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Roatán Cruises

Roatán, Honduras

About Roatán, Honduras

The largest of Honduras’s Bay Islands, Roatán is more than a tropical playground. The Bay Islands have a rich history of Spanish, British and French presence, as these countries variously occupied the island, vying for land with each other and with pirates who had found haven here. But perhaps Roatán’s most significant migrants were the Caribs who were sent here from the island of St. Vincent around 1800. They had resisted plantation work enough that the land-owning British grew tired of them and shipped them to these shores. Over time, they formed the foundations of the Garífuna culture, rich in traditions that are still cherished today. Later, after Britain abolished slavery, Roatán was populated by Caribs from throughout the Caribbean, particularly the Cayman Islands. In the ensuing years, former slaves and plantation owners settled here and grew into a dominant cultural force.

Over the decades, settlers from around the world put down roots in this island paradise and established a successful fruit trade industry that earned Honduras its reputation as a “banana republic.” Soon, Spanish-speaking mestizos from the mainland migrated to the island, bringing with them their own rich and lively culture. Today, the island is a vibrant mix of mainland and island traditions.

Roatán Lifestyle and Culture

The islanders of Roatán are descended from European and British-Afro-Caribbean ancestors. English is their primary language but the diversity of their background shines through in their colorful traditions, dancing and sleepy culture that revolves around fishing. A love for the vast reef system that surrounds the island also permeates daily life. Reefs are actively protected by local government.

The people of Roatán embrace their culture, language and beliefs with passion. Ask any islander, and he will tell you about the friendly rivalry between them and the Honduran “mainlanders.” People born on the island are often called “caracoles,” which translates to “conch” for their close relationship with the sea. As on many Caribbean islands, the living is slow and easy here.

Colorful celebrations mark the calendar on Roatán. In springtime, the music and dance of Semana Santa fill the streets during the week before Easter. On April 12, the island’s Carnival celebrates the anniversary of the arrival of the Garufina in Punta Gorda. Honduran Independence on September 15 commemorates the independence of Central America from Spain in 1821. Also in September, the International Fishing Tournament casts off in the West End, filling the harbor with colorful boats.

Roatán Sights and Landmarks

Roatán is a snorkeler’s paradise. The reefs that skirt its archipelago boast the highest diversity of corals in the Caribbean. Its Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System is the second largest in the world, stretching more than 620 miles. Few experiences equal donning a snorkel and exploring its rich underwater world of colorful coral and tropical fish or simply relaxing on the picture-perfect sandy expanse of West Bay Beach.

Inland, Roatán is host to a stunning array of birds, reptiles and mammals. The island’s iguana farm is a refuge for 3,000 of these prehistoric-looking creatures. The botanical and butterfly gardens host an astonishing array of tropical plants and multihued winged creatures. For insight into the aquatic life that surrounds the island and the efforts to preserve it, visit the Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences.

Roatán Entertainment and Activities

Roatán’s untouched wilderness provides ample opportunities for exploration. Lush rainforest and steeply sloped mountains are an ideal setting for a zip-line adventure above the treetops or a hike along tranquil pathways under a peaceful canopy as monkeys cavort above.

If the island’s rich culture and history appeal to you, head to Punta Gorda to visit the first Garifuna settlement in North America, today preserved in a village setting. Or perhaps browse the fascinating exhibits of the island’s museum that chronicles Roatán’s early days. And peek into a gallery to admire the craftsmanship of sea shell painting.

Roatán Restaurants and Shopping

Yucca cakes, key lime pie and traditional Baleadas beckon on Roatán. From traditional fare to the delicious ethnic variety of Creole, Thai and Italian, the island’s dining options will surprise you.

Enjoy the picturesque setting of a wooden lighthouse at the Lighthouse Restaurant, sitting on the end of a narrow peninsula in the West End. Sea views stretch to the horizon all around as you dine on grilled fish, shrimp and lobster. Also in the West End, stop by Earth Mama for an international selection of seafood dishes and fresh smoothies made from island ingredients. Enjoy the companionship of colorful parrots in the trees overhead as you dine. If oysters please your palate, visit the West End’s Roatán Oasis, one of the island’s revolutionary dining establishments known for locally sourced produce and charming staff.

Roatán’s West End Village is the ideal spot for shopping and browsing the island’s arts and crafts galleries. Part bohemian and part boutique emporium, it enjoys a picturesque setting on Half Moon Bay. It’s easy to spend an afternoon here, strolling some of the dozens of wooden piers jutting to the bay.