The largest of the Honduras Bay Islands, at about 40 miles long, Roatan is located just off the northern coast of Honduras and is trimmed with white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Bordered by the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean, the second largest in the world, Roatan is an underwater paradise with amazing scuba diving and snorkelling along its colourful coral reefs. It offers mild year round climate and ideal sea temperatures.
Both divers and snorkelers are spoiled with common sightings of whale sharks, mantas and dolphins while enjoying the bath like temperature of the clear waters where visibility commonly exceeds 100 feet.
Although there are more than 50 archaeological sites found throughout the Bay Islands, little is known about the very early inhabitants. After 1000A.D, many residential areas were created and these sites are all inland and about 15 metres above sea level, possibly to get away from the annoying sand flies. Most sites have has their belongings taken by fortune hunters but some artefacts can still be seen at the museum at Anthony’s Key Resort in Sandy Bay.
With a very full history including English, French and Dutch pirates having settlements on the islands, and at one time even completely depopulating the islands, tourism is now a major part of the economy but the locals still use fishing as a large source of income. Since the late 1980’s the island has become busier since visitors learned about the reefs, beaches and laid-back culture here. Many stay for a holiday at one of the resorts and cruise ships calls are constantly growing.
The main town of Coxen’s Hole, where the ship tenders into, is the centre for politics and commerce and most visitors don’t remain in the city but instead visit the nearby smaller towns since they are in such close proximity to each other.
The coastal beach area of West End is the main tourism hub on the island with many restaurants offering some of the best dining on Roatan as well as bars and is a place teeming with activity all day and during the night. The locals here are friendly and life moves at a slow pace where you can wander the streets or browsing the small shops.
Water sports are a major part of tourism here with scuba diving being one of the main industries; every large hotel on the island has its own dive centre to teach and rent gear for divers and snorkelers.
West Bay beach is a great place to snorkel, as it is an official marine park and is full of life, not to mention the white sand beach to relax on as well. If snorkelling or diving isn’t your thing and you prefer to stay dry, a glass bottom boat allows you to enjoy the colourful underwater life as the boat glides across the water’s surface.
- Getting around
Taxi’s will be available in Coxen Bay by the tender pier but make sure to agree on a price before entering the taxi and check what currency he is quoting the fare in, US dollars or the local currency of Lempiras.
There is a water taxi that travels from West End to West Bay Beach that will cost about $1.25US.
Renting transportation is also possible with Captain Van’s in West End for mountain bikes, scooters or vans. Caribbean Rent a Car is located near French Harbour and a car for the day will cost approximately $50US.
The public transportation of mini buses or vans run along the main road in Coxen’s Hole, can be flagged down and charge a fare of about $1US on most routes.
There is a paved road that runs from the main town of Coxen hole to West End and east to French Harbour, then continues on unpaved to Paya Bay and Camp bay.
There are direct flights to Roatan from Houston and Miami in the U.S. When travelling from other cities around the world, most flights connect in Tegucigalpa on the mainland of Honduras.
- Beyond Roatan
The Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras all offer paradise like Utila and Guanaja. They are also home to beautiful white sand beaches and spectacular diving and snorkelling like Roatan, but are much smaller islands. Cayos Cochinos sits close to the mountainous mainland of Honduras and reachable by ferry from La Ceiba on the mainland and is a marine biological reserve.
Punta Gorda is the oldest permanent settlement in Roatan, and has a culture that has, for the most part, remained untouched since the 1700’s. About 3000 black Caribs were stranded here after being deported in 1797 and although some moved on to other countries, many remained. The locals here in this sleepy seaside town are friendly and although there is snorkelling here, it is for strong swimmers only.
- Local activities
Scuba, snorkelling, underwater dream
If you are a certified scuba diver you will certainly not be disappointed diving at one of the many sites off the shores of Roatan. For uncertified divers, you could try a discover scuba lesson where an instructor will give you an orientation and take you underwater to experience the beauty of diving the coral reef. Snorkelling is also a great way to get up close to the pristine, colourful reef that is teeming with fish and animals.
Kayaking is another water sport great for people of most ages for a relaxed and informative paddle. An excellent way to enjoy the outdoors, you can paddle along the coast through the crystal clear eaters of the bays and admire the fish and reefs below and even catch sight of a turtle. Or do a mangrove kayak for an interesting experience in this unique ecosystem.
Roatan’s Iguana farm is located near French Harbour and is home to over two thousand reptiles. After being hunted to near extinction, this farm is bringing the population back with its refuge and is an interesting excursion for visitors.
- Local cuisine and drinks
Although there is a mix of global cuisines to be found here, the Caribbean style of food includes plenty of seafood dishes such as Caribbean lobster, fresh fish and ceviche, a raw fish dish. A grilled lobster dinners can be found for as little as $10. Conch fritters are a local dish or try chicken cooked in coconut for a sweet yet savoury meal.
- Where you are docked
Your cruise ship will anchor off the capital of the bay islands, Coxen Hole. Named after the pirate John Coxen, this is the largest town and it is located on the south side of Roatan.
There is not much here as it is more for locals being the centre of commerce but you will find an ATM, a small shopping centre and a few restaurants. Most visitors usually head west to Sandy bay or West End or to the east to the town of French Harbour.
- Regional weather
Roatan experiences typically high temperatures throughout the year. There are two rainy seasons affecting Roatan, the first falls between June and July, and the second in the cooler winter months from October to February, it is advisable to take a jacket with you during both rainy seasons.