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Looking to escape from the rat race we call life to an island paradise? Do you love to scuba dive or snorkel more than anything you can imagine? Look no further than Roatan, Honduras. And, being the most tourism-driven economy in Honduras while also an island that is separated from the mainland, it makes for a unique cultural escape of its own.
Whether you are flying in to the island’s airport (served by Delta, United, American and Taca from the US) or visiting for some excursions on the island during your Caribbean cruise, there are many Roatan excursions and tips to learn more about to make your trip even more enjoyable. So, sit back, grab a Corona and enjoy reading about your future trip to tropical sunsets and warm ocean breezes in the Bay Islands of Honduras.
Roatan Excursions & Activities
Many thanks to Adam Caplan for writing up an itinerary for our recent trip to Roatan which has been repurposed for other to learn from his frequent vacations in Roatan. We have added some additional excursion ideas as well based on our recent travel experience that started with Adam’s useful suggestions. Hope this compilation of activities, restaurants and more is helpful in planning your trip to paradise.
Gumbalinda Park Zipline Canopy Tour
Gumbalinda Park is located near West Bay and features ziplining or what the locals call a canopy tour. But, this park features a lot more than just the zipline so you may want to play a day here. The zip line starts up in the tree canopy’s that ends up down at the sea to visiting with some of their resident monkeys. This is a popular cruise ship excursion, so if you can avoid it, you may wish to visit here on a non cruise ship day. They also have a nice pool you can use that is close to the Caribbean Sea if you decide to go here and spend the day. If you have been to Costa Rica, you are probably familiar with the whole zip line thing but this one is a little special since it starts in the jungle and literally ends at the shore of the water. There’s also a great wildlife tour where you can see and hold local monkeys and exotic birds.
This is the main attraction on this island, so even if you’ve never been scuba diving before, you should block out 4-5 hours one day to try out a Discovery dive. Roatan sits right on a “fringing reef” which means that the coral comes right up along the shoreline making scuba diving and snorkeling easy from just about anywhere you enter the water on the entire island. It also means that you will se amazing fish, corals and other underwater wildlife without much work. Prepare to be impressed by this natural beauty of the world’s second largest reef system! There are dive shops located on every corner and they are all PADI certified, so no worries, you will not go wrong by walking in to schedule a dive with any of them. We used Coconut Tree in West End and they were great – ask for Monty!
Iron Shore at West Bay beach is arguably the best snorkeling on this island but it is not the easiest to access. Walk to the very end up the beach, past Infinity Bay resort and take snorkel gear if you have it (it can also be rented on the beach for a daily rate at a reasonable cost). It’s almost like you’re in an aquarium, it’s really fantastic and the water is just amazing. High tide is best, but either way you won’t be disappointed. Bring a beach towel, some Salva Vida’s, maybe something to read and enjoy a few hours at the beach. All beaches are free/public access so you shouldn’t have to pay unless you wish to rent a lounge chair or something like that. Earlier in the mornings or after 2pm after the cruise ship people pack up are better times we’ve found to visit Iron Shore.
There’s also great snorkeling right off the beach at Half Moon Bay and to the far left of the main beach in West End.
Roatan Marine Park: Save The Reef
Need snorkeling gear? You can rent it at the Roatan Marine Park Headquarters, located in West End. You can pop in there to get more information on the Lionfish issue that plagues the island’s reef and also get suggestions for possible scuba diving and snorkeling sites. You can also rent equipment here for all sorts of water excursions so ask them what you are looking for and they might just have it! Plus, your money will go to helping to preserve the reef. They do a lot of great community awareness events to help protect and save the reefs, improve marine life quality, etc. You can read more on their website.
Captain Van’s (Scooter Rentals)
You can rent scooters here (daily rates) and take a nice stroll around part of the Island if you are into setting off on your own adventure. There are 2 locations: 1 in West End and a 2nd in West Bay. If you rent scooters, you can easily drive yourself between West End and West Bay beach to snorkel say at Iron Shore (see note above re: Iron Shore). If you are going by scooter to Iron Shore, you might want to park them near Banarama or Infinity Bay and then just walk down to Iron Shore.
