A blog by Josiah Roe from theoutbound.com
Diving, snorkeling, fishing and dining in a tropical paradise surrounded by the healthiest reef system in the world.
Whether due to its proximity to mainland Honduras or the over-marketed all-inclusive destinations of Cancun and Cozumel to the north, you have likely never heard of Roatán unless you are an avid scuba diver, a marine biologist, or a deep sea explorer.
Because Roatán is situated in the heart of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the healthiest in the world, marine biology and the accompanying sports of scuba, free diving, and snorkeling are the island's main draw, particularly on the northern side of the island where the reef is often mere yards from shore providing easy access. And while underwater activities are the main attraction (as they should be), the rugged, mountainous island has an array of outdoor and cultural adventures as diverse as the people who call Roatán home.
So grab your Tropical Adventure Gear Kit and prepare for 10 days of exploration, excitement, and a tropical island experience unlike any other in the Caribbean.
Getting to Roatán is easiest by air. Juan Manuel Galvez International Airport in Coxen Hole has direct flights from Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Newark, San Salvador, Milan, Montreal and Toronto. Ferries run daily from La Ceiba on the mainland and the nearby island of Utila. English is the primary language on the island, and American dollars and Honduran lempiras are the accepted currency.
Upon arrival, grab a couple of Salva-Vida's from Larry & Luey's Fly High Bar in the airport. Say hi to Larry and/or Luey if they are there (likely) and then head outside to grab a cab. Be sure to state your price prior to departing in the cab. A typical cab ride to and from the airport would be $5 to West End, or $6 - $7 to the Ibagarihotel, your first destination.
The 8-room boutique hotel is a work of art and indisputably the most beautiful on the island. Each hallway and room is its own art exhibit, brilliantly designed by the owner's sister-in-law Patrícia Arenas, and containing the artwork of owners Carlos and Lucrecia Arenas that they have collected over the years from around the world.
Walk the grounds, enjoy the artwork, relax in the pool, jump off the dock into the ocean and converse with the incredible staff. The hotel also has its own dive shop, and snorkel and kayaking equipment are available.
Each night at sunset there is a complimentary champagne toast which is a great way to meet other guests.
For dinner, have the staff call a cab and head over to the GULA Gastrobar and Winery in West Bay. The lobster linguine and the shrimp in soy & garlic (both local) are simple and excellent, and the wine list is well structure for island fare.
Despite its relatively small size it can be quite an adventure going from one end of Roatán to the other. There is only one rough and winding road and in some places a 4x4 is required. Some places are best accessed via boat and the Port Royal Gorge is one of them.
Once home to over 2,000 pirates, all that remains are some ruins on Fort Morgan Cay and some of the best reef and wreck snorkeling on the island. Port Royal is best experienced as a long day trip so booking a well-stocked catamaran with a local guide (shout out to Kendall!) with Ecological Adventures that provides food and gear is the best way to go. Don't forget an eco-friendly sunscreen like the Neon Sticks from Bare Republic, as the Marine Park is working to protect the entire island.
After returning to the west end of the island, catch a cab and head over to the iconic Sundowners in West End for a sunset drink.
For dinner, walk up the main street in West End along the beach to Por Que No, a fantastic Mediterranean restaurant with vegetarian and vegan options and an excellent front-porch dining area overlooking the ocean.
The waters around Roatán are fantastic for sport fishing, particularly along the western tip of the island where the strong, windward current rises up over the shelf to create an upwelling that makes for excellent trolling, drift, and outrigger fishing.
Going with a charter from a licensed company like Captain Action Charters is a great way to get local, insider information on where the best fishing spots are, in addition to catering and a cooler full of Salva-Vida. Don't forget to kiss your dinner!
For dinner head back to Ibagari. They purposely book a table for guests each night they are staying in the restaurant so you only need to call ahead if you are *not* having dinner.
Check out of Ibagari and catch a cab over to the cozy Blue Bahia in the Sandy Bay area of the island. Sue, who manages the property, is a veritable treasure trove of local information and Rob, the owner of the restaurant, is always good for a beer and a story on the local happenings.
From there, book a fly fishing trip with Greg, Paul, and Kennedy of Fly Fish Roatán. They will pick you up on the dock at Blue Bahia and take you to some of the finest permit fly fishing flats on the island. Be sure to send Scout the Wonder Dog leaping into the blue.
Just because it is a cliché does not mean it is not a helluva lot of fun to do. Ask Greg and Kennedy about stoping for lunch at Palapa Papas. They have some pretty great fish tacos and an excellent dock for jumping and cooling off, especially from the second floor onto a giant rubber bag.
After your day of fishing is complete, walk up to the main road from Blue Bahia and catch a cab into West End for an evening taking in the sites and sounds.
Get a baleada (like a small burrito with a thicker tortilla) or two for dinner from Doña Caren in Eddies Parking lot for the best damn baleada on the island (always trust the abuelita). Dance with Cathy and Titou as they play their music up and down the street. Dance at Frank's. Dance at Bootie Bar. Don't dance at The Mix (it will make sense when you see it).
Finish up at Tita's Pink Seahorse bar, a mostly locals joint that is tucked away at the far end of West End. It is an institution.
