At an impressive 40 miles long, Roatan attracts every type of traveler, from the luxury cruise-shipper to the budget backpacker. Most are united by a passion for scuba diving—the island is bordered by the second-largest barrier reef in the world.
Part of Honduras's Bay Islands (which also include Utila and Guanaja), Roatan has endured centuries of shuffling under British, American, and Spanish influence. Add the island's indigenous tribes and afro-carib settlers, and it's no wonder Roatan's people are some of the most diverse in Central America.
Get Your Bearings
Because Roatan 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! Roatan's principal communities are the following:
- Coxen Hole: The capital of the Bay Islands is Coxen Hole, Roatan'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 Roatan'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 Roatan's fishing trade. Several of Roatan's most exclusive hotels are located here, as well as the island's only Iguana conservatory.
- Punta Gorda: The only Garifuna settlement on Roatan, Punta Gorda boasts a dynamic culture that has remained largely unchanged since the late 1700s. Travelers are welcome. Many of Roatan's other local villages are found on this part of the island, like Jonesvile, Oak Ridge, Port Royal, and Camp Bay.
What to Do
Luckily, there's no end to Roatan's diversions. Besides diving and snorkeling, Roatan's beautiful waters can be enjoyed through kayaking, charter fishing trips, and glass-bottom boat tours. The island's inland attractions include horseback riding, bicycling, museums, and miniature golf. Best of all, there are two separate canopy tours! For some different scenery (like you'll need it), book a boat out to other Honduran islands, like the pristine Cayos Cochinos, or a plane to the Copan ruins in western Honduras.
Dinnertime on Roatan is always an adventure. While fresh fish and lobster is the most obvious choice, don't shy away from local Caribbean cuisine, like conch fritters and coconut bread.
When to Go
Roatan's temperatures consistently remain in the eighties year-round. The winter rainy season begins in October and lasts until January or February. June and July can also be quite rainy.
Getting There and Around
Taca, Delta, and Continental Airlines fly direct to Roatan International Airport from Houston and Miami (certain days only). Flights from other cities connect in Tegucigalpa and/or San Pedro Sula. Overland travelers should head to the port city of La Ceiba, where they can book a ferry out to the island. Once you're on the island, take a bus or a taxi. Or if you prefer to navigate yourself, Roatan 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 US dollars are usually hiked a bit.
When Columbus landed on Roatan 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.
Americans already know the basilisk lizard by an intriguing name: the Jesus Lizard, named after its amazing talent for walking (or running, rather) on water. Yet its name on Roatan is even funnier: the Monkey Lala! Keep an eye out for these harmless little dragons.