Roatán
travel guide

Roatán might be associated with being a popular cruise-ship stop, but if you get under its skin there is plenty on offer. Whether you’re a backpacker or looking for a luxury resort, the different corners of this Honduran island will deliver. If you escape the resorts and cruise stops then you’ll uncover a place packed with culture, fantastic people and stunning environments to explore.

As the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands, Roatán has a thriving local scene and plenty of interesting activities to get stuck in with. Part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the island offers some of the best diving in the world, pristine beaches and a wealth of marine wildlife. With a coral reef fringing almost the entire circumference of the island and a mountainous interior, the island has plenty for adventurous backpackers or holidaymakers looking for a relaxing beach holiday.

Where to go

Roatán is a relatively small island and can easily be explored in a relatively short space of time. The island stretches 50km long, yet only 2-4km wide. One of the more popular areas of the island is West End, which is the young and trendy part that is great for a night out and a thriving hub to meet new travellers. The laid-back vibe makes it one of the hotspots of the island where people congregate.

The east of the island offers a more relaxed atmosphere, with a small strip of restaurants and bars along the beach. This area has pristine white beaches stretching towards calm waters, making it a great spot for snorkelling straight from the shore. Here is where you’ll find more luxurious places to stay as well, along with a calmer atmosphere.

Eastern Roatán offers up pristine beaches and an alluring wildness, away from the cruise ships and tourist sites. Known as what used to be a pirate hangout, where the road ends nature takes over. This area of the island is where the locals inhabit and you’re likely to find a more authentic experience opposed to the tourist hotspots on the Western side of the island.

What to do

Diving is one of the most popular of Roatán’s activities. People come from far and wide to explore the islands crystal clear waters in search of marine wildlife and 1000-foot coral walls. Roatán sits on the lower section of the world’s second-largest barrier reef system, called the Mesoamerican Reef. This natural wonder stretches nearly 700 miles from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to the Bay Islands, providing the island with a rare place for divers to see a coral reef teeming with life. The long sandy beaches make Roatán a favourite compared to its touristy island cousin of Utila. The waters surrounding the island offer plenty of interesting dive sites for both novices and experts from fascinating shipwrecks to nerve-wracking shark dives.

Other water activities which are incredibly popular including fishing, kayaking and exploring the area in a glass-bottom boat. The beaches provide the perfect place to snorkel in shallow water for those less confident in their abilities with the opportunity to see vibrant coral and a diverse selection of tropical fish. In the eastern end of Roatán, you can explore the deep mangroves on a motorised canoe and see some of the colourful wildlife of the island including endangered spiny-tailed iguanas and yellow-naped parrots.

Another popular tourist activity is to just… relax. Roatán is great for those looking to get away from it all with miles of untouched, sandy beaches that offer the perfect backdrop to read a book, have a drink or watch the sunset. Walks around Roatán will unearth glorious mountainous landscapes with lush tropical foliage and varied wildlife. A range of wildlife sanctuaries dots the area that allows you to interact with the tropical birds and endangered wildlife of the island while learning about their habitats, challenges and future.

When to visit

Month LOW °C HIGH °c Precipitation(inch)
January 28 21 10.8
February 28 21 7.1
March 30 23 4.5
April 30 23 3
May 24 31 3.1
June 25 31 5.5
July 24 31 7.9
August 25 32 6.7
September 25 32 7.5
October 24 30 17.5
November 22 29 17.7
December 22 28 15.7

The best times to visit Roátan are in May and September. These months are just before and after the high season for tourists, which means that the weather is hot and sunny and you get to avoid the crowded streets that come with the higher season. May is great for endless sunny days, while September is incredibly cheap but you run the risk of having a few downpours.

From December to Easter, Roátan experiences it’s high season. This is when the cruise ships come in and the island is taken over by tourists. Usually, the weather during this time is unpleasant in the US and they start to run more direct flights. Due to this, the prices for everything rises but the island has a pleasant hum of activity. If you’re looking for a holiday where you want to interact with plenty of new people and don’t mind a busy environment, this is definitely the time for you.

October to December is regarded as the low season for tourists. The island is quieter, there are fewer activities taking place and the wet season has begun. The bad weather creates a knock-on effect across the island meaning that accommodation and food become much cheaper but the amount of sunny days diminishes. That means less time for sunbathing!

Accommodation

Like most Caribbean islands, Roátan is full of luxurious resorts and hotels that offer every accommodation you could possibly dream of, from luxury spas to jungle-themed properties.

The most luxurious places to stay tend to be found at West Bay with a mix of beachfront and hillside options. During the day this part of the island will be a flurry of activity with the arrival of enormous cruise ships, but in the evening it turns into a tropical hideaway. Ideal for families and honeymooners, West Bay provides private resorts, garden bungalows and luxury B&Bs.

The island offers some amazing diving opportunities making it popular with a younger crowd. Due to this, you’ll find hostels dotted around the coastline offering a cheaper stay for those looking to soak in all Roátan has to offer while watching their wallet. Options for backpackers tend to be found in the West End that offers a range of diverse shoestring accommodation. Properties on the main road tend to be booked by people looking for adventure and to experience the vibrant nightlife of West End.

