How to Visit Roatán Island in the Caribbean

A bay in Utila an island in the Bay Islands

 Chris VR / TripSavvy

In terms of sheer distance, Roatán, Honduras is one of the closest Caribbean islands to the United States—but when it comes to culture, value, and even good looks, Roatán is worlds away.

Part of Honduras' Bay Islands (which also include Utila and Guanaja), this 40-mile-long island has endured centuries of shuffling under British, American, and Spanish influences. Add the island's Indigenous tribes and afro-Carib settlers, and it's no wonder Roatán's people are some of the most diverse in Central America.

Most visitors to Roatán are united by a passion for scuba diving—the island is bordered by the second-largest barrier reef in the world. However, you don't need to even know how to dive to enjoy the island: Roatán attracts every type of traveler. Whether you're a luxury cruiser or a budget backpacker, here's how to visit Roatán, Honduras.

A child runs down a wooden dock, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras
Philippe TURPIN / Getty Images

Best Places on Roatán Island

Because Roatán, Honduras is so long and skinny, most of its resorts and luxury hotels are located on private beaches outside of the island's towns. But that's where the island's life and flavor are found! Roatáns principal communities include:

  • Coxen Hole: The capital of the Bay Islands is Coxen Hole, Roatán's largest city and the first place you'll see—both the boat dock and the airstrip are located in Coxen Hole. Though travelers don't tend to remain in the city, it's the island's center for politics and commerce.
  • Sandy Bay: Most of Roatán's cultural attractions are located in Sandy Bay, such as the Institute of Marine Sciences and the Carambola Gardens and Marine Reserve. Sandy Bay is just across the narrow width of the island from Coxen Hole.
  • French Harbour: Lively French Harbour is the core of Roatán's fishing trade. Several of Roatán's most exclusive hotels are located here, as well as the island's only Iguana conservatory.
  • Punta Gorda: The only Garifuna settlement on Roatán, Punta Gorda boasts a dynamic culture that has remained largely unchanged since the late 1700s. Travelers are welcome. Many of Roatán's other local villages are found on this part of the island, like Jonesville, Oak Ridge, Port Royal, and Camp Bay.
Intricately carved Mayan ruins at Copan, Honduras
Danita Delimont / Getty Images

Things to Do on Roatán Island

Luckily, there's no end to Roatán's diversions, but many of the island's best activities center around its beautiful waters.

  • Snorkel or Dive the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System: Roatán claims more than 100 named dive sites, so no matter your skill level, you'll find something that suits you. Some of the best places to dive off the island include El Aguila ("The Eagle"), a 230-foot-long cargo ship sunk 110 feet deep near Sandy Bay; Mandy's Eel Garden, a beginner-friendly wall that houses not only garden eels but also sea turtles, stingrays, and barracuda; and Cara a Cara ("Face to Face"), where you can spot more than a dozen reef sharks.
  • Go on a Glass-Bottom Boat Tour: If you'd rather stay above water but still want a glimpse of Roatán's marine ecosystem, there are several tour operators in the area—including Hyde Tours—that will take you on a safe yet memorable ride.
  • Zip Line Through the Roatán Jungle: For some different scenery, embark on a canopy tour of the island. Bodden Tours' zipline excursions bring adventure-seekers to a monkey and sloth sanctuary, while JungleTop Zipline Tours offers 16 courses that you can race along.
  • Visit the Carambola Botanical Gardens: Located in Sandy Bay, this 40-acre arboretum welcomes a variety of birds like Smooth-billed ani and Golden-fronted woodpeckers, plus monkeys and Anole lizards. Hike several jungle trails, including a steep climb up to the peak of Carambola Mountain, and keep your eyes peeled for orchids, medicinal plants, and fruit trees.
  • Indulge in Local Seafood: Dinnertime on Roatán is always an adventure. While fresh fish and lobster are the most obvious choices, don't shy away from local Caribbean cuisine, like conch fritters and coconut bread.
  • Take a Day Trip to Other Honduran Islands: Book a boat out to other Honduran islands, like the pristine Cayos Cochinos, or a plane to the Copan ruins in western Honduras.

Best Time to Visit Roatán Island

Roatán's temperatures consistently remain in the 80s year-round. The rainy season begins in October and lasts until January or February, with November and December seeing the most precipitation. Despite it being called "the rainy season," the island still sees the sun this time of year, and tourists flock to Roatán in an effort to escape chilly temps further north. July and August can also be quite rainy.

The dry season runs from February to June, and it is a great time to visit Roatán if you want to spend your days in and around the island's beaches. March and early fall are some of the best times to visit Roatán, as the occasional rainfall can help you cool down.

How to Get to (and Around) Roatán Island

A number of airlines serve Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport in Coxen Hole—including United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines—with flights operating out of major U.S. cities such as Houston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Overland travelers should head to the port city of La Ceiba, where they can book a ferry out to the island; ferries depart twice a day, at 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Once you're on the island, take a bus or a taxi. Or if you prefer to navigate yourself, Roatán has several car rental companies.

Tips and Practicalities

  • It pays (literally) to exchange your money for Honduran currency, the lempira, at a bank in French Harbour or Coxen Hole. Prices in U.S. dollars are usually hiked a bit.
  • When Columbus landed on Guanaja, Roatán's sister island just 10 miles to the east, in the early 1500s, he wrote: "I have never tasted sweeter water of better quality." As much as we'd like to believe him, we always recommend drinking bottled water in Central America.