Difference between revisions of "Roatan"
Revision as of 01:21, 24 December 2010
Roatán is one of the Honduras Bay Islands in the Caribbean Sea. For many years it was a hidden gem, with some of the most beautiful white beaches and the best snorkel and diving spots in the Caribbean, but it was 'discovered' around 2005 by cruise ships and hotel developers. Located near the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean Sea (second largest worldwide after Australia's Great Barrier Reef), it has become an important cruise ship and scuba diving destination in Honduras. Tourists used to be mainly divers but the islands beaches have attracted additional package tourists and cruise ships. In recent years, several new cruise ship ports have been opened, causing a significant influx of traditional cruise ship tourists to the island. You'll know when the cruise ships are in port because suddenly there are several thousand additional tourists on the beaches and in towns. It is best to avoid buying anything when cruise ships are docked, the prices of food, goods, and services generally double to quadruple to accommodate the higher expendable incomes of cruise ship passengers. While snorkeling and diving are still as popular as ever, there is still plenty to do outside of these activities.
Several US airlines offer non-stop flights to Roatan on weekends. Continental Airlines offers direct flights from Houston (Daily during high season, less often other times), and from Newark (weekend). Delta flies non-stop from Atlanta (Saturdays only).
American, Delta and Continental offer flights to San Pedro Sula on the mainland, from which you can get connecting service to Roatan.
TACA, a group of five regional airlines, offers service from Miami, Houston, New York, San Francisco and Washington DC with connecting service to Roatan, including mid-week flights. TACA also offers non-stop flights from Miami (Sundays only).
The Galaxy Wave is a new ferry that travels to/from La Ceiba on the Honduras Mainland. The ferry is clean, comfortable, and very reliable. It departs from La Ceiba twice daily, once in the morning at 9:30AM and once in the afternoon at 4:30PM. Departure times from Roatan are 7AM and 2PM (see schedule  for details. It costs about $25 US (500 lempira)for a one way trip. Prices have risen significantly recently.
There is currently (2008-2010) a Catamaran that operates a direct daily ferry service between West End, Roatan and Utila leaving Utila at 6:30AM, arriving West End around 11. Then leaving Roatan at 1PM, arriving Utila around 5PM. Contact Captain Vern at [email protected], (504)3346-2600 or (504)9910-8040. Your other options are traveling on The Galaxy Wave between Roatan and La Ceiba and then The Utila Princess between La Ceiba and Utila. Your other option is to charter a boat from one of the locals. Normally the best way to go about this is to approach one of the dive schools as they normally aren't using their boats in the afternoons. Find other travelers who want to do the same and go in a group of 4 or 6.
The island is visited by some cruise lines, such as Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Lines.
There are hundreds of taxis and they can be bargained with. They don't expect tips either. But ask the price in advance and if it seems high, ask another. Prices from the airport are fixed during the day and negotiable at night. A cab from the airport to West Bay is $10.
There are water taxis during daylight that link West Bay and West End for $3 per person one way.
Renting scooters is a very economical (and fun!) way to see the island. The asphalt road is reasonably well maintained and there is lots to see on Roatan besides the West End so hire a scooter and start exploring. The rental agencies will happily provide you with detailed maps and explanations on how to best see the island. Scooter rentals are abundant in West End.
Buses run every 15 minutes between Coxan Hole and West End during the day. They depart from opposite the market in Coxan Hole. Buses run every hour to Oak Ridge, stopping at the new ferry terminal and passing through French Harbour, Polly Tilly Bight, and Punta Gorda on the way. These buses leave from opposite the HB Warren supermarket in Coxen Hole.
The US Dollar is generally accepted all over the island, however, your change is mostly given in Honduran lempiras. This method of money exchange is not recommended generally but if you're only stopping for the day from a cruise ship, it's an easier option to changing money that you may not use up.
West End is definitely the most fun town on the island. There are bars, restaurants, live music, right on the Caribbean. This is also where the best sunsets are, with maybe the exception of West Bay. The reef is a short swim away for excellent snorkeling, especially around the southern point of Half Moon Bay.
Coxen Hole is a pit but after you get used to it, there are most of life's necessities there.
French Harbor has some good restaurants and resorts.
The West Bay has plenty of restaurants and places to stay, and several large resorts have been built on the beach. If you don't mind the resorts and larger hotels, it's a beautiful stretch of beach. It is recommended to spend beach time in the West Bay and bar time in the West End.
Most tourists do not venture further east then French Harbour, which is only about the mid point of the island. Past this point are a few newer beach resorts, resort communities, and even private towns with beaches and resorts catering exclusively to cruise ship passengers. Many of the restaurants and bars on this part of the island are frequented more by locals and expats than tourists. One point of interest would be Jonestown and the infamous Hole in the Wall restaurant. Sundays and Wednesdays feature all-you-can-eat lobster and steak for a reasonable fee. You must take a small water taxi from Jonestown to reach it.