RogerCat (Catamaran Sails)
Roger has his own catamaran where he offers snorkel and catamaran sails under the company name Roger’s Cat-Cruises. He’s a really nice Italian man who has relocated and been in Roatan many years now. He sometimes is at West Bay beach in the mornings trying to drum up business for that days sail. If you really wanted to do a sail with him, you could also call or email him and he’ll be able to talk with you more about when he’s sailing next. He can even plan a custom trip for a small group if you are interested.
Roger also does an overnight tour to an area called Cayos Cochinos, a marine protected reserve of a few small Islands about 15-20 miles away from Roatan via sail, where some of the last Garafuna tribes still live. You can spend the night in rustic accommodations on one of the Islands and enjoy a fresh seafood or Italian meal for dinner. Roger will make you feel welcome and comfortable. Again, he doesn’t always do this trip but if interested, shoot him an email now to start planning this special trip. We have friends who have done this trip and they really enjoyed the experience. Above is a photo of RogerCat’s boat and Roger is the man with the hat on the right.
Roatan Shark Dive
If you are a diver (recreational or advanced), this could be a once in a lifetime experience to dive with reef sharks that you guys might enjoy and want to look in to. Just ask on the cruise ship or on the island for more details if you are interested and know that there is a chance you might not see sharks (no one can control the ocean!) but, most people do and those that have said it is one of the most awesome experiences of their lives.
Rainy Day Roatan Excursions
If the seas get a little crazy (and hazy) and a storm comes rolling in, we hope it doesn’t impact any snorkel or scuba plans you may have scheduled. But, if it does, there is still plenty to do on the Island. And while we hope the rain doesn’t make things too soggy for you, at least it will still be semi-warm out AND…. You are in paradise!
Boat Drinks at A Local Bar
Since your time is limited, we realize you may want to get out and do some local excursions, even if it is raining. Since you’re going to get wet anyway, why not go for the adventure, right? There are plenty of bars that will welcome you in before or after your adventures (see below for some recos) or, if you’re feeling more like relaxing, grab a deck of cards stake your ground at a local bar. We recommend Escondido Cafe in West End which offers great prices, delicious food and a tasty Bloody Mary to wait out the rain.
If you’re looking for more of an excursion, there is a Butterfly farm not far from West End that you might want to check out. You will see many different varieties of butterflies and you can even feed end hold them if you are up to this picture perfect experience.
There’s also an Iguana ‘farm’, on the West side of the island, north of Coxon Hole (cruise ship ports) and the airport. So, it may will require a taxi and expect to pay about $20-30 for the ride each way (from West Bay or West End). There are tons of Iguana’s here so you will not be disappointed if you are looking to meet some reptiles. Kids especially rave about this experience.
Little French Key
And if you have come as far north as the Iguana Farm (or even if you skip the Iguanas), you will not want to miss the lovely escape to Little French Key. Another cruise ship excursion so you may wish to visit this gorgeous white sand, turquoise blue island on a non-cruise day. This is an outdoor place so you will need to be okay with getting wet in the rain but there is a vast covered bar and restaurant area surrounded by crystal blue seas that the rain cannot even ruin. It is paradise complete with snorkeling, kayaks and more all on a small privately owned island that is perfect for the entire family.
Dune Buggy Tour
One other thing I’ve wanted to always try there but haven’t had the chance (yet) is to rent a Dune Buggy to drive on a guided tour. We have been told that near the end of the tour they’ll take you to a mud hole where you can pull out all the stops and really 4-wheel drive through it. We cannot think of a better way to spend an already rainy day than taking full advantage of the wetness as you drive through mud puddles! And, since it’s raining, perhaps the rain will even clear the mud off of before you get home!
