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.
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
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.
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.
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.