Shortly after the fork in the road to Oak Ridge, the paved road ends and you can continue to Port Royal which was originally founded by English pirates. Past this there lies a few small villages and a handful of homes mostly occupied by expats. Eventually you will reach Camp Bay which is about the furthest you can go in a car. Past Camp Bay are the mangroves which are quite beautiful when navigated by boat. There are many tours through the mangroves which can be chartered from various points on the island.
English, Spanish, Garifuna
English is widely spoken, especially in the West End and West Bay communities and is the native language of Roatanians of British and African descent (except for the Garifuna). Spanish is spoken natively by all residents who have come from mainland Honduras and is the second language of many of the native English speakers. Spanish is the official language of Honduras and as such is the primary language of the school system. Garifuna is spoken by the Garifuna people who are descendants of the Kalipuna peoples of St. Vincent. There is also 'Island Talk' spoken by the native Caribbean people.
Most individuals living on Roatan are bilingual (English/Spanish).
Visit the Roatan Butterfly Garden and Carambola Gardens
Dine at one of Roatan's Excellent Restaurants or Cook and Eat at Home
Check out local and mainland Honduras tours
Horseback Riding on the Beach at West End - Shirkey's Barrio Dorcas Ranch 
Horseback Riding - Ticketing Agent - Transportation Included
Shop for Central American Arts and Crafts, tee-shirts, cigars, and much more
Visit B.J.s Backyard in Oak Ridge and Tour the Mangrove Canal
Visit Roatan's great Microbrewery
Roatan has FOUR zipline jungle canopy tour adventures
Dive with the Dolphins at Anthony's Key
Visit the Iguana Farm near French Harbor
Visit the deserted islands of Pigeon Cayes
Kayak trips around the Island
Visit Marine Science Museum at Anthony's Key Resort
Watch Dolphin show at Anthony's Key Resort
Mini-Golf in Sandy Bay, Cold Drinks & Burgers
Fly-Fish with Pescado Roatan - Bonefish and Permit on the fly 
Tour the Garifuna Village of Punta Gorda
Shop at Woody's Grocery Store and have a cookout
Check out the Cameo Factory in Coxen Hole
Whites Beach is supposed to be beautiful
Hike on the island of Morat
Kayak through the mangroves on the east end of the island
Enjoy an off the beaten patch view, dinner and drinks from the Windsong cafe
Explore the caves of Helene
There are three types of traveling experiences in Roatan. First would be the typical Caribbean resort-oriented beach vacation experience which can be found at any number of islands in the region. This type of vacationing is still developing on Roatan, however, in the past few years it has become a bit more common and the island offers many resorts and activities that would appeal to those who prefer this type of setting. Alternatively, Roatan can still be experienced through the back door and more rustic accommodations are abundant. If you are looking to sleep under a mosquito net with little to no view of any other human, you can certainly experience this on Roatan. The final type of traveling experience on Roatan is the cruise ship, these visitors are generally in town for short bursts of time and come in huge numbers, it's not unusual for you to wake up and have West Bay suddenly be covered with several thousand cruise ship passengers rubbing shoulders to find a small patch of available beach to soak up the sun in. Several cruise ships have ports in Roatan, but some dock only in the exclusive private towns and beaches owned by the resort, and you will hardly notice them except for the large ships on the horizon.
There is great snorkeling and diving to be found here and many dive shops to go out with. Coconut tree dive shop in West End has cheap dives, $30-35 per dive, and go out 3 times per day.
If you are a good swimmer, and keep an eye out for motorboats, you can swim straight out from west end towards the white buoys for about 200 meters, you will arrive at a 10-30 foot deep reef that is great for snorkeling and freediving. Slightly further out the reef gets much deeper and you hit the wall.
You can walk along the beach to West Bay from West End in about 45 minutes, and can take a water taxi back if you like. They seem to stop running around sunset unfortunately, so make sure to catch them before it is too late.
A new cruise ship stop named Mahogany Bay opened up recently outside of French Harbor. The beach is nice and the setting amazingly surreal, with 2 rusting shipwrecks within view. Cuises also port in Coxen Hole.
Renting a scooter and driving to Punta Gorda takes about an hour each way, and goes through some beautiful countryside. It can be nice to get away from the touristy areas and get back into places that look and feel like Honduras. The town is friendly and you may run into a beach party if you are lucky.
