Roatan, The Best Unknown Island in The Caribbean

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Roatan is a small island in the Caribbean and the largest of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. It is located near the second largest barrier reef in the world and therefore it is a diver’s paradise.

Roatan has become more popular in the last decade thanks to cruise ship tourism, but it remains a fairly undiscovered island.

This lack of recognition has led to less development and mass tourism. This makes the island more affordable and more enjoyable for a laid back vacation.

Everything You Need to Know for Your Vacation to Roatan

Aerial View of Roatan Honduras
Aerial View of Roatan Honduras

Where is Roatan?

Most people have no idea where Roatan is. If you do, consider yourself an insider.

Roatan is only 48 miles long and 5 miles wide, off the cost of Honduras. It has a population of only 50,000 people and a healthy amount of expats from the US and Canada.

Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands and English is the primary language spoken. US dollars are widely accepted on the island.

What is Roatan like?

Roatan is a few decades behind most of the hot spots in the Caribbean in terms of tourism and development, but that is what is so appealing about it. There is a lot of local flavor and you won’t see large hotel chains here.

The island itself is covered in lush vegetation and is located in close proximity to the US – only a couple hours by plane from Miami.

If you enjoy diving or snorkeling, you will love Roatan. The second largest barrier reef is located close to Roatan’s shores and the diving is fantastic!

Although tourism is growing through the cruise industry, it is still a cozy and casual island that is on the tethering line between anonymity and a development boom.

We first landed in this paradise 12+ years ago during a NCL cruise and after one day in the island, we decided it was definitely worth a longer stay. Since then, we have gone back 3 times and love it more every time we visit.

Turquoise Bay Resort Beach
Turquoise Bay Resort Beach

What can you do in Roatan?

The diving is absolutely fantastic, the people are friendly, prices are low, it’s easy to get there and around and there are several places to explore and chill with absolutely no one around.

There are a variety of tours that you can take, but the best thing to do in Roatan is to relax on the beach.

You can also dive with dolphins in the open ocean and if you are a diver, I highly recommend this experience.

Turquoise Bay Resort Dock
Turquoise Bay Resort Dock

How is the nightlife?

There are several spots in the West End that provide nightly entertainment and the bar atmosphere, but Roatan is not a “party island.”

Generally, the people visiting Roatan are families, couples and divers.

Resorts are all-inclusive and self-contained providing everything you need during your vacation without having to go out. Nightly entertainment is offered and fairly the same from resort to resort.

Crab Race Night at Turquoise Bay Resort Roatan Honduras
Crab Race Night at Turquoise Bay Resort Roatan Honduras
Fire Show Turquoise Bay Resort Roatan Honduras
Fire Show Turquoise Bay Resort Roatan Honduras

One nightly entertainment that I recommend if you haven’t experienced before is the BBQ party on Anthony’s Key Resort’s private island.

How can I save money on my vacation to Roatan?

Roatan is already super affordable for a Caribbean destination, however there are a couple ways to save money.

  1. Backpacking? Book a budget accommodation in the West End area. This will allow you to walk to the beach and book tours for the rest of the island. You don’t really need a car if you stay at the West End.
  2. Opt out of the all inclusive food and drink packages, eat locally and drink a la carte.
  3. If you want more independent travel, book accommodations away from the West End and rent a car at the airport. You will have the flexibility to explore the whole island and do things at our own time and save money on tours.
West End Food Bar Cafe
West End Food Bar Cafe
West Bay Beach Roatan Honduras
West Bay Beach Roatan Honduras

Best Resorts in Roatan

These Roatan Resorts are perfect for families and couples.

Anthony’s Key Resort

Great diving, food and accommodations. Anthony’s Key Resort is truly an all inclusive. The beach bungalows let you hear the ocean at night and wake up to a beautiful view.

There is also a dolphin marine program on site. At night the dolphins come in from the open ocean and you can visit them everyday for free.

If you want a once in a lifetime experience, pay for the open water dive with the dolphins.

Accommodations at Anthony’s Key Resort can be pricey in high season. But, if you book in January, you can take advantage of their annual 2 for 1 sale – 2 people for the price of 1.

Turquoise Bay Resort

We have stayed in this resort twice. It’s boutique, affordable, clean, and friendly. Most rooms have ocean view and the resort is super quiet if you just want to unplug.

When we stayed at the Turquoise Bay Resort, there was a maximum of 5 people on the private beach and less than 30 people in the resort.

Sunset at Turquoise Bay Resort in Roatan Honduras
Sunset at Turquoise Bay Resort in Roatan Honduras

Paya Bay Resort

This resort is located in the Eastern most tip of the island and if you choose to stay here, it is for the seclusion.

