Have you heard of Roatán, Honduras? I hadn’t until my husband suggested we go there for a family scuba diving/snorkeling trip.
Usually, we head to Mammoth to ski for winter break, but this year we wanted to spend a week in tropical, sunny weather. It was between Belize (my choice) and Roatán, Honduras (my husband’s). Naturally, we started with Belize (you know what they say, “happy wife, happy life!”).
Although I’ve heard great things about Belize, it seems to have been built up for tourism to a state of high priced hotels and tour companies. It’s necessary to plan for Belize at least six months in advance if you’re looking to go during peak times. Since we started planning in October, the hotels were already booked.
So we shifted our focus to Roatán.
I was apprehensive about planning a trip because I read Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. But after some research, I learned that the crime is in mainland Honduras and not the islands.
Roatán is the biggest of Honduras’ three Bay Islands, 40 miles off the coast. It is a small, skinny island, about 45 miles long and five wide.
When I learned Roatán lies in the Caribbean by the second largest barrier reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I was excited. I visited the Great Barrier Reef in my 20’s, and it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen.
There is so much I can say about our vacation in Roatán, but rather than make this a post about our itinerary, I will focus on the Pros and Cons of the island.
I find when I research travel, it’s tough to get objective views. I usually scour Trip Advisor reviews. But even then, I find once I see things for myself, the information is skewed.
How did we feel about Roatán in a nutshell? We loved it. But if you are expecting a Four Seasons experience, you’ll want to go elsewhere. Also, the island is for marine life lovers. If you enjoy scuba diving and snorkeling and the Caribbean, this is a great destination. But there are some things to note before planning a trip.
Pros and Cons about Roatán
Scuba diving and snorkeling are some of the best in the world.
The entire island is surrounded by a shallow reef offering a spectacular view of thousands of marine creatures for divers and snorkelers.
The reefs begin in as little as 20 feet with drop-offs up to 100+ feet. The pristine dive sites offer canyons and the Caribbean’s most extensive variety of coral.
Here’s a little video my son, Justin put together from his Go Pro footage. These sea creatures were much more significant in person than what they look like on video. And the footage does not translate the extraordinary beauty of the coral and fish!
Being deep under the sea transports you into a different world. We dove or snorkeled every morning. Either Dave or I would go with Justin for Scuba, while the other went snorkeling from the shore with Jake.
Snorkeling was just as fantastic!
The Island is Unspoiled
We loved the crystal clear water and white sand on the beach. There are plenty of remote places on the island to explore.
Prices are relatively inexpensive
Our hotel was considered one of the most expensive on the island at $350/night. Excursions were inexpensive relative to other places. For example, one dive costs $40 including equipment. In Hawaii, it costs $100. We took a 2-hour private snorkel tour on a small boat with JC of JC Adventure Tours for $30 per person (book through him directly, not the hotel, to avoid paying more). We had a great time.
Baleadas, a Honduran dish frequently prepared at makeshift stands on the beach sells handmade tortillas filled with refried beans, cheese, shredded chicken and fresh avocado. They are delicious and sell for $1.50 each.
There were local casual restaurants selling plates for $5. But many restaurants that catered to tourists were everywhere too, and they were expensive ($15-$20/dish).
We Experienced the Island Culture
Staying in the West End allowed us to get a sense of the island life as many locals hung out in this area. We walked this main West End street daily, with the beach on one side and stores/restaurants on the other. The boys walked on their own to get ice cream and snacks. The area was very safe, and people were friendly and helpful.
Rather than going to the crowded and pricey Gumba Limba Park, which I read was not worth the visit, we visited a local monkey/bird sanctuary and zip line center for $10/person and an iguana farm for $10/person. The animals seemed well taken care of and happy. A guide walked us through the park and into each cage to say hi to the animals. He was knowledgeable and friendly.
Weather in Dec/January was beautiful
Winter is the rainy season, but we lucked out with great weather. It did rain for most of one day, but otherwise there were short, heavy showers here or there with the rest of the days being sunny and perfect.
We knew from our research there was a possibility of rain, but I would say it is safe to expect isolated showers during one part of the day/night rather than consecutive days of rain.