Those looking for an off the beaten path experience can stay in Eastern Roátan, the wild and quieter side of the island. Resorts that dot along this unspoiled beachfront are few and far between, and the ones that do reside on this side of the island are private and intimate. Staying on this side of the island will have you interacting with the locals for a much more personalised experience than the busier Western side.

roatan

Getting around

Although Roátan is a fairly small island in the Caribbean, you’ll still need to utilise their public transport to get around. The island has plenty of buses and taxis, making it easy for you to travel around if you don’t want to rent a car. In fact, there are about 400 taxis on the island and they’re all based on the Western side of the island due to its popularity with tourists. There are no addresses on the island so to get around by taxi you’ll need to be good with directions. You’ll likely be telling the taxi driver when to turn so make sure you have clear instructions on how to get to your accommodation, or at least know a popular landmark close by!

Within the main areas, most places are within walking distance and the surrounding beaches provide the perfect backdrop for a pleasant walk. If you’re thinking of travelling further afield, then there’s the option to hire a car. It takes roughly an hour and a half to drive from the West Bay of the island to Camp Bay Beach in the East, so if you want to go exploring the Eastern beaches away from the city then hiring a car to take the trip at your leisure is ideal.

Read more about how to get to Roátan

Visa requirements

As Roátan is part of Honduras a visa is required to visit the island and country as a whole. Visiting the country is a fairly simple process as you will be issued a visa on arrival without any prior paperwork. On your arrival to Roátan Juan Manuel Galvez Airport, you will be granted a 90-day tourist visa. If you decide that you love Honduras enough to want to stay longer the visa can be extended for an additional 30 days while you’re in the country. That’s 120 days of paradise.

When travelling to Roátan you must also have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after arrival or else you may not be able to enter the country.

Brief history

The island of Roátan was first discovered by Christopher Columbas as the first European visitor to the island on his fourth voyage between 1502 and 1504. Since then Roátan has been invaded by the Spanish and British; essentially starting a tug of war between the countries for the island’s plentiful natural resources. Due to this, Roátan has very varied ancestry that ranges from the Garifunas, who have been recognised as a UNESCO World Intangible Heritage of Humanity, to the Caracoles of European and British-Afro-Caribbean descent, the Mestizo people from the mainland and the people from modern countries who have chosen Roátan as their home.

Roátan is also well known for its history of harbouring a number of pirates, and played a large part in the pirates of the Caribbean era. The island is said to have been home to a pirate stronghold called Port Royal. Some say that the pirates’ influence is still strong on the island, but mostly it’s just the consumption of rum.

Further reading – Where is Roátan?

Food & drink

As you’d expect, Roátan’s cuisine is rich in freshly caught fish from the surrounding oceans and decadent fruit such as bananas, oranges and limes, which all grow locally on the island. Typically restaurants serve western food intended for tourists, but in some hidden areas you’ll find places selling local delicacies. Lobster, shrimp and conch are always on the menu, and are usually made into stews and soups.

The most popular food in Roátan is Balaedas; homemade flour tortillas that are heated and filled with refried beans and cheese, then topped with a variety of options including shredded chicken, scrambled eggs and avocado. They’re usually sold for a very cheap price and are easily available, providing the perfect morning snack before a long day of diving.

Cultural tips

It’s always important to research the country that you’re travelling to which will help prevent you from offending someone by doing a seemingly innocent act. Every country has its own quirks, which means navigating one without the proper research can leave you in a sticky situation.

When travelling to Roátan, a few things to keep in mind are:

  • Although Honduras is a primarily Spanish speaking country, the most common language on Roátan is English.
  • The residents are very proud of their island and all it’s natural to beauty. It goes without saying that leaving rubbish on the beach and breaking coral is a surefire way to annoy the locals.
Population 60,657
Time Zone GMT -6
Currency Honduran lempiras
Airports Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport, RTB
National Dish Plato Tipico
Capital Tegucigalpa

Interesting facts

  • Although Iguanas are protected in the island and it is illegal to do so, locals of Roatan will hunt down these creatures to eat. The lizards have a reputation in Honduras of curing all ailments from colds to poor sexual performance, making them a popular dish. Iguanas are most prized when they are served with their eggs, making it a huge problem for the endangered species.
  • Roatan used to be a pirate hotspot, with more than 5000 pirates living on the island in the 17th century. The island has had some famous pirates step on its shores including Blackbeard, Henry Morgan and John Coxen, who the town of Coxen Hole has been named after.
  • It is prohibited to build higher than 3 stories on Roatan. This means you won’t find any high-rise buildings on the island, just endless rolling mountains and beautiful coastlines.

Read more about Roatan

Costal Roatan

Roatán in November

Roatan Sunrise

Roatán in October

Palmetto Bay

Roatán in September

Houses in Roatan

Roatán in August

Pier in Roatan

Roatán in July

Roatán in June

Roatan Resort

Roatán in May

Port of Roatan Featured

Roatán in April

Island of Roatan

Roatán in March

Costal Roatan

Roatán in February

Coast of Roatan

Roatán in January

roatan

Where is Roatán?

How to get to Roatán