At the southernmost tip of world's second largest reef (the 700-mile-long Mesoamerican Reef), sits the beautiful Bay Islands. And at its center, is Roatan. Roatan is the biggest island of three main islands. Roatan was once a domain of Spanish conquistadors. British Pirates also dominated and shaped the culture we now find on the islands. The only reef larger than the Mesoamerican Reef is Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Roatan is small and skinny. Roatan is only 45 miles long just shy of 5 miles wide at its widest point.
GEOGRAPHY OF ROATAN
This page will be an orientation of the island of Roatan and its general geography. Roatan is located a short, two to a two-and-a-half-hour flight that lands directly on the island, from Houston, Miami, and Atlanta on United, American and Delta Airlines. There are also direct flights seasonally from Canada and Europe. Isla Roatan is the largest of 62 islands and keys that make up the Bay Islands of Honduras. Roatan is approximately 35 miles long and is two and a half miles wide at its widest location.
Unlike many other tropical islands, Roatan is not just a bump in the water, in that it has considerable elevations which are beneficial in many ways. The elevation increases from the west side of the island to the east side and increases from an estimated 750 ft above sea level, to about 11,000 feet. These elevations are great for both outstanding views of the Caribbean, and at the same time, provide great breezes predominantly from the southeast. Roatan is lush, with both green and flowing vegetation on much of the island.
The coral reef surrounds the island and is a part of the second largest barrier reef system in the world. The reef is very beneficial providing habitat to a huge community of sea life. It also provides substantial protection from the very infrequent hurricanes that are normally a threat in the eastern Caribbean islands. The hurricanes we experience on Roatan are most often not the ones that come across the Atlantic from Africa and end up in the eastern Caribbean, Florida and the east coast of the U.S. Or, in the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico and west to Belize. The storms we encounter most often come up from South America and are normally later in the season. That said, Roatan averages a hurricane about every 24 years. Roatan is not considered to be on any hurricane path.
ROATANS MAIN AREAS
The geography in Roatan can be split into three distinct sections: west, middle and east. We will start with the western part of the island, geographically about a third or less of the total. This second of the island is where most visitors become familiar with Roatan. Whether it be from being on vacation or a while on a day visit on a cruise ship. This area includes West Bay, where the world-famous West Bay Beach, proclaimed to be one of the top 10 beaches in the world, by the International Living Organization.
WEST END ROATAN
This western third would include the Village of West End, West Bay, the areas of Sandy Bay, Blue Harbor, and the local municipal of Coxen Hole. Coxen Hole is where the government sitter or City Hall for the western half of the islands is located, along with the property registry and judicial offices for all of the Bay Islands are located. If you are from the U.S. Coxen Hole would be like the County Seat. This western section is the most established tourism area of the island, including a lot of places to stay for visitors, with shops, restaurants and some very nice planned communities. The western third of the island is the most developed section of the island. The choice of many for their visit, and normally the highest in demand for people who wish to purchase real estate and normally higher in price than any other locations.
The middle section of the island is centered by the City of French Harbor. This middle section is considered the commercial section of the island. The middle portion of the island has the majority of its citizens, made up of local islands of various cultures. It has the islands very few fast food operations and its only real shopping mall. It is also home to two of the more popular and beautiful most foreigner populated communities, including the new Pete Dye designed championship golf course in the surrounding community. Clarion Suites is also located in French Harbor. The middle of the island is also home to the power company called RECO, where all the fuel for the island is imported, processing for shrimp for foreign markets and the shipping industry that provides delivery by the ocean for Miami and the mainland of Honduras.
Roatan East End
ROATAN EAST END
Now, the eastern end of the island is also the most undeveloped and pristine portion of the island, with some sections of it still available by boat access only. If you want a place that’s away from it all, this is a good place to start. It does have some local communities, where the local hardware store, groceries, gasoline, schools, and churches, but overall has a far more rural feel to it than the west or the middle sections have. This end of the island offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world on its pristine virgin reefs. The flats fishing and deep-sea fishing can also be extremely good, with independent producers of fishing shows known to visit its shores to generate TV fishing shows, promote Dive resorts offer packages to get away from it all. The furthest east end of the island has one of the largest black mangrove stands in the world, which acts as a filtration and purification systems of the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, keep the reef in its pristine condition.