Offered Many Water Sports
We hopped on the water taxi to the West Bay for the water sports. There was jet skiing, kayaking, SUP, Parasailing; you name it – they had it! The boys tried parasailing for the first time and loved it.
Allows you to embrace simple living
The boys spent a few hours each day hanging out on this abandoned ship about 200 meters from our hotel dock. They loved swinging off the boat and doing flips off the stairs. Dave and I would sit on the dock sipping cocktails, watching.
They look happy, right?
Service is extremely slow
Keep in mind, Honduras is a third world country. They give new meaning to the word, slow. When we visited Costa Rica (read my blog post), we noticed the service was slower than in the states.
In Roatán, we waited an average of 45 minutes to 1 hour after ordering to get our food at restaurants. Workers were kind, but they were in no rush, AT ALL. The food quality? Let’s just say if you are a foodie, you may want to cook for yourself during your stay.
We ended up eating mostly at local places with $5 plates of classic Honduran food with beans, plantains, chicken/beef/fish. We found the food tasted best at these joints! And if it was run by a family, the service was quick.
Cruise ships crowded the island
You know how you avoid driving during rush hour when you can help it? That’s what it’s like with planning around the masses of cruise people visiting the island.
The heaviest cruise days are Monday-Thursday. It is important to plan your excursions for popular sites to start after 2 pm to avoid the crowds. For instance, Little French Key Island is a popular destination for tourists. If you go in the morning, you won’t be happy. But after 2 pm you will feel like you are in paradise! More on Little French Key in a bit.
West Bay (resort section) crowded and unoriginal
This area reminded me of a Cancun or Ft. Lauderdale resort during Spring Break. Crowded, people everywhere, all-inclusive wristbands and generic. But most people stay in the West Bay and not the West End like us, so it is likely a matter of preference.
Little French Key island is overrated
I had seen so many pictures of Little French Key on-line before the trip; I was excited to visit this place. The island closes at 4 pm, and it costs $25/per person to access. We arrived at 1 pm and it was a zoo. People everywhere and music blaring!
They have everything you can ask for on the beach – kayaks, floaters, straw-thatched tables in the water, swings to jump off, bars and restaurants, even horseback riding. But it felt more like a rowdy hotel resort rather than a peaceful island.
At 2 pm, the cruise people left the island (which turned out to be about 80% of the crowd). When we had the place to ourselves (like in pics below), it was beautiful. But the first hour with the crowds and the mediocre food left an impression. I’d say pass on this place if you visit Roatán.
The other thing that was off-putting was the large caged up animals (lions and tigers and more) the Little French Key island had for show. These animals did not look happy and should not be living on the tiny island.
Mosquitos, Sand fleas & Zika
Finally, we weren’t crazy about the mosquitos and sand fleas which were hard to avoid despite applying insect repellent. And FYI, Zika is an issue on the island, so it’s not for pregnant women.
What We Would Have Done Differently
Rented a condo or house
Had I known what I know now, we would have rented a house on the beach (with a pool) in the West End. Many homes have their private docks and swimming pools. Rates for 2-3 BR home rentals are about $300/night!
We had chosen to stay at the hotel, but given the service issues on the island, in my opinion, the benefits of staying in a hotel are not there. I would have preferred a full kitchen to cook the island’s fresh seafood on our own.
My husband says he is happy we stayed in a hotel to be in the heart of town and have the free breakfast each morning. So its preference again, I suppose.
Had both our kids get certified for scuba on the island
Our 12-year-old son was PADI certified in Los Angeles in November with two ocean dives and several hours of class. It cost about $1000 including equipment we had to purchase. We passed on having our 10-year-old son do the same due to the cold ocean dives.
In Roatán, you can get the same PADI certification in a few days for $350 with the same level of teaching. And it would have been more enjoyable to do the ocean dives in the Caribbean than in cold Catalina and the Channel Islands. We would have gotten both of our kids scuba certified during our trip, had we known how easy and inexpensive it would be.
So there you have it. What do you think? Would you want to vacation in Roatán, Honduras? As long as you plan your trip correctly, you will have a great time. We made wonderful memories on the island and are glad we visited this slice of marine life paradise! Our kids loved their trip, and we hope to return one day to re-experience Roatán’s magical marine world.