Pros: Roatan is lush and beautiful, with great shops, colorful local people and beautiful beaches.
Cons: Since it is very touristy, Roatan leaves you wondering what mainland Honduras is like.
Roatan Island, Honduras was one of several stops I made on a recent trip and I found it to be as gorgeous, accommodating and safe as any place I have been.
Roatan Island is located off the coast of mainland Honduras and is one of many stops one might make if cruising through the Western Caribbean. Other nearby stops include Mexico, The Cayman Islands and Belize.
The island of Honduras was lush and green and full of friendly people. It is one of the many places in the Caribbean that have evolved to accommodate and benefit from the burgeoning travel business.
Immediately upon arrival at the main port one will see a modern-looking roadway on which several blocks of business structures have been erected. Milling about among them are the many tourists killing time either before or after their chosen excursions to the beaches or other destinations.
The gift shops here are phenomenal. One can find keychains, shot-glasses, t-shirts, hats and many other items at very reasonable costs. Some of Roatan's best products though are the many trinkets and furnishings they have fashioned from locally-grown Mahogony.
Mahogony is a hard-wood tree that grows exceptionally well in the area and emanates a wonderful cedar-like aroma when it is cut and fashioned into products. Several stores were selling chests made of Mahogony. They ranged in size anywhere from about six inches wide and three inches deep to about 3 1/2 feet across and two feet deep. Each chest opens and closes on hinges and is elaborately decorated and painted with various scenes. The wood is cut in such away to allow the features of the scenes it displays to "pop-out," granting a 3-D effect.
The Mahogony chests sported various patterns, including dolphins, bears, crabs, beaches and forest scenes. When the chests are opened a naturally-occurring Mahogony aroma rises from within. The price of a very small chest was only about nine to thirteen dollars. One can expect to pay up to about 600 bucks for the large chests and the shopkeepers will be happy to arrange to have them sent to your home.
Beyond this strip of shops are the mountains and lush greenery of Roatan Island itself. One can arrange to take a number of different excursions into its territory. Our own excursion of choice was a bus-ride deep into the island's interior where we eventually came to a stop at "Tabiana Beach."
Honduras is not a rich country, although tourism is certainly helping, so one will see many small and modest homes on a tour through its roadways. The homes are small, usually wooden, and without air-conditioning. It was common to see clothes hanging from lines in front of most every home. We occasionally saw a bigger, more elaborate structure and the tour-bus guide was quick to point out that these were the homes of local celebrities or rich westerners who have made homes there.
Tabiana Beach was a beautiful little spot that sported probably about a 200 meter length of sandy beach. Several very nice wooden structures had been erected so that they could offer restrooms, changing rooms, two gift shops and a very nice little island buffet of barbecue chicken, rice, burgers and fresh slices of juicy melon.
Guests were able to swim in beautiful clear waters that(along with Belize) offers the world's second largest coral reef. In the waters of this beach one will find a small and very beautiful area of reef growth along with a host of multi-colored fish. Canoes and Snorkling equipment were available at a modest price.
Tabiana beach was very obviously still under construction. Many buildings were going up and the beach/water-line area itself looked as if it was being manipulated. This offered proof that Roatan is becoming a big and growing tourist destination as it seeks to take advantage of the tourist trade.
Our bus guide pointed out to us one very important point: Roatan island is vastly different from the mainland of Honduras.
"I have lived here on Roatan all my life," he said, "but I have never been to the mainland. A lot of people do go there, but there is far too much crime."
I had suspected that this was the case but it was interesting to have the guide point this out.
Roatan island is a beautiful spot for visiting and getting the full flavor of a Caribbean getaway. There is plenty of island beauty, inexpensive gifts and beach-time fun. I also enjoyed observing the different way in which its residents lived compared to residents of the United States.
This was particularly evident around the various gift-shop stalls where young children can be found wandering around trying to sell shells they have found and cleaned up to the tourists.
It takes something like...eighteen lempiras to make one U.S. dollar and many of the citizens can't afford some of the things we take for granted. A little boy asked me if he could have the last half of my Diet-Pepsi, saying that he very rarely could ever buy anything like that. It was an educational conversation for me and I was more than happy to give him the Pepsi.
One can find much larger beaches in the Bahamas or Cayman Islands, but I actually prefer a smaller, more secluded beach and they can certainly be found on Roatan island. This charming little island of Honduras is claiming its own little part of the growing tourist trade, and it offers just about every aspect of what I sought out in a Caribbean vacation.