions to the enjoyment of visiting divers.

    Cayman Madness is an intensive, exciting, hilarious week-long diving vacation that includes the beautiful walls, wrecks and reefs of Grand Cayman. For reservations or information, contact your local dive shop or call (800) 786-3483.