Coxen Hole: Besides Internet access, an ATM, a small shopping mall and a handful of restaurants, there's little for tourists. It's a good place to buy cold drinks and sandwiches before venturing east toward French Harbour and Oak Ridge, and west toward Sandy Bay and the West End. You can also easily walk past the port gates onto the local streets, where you'll find authentic food and souvenirs.
Mahogany Bay: Just off the pier, you'll find a strip mall-type central plaza, featuring souvenir shops, restaurants, a general store, jewelry kiosks, shore excursion information, car rentals, an ATM and, often, live music. There's also a chairlift that will give visitors unlimited rides to and from Mahogany Beach -- a nearby 10-acre private beach -- for $5 per day.
Snorkeling and Kayaking:
After paddling down the coastline at either Half Moon Beach or West Bay Beach, leave your kayak ashore to explore the magical coral reefs with your mask and snorkel. Snorkeling equipment is available for rent through tour operators, as well as dive shops, some restaurants and gift shops.
The Butterfly Farm
: This fun attraction is located just before the entrance to West End. Hundreds of exquisite butterflies, representing 15 to 20 species, flit around in a 3,000-square-foot enclosure. It's also home to stunning hummingbirds, parrots and toucans. Guided tours are offered daily, except Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Don't forget your binoculars and camera.Scuba-diving:
Sueno del Mar Dive Center, voted best on Roatan by Scuba Diving magazine, offers introductory diving lessons. Certified juniors, ages 10 to 15 years, must dive with an adult.
Kids and beginners can join experienced equestrians in a memorable horseback-riding trip along the beach and into the hills at West Bay (Keifetos Resort) or between Calabash Bight and Paya Bay on the island's south side (Roatan Ridge Ranch).
A paved road runs north from Coxen Hole to West End and east to French Harbour. An unpaved road continues east to Paya Bay and Camp Bay. Taxis, rental cars, motor bikes and buses are available in West End, Coxen Hole and French Harbour.
Renting a Car: Captain Van's in West End rents vans, mountain bikes and scooters. Caribbean Rent a Car is located along the main road near French Harbour (504-455-6950). A car rental booth is also available off of the main plaza in Mahogany Bay.
By Taxi: Some unscrupulous cab drivers have taken advantage of cruise passengers. Before entering a taxi, confirm the fare. If the driver says 20, make sure he's quoting Lempiras, not dollars. Most cabbies accept both U.S. dollars and Lempiras.
By Bus: Mini-buses run in either direction from Coxen Hole. Flag down a bus, and pay the driver's assistant -- about one U.S. dollar on most routes.
Best Beach for an Active Day: West End offers beaches, coral reefs for snorkeling, eateries and water sports like sea-kayaking, diving and sailing. At the entrance to West End is palm-lined Half Moon Bay beach. Be prepared for large crowds on days when ships are in port.
Best Beach for Families: Best West Bay Beach, near the northern tip of the island, features clear, shallow water (about five feet deep) teeming with coral and colorful fish right offshore. With a dozen stations marked by buoys, the Natural Aquarium Snorkel Trail at the Bay Islands Beach Resort at Sandy Bay is a fun way for kids to see everything from eagle rays to sergeant majors. It's open daily from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
Best Secluded Beach: Camp Bay Beach, past the village of Diamond Rock, is a two-mile idyllic stretch of white sand with swaying coconut palms -- perfect for snuggling. Rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle for the unpaved road, and don't forget a picnic lunch.
Editor's Note: Addresses in Roatan do not exist the way we know them. We've included pertinent location information; locals and cabbies will be able to point the way.
Casual, In-Town Joints: In the center of Coxen Hole, Eldon's Supermarket's cafeteria scrambles up eggs, along with fried beans and tortillas It's open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Lighthouse, located in West End on the south side of the point, offers some of the best fish tacos, grilled lobster and conch soup on the island. It's open 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Gourmet Lunching: Las Rocas, set on a rocky point at West Bay, is known for authentic Bay Island dishes like shrimp with rice, chicken in coconut milk, and beef in coconut milk. It's open for lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. Pura Vida, in the center of West End, cooks up homemade pasta, pizza and seafood. Visit from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Where You're Docked
You'll be anchored on the south side of Roatan at one of two places.
Coxen Hole, the largest city and capital of the Bay Islands, is located just west of the airport. This busy gateway is named after the pirate, John Coxen.
Mahogany Bay, a 20-acre $62-million Carnival-sponsored area specifically for cruise passengers, opened in 2009. It's located just east of the airport, and it has room for two ships.
Watch Out For
Coxen Hole: If you travel beyond the immediate port area, be prepared to deal with pushy locals, often children, who will offer everything from cab rides and excursions to local wares. You may also be asked for money. It's also important to know where you're headed before venturing inside; we were told by two young children that certain bars along the main street, just outside the port area, are actually brothels in disguise.
Mahogany Bay: The whole setup is a bit of a tourist trap. If you decide to explore elsewhere and want to rent a car, be warned that the roads tend to be narrow, and traffic lights are basically nonexistant.
As you would in any unfamiliar place, keep all unnecessary valuables onboard in your cabin's safe.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The official currency is the Lempira (named for a martyr who fought the Spanish). U.S. dollars are widely accepted, as are credit cards and traveler's checks. In Coxen Hole, Banco Credomatic (open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to noon) provides cash advances on credit cards and features a 24-hour ATM. An ATM is also available at Mahogany Bay in the center of the main plaza. For the most up-to-date conversion rates, check out www.xe.com
Though Spanish is the official language of Honduras, most people on Roatan speak both Spanish and English.
Locally made handicrafts are great souvenirs. You can pick them up at stalls located throughout the areas surrounding port. You'll find everything from clothing and jewelry to cigars and chocolate -- all at decent prices. In Coxen Hole, the most authentic offerings can be found if you head beyond the immediate port area, which is a bit more commercialized. Don't worry: it's easily walkable.
One of the best drinks on the island is Salva Vida, a famed local beer. It can be found at just about any bar or restaurant. If you're not the beer-drinking type, pina coladas are always a sure bet.
For More Information
On the Web: Honduras Tourism Institute
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Roatan
The Independent Traveler: Caribbean
The Independent Traveler: Caribbean Traveler Boards
--by Susan Jaques, Cruise Critic contributor; updated by Ashley Kosciolek, Editor