Roatan is much safer than the mainland of Honduras. Unfortunately, reports coming out of Honduras do not do it justice. But the Bay Islands are insular and offer its residents and tourist a much safer experience. Reputable resorts on Roatan are manned around the clock with security personnel. At first sight, this might give new visitors a reason to pause. But, in fact, security men on and around private property and around resorts, in general, are a common practice.
Sand flies and mosquitos are a part of the landscape. The local Center for Disease Control reports that Zika cases have been detected on the islands. If you are planning to visit Roatan, keep this in mind. Protect yourself.
Things To Do
THINGS TO DO
A good tentative agenda is to plan your days around the exploration of key areas. You can spend a day in West End. You can spend a day in West Bay. And when you get restless, rent a car and travel to the east side of the island which is less explored. The east side of Roatan offers excellent excursions in and around mangrove forest. The east side of Roatan is locally known as the "funky" seaside of the island. For a more complete list of things to do, visit our things to do page.
West Bay Beach
WEST BAY BEACH
West Bay is at its finest at sunset. Roatan is surrounded by lush gardens above and below the surface. Coral sponges teeming with marine life are fixtures all around the island. Roatan has been a scuba divers paradise for years, because of its world-class reef. But over the years, the island has come to life and now receives cruise ships on a weekly basis. Tourist from all walks of life now visits the island. Roatan offers among the best retro-Caribbean towns, beach-shacks, and an array of friendly local folks.
In addition to diving and snorkeling, visitors can steer a kayak through the turquoise-blue water or try their luck on a charter fishing trip. There are also glass-bottom boat tours, which allow a close-up look at hundreds of different types of corals, marine life, and fish that thrive in the water. The island is a Marine Park thanks to concerned divers coming together in 2005 to form a not for profit organization which is dedicated to the protection of marine life and marine ecosystems.
Shore Excursions & Tours
EXCURSIONS & TOURS
On dry land, visitors can ride horses along the beaches or in the hills; play miniature golf, and take a thrilling zip line ride over the forest canopy. Roatan also has cultural attractions, including the Institute of Marine Sciences, which offers a dolphin show. The Carambola Gardens and Marine Reserve has nature walks that provide a closer look at the beautiful flowers and plants of Roatan, as well as exotic birds and shy lizards. The garden's "Iguana Wall," is a natural breeding ground for iguanas and parrots. Other activities include fishing and horseback tours of this beautiful island. Sandy Bay is where the Institute of Marine Sciences resides as well as the Roatan Museum.
BEST KEPT SECRET
Roatan offers a blast to the past compared to other ports of call. Roatan is mysterious and quickly gaining in popularity. Visit now before all the beachfront real estate is dominated by luxury hotels and second homes. Roatan is an island get-a-way that will please those from colder climates that are searching for warm waters and a tropical setting. This is a destination that has many activities for adults and children alike. The beaches are powdered sand that feels heavenly, and the accommodations and restaurants are very affordable.
NOT LIKE ALL THE OTHERS
If you are looking for a tropical holiday, this may be just the spot for you. The chance to see a culture totally different than what you are familiar with is always interesting to tourists. Further, Roatan has many water activities such as scuba diving, swimming, and snorkeling. Diving is another option that can be done as little as 100 feet away from the beach. This island is the second largest barrier reef in the world.
THE BIG ISLAND
Roatan, the "big island" of the Bay Islands off the northern coast of Honduras, is emerging as a port of call for cruises of the Western Caribbean. The island has a mountainous, jungle-covered spine; lovely beaches; and the world's second-largest barrier reef. The reef creates a paradise for sea life and divers, but there is much more to this 40-mile long island.
Where is Roatan?