To be honest, the first time I visited the island of Roatan, I thought it was ‘fine.’ But to put it in perspective, I was EXHAUSTED. I had just finished midterms for my Masters a week early in order to go on a mission trip that was in and of itself exhausting. I spent the weekend sleeping, eating, swimming, sleeping on the beach, drinking and sleeping some more. But, I knew I should’ve enjoyed it a lot more. So, I went back about a year later. And, the rest has been history. Two years later, I’m en route on my 5th trip to Roatan…it’s like I’m commuting! I’ve been asked, so many times, why do you keep going back? I’m an explorer. I like to visit new places. But, when I’m at home, I work damn hard (self imposed I admit…I want travel funds!), and I am not yet in a place that I can take off for weeks at a time. Plus, I travel alone. So, when I get a chance to get away for a week, I want to go somewhere that’s relatively easy to get to and that allows me to dive and chillax on a hammock…somewhere that I know people, somewhere familiar. Caye Caulker, Belize and Roatan, Honduras have become those places for me, homes away from home. I look forward to trips I’m planning to new places, but I always look forward to unplugging in this piece of paradise they call la Isla de Roatan.
Roatan is the largest of the Honduran Bay Islands (las Islas de la Bahia), measuring 37 by 5 miles. With its lush jungle and mountainous terrain and surrounding ocean playground, it’s a piece of paradise for the traveler of any age or breed. Its location along the Mesoamerican Reef, the largest reef in the Caribbean and the second largest in the world, makes it an ideal spot for snorkeling, diving and fishing. While fishing is an important source of income on the island, tourism is the island’s most important. Despite being the most developed of the Bay Islands and undergoing seemingly constant development, there remains a large portion that offers the seclusion and remoteness for which many are searching. And, if you decide to stay near the action, the western end of the island, while the most developed, still offers that small laid back Caribbean island vibe that sets you at ease and sends you home rested…if don’t end up staying! (If you want to party all night, every night, head to Utila…you won’t find that here.) The island with its wonderful beaches, beautiful reef, and opportunities to explore by land, has become a frequent stop for cruise ships. (Note: You might want to check the port schedule to see how many ships are docking for the day before hitting the tourist hotspots, ie West Bay, zip lining, etc.) Roatan has a tropical climate with high temps year round, but take note, there are both dry and wet (yes, very rainy) seasons. Dry season is April through July, and the peak wet season is January to February with less severe rainy seasons extending to March and also from July to September. The other months offer a mix of nice weather with short stretches of rain. Rain or shine, it’s warm all year round! And, there is always plenty to do for those not content just lazing in a hammock reading a book with a glass of rum and pineapple in hand (obviously one of my favorite pasttimes). So, I wanted to share with you the Roatan I know. The following is not an all-inclusive guide to Roatan, but it’s my insight…and I hope you enjoy!
By no means, can I provide a comprehensive guide to accommodation in Roatan, or really anywhere. However, I have stayed at a number of places, and I can give a few recommendations for places to lay your weary head. As a usually solo traveler, I enjoy staying in West End. You are in the midst of several dive shops, restaurants and bars, and just a short water taxi from the beautiful beach of West Bay. For trips where I am traveling with others, Sandy Bay is a great option…not far from West End, West Bay, Coxen Hole…but with the environs that feel a bit more private giving a sense of quiet and seclusion. Stock up on groceries and rum. Hang out on the dock. Snorkel in the reef that is swimming distance from shore. Go into West End for a little action here and there. Sandy Bay is quite nice. But, for those who want to be on the best beach, West Bay is the spot. There are several other areas where tourists stay, extending out to the east end of the island…but I have not stayed elsewhere, so have no insight to offer you in that regard.
In West End, I have stayed at 3 different spots.
- Posada Arcos Iris is my favorite place to rest my weary soul. It is a cute little place located in Half Moon Bay, the portion of West End where lays the beach and no bars radiating noise into the wee hours, and directly behind the delightful but pricey Argentinian Restaurant. Rooms are standard, studio (standard + kitchen), one BR, and 2 BR. All have wifi, ceiling fan, private bathroom, fridge, and private balcony with hammock and table. Prices start at $42 and move up depending on whether you want AC and kitchen, number of people per room, number of rooms. Nothing but good things to say about this place.
