After a few weeks of travelling in the Caribbean — from Mexico to Cuba with a dash of Belize in between — I decided to skip mainland Honduras. Instead, I set my sails for Isla de Roatán, a small, skinny island 56km (35 mi) off the Honduran coast. It’s the biggest land mass in the Islas de la Bahía archipelago, which consists of some 65 islands in total. It didn’t take more than two hours on a boat from La Ceiba to reach it — but once I arrived, I felt like I’d ended up a world away.
On Roatán, I was struck by the empty beaches and lush tropical vegetation, surrounded by turquoise waters. The main settlement, Coxen Hole, or Roatán Town, took its name from the pirate John Coxon who, according to rumour, anchored his ship there sometime toward the end of the 15th century. Since then, many ships have done the same; as a result, the port is the town’s de facto central hub.
The port’s new shopping mall and cruise-ship terminal weren’t quite what I had in mind, though, so I headed southwest to delightfully secluded West End — and the even more remote West Bay. This has been a backpacker haven for years: there are no crowds, no noise, and no hassle.
Roatán is perched between the vertiginous Cayman Trough and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the latter of which is the largest reef in the Caribbean Sea and the second largest in the world (it’s second in size to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef). This is the island’s real draw. Under the ocean’s surface, bright, colourful fish, sponges, sea turtles, and even gigantic whale sharks and drifting stingrays swim in and out of view. The corals are spectacularly surreal in a way that makes me think that Salvador Dalí, even in his most unhinged moments, couldn’t have dreamt up. Many ship relics dot the coast too, a reminder of the island’s past as a hangout for honest-to-goodness pirates. These days, some of those shipwrecks have become diving sites for scuba divers of all experience levels, which has helped make Roatán a mecca for divers.
The sea is so overwhelming that West Bay and West End might seem smaller than they are. Although they’re not vast communities, they’ve got what you need: yoga classes, small boutiques, organic grocers and, yes, Wi-Fi cafés. The perfect place to indulge in a Salva Vida beer (or two, or three …) is Celeste’s Island Cuisine, a stone’s throw away from the popular Las Rocas Resort & Dive Center, on the island’s southernmost tip. Be sure to try some baleadas, which may be described as the Honduran take on tacos, with fresh handmade tortillas filled with refried beans, cheese, fresh avocado, and cilantro.
Out at sea in the Roatán Marine Park the waters were so blue, I could barely believe my eyes. Hundreds and hundreds of fish and squid looked like they’d all dressed up for a ’90s rave: They popped up like neon green, blue, and purple clouds. You don’t even have to be a scuba diver to appreciate all these wonders: there's beachfront snorkelling of the shallows of West Bay Beach available, or glass-bottomed boats for those wanting to keep dry. A close-up look at stunning ocean fauna no matter your preference — if that isn’t paradise, I don’t know what is.
G Adventures runs a number of tours to Honduras that will take you from the Central American country's major cities to its diving destinations and back again. We're excited to show you more of this big, blue planet — check out our small group tours to Honduras here.