Roatan, the best unknown island in the Caribbean

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Fall is now in full swing and winter is fast approaching, so I thought I would transport you to a place where is always warm; my favorite Caribbean island Roatan.

Where is Roatan?

Most people have no idea where it is. If you do, consider yourself an insider. I debated writing this post as with any well kept secret, the less people that know it, the better, but then I realized that it would be selfish of me…afterall it’s not like I own the island…yet!

The island is only 48 miles long and 5 miles wide, off the cost of Honduras and has a population of 50,000. It’s 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. Most islands tend to turn into Spring Break havens and through commercialization, end up loosing its local flavor. Roatan, on the other hand, has largely remained under the radar due to its parent country’s lack of governmental stability and security.

What is Roatan like?

The island itself boasts with lush vegetation, close proximity to the US, cheap food and fantastic diving in the second largest barrier reef in the world.

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 5+ 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.

Aerial View of Roatan Honduras

Aerial View of Roatan Honduras

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 – only a couple hours from Miami – and there are several places to explore and chill with absolutely no one around.

Turquoise Bay Resort Dock

Turquoise Bay Resort Dock

So, let’s Party!!!

Not really! Although there are several spots in the West End that provide nightly entertainment and the bar atmosphere, 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 without having to go out, including nightly entertainment that are fairly consistent 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

BUT, you guys hate being stuck in the resort, right?

Yes! So if you are like us and love to explore or are trying to save money, your best bet is to:

  1. Stay at the West End budget accommodations if you prefer to walk and be close to the hub hub.
  2. Opt out of the all inclusive packages, eat locally and drink a la carte.
  3. If you want peace and solitude, rent a car at the airport and stay away from the West End. The car gives flexibility to explore the whole island and do things at our own time and pace. If you opt to rent a car and forego tourist tours and the all inclusive packages, the savings can be substantial.

 

West End Food Bar Cafe

West End Food Bar Cafe

West End Neighborhood Roatan

West End Neighborhood Roatan

West Bay Beach Roatan Honduras

West Bay Beach Roatan Honduras

Here are some options:

  • Anthony’s Key Resort: Great diving, food and accommodations. It’s truly an all inclusive and the island bungalows let you hear the ocean at night and wake up to a beautiful view. They are also part of the marine program to study dolphins so you can visit these beautiful mammals everyday for free and even dive with them in the open ocean for a fee. It can be pricey in high season so if you really want to stay in AKR, wait for their annual sale of 2 for 1. Interesting fact about the resort is the owner was the mayor of part of the island and he is responsible for developing tourism in Roatan. He is also cousin to Honduras’ ex-president.
  • Turquoise Bay ResortWe have stayed in this resort twice. It’s boutique, affordable, clean, friendly, most rooms have ocean view and the resort is super quiet if you just want to unplug. The two times we have been there, there was a maximum of 5 people on the private beach and less than 30 people on the resort.
  • Paya Bay Resort: We found this resort in one of our explorations of the island and have not stayed there. It is completely remote in the Eastern most tip of the island and if you choose to stay here it’s for the seclusion. There is no restaurants or grocery stores or anything around for miles outside the resort and 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.
  • Palmetto Bay Resort: We have also not stayed here, but have visited. We would consider this resort if travelling to Roatan with friends or family. They rent out houses and it’s very affordable if you need multiple rooms and want to cater for yourself. A lot of expats own houses here and spend 3-6 months in Roatan. This resort is closer to West End and a short drive to the grocery store and amenities, but a 4×4 is recommended as the roads to and from the resort are not paved.

 

Turquoise Bay Resort

Turquoise Bay Resort

Sunset at Turquoise Bay Resort in Roatan Honduras

Sunset at Turquoise Bay Resort in Roatan Honduras

Turquoise Bay Resort Beach

Turquoise Bay Resort Beach

Paya Bay Hut Roatan

Paya Bay Hut Roatan

Palmetto Bay Resort

Palmetto Bay Resort

So how expensive is it?

A week for two adults in an oceanview room with breakfast will run you around $700 (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 and are not big drinkers, it’s 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.

Ok, so 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

Are there times you would opt in to an all inclusive?

Absolutely!

  1. When you opt out, you have to drive somewhere 2x a day to eat and sometimes there are some vacations you just want to lounge in a beach chair and drink margaritas all day. We had a few of those ourselves and the all inclusive made sense then, to keep us happy and everyone safe on the road.
  2. Resorts sometimes include activities to guests only that would cost more if paid for a la carte, so depending on what you are going for, it may be cheaper to go all in. This can include special events, sports, a swim with the dolphins or beauty treatments.
  3. Some resorts are too isolated to warrant a 2x a day trip for food. If you are staying on the Eastern side of the island (Paya Bay), it’s miles of dirt road from the nearest grocery store, let alone restaurants.
  4. Most resorts in Roatan run deep discounted specials for divers making the all inclusive a bargain and the food portion almost free. Any diver knows that diving schedules impact meal times and having to drive between dives is not ideal, not to mention that breakfast at dawn can be a hard thing to find in town.

 

How safe is the island?

Sadly, because Roatan is part of Honduras, which boasts the highest murder rate in the world and due to a recent spike in crime, Roatan has been put in the list of dangerous places to visit by the Department of State. As with any travelling plans, do some research ahead of time, weigh in your concerns and don’t believe everything at face value.

We never had a problem in Roatan employing good old common sense. We choose safe accomodations away from “troubled” areas and employ a “different country, different rules” attitute whenever we travel, which means we are more conservative than we would be at home in many aspects.There are some golden rules that apply everywhere- hide valuables including diamond wedding rings, observe cultural norms and those around you, don’t do illegal things, don’t go into dark alleys, don’t drink yourself stupid, and if your gut says “Uhm this doesn’t feel good”…get the hell out of there!

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. It’s just like home, wherever you live, I am sure there are areas you wouldn’t go to during the day or night as a good rule and that applies to anywhere in the world, but don’t let isolated incidents keep you from visiting Roatan, we have literally driven the whole island, explored the most deserted beaches and eaten with the locals in several holes in the wall and met nothing but warm, welcoming folks.

Other travel tips?

A very basic one. Go in low season (May-November) and outside the raining period (November-February). When it rains in Roatan, it pours for days, roads get washed out and most expats leave the island and head over to the US or Canada, so the island is even less populated than usual and due to the lack of tourism dollars, crime seems to increase.

And a not so obvious one. Roatan unfortunately suffers from a sand flea infestation, which can be awful for those who suffer from mosquito bites/inflammations like me. The name “sand flea” is actually misleading, these annoying creatures are actually crustaceans and they like to bite and are abundant in Roatan’s beaches, but, there is an easy solution, bug spray. It seems to do the trick. I heard from the expats that the best product is Skin So Soft by Avon, but I usually just pack the strongest deet repellent I can find. Yes, I know, it’s bad for me and the environment, but I am THAT person the bugs love to devour while no one else around is bitten. I will usually be covered head to toe with bites and suffer from allergic reactions for a week. In fact, Mr. GoodLife is just the opposite and we have running jokes and a record bite count at the end of every trip. If there are two species I wish we could manage to extinct are mosquitoes and sand fleas…Ok, I went on a little rant there….back to the travel post…

I will be posting lots more pictures on Instagram this week, so check it out my feed and don’t forget to follow! (Shameless plug!)

If you have been to Roatan, share your tips below. Go ahead, don’t be shy!

Happy Xploring!

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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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