Another great place to visit in Roatan is Anthony's Key Resort. It is a quaint little village with huts to rent and many options for activities on the island. You can do just about anything from swimming with dolphins to scuba diving/snorkeling to getting married. The resort is well kept and maintained along with a very friendly and hospitable staff. The setting is serene and peaceful with a beautiful and spectacular views of the ocean.
Oak Ridge is a small village on the eastern end of the island. On arrival, you'll be offered water-taxi tours to the Hole-in-the-Wall restaurant, neighbouring communities, and around the harbour, but it's also pleasant to walk through the village, which has many brightly colored the wooden houses on stilts along the shore.
If you are up for an adventure, visit the east end of the island past Oak Ridge. The road changes from a somewhat dodgey pavement to an even more precariously rutted dirt/gravel mix and continues on to Punta Blanca and Camp Bay. A 4-wheeled vehicle is recommended for the journey although you'll see many locals driving compact cars over the partially washed out and bumpy road. This end of the island is home to many locals and some expats. Electricity has not reached the far end of the island but it is slowly moving towards Camp Bay. There are a few interesting stops such as the Windsong Cafe & Bar (best view on the island) as well as Marble Hill Farms where wonderful local jams & jellies are made. Asylum bar & grill is on a palapa literally over the calm waters in Camp Bay which can sometimes feel like the restaurant at the end of the universe after the long journey of getting there. Luckily there is always beer on ice and grilled food which makes the trip worth it. If you're looking to get off the beaten path and out of the tourist ridden West End, this is it!
The fishing is also wonderful just off the reef in Roatan. Marlin, Barricuda, Tuna, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, and much more can be caught in these waters. The local fisherman that runs Cool Running Tours can take you on a fishing charter as well as snorkeling, or an island tour by boat.
Cool Running Tours
Prices of everything skyrocket when cruise ships are in town, if you are looking to purchase anything, including food, it is best to wait until they have left port.
Local handicrafts abound and can be had for very little money. Look for brightly-painted pottery, wood carvings, costume jewelry and clothing. Remember that the asking price should only be considered a jumping-off point for some downward haggling. It's expected and if you have the stomach for it, you'll likely end up with a final price somewhere around 40-50% lower.
The restaurants you will find along the West End beach are slightly more expensive than similar restaurants on the mainland but the food is of a very high standard. Seafood abounds and you can find top quality lobster for dinner for around $10 US. The Argentinian steak house is very nice, and the size of the steak they serve has to be seen to be believed.
There is a small food caravan located on the main road hosted by an ex-pat Aussie. The food is cheap, and he is open late which is perfect for when you return home from one of the West Ends night spots.
Gio's is in French Harbor and is one of the nicer dining experiences on the island. It's a longtime mainstay for expats and islanders who can afford to dine out. Seafood is the specialty of course.
The best part about drinking in the west end is the pub crawl that occurs almost every night without exception. Its virtually mandatory to start at Sundowners and enjoy drinks whilst watching the sun go down over the beautiful bay in front. When Sundowners shuts (at 10PM) the whole bar shifts about 50 meters down the street to kick on at the Purple Turtle where you can enjoy live music out the back. The Purple Turtle closes at midnight and from here most people continue on to the Nova Bar or the Twisted Toucan's "being Sold soon" will be the joint to party at, where you will meet most of the locals in the region, as this is their favorite haunt. Most people go home from here but if you really are feeling like an adventure grab a group of friends and head down the beach to FuBar, formerly Black Pearl and before that Loafers. On Friday's, the best place to go is Foster's, complete with DJ and occasionally a lot of laughs.
If you venture to the less populated east end of the island, stop in at the Windsong in Punta Blanca for a wonderful meal and a spectacular view. Have a Sunday barbecue with cold beer at Asylum  on Camp Bay Beach which is also called La Sirena . It's an interesting palapa bar/restaurant built out over the blue water which is a few miles further east of Windsong. Jimmy, the proprietor, can arrange other activities for guests as well. As with most remote destinations, it's better to call ahead of time to make arrangements.
There are excellent accommodations ranging from $4 to $400 per night. Condos are available as are beach cabanas. There is an old farm where they have great accommodation for a decent price at West End.
Roatan boasts a wide array of experiences for night life depending on your taste. Since the arrival of cruise ships, prices have risen somewhat and restaurants and bars cater to cruise passengers as well as North American and European tourists. These types of establishments are relatively easy to find as they are mostly located in and around the West End. Prices here are generally higher than in most other places on the island.
Luckily there are still parts of the island that harken to past times when Roatan was more of a remote destination. Although development is spreading to all parts of the island, one can still find more rustic settings and establishments east of French Harbor. Keep in mind that traveling to the far eastern end of the island can take time due to road conditions. Those staying around the West End of the island should expect at least an hour of travel time to reach Camp Bay in a car.