Last but certainly not least, you may enjoy a spa day. There are several spas on the island with most of them located in the resort hotels in West Bay but you can also find one located near Anthony’s Key (not too far from West End via taxi). At Spa Baan Suerte (Anthony’s Key) you can enjoy your treatments at a unique location in the spa in the middle of a forest-like canopy. It’s very serene with a beautiful swimming pool also connected to the spa. Relax in this zen experience with massages, facials, mani/pedis and more.
Watch a Movie
Ask your hotel is they have a DVD player or perhaps you brought along your laptop. If so, Captain Van’s (Scooter place mentioned above) location in West Bay has DVD rentals if you are over that way.
West End Restaurants
If you’re staying in West End, everything is fairly close to walk to. If you get lost, just ask a local or stop into the local dive shop – they will probably point you in the right direction.
Blue Marin, located in the heart of ‘town’, has a great view out to the Caribbean Sea as well as tasty eats. Wednesday is karaoke night if you are feeling like serenading the crowd. Like many restaurants on the island, plan on paying with Cash since that is all they accept (but, US Dollars are excepted just about everywhere on the island so no need to worry with the local currency, Lempiras). Try the Quesadilla and Lion Fish Fingers (a local pest to the reef that luckily tastes delicious) if you go!
Very good lunches and nice dinners too. We’ve heard some mixed reviews about dinner but we had a great experience sitting out over the water. There is a great view looking down towards West Bay. Another cash only place.
Eagle Rays serves up fresh nightly seafood specials and you can sit upstairs for nice views. They are one of the few spots that takes credit cards, we think 🙂 [note: payment policies change on a dime on the island so be prepared with cash wherever you go, just in case.]
If you are looking for the quintessential bar on the sand, right next to the ocean, look no further than Sundowners Bar. You can get all the local beers and also pull up a lounge chair right on the sand, with waves washing over your feet. It is operated by Canadians so if there is a hockey game (or any sports game really) while you are visiting, this is the place to watch.
Shopping in West End, Roatan
This is a small convenience and grocery store where you can buy snacks and beer at a reasonable price (for your hotel room, for walking on the beach at sunset or whatever).
Woody’s is a small grocery store where you can pick up groceries but do not stop in here for beer. Strangely, they do not sell alcohol.
West End Cigar Bar
We stopped in here to meet Rick and his wife Alison, the owners and operators of this great cigar collection and bar. They have a great temperature and humidity controlled room to shop through for Honduran as well as Cuban cigars. There’s also a bar to pull up a stool and chat and a lovely view of the water. What’s not to love? Rick is from Boston so you’ll love his stories about the contrast between life on the island vs. back home in the states.
West Bay Beach Roatan Restaurants
Banarama (on the beach)
You won’t miss it when you head down to West Bay beach and are walking the beach there. Daily drink specials at the Thirsty Turtle bar and nightly dinner specials for two (e.g. 2 shrimp scampi dinner for $20, oh and they take credit cards!)
They also have a small brick oven pizza place in the back with a daily lunch deal: slice of pizza and soda for $5 or add a beer for $6 instead. Pretty good pizza I must say.
They also have a weekly karaoke night… A bit more funky than the Blue Marlin’s, but singers get a free shot of run or tequila. All and all it’s a fun place.
DO NOT MISS SUNDAY EVENINGS THERE starting around 5:30pm (just after sunset). They do hermit crab races for kids on the beach, but anyone can ‘bet’ on a crab with prizes for the winners. Then, it’s followed by a fire show on the beach (free) which is a man, his adorable little daughter and one other person. Pretty fun to watch especially if you have never seen anything like that before. Sunday’s only.
Bite on the Beach
This is a pretty good place for eats as well and overlooks the ocean (open for late lunch and dinners). Just ask if you can’t find it on West Bay beach and someone will point you in the right direction. During high season around dusk, they advertise a nightly ‘eel feeding’ of a few local moray eels they feed chum to as it gets dark. I’m not sure they still do it, but it’s also free and sort of fun to watch if you haven’t seen 3-4 morays battle it out for crumbs before.
