Roatan: a Secret Charm of the Caribbean
When people think of the Caribbean, they would be reminded of Jamaica, Dominican Republic or even Cuba who’s been out of the shell lately. But there’s an emerging destination who’s ready to compete with the rest of the famed Caribbean nations. Roatan is the biggest and most developed of Honduras’ Bay Islands. Located roughly 40 miles from La Ceiba; a port town in northeastern coast of Honduras, it rising to become one of the world’s best island destinations to go.
I went to Roatan with a friend last year after failed to go to the island the previous year due to bad weather. I was determined to make it happen this time around and hoping the weather will not get into the way this time. From Puerto Cortes, a friend of ours dropped us off at the main terminal in San Pedro Sula named Terminal Metropolitana de Buses.
We bought tickets for the regular bus or “Directo” that costs around 90 Lempiras (a little less than $5) one-way for a 4–5 hours journey with stops for restrooms and food en-route. The bus dropped us off in La Ceiba’s city center area and we took at taxi to the La Ceiba Ferry Terminal, located 15 minutes away. We bought Galaxy Wave ferry tickets for about $65 round-trip. The price might be cheaper compared to flying from San Pedro Sula-Roatan that could cost $200 round-trip nonstop.
However, considering the amount of travel time and transits that could take up a full day, some people prefer flying. I wanted the “Catracho” or the local experience, hence opted for the bus and ferry route. The boat ride was a little wavy for me and my stomach didn’t like it very much, but I managed to pull it together. We arrived in the newly built Roatan Ferry Terminal after about an hour and a half later, excited for our island adventure.
Roatan in many ways reminded me of Indonesia’s laid-back island vibe. The pace is definitely much slower and people seem to be content in their casual lifestyle. I stayed in West End area which nicknamed the fun town on the island; it has some good restaurants, quite a few of diving shops, various budget to high-end accommodation options and even a night club.
I stayed at Posada Arco Iris, a cozy and comfortable low-mid range hotel on Half Moon Bay, West End. The hotel has an Argentinian Grill restaurant attached in front and only few steps away from the beach. West End area really has a nice feeling to it, touristy-but not overwhelming. Here are some of my thoughts and recommendations on places and things that I did while in the island:
Price range: $$
The restaurant is a part of the 25-room boutique hotel Splash Inn located in the heart of West End. The restaurant has an open-space patio feel with daily specials and fresh seafood in the menu. You can also enjoy the trademark Caribbean music being performed live on most nights. Ideal dining option for families and couples alike.
Price range: $
My personal favorite! You can’t simply leave the island without paying a stop this place. This lovely and cozy coffee shop is located a little further inland and can be a little inconvenience to get to. However, it’s worth the hassle as the bakery serves some of the island’s best coffee and freshest pastries. The owner (Lisa) loads up her baked goods (cookies, muffins, scones, sandwiches, etc) early in the morning and makes her rounds to the dive shops in town, even in the rain! Good for solo travelers, families with children and couples.
Price range: $
It’s a great option for budget travelers who want to try local Honduran food without the expensive price tag. You can get baleadas (flour tortillas with fillings) for cheap or tasty barbequed meats that comes with rice, fried plantains, and some salsa for about 100–120 lempiras ($5). There best ones usually come out at night and you can easily spot them.
Things to do
This is a very nice beach with soft white sands and pristine clear water that is perfect for snorkeling. Although it can be touristy and crowded, it’s definitely one beach to go while you’re in Roatan. You can also easily find restaurants, bars and resort-type hotels nested along the beach.
Coxen Hole the capital of Roatan municipality, located in the southwest area of the island. It’s a busy area where you can find various local restaurants, shops, banks and other small town establishments. If you’re looking to get away from the touristy spots and want more of a local experience, this is a place to go. It’s a bustling Honduran small town with a lively spirit.
Located near the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which is the world’s second largest barrier reef, Roatan offers excellent diving and snorkeling activities. There is a ton of diving shops around the island and most of them clumped in West End. Most of the dive shops are very professional and competitive in price (although the neighboring island of Utilla offers arguably the world’s cheapest diving prices — popular for young backpackers). I signed up for an open water certification for scuba diving with Reef Gliders, they have good customer service, professional instructors, reliable and fairly new diving equipment.
It’s a fun idea to rent a car for the day to just drive around the island. You can see the island life as it is and can branch off to less touristy areas. Long and thin (50 km and 2km to 4km wide), the island boasts astonishing diverse coral reef, mountainous pine-forested hills and some rugged area in the east (once rumored to be a key pirate hangout) to be explored.
Roatan may not be exactly a secret anymore, but the laid back atmosphere and unspoiled natural beauties are definitely still there. While the mainland Honduras offers Mayan ruins, lakes and enchanting national parks, Roatan is an appropriate definition to a charming and lively island life in the Caribbean.
Originally published at stenivan.com on January 29, 2016.