There’s really no other way to describe this trip than one big sigh. Col, Cindy and I headed down to Roatan, Honduras for a week of relaxing, and what we got exceeded our expectations.
Unlike most of the trips I plan, there wasn’t really anything on the agenda for this one other than time to lay around, read, drink, eat and soak up some of the island culture. We decided to rent a vacation home for the week, rather than stay in a hotel (which are few and far between) or a guest lodge (which are more common and vary wildly in terms of quality and location). Most of the homes on the islands are named, and we decided to rent Sea Lodge for the week.
Roatan is actually a pretty big and diverse island. From the US, only two airlines serve the airport in Coxen Hole (RTB): Delta once weekly from ATL and Continental on Saturday (2 flights), Sunday (1 flight) and Wednesday (1 flight) from IAH. US travelers do not need a visa to visit Honduras. Coxen Hole is also where several large cruise lines call, and from what we saw coming in is not really where anyone would want to stay.
At the far western end of the island is West Bay, which is where the large resorts and timeshares are located. This is also primarily where all the cruise passengers visit, as the beach at West Bay is one of the best on the island, primarily because the notorious sand flies are kept at bay with regular treatment of the sand. We took a water taxi over to West Bay on Tuesday afternoon, and one afternoon there was enough for me. We might as well have been at a Disney resort.
Just east of West Bay is West End, which is where we stayed. West End is a sleepy little village. The main drag is dotted with small family restaurants (with a wide variety, including Mexican, seafood, Argentinian, Italian, Thai, as well as small BBQ stands and bakerys), typical tourist shops and many dive schools/shops. There are less “tourists” in West End, as the primary visitors are there with a mission: diving.
We were introduced to the laid back island lifestyle on our first morning. The sun rose just after 6AM, so we were up and moving around by 7:30AM. Col and I took quick showers to get ready for the day, and Cindy was in the shower all soaped up when the power went out and the water cut off. We learned from our property’s caretaker that power to the island is cut off every day between 8-11AM (and that can vary depending on who is throwing the switch) to force conservation. As there is no central water system, water to the house is fed via an electric pump. No electricity = no water, thus no shower. Col handed pitchers of cold drinking water through the door to Cindy so she could finish her “shower.” For the rest of the trip, she was showered and ready well before 8AM.
Our house was about a five minute walk down the dirt roads into West End, and while our house offered a small kitchen and grill, we chose to eat out the entire time. Prices were low to moderate: breakfast for three was around $20 USD, lunch about the same and dinner with plenty of booze would run between $30-$60 USD. The local currency is the Lempira (HNL), but the US dollar is also widely accepted. It can be a bit confusing at times because both currencies are used interchangeably. You may pay in USD and get “lemps” back as change. The current exchange is between 18-19 lemps per USD.
Navigating the island is easy via cabs or water taxis and both cost around $3 USD per person for a moderate distance. Most people on the island speak fluent English, although a working knowledge of Spanish comes in handy.
We spent most of our time relaxing and did some snorkeling. The island is completely surrounded by coral reef, and even in West End’s Half Moon Bay it’s easy to see sea turtles, shark, dolphin and rays right off the local docks. We did succumb to one tourist activity, which was a canopy tour via zip lines. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon and included admission to a nature park to see various birds and monkeys native to the Honduran mainland (not native to the Bay Islands).
My only gripe of the whole trip is one I had been warned about in advance: sand flies (sometimes people call them sand fleas, but they are actually flies). These little buggars bite, and those bites ITCH! Most of the beaches are raked regularly, which keeps them down somewhat, but West Bay is the only beach that’s treated for them. Our first day, I’d forgotten the warning and didn’t spray down with Cactus Juice before we went to the beach. I ended up with bites all over my legs and arms that itched the entire trip. Island authorities and the marine conservation groups request that people use only the sprays that do not contain DEET, as the chemical kills the coral. Fortunately, Cactus Juice works well and smells good, although Col developed a rash from it.
One thing to note is that anti-malarial meds are recommended for travelers from the US. Malaria had been completely eradicated from the island up until a year ago, but it’s back. While mosquitos weren’t really a problem while we were there because of the constant trade winds, we each did get a few bites. The CDC shows all of Honduras as a malaria area.
There are a couple of local Honduran beers available on the island. The beers I saw most were Barena and Salva Vida. Both are pretty good; Salva Vida tasted like Miller Lite to me, which makes sense as it’s brewed by a Miller subsidiary. I mostly had Barena, which tastes a little like Corona (but not as skunky). I definitely consumed my fair share.
Overall, this was a great trip, and there’s not much I would change about it other than make it longer. I’ll definitely go back, and we’re already talking about a trip that starts in Belize followed by a catamaran trip over to Roatan. I’d like to try a discovery dive the next time we’re there; we had one scheduled, but Col ended up with some congestion and they would not permit him to dive.
I’d recommend this trip to anyone, as long as you can handle “island time,” which is to say…no time at all.
Here is the entire photoset: Roatan, Honduras – May 2011
Planning this Trip
- Continental Airlines
- Roatan Property Management
- Roatan Marine Park
- US Centers for Disease Control
- US Department of State