There are no restaurants, grocery stores or anything around for miles outside the resort. 

A 4×4 vehicle is necessary if you want to venture out on your own.

The resort offers a nudist beach if you are not afraid to bear all.

Paya Bay Hut Roatan
Paya Bay Hut Roatan

Palmetto Bay Resort

This resort is great if you are traveling to Roatan with friends or family.

Besides hotel rooms, the resort has houses on the grounds which are privately owned, but managed by the resort. They are rented out while the owners are not vacationing there.

It is very affordable if you need multiple rooms and want to cater for yourself.

This resort is closer to the West End and a short drive to the grocery store and amenities.

A 4×4 is recommended as the roads to the resort are not paved.

Palmetto Bay Resort
Palmetto Bay Resort

How expensive is Roatan?

A week for two adults in an ocean view room with breakfast will run you around U$1,000 (Turquoise Bay Resort in January).

If you choose the all inclusive package (non-diver) that adds lunch, dinner and drinks, the cost doubles – the equivalent of U$15-25 per meal per person.

Most of the all inclusive packages are modelled against US prices and include a big surcharge for alcohol.

If you are not a big eater, have dietary conditions or drink a lot, the all inclusive package might not worth it.

The meals are usually buffet style and westernized compared to the local food outside the resorts that can be bought for a fraction of the price.

Local beers/drinks are very inexpensive to buy a la carte even inside the resorts, so when you fancy something stronger once or twice, it is far better to order a la carte.

How much does food cost outside the resort?

Away from touristy areas, we have found excellent food for less than $6 a meal per person and we are not talking fast food. We ate wholesome meals and had access to a lot more choices than at the resort.

Steak Tacos for US$5
Steak Tacos for US$5
BBQ Chicken US$6
BBQ Chicken US$6

The benefits of an all inclusive package

Absolutely!

  1. You don’t have to rent a car or figure out where you will eat lunch and dinner every day.
  2. You can drink without driving.
  3. If you choose a diving package, the food and drinks portion of the all inclusive is almost free.
  4. Some resorts are too isolated to not pay for the all inclusive rates.

How safe is the island?

Honduras has the the highest murder rate in the world. Due to its location, and previous British colonization, Roatan remained pretty safe until the last decade when it became a regular stop for cruise ships.

The extra inflow of money into the island, increased the number of people seeking work and also flow of drugs and criminals to the island.

During raining season, when tourism declines and most expats leave the island, the decrease of local income leads to crimes towards private properties and expats living on the island.

In 2017, Roatan was put in the list of dangerous places to visit by the Department of State due to homicides that happened against foreigners on the island, but in most cases, these crimes could have been avoided with common sense, such as not pursuing prostitution or drugs while visiting Roatan.

Roatan has since been removed from the list, but it is always good to check the Department of State before planning your vacation. Crime is much lower in Roatan than in mainland Honduras, but it does happen.

We never had a problem in Roatan employing good old common sense.

My advice would be to stay away from Coxen Hole and local neighborhoods after dark and unless you have a local guide, ask around before exploring local bays.

We have literally driven the whole island, explored the most deserted beaches and eaten with the locals in several holes-in-the-wall places and met nothing but warm, welcoming folks.

When should you visit Roatan?

Go in the low dry season (May-November) which is hurricane season for the Caribbean and when cruise lines don’t operate in the area.

Roatan is located outside the path of hurricanes so a perfect place to visit during this time of the year.

The raining period (November-February) is a particularly bad time to visit Roatan. When it rains on the island, it pours for days! Roads get washed out and most expats leave the island.

What to pack for a vacation to Roatan?

Roatan weather is very temperate and during the day you will only need a light layer. While dining in the resorts in air conditioned restaurants, you might need a light shawl or long sleeve top.

The most important item you need to pack for your vacation to Roatan is bug spray to repel mosquitos and sand fleas. Sand fleas are actually tiny crustaceans and they like to bite and are abundant in Roatan’s beaches.

The expats living on the island swear by this product which seems to be the best against sand flea bites.

If you have been to Roatan, please share additional travel tips below in the comments.

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2 Comments

  1. February 16, 2015 / 4:36 pm

    Wow, I feel like I visited Roatan with you through the stories and pictures! Of course, I’d love to visit the island in the flesh one of these days. Thanks for sharing the secret gem!

    • February 17, 2015 / 8:59 pm

      Wow, thank you! I am flattered! And you really should visit! It’s one of those under the radar places that will change rapidly in the coming years.

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