- Splash Inn is a great spot with plenty of nice rooms, an excellent adjoining restaurant (the owners are Italian, so you know the coffee and pizza are to die for!), and my favorite dive shop. Rooms start at $48 and move up from there with options for board and dive packages. All rooms have private bathroom, cable tv, AC, and wifi. There are no private outdoor spaces, but a nice shared deck and dock, one where I’ve spent a good many evenings watching the sun drop into the horizon. For being very central to the bar and restaurant scene, it keeps fairly quiet, I think due to the rooms being set back behind a courtyard.
- Lost Paradise is a quaint little spot down at the end of the main road in West End past all the bars, next to Sueno del Mar (somewhere I haven’t stayed but about which I have heard nice things). There are 18 wooden cabins all with AC, a private bath and a private balcony. Prices start at $68 and move up from there. This place is quite nice, if not a little outdated, but honestly, for the price, I’d prefer to stay at Posada (if I’m going for that quiet, private type feel).
In West Bay, I can give you insight to 2 places.
- First, I want to tell you about Casa de Paradise. This place is great, because it is not a resort, but a house with four fabulous units and its located right on the beach…next to the new second location of the fabulous (yet pricey) Argentinian and the tasty Beecher’s…and just a hop skip from Mayan Divers. The owners, Ron and Myra Cummins, are wonderful and will do everything in their power to make your stay absolutely delightful. And, best of all, you get direct access to their delicious freshly roasted coffee. Now, I have to say that this place is a bit out of my budget, but I was able to stay there with my parents thanks to their budget! It’s a first rate kinda place without the environs of a resort. I would feel comfortable recommending this to anyone with the means to pay, and I would have no doubt that they’d feel comfortable and at ease. Can’t speak highly enough of what this couple is doing here!
- The well known Infinity Bay needs to make the list. United put me up here once when they needed to bump me from a flight. This place is also a bit more than my personal budget, and really not in line with my style of travel, but it is a very nice luxury resort on West Bay with an infinity pool, swim up bar, beachside bar and restaurant, a relatively new spa, and fancy schmancey digs. From my end, not a whole lot more to say…I found it a bit impersonal…check out Trip Advisor for more heartfelt reviews.
Sandy Bay offers a variety of establishments from spots like Anthony’s Key Resort to rental homes. I have only stayed at one of the homes of Familia de LAP, a 2 bedroom beachfront house my friend was renting at the time. It was a very quiet spot just past the Blue Parrot on the way to Coxen Hole. The home was simple and rustic but really quite beautiful with all the hardwood. It came with a full kitchen, a bathroom, a private balcony and a shared dock. I can’t find a website, but did see this listing in Roatan Reality. I’ve heard great things about Hobbies Hideaway and South Seas, but I won’t be able to review them until April, so stay tuned!
Update 6/2013: After having stayed at South Seas, I can say that it is a good deal for the money. It is very simple accommodation, but at a great price point. Do not expect luxury. It’s fairly rustic. But do expect great views off your deck and tranquility from the dock. We came in after a group of 14 Argentinian dudes stayed there, so there were some problems. The place had to be dis-cockroacherized, and the plumbing was rolling slow. We heard from all the neighbors how rowdy the last crowd was. So, overall, the experience was good.
Oh, so many places to eat! I can’t review them all without putting you to sleep, but I’ll tell you about a few of my favorites. I wouldn’t call the food in Honduras fantastic or delectable by any means; it’s not a foodie’s destination…but there are quite a number of good spots to grab a bite. I do most of my eating in West End, but don’t limit yourself…ask around and explore a bit. And, if you want to keep it simple, grab a balleada (a tortilla folded over a variety of fillings) at one of the roadside stands; I believe there is one by Coconut Tree Divers.
- Rotisserie Chicken, aka the chicken place, is located on the West End road down past Splash Inn (ask anyone for directions to the chicken place and they’ll point you in the right direction). It’s a humble little down home establishment with plastic tables in the yard, but the food is fantastic and quite cheap for the quality and quantity. Really a must for anyone staying in West End.
