Considering a trip to the island of Roatan? Here’s everything you need to know to make your vacation easy and enjoyable; everything you want from an island getaway!
Maybe you’ve heard stories of an amazing little island in the Caribbean with fantastic diving. Yet, the question still remains… What is Roatan? What is it really like? What language do they speak? Can I use American dollars on the island? These are all questions you need answers to before planning your trip, so let’s get into it… What is Roatan like?
Roatan is an island located about 35 miles off the northern coast of Honduras in Central America. Situated between the islands of Utila and Guanaja, Roatan is surrounded by the Mesoamerican Coral Reef, the second largest in the world- second to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Unlike the Great Barrier, our reef is so close to shore that you can just go out for a snorkel to enjoy the underwater beauty. Boat rides to most dive sites are between 2 – 10 minutes, making for an enjoyable and efficient dive trip!
The island of Roatan is mountainous in the center sloping down to beautiful beaches and mangroves on the outskirts. Roatan is home to one of the best beaches in the world – West Bay Beach. Located just a 20 minute drive from Best Dive Roatan, here you will experience the white sandy beach and crystal clear water of the Caribbean Sea. A great spot to enjoy a full day of sunshine or to watch the sunset each night as you relax from a fun filled day.
What is Roatan’s history? It is a long and winding one, making for a very interesting story and a wonderful mix of cultures presently. The Paya Indians once lived on the island of Roatan. A semi-nomadic culture, they created ceramic items, which are known today as “yaba ding dings”. Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Guanaja in 1502 on his fourth and final voyage to the Americas and claimed the Bay Islands for Spain. During these early years, famous pirates such as Henry Morgan and Edward Mansfield also used the Island as a base to restock their ships and to raid passing ships. During the first half of the 17th century, roughly 5000 pirates were believed to settle near Port Royal. This situation caused the Spanish Governor of Honduras to order the abandonment of the Bay Islands in 1641.
Since then, the Bay Islands have been under different countries’ rule, including the British Empire. However, in 1859 the Republic of Honduras reclaimed the islands and this is where we find the Bay Islands today – a department of the country of Honduras. It is important to note, however, that the islands are very different from the mainland in a variety of ways. Roatan is almost a world of it’s own, far away from the issues that affect mainland Honduras. What is Roatan’s largest economy? Tourism! Everyone involved makes sure that Roatan is a safe, fun, relaxing place for people to live or vacation without worry.
The official languages of Honduras include Spanish, Garifuna, Miskito, Bay Island Creole English, and other indigenous languages. The island of Roatan is officially a bilingual island – English & Spanish, and thus a knowledge of Spanish is not required when visiting Roatan. While Spanish can help you in certain situations, Roatan is home to people from all over the world who speak English as their first or second language. Roatan’s expat community is one of the largest to comparable islands, so you are sure to meet new friends along the way.
What is the currency on Roatan? The local currency in Honduras is Lempiras. Although the exchange rate fluctuates, a good rule of thumb when visiting is to convert 25 lps to $1 usd. Please be sure that when bringing US cash with you to the island, that the bills are not torn or marked in any way. Local businesses will not accept imperfect bills as payment due to the fact that the national banks will not accept them either. We recommend bringing some good bills with you and then taking out Lempiras from the ATMs available on the island. There is a maximum withdrawal of 5,000 lps per transaction at all ATMs. Best Dive Roatan as well as the resort and restaurant accept payment with Visa and MasterCard.
Taxis and buses follow the same general routes and both have set rates for their regular routes. In order to hail a taxi, just stand on the corresponding side of the road of your intended direction to travel. Collective taxis are less expensive than private, as they may pick up other passengers along the way. This is standard practice and you need not be concerned. Transportation costs are considerably lower than in North America – a ‘collectivo’ taxi from Best Dive Roatan to West End or Coxen Hole will cost around 50 lps ($2) per person. The bus has a set fee of 20lps (~$1) per person from Sandy Bay to West End or Coxen Hole. After sunset, the buses stop running and later in the evening, around 10pm, taxis will increase their fee to around 80lps per person to return from West End to Best Dive Roatan.
What is Roatan’s shopping scene like? Eldon’s and Ramirez are the island’s two main grocery stores. Ramirez is located in Sandy Bay, about 5 minutes drive from Best Dive Roatan. While Ramirez may not have the widest selection of American brand name products, it is great for local produce as well as their large selection of alcohol and the basic necessities.
Eldon’s is located in Coxen Hole as well as French Harbor, and is the place to go if you are looking for American products. Eldon’s has a very wide selection of both local and imported goods, making it very likely you will find what you’re looking for during your stay.
In addition to these larger grocery stores, you will find a variety of smaller shops throughout Sandy Bay and West End. Here you can be sure to find snacks, cold drinks, fresh fruit and veggies, and other odds and ends. In West End, you will also find many different restaurants, souvenir shops, cafes, as well as a pharmacy and medi-clinic. At the entrance to West End is a gas station, Petro Sun, which is a favorite local lunch spot as it has pizza, subs, and local food
The age old question, how much is appropriate to tip? Of course, tipping is a personal decision and dependent on your experience. However, when in a new country it is certainly nice to know what is the norm. When it comes to restaurants, the North American 10-20% tipping structure followed on the island. Many servers prefer to receive their tips in cash but tipping on a credit card payment is also a normal practice.
Tipping your dive instructors, tour guides, etc. is highly encouraged. You may choose to tip your dive instructor after each dive or at the end of your stay – both are common practices. Not all dive shops are managed the same, so if you are unsure of tipping at the dive shop, please just ask for clarification. At Best Dive Roatan, tips are shared and thus can be handed into the front desk.
What is the diving on Roatan like? Well, without being too biased – we think it’s pretty amazing! The reef is just minutes away from shore, offering a variety of dive sites to visit during your stay. You can try a different one each time or perhaps you’ll find your new favorite dive site on Roatan. Even if you’re new to diving, Best Dive Roatan is the perfect spot to learn as we have a pool on site to practice your skills before heading out into the Sea. If you’re interested in booking a dive package, please contact us directly!
What is Roatan like? Hopefully now you have the information you need to dazzle your friends and family with the insider knowledge of our beautiful little island. We do hope that we have answered some of your questions and are happy to assist in booking your Caribbean dive trip or to answer any other questions you may have. Book with us directly and become one step closer to experiencing what Roatan is like!