Thursday night is lobster night at Fosters in West Bay. Two tails with two sides for one person is $12. Really good, really reasonable and they also have nightly happy hour specials.
This is one of the newer place in West Bay. It features reasonable prices, burgers, sandwiches, etc.
Java Vine at West Bay ‘Mall’
If you’re looking for a nice glass of wine, some rare air conditioning, light bites and free wifi, be sure to pop in here.
Next door to Java Vine is Maggianos Deli where you can get fresh deli sandwiches. While these are not the cheapest deli sandwiches or beer prices but they feature all US grade meats and cheeses made fresh on the spot. And, you can buy to take it down to the beach to enjoy a nice meal on the sand.
West Bay Resort Restaurants and Bars
If you are looking for food, the higher end resorts are going to be pricier than other alternatives, as you would likely expect. The Mayan Princess and Infinity Bay have a few nice restaurants if you are looking for a more luxurious yet Americanized dining experience.
Water Taxis & Car Taxis
Getting from West End to West Bay you can go via water taxi or take a taxi. Water taxi’s however will not run at night so you’ll need to grab a cab back from West Bay back to West End. To get from West End to West Bay, it shouldn’t cost you more than about $10 total each way. Water taxis are usually $3/person between West End to West Bay. Be sure to ask for the price per person/carload before you get in for the ride to avoid any issues or surprises upon arrival.
Miscellaneous Roatan Excursions & Travel Tips
Weekend Party Scene in West End
West End and West Bay on Friday nights is hopping! There are many bars and restaurants that start-up after 10pm if that’s your thing. Saturday is quieter but still more so than other nights of the week. West Bay is a bit more sleepy, even on weekend nights.
Be Prepared: Airport Exit Tax
Make sure to take an extra $40 per person for departure taxes when you come home. There are ATM’s at the airport worst case, but you may need to take out Lempiras (the local Honduran currency) to pay the taxes assuming the ATM is working at the airport.
Money and ATMs in Roatan
ATM’s are also located at West Bay Mall, Mayan Princess Resort, next to Coconut Tree Dive Shop in West End and one next to the smaller cigar shop in West End (not described in this article). The Lempira (also known as “lemps”) is about 20 to 1 USD +/- on average.
The local beers in Honduras are Salva Vida (translates to Life Saver literally, too funny!) Imperial and Port Royal. Port Royal is on a higher quality scale I’d say (more like Heineken) , but everyone drinks Salva Vida for the most part (since the locals find it cheaper than Port Royal). For sunsets on the beach, exploring, walking the beach, etc., Salva Vida will likely be your beer of choice. It’s far from the micro brews in the States, but hey, when in Roatan 😉
Roatan is on Central Standard Time and they do not participate in daylight savings. So, if you are coming from Texas, it may or may not be the same time in Honduras, depending on what time of year it is.
Cruise Ship Schedule
Since cruise ships are adding this lovely destination to its schedule more and more these days, it is important to understand that the island and especially Roatan excursion locations will be much busier if a cruise ship (or 3) is in port at Coxon Hole. So, here’s a link to the cruise ship schedule in both ports at Roatan. You can use this to plan some of your outings and adventures around days where there is not a ship or after the ships leave the port.
Enjoy Your Visit to Roatan Honduras
There’s no doubt you’ll have a great trip! People are friendly, a lot of English is spoken (Spanish too). One piece of advice: Just play it safe like you would in any developing country. No need for flashy bling and big bills. In fact takes 1’s , 5’s 10’s if you have time to get some before you leave. They’ll come in handy. The locals and expats are casual and pretty laid back which is part of what makes Roatan so special. And one request from us, promise not to let the secret out too much about the Island 🙂
Hopefully some of this information is helpful in planning your trip but remember, sometimes half the fun is the experience and exploring on your own.
Have you visited Roatan? Where did you go and what were your best and worst experiences?
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