- Oh, and also down that way is Tita’s, at the end of the road between Lost Paradise and Sueno del Mar, hidden from roadside view, a little beach front bar and grill serving great drinks and tasty food in a casual, laid back style. This place has a very friendly feel where you feel at home whether you are a local or not. Certain evenings of the week, people gather there to play sand volleyball giving it even extra charm. (Happy Travels reviewed it well here.)
- Cafe Escondido….mm mm good. This one is one of my favorites. It’s a great little place run by a few Australians, located on the second floor above West End Divers. They serve tasty drinks (including a killer Bloody Mary!), delectable smoothies, great coffee, and mouth watering food, often of the curry variety. Sangria Sundays are great with live music and delicious sangria.
- Splash Inn, as I mentioned before, is owned by a couple Italian expats whose restaurant serves up some great coffee and pizza…on a covered deck with ocean views. Bellissimo!
- Cannibal is a great little Mexican place located in West End in front of Sea Breeze Inn. Tasty tacos and margaritas…and burritos the size of your head!
- Rudy‘s is famous for it’s banana pancakes and smoothies. I’ve eaten there a few times, and it’s pretty good.
- And for a few pricier, but DELICIOUS options, you’ve got Tong’s and The Argentinian. Tong’s Thai Island Cuisine is located on the waterfront in close proximity to the Blue Marlin. I wouldn’t call it authentic Thai, but I would call it damn good. Never had a bad meal there. Also, the Argentinian Grill is located in front of Posada Arco Iris in West End and essentially next door to Henry Morgan in West Bay. Its a nice Argentinian parrilla (barbecue) serving up great food and a full service bar with a good selection of wine and spirits in a beach front setting.
- In West Bay, there are several restaurants, but my recommendations include Beecher’s (next to the Argentinian) and Bananarama. Beecher’s serves up some great seafood; my favorite is the coconut shrimp with a pineapple & rum on the side. Check out Bananarama on Mondays for 2-for-1 pizza night…really good pizza and often an outdoor movie to go with.
- I’ve heard great things about Pisco’s Peruvian Cuisine in Sandy Bay, but I haven’t been there yet myself.
Update 6/2013: Buena Vida Cafe in West End offers some delicious fare, for all meals. It’s located across from the Marlin. Definitely worth a stop…or many!
Again, I do most of my drinking in West End, where there are many places to have a drink…just wander and see what scene you like best. I like to grab a drink at Tita’s (down at the end of West End road next to Sueno del Mar) or Sundowners (in Half Moon Bay) for sunset. Then, if you are not done, you can move down to any of the
other bars along the strip. My favorite is the Blue Marlin. There is usually a decent crowd, and the drinks are always strong. On Thursdays, it’s karaoke night here, which is always a real treat. Fridays, I like to start at the Blue Marlin, then move to Nova, where there is a DJ mixing tracks for a crowd fixin’ to shake it like a saltshaka’… But, sometimes, I end up at Booty Bar where the music is a bit less of the American variety. I’ve heard that Foster’s is picking back up, but haven’t seen it with my own eyes…so keep an ear out for that. Sundays, there is not much going on, but people typically gather at Barefoot, down past Lost Paradise and Sueno del Mar, for some live music. Mondays are pretty dead; plan on hunkering down, getting your rest, and saving your energy for the rest of the week.
What do I do when I visit Roatan? I dive, lay in a hammock, and try to get out to the eastern side of the island for a day trip…although I’ve not made it anywhere but Camp Bay yet. But, there is so much to do here. You’ve got snorkeling and diving just a stone’s throw from shore, windsurfing and paddle boarding, fishing in abundance, and plenty to see and do by land.
You can find several places for zip lining and canopy tours, and I’ve heard that Pirates of the Carribean offers the most exhilarating of the lot. You can visit Arch’s Iguana Farm or Carambola Botanical Garden.
You can hire a driver to take you to the eastern portion of the island to Punta Gorda (the oldest settlement on the island where a strong community of Garifuna people live), Camp Bay, or to take a boat trip through the mangroves from Jonesville or Oak Ridge and grab a bite at B.J.’s Barbeque in Oak Ridge or the Hole in the Wall in Jonesville. Any of these trips can be coordinated by a good guide or many of the taxi drivers in town, depending on your desire to wing it. Try Stephen 504 9554 2735 (who I’ve had personal experience with from a 1/2 day trip to Camp Bay) or others that come highly recommended, such as Omar 504 9970 8144 or Marty 504 9979 1017.
