For many years, the small Caribbean island of Roatán flew under the radar of most travelers. Located off the northern coast of Honduras, this destination in the Bay Islands is the kind of beautiful gem that seasoned island-hoppers and especially ex-pats loved to keep hidden, because of its natural allure and the fact that, well, it was mostly free of tourists. Roatán is also a diver’s haven due to its proximity to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world, but even its status as one of the best dive destinations in the world couldn’t spoil the secret.
Only when the major cruise lines caught on did the rest of the world start to turn its attention to the Bay Islands’ “Big Island.” While that was bad news for those who protected their secret, the tourism boost put a new focus on Roatán’s other activities and offerings. There is certainly no shortage of excitement on this beloved island.
The Diving is a Must
Let’s be real—if you’re visiting Roatán for the first or fiftieth time, scuba diving is still at the top of your to-do list. This island has more than 100 dive and snorkel locations for people of all experience levels, so your waterproof action camera will require the bigger memory card.
Whether just getting your mask wet for the first time or returning to the reef to say hello to old underwater friends, there are dive shops on Roatán—like Coconut Tree Divers and Sun Divers—that will show you an amazing time and make sure you spot so many different types of fish and sea turtles. Roatan Divers is a boutique operator (that means a focus small groups and enhancing the individual experience) that comes highly recommended and runs trips to West End and Sandy Bay.
Take the Time to Learn about Roatán
Any destination is made better by a tour. The more you learn about an island’s history and culture, as well as the people who make it an amazing place to be, the more you’ll appreciate and share it as if you discovered it. Everyone loves to plant their flags, after all. An island tour on Roatán will vary in cost, depending on the operator, and it can focus on any number of the island’s best activities.
Bodden Tours offers a very popular Best of Roatán private tour that includes a ride on the Mayan Jungle Canopy Zipline, a visit to Victor’s Monkey Business to meet the monkeys, sloths, macaws and more, and an ATV jungle adventure, among many others (including snorkeling, naturally). Animal lovers will also enjoy Arch’s Iguana Farm, where private tours put them up close with the colorful reptiles, even offering the opportunity to feed them and see baby iguanas.
Other tours include trips to the mangroves and beautiful beach at Camp Bay, where kite-surfing lessons are available. For those seeking a richer cultural experience, the Flamingo Cultural Center offers an all-inclusive interactive tour showcasing the lifestyle and traditions of the Garifuna people, and it includes music and samples of the cuisine.
One great way to get an all-encompassing experience is the Ruthless Roatán Charters day trip to Cayos Cochinos, an archipelago of 15 islands where guests can spend hours fishing and snorkeling—the marine life is supremely abundant here—or even interacting with the local Garifuna tribe. As an added bonus, the tour operators even serve fresh sashimi on the boat.
Meet the Dolphins at Anthony’s Key
With 56 bungalows spread out across 11 acres of lush tropical beauty, Anthony’s Key Resort is certainly one of the more unique places to stay in Roatán. What puts it over the top is the variety of dolphin experiences that guests and visitors can enjoy, from the simple Dolphin Encounter to the Dolphin Dive, which drops certified divers 60-feet below the surface, where they’ll interact with these brilliant creatures in the open water.
There’s even a dolphin summer camp for kids ages 5-14 who want to spend their family vacations learning about marine life.
Enjoy Some Local Culinary Treats
Pick your treat: rum, chocolate or beer? Just kidding, you can tour them all. Begin a culinary adventure at the Roatán Chocolate Factory, where you can run right to the gift shop and pick up any number of locally made sweets and treats, including chocolate bars made with Honduran coffee, island coconut and passion fruit, among other ingredients. You’ll also find the El Cabrito Diablito Hot Sauce that we’re dying to add to our Caribbean list. But the real fun takes place on the factory’s tour, where you’ll learn how chocolate is made (it’s fascinating if you’ve never experienced it).
Next, you’ll want to swing by the Roatán Rum Company, where you’ll be able to sample delicious rum cakes and a variety of artisan rums, like the Wandering Spirit and Tropical Mango. If rum’s not your thing, contact Tours by Locals for a trip to the Roatán Island Brewing Company, where “the cool kids hang out.” Your dedicated tour guide will pick you up and drop you off again (a must for an immersive beer tour), and he will probably even have some good recommendations for lunch.
Head Out to Sea
Divers aren’t the only people drawn to the waters surrounding Roatán. There’s great fishing to be experienced as well, so on top of an experience like a day trip to Cayos Cochinos, charter operators like Go Fish Charters and Wahoo Slayer offer half- and full-day trips for people looking to catch anything from sailfish to mahi mahi.
You can even catch some Z’s, but we recommend you wait until you return to the resort for that. You’ll definitely be tired after the adventures on day in Roatán can provide.