Get up early to catch a cab into town with a stop at the Fresh Bakery for quick breakfast as today is a day of diving. Roatán has some twenty dive shops of varying sizes, most of whom work in partnership with the Roatán Marine Park to protect and preserve the surrounding reef. Some shops like Ocean Connectionsand manager Adam Wise take an active role in conservation, instructing their staff, guides, students and customers in best practices for diving in a "Leave No Trace" manner.
Most dive shops have scheduled dives at 8:30, 10:30, and 2:30, so plan accordingly. The West End Wall off the westernmost point of Roatán has an abundance of marine life, both predator and prey, as a massive upwelling of current creates an ideal environment for feeding and diving. It is a great introduction to diving on Roatan.
For your second dive of the day head to Canyon Reef, an awesome collection of canyons, swim-throughs, and even caves with an abundance of wildlife including sea turtles, morays, eagle rays, and even the cursed lionfish.
For lunch grab a baleada at Calelu's across from Bootie Bar, and then walk down the street to the offices of the Roatán Marine Park to learn more about their conservation efforts. You can also schedule a time to take a class to receive a permit to hunt lionfish, a destructively invasive species that can destroy a reef if not kept in check.
For dinner head up to Junior's Patio for authentic Italian pizza including the outdoor veranda and some good old fashioned cornhole.
Grab a quick breakfast at the Beach Grill downstairs and head back into town for another morning of diving.
Up first is a wreck dive, the "El Aguila" shipwreck sunk by Anthony's Key Resort and broken into three pieces by Hurricane Mitch back in 1998.
For your second dive, dive the "Bears Den", a fantastically spooky cave set into the reef with multiple holes in the ceiling that let through massive beams of "godlight".
After grabbing lunch in town, head back to Blue Bahia and then walk along the beach and up the road to the SOL Foundation Community Center. There you can volunteer with programs like the Roatán Peer Health Exchange to help provide afterschool classes on everything from goal-setting to sexual health to English.
From there head back for dinner and sunset at The Beach Grill. Get the burger; it is the best on the island.
Check out of Blue Bahia and head into West End to check into The Beach House. Grab a coffee and croissant from the Chestnut Street Cafe and Roasters, and then rent a car (concierge at any hotel can help set it up) for the day ($50) to drive the long road to the east end of the island.
Along the way stop at Temporary Cal's Cantina for incredible views to the ocean on both sides of the island. Be sure to get a shot of the liquid viagra ($4).
From there head to the old British fishing village of Jonesville. Flag down a boat driving to take you across the bay to the accessible-only-by-water, tiki-dive-bar-to-end-all-dive-bars, the legendary "Hole in the Wall". Be sure to buy Captain Ed a shot of tequila.
Once finished at the Hole in the Wall, head across the island to Punta Gorda, the oldest permanent settlement on the island and a colony founded by some 3,000 Carib slaves exiled by the British after a series of revolts.
The Garufina have a culture distinct from the rest of the island, and one of their culinary specialities, machuca, is not to be missed. Made from coconut milk and local fish, shrimp, lobster, and crab with breaded plantain, machuca is perhaps the best seafood this traveller has ever had. Enjoy it at any of the handful of restaurants dotting the beach in Punta Gorda and take in a remarkable sunset.
Grab a breakfast of fresh fruit from the stand across the street from The Beach House. Then catch a cab over to the Keyhole Rope Swing.
Allegedly built and partially funded by Karl of the Roatán Institude of Deepsea Exploration fame, the Keyhole Rope Swing is a precipitously built platform and swing extending across and out from Roatán's Iron Shore on the windward side of the island. Be forewarned: depending upon sea and wind conditions the swing can be a bruise-inducing jump, and the iron shore is incredibly sharp dead coral, so wear proper footwear.
Morning tends to be the best time to go and the platform is a great place to chill and relax regardless. Don't forget your sunscreen!
From there head back into town for lunch at The Landing, the fantastic second-story restaurant on top of The Beach House.
After lunch, walk over to the Roatán Institute of Deep Sea Exploration and Stanley Submarines. Reach out to Karl before hand to meet up for drinks to get the history of the Institute and his career building submarines.
Catch a cocktail and a sunset on The Beach House Dock Bar, and then head upstairs for dinner. The coconut shrimp are great.
In the morning grab breakfast at Cafe Escondido (enjoy the people watching) and then catch a cab over to the Charmont Bilingual Academy for a morning of volunteering at the school with the Roatán Peer Health Exchange. The academy is one of the most important and effective schools on the island and meets a critical need in providing education for the youth on the island. Any and all school and medical supplies are appreciated, including renewable, flexible, and portable energy sources such as the Luci Pro from Mpowerd that provide power and light to students in the classroom and at home.
Arguably the most iconic thing to do on Roatán other than diving, the iSoar is (another) magical brainchild of Karl (of the Keyhole and Submarine fame). The type of thing that could only exist on Roatán (safety third!) and a fantastic place to take in and and then leap out into the sunset.
For your final meal head up the road to Oasis for lobster and some of the best cocktails you can find on the island.
Rise and shine, then check out and walk over to Coconut Tree for a breakfast with a view. The tequila sunrises are always on point. Catch a cab to the airport and bid farewell to Larry and Luey at the Fly High Bar. They know you'll be back.
A blog by Josiah Roe from theoutbound.com