- If you stay in West End, West Bay or Sandy Bay, great snorkeling is just a stone throw off shore. If you want to go out by boat, you surely can hitch a ride with any of the dive boats…just ask around.
- Whether you stay in West Bay or not, spending at day enjoying the white sands and turquoise waters is a must.
- Diving…ah, diving. I love diving here. The waters are calm. The reef is just a few minutes boat ride from shore. You usually come back to shore between dives, so do not need to do multiple tank trips. You can sleep in, do a 11 am dive, then head over to West Bay for an afternoon on the beach. Or, you can do a morning dive, then head out on a day trip. Really, you can do as your heart desires.
I dive with Splash Inn. Their staff are wonderful, dive masters knowledgable and patient, and rates are good. I’ve dove with them three times now, and I’m not planning on defecting anytime soon.
I just got back from a trip, where my mother took a refresher from them (after 15 years out of the water), and we dove with them a few days. They were so helpful and attentive to her, that she felt very comfortable throughout the dives and looks forward to going back.
If you are based out of West Bay, Myra Cummins from Casa de Paradise highly recommends Mayan Divers, a well established quality dive shop that takes groups no larger than 6 out at a time.
And, if you’re up for a little adventure, do the Shark Dive, a 20 minute dive at Cara a Cara where you’ll see a large group of Caribbean reef sharks gather for feeding. While it never feels unsafe, it’s quite a wild experience.
- If you have any interest in free diving, stop by Splash Inn and ask for Esteban or Walid. They are the local experts.
- I’ve never been fishing in Roatan, but it’s definitely a thing to do here. Myra Cummins from Casa de Paradise recommends Red Miller in West Bay, and a friend of mine’s family owns Roatan Guided Tours (Marty 504 9979-1017) out of West End.
- If you want to find a beach where you aren’t likely to see another tourist, hire a driver (as above in this section or also below in the Getting Around section) to take you out to Camp Bay, the farthest east you can drive by car, granted you have to take a dirt road past Oak Ridge/Jonesville area.
The waters are a bit rough, but you can definitely jump in the water or lay by the surf with the almond and mango trees to your back, walk down the beach without anyone else in sight. There are a few public access beaches…
but you don’t want to miss La Sirena, not a beach, but a little restaurant, a cabana on a dock over the water, serving up delicious fresh seafood, such as lionfish ceviche and fresh catch of the day, as well as the best rum punch I’ve ever had. You can get out here by boat or car.
But, honestly, if you go in daylight, traveling by car is a nice way to see the part of the island lesser known to tourists and developers. You drive up and over peaks with great views of the ocean and the rolling terrain of the jungle-like habitat. It’s about a 1-1.5 hour trip, but well worth it.
- I’m not the best resource for shopping information on the island of Roatan, even though I know there is plenty of it. I don’t do much shopping when I travel…but I can give a few recommendations for some lovely artisans.
- Karma Roatan is a small jewelry company run by Karla and Marco, a married couple who handcraft beautiful jewelry themselves and sell this jewelry at a beachside stand in West Bay (in front of Casa de Paradise between the Argentinian and Henry Morgan) on Wednesday through Sunday, typically in the morning around 9/10 am to 12/1 pm (-ish). Their jewelry is unique and beautiful, truly quality goods. You can also contact them by email email@example.com or telephone 504 9660 6789. They get a strong personal recommendation from me!
- The Rusty Fish (located at the Alba Plaza in Sandy Bay; Monday-Friday 9-330) is an artisan who uses recycled materials. They make jewelry, artwork, gifts, and signs. You can also find their work at Waves of Art in West End (across from Baptist Church), which is a really cute shop and gallery full of fun gifts, pottery, artwork and jewelry.
- And if you want someone else to put in the leg work and tote you around, Roatan Guided Tours offers a 4 hour Power Shopping Tour!
- Oh my goodness, I almost forgot about coffee!!! Honduran coffee is quite delicious. You don’t always get the good stuff in the restaurants. But, if you like coffee, pick up a bag at the store. My favorite is Buenos Dias Cafe made on the mainland in Olancho and roasted and packaged in West Bay by Ron Cummins. I’ve been buying a bag of this coffee every trip since my first, and ironically, I recently found out that the father of my parents’ friend owns the company and roast the beans himself. You know I’ve got to give it a shout now! Inquiries should be made through www.casadeparadise.com.
