3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Roatan

Imagine a place where lobster is a common lunch fare, traffic lights don't exist and you can hail a taxi on the water. Welcome to Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands, 30 miles north of Honduras. Almost 40 miles long and just 2.5 miles at its widest point, the remote island boasts white-sand beaches, pristine bays and spectacular coral reefs.

Roatan is a true melting pot. Its 50,000 people are a mix of Spanish, British, Paya Indian and African, the result of a stormy history that includes conquistadors, pirates and slave traders. In the mid-17th century, the Spanish relocated the Paya Indians in an unsuccessful attempt to rid the island of British pirates. In the late-18th century, the island was repopulated when British troops deported thousands of Black Caribs who had sided with the French during a battle over St. Vincent. Another group of immigrants arrived from the Caymans in the 1830s.

Today, tourism has overtaken commercial fishing as Roatan's top industry. Part of the world's second-largest barrier reef system, Roatan's waters are teeming with colorful coral and sponges. Divers and snorkelers swim alongside schools of fish, as well as whale sharks, barracudas, mantas, dolphins and turtles. The water feels like what you'd find in a bathtub, hovering around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and snorkeling there is like watching high-definition television, with fantastic visibility.

Dozens of world-class diving and snorkeling sites are accessible from sandy white beaches around the island and through numerous operators congregated on West End Village, the hub of the island's activity. Marlin, tuna and wahoo lure anglers year-round, particularly for the annual fall bill-fishing tournament. Roatan is also a mecca for water sports. Kayaking, water skiing, sailing and wakeboarding are popular activities.

The former pirate haven offers travelers unspoiled charm and exceptional marine life. Like many of its Caribbean neighbors, the island is in transition. Expensive new homes and resorts stand in sharp contrast to clapboard tin-roofed houses. In addition to cruise ships, direct flights from Miami and Houston and weekly charters from Milan are bringing large numbers of tourists.

--By Susan Jaques, Cruise Critic contributor; updated by Ashley Kosciolek, Editor

About Roatan


Pro

Roatan is home to part of the world's second-largest barrier reef -- great for snorkelers and divers

Con

Poverty is rampant beyond the immediate port area. Beware of panhandlers and keep an eye on your belongings

Bottom Line

If you venture out on your own, know where you're going, and get comfortable saying "no"


Find a Cruise to Roatan

Good to Know

Coxen Hole: If you travel beyond the immediate port area, be prepared to deal with pushy locals -- sometimes children -- who will offer everything from cab rides and excursions to local wares. You might also be asked for money by locals who try to force their tour guide services on you, even if you haven't asked for them. It's important to know where you're headed before venturing out on your own; two young children told us 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, BAC Credomatic provides cash advances on credit cards and features a 24-hour ATM. (located on the main street in Coxen Hole; +504-2445-1196; open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon) 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.

Language

Though Spanish is the official language of Honduras, most people on Roatan speak both Spanish and English.

Shopping

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.