- By Air: There are several airlines that offer flights to Roatan’s Juan Manuel Galvex Roatan International Airport located in Coxen Hole. From the U.S., Delta (from Atlanta), United (from Houston) and American (from Miami) offer direct flights on limited days of the week, all about 3 hours in duration. Sunwing, a Canadian company, offers direct charter flights from Toronto and Montreal. TACA offers direct flights from several Central American countries. Aerolineas Sosa provides service from major Honduran cities, such as Tegucigulpa, San Pedro Sula, and La Ceiba. Important Note: When leaving Roatan, departures taxes are collected. Set aside some money to pay this tax on departure. Last I checked, the tax was L$650 ($34 USD) for international departures and just a few USD for domestic destinations. You can always check on your way out of the airport; look for the bank you’ll see on your left as you exit baggage claim, across from the check-in counters.
- By Boat: Galaxy Wave Ferry offers high speed, scheduled ferry service between La Ceiba (mainland) and Dixon Cove (Roatan). The trip takes about 1 1/4 hours and costs $57-67 depending on the class. See schedules and fares here.
- There is public bus service, that actually tend to be vans, running two routes from Coxen Hole. Westbound route runs from Coxen Hole to Sandy Bay and to West End with typical fares of L50. Eastbound buses leave Coxen Hole every 1/2 hour and run to Oak Ridge via French Harbour and Punta Gorda with typical fares L40.
- You can usually pick up a collective or private taxi in any of the likely spots, but sometimes it is nice to know your driver comes recommended and is known to be reliable. I find this particularly useful for after-dark rides and airport pick-up and drop-offs. Also, if you want to take a day trip out to the east end of the island, I recommend you go with a trusted driver. Below, I’ve listed the drivers that were recommended to me and that I’ve found to be very professional. (I’ll keep the list updated as I encounter them.)
- Van drivers: Omar 504 9970 8144; Stephen 504 9554 2735
- Taxi drivers: Oscar Howerd 504 9572 4440; Carlos Estrada 504 9698 4861
- Oh, and a great way to get back and forth from West Bay and West End during the day is the water taxi service, costing L50 each way and taking about 10 minutes. The official location is the dock across from Splash Inn in West End and in front of Infinity (sometimes also in front of Fosters) in West Bay.
- The people of Roatan are of a variety of race and colors; however, a safe bet is to refer to all as islanders.
- English is spoken widely here, but speaking Spanish is extremely useful, especially when trying to negotiate with a taxi driver, catching a public bus, or buying fruit from the produce trucks!
- The currency is lempiras. US dollars are widely accepted in small bills, but you will get a slightly weaker exchange rate when dealing in dollars. In general, the conversion is approximately 20 lempiras to 1 USD, varying with the market.
- Safety should be a concern no matter where you travel, and Roatan is not an exception. Be smart. Follow your instincts. Don’t go around flashing your money or technology, starting fights, buying drugs, or traipsing off at night to places that even the rugged find a bit dodgy. Get your hotel manager or staff’s opinion on your plans…and your drivers. West Bay and West End, the typical tourist destinations, are very safe. Be smart and intentional about your actions, and you’ll be fine.
- Prior to any international trip, I recommend consulting your health provider or the Centers of Disease Control for health related recommendations, most importantly vaccination recommendations. Additionally, malaria is a risk in Roatan. Thus, you will want to discuss this with your physician and decide whether you want to take prophylaxis or take the risk that many do and skip it. I keep the contents of my first aid kit simple, bandaids, bacitracin, ibuprofen, peptobismal, benadryl and cortaid.
- In regards to medical clinics, The Cornerstone Clinic at Anthony’s Key is a good bet for quality hyperbaric and general medical care. It has an emergency room, x-ray room, two consultation rooms, one observation room, a laboratory, a pharmacy and is staffed by three medical doctors, an EMT and laboratory technician. Another option is La Clinica Esperanza, run by Peggy Stranges and located in Sandy Bay adjacent to Anthony’s Key Resort; the primary mission is to serve the locals, but Peggy welcomes all.
Useful Websites and Resources.