Roatan was a fantastic location to spend our Christmas vacation with kids. It was warm, relaxing and easy! We were lucky to have Randy’s parents join us for the week. It was nice to have Grandparents around for Christmas. It made it a bit more festive, and allowed Randy and I to scuba dive a few times!
We rented a two bedroom house in Turtle Beach, a small property with 7 other rental houses and the owner on site. This turned out to be the perfect getaway, half way between the tourist hubs of West End and West Bay. The water was incredibly clear and calm and the beach was quiet. Best of all there were a few rocks and coral patches with lots of fish right off shore. It was a great spot to snorkel with the girls, if only Kacela wasn’t afraid of the fish!
Our first day was spent on an island tour. Roatan is 40miles long and between 1 & 4 miles wide. You’d think this would be a quick tour, but the roads wind back and forth, and with stops included, our tour took about 5 hours. The island was significantly more mountainous that I was expecting. We made our way along the West coast of the Island to see the main tourist hubs as well as the fancy ex-pat homes (which weren’t on the beach). Then we head along the North shore until we got almost to the end of the road.
We stopped in the Garifuna village of Punta Gorda, the original settlement on Roatan. The British military exiled them here in 1796. 5000 were transported from Saint Vincent but only 2500 survived the journey. The Garifuna culture is quite strong still in Honduras, although it is slowly dying away. In Punta Gorda they retain their own language and traditions, including making their own liquor, Guifiti. We tried some. It’s basically roots steeped in rum, and it was strong. It’s not something I ever need to try again!!
We stopped to take pictures at a few lookouts, and to let the goats and cows pass us on the road. We drove into the town of Oakridge, a large community of houses built over the water. If the kids weren’t so restless we would’ve gone on a boat ride up the river and through the town. It likely wouldn’t have been enjoyable so we chose to forego it and just drove the backroads a bit.
Our favourite stop was our first stop, at the Roatan Iguana farm. There are hundreds of iguanas, big and small, roaming around the farm. For $1 we bought two large leaves to feed the iguanas. Calais enjoyed it…Kacela thought she liked it but as soon as the Iguanas got close she’d have a small freak-out. Randy was smart and had Calais stand on a bench so that the iguanas weren’t stepping on her feet. I decided it looked like a good idea so I did the same thing with Kaisa. Once the stalk got small I lifted it up and was going to break it into pieces and throw it back. One large iguana decided that he didn’t like me taking it away and climbed right up onto my lap! Javier, our driver, had to help me extract the iguana’s claws from my clothing! The large lizard then moved himself beside me on the bench. Kacela sat up on the bench forgetting the iguana was there. She cozied herself up against it, then turned around and let out a blood curdling scream once she realized she was cuddled up with an Iguana! She thought she liked them…but really only from a distance.
Small iguanas can still be found around Roatan, however large ones are hard to come by. The locals view Iguanas as a free meal, and they’re the main ingredient in iguana stew! If they find one they don’t hesitate to catch and eat it. It doesn’t matter that a number of the iguana species are supposed to be protected. The iguana farm gave us a great opportunity to see a creature that isn’t commonly spotted on Roatan anymore.
The rest of the week was spent snorkelling, relaxing on the beach, scuba diving (for me & Randy) and wandering around West End or West Bay.
We spent one morning on a snorkelling tour. We went to Sandy Bay, where there are supposed to be a lot of starfish. It was quite underwhelming and we had to swim a LOT to get to anywhere near some fish.
We stopped at a small mangrove and wandered around for a bit. Calais was on the hunt for alligators. Apparently there had been one there not too many days earlier but it had been removed for the safety of the people around. Calais was a bit disappointed about this! We also drove past Anthony’s Key, and watched the dolphins. The girls really enjoyed this and if they were a bit older I would’ve been tempted to pay the outrageous fee to be a “dolphin trainer for a day”. Luckily they were too young to do it! Our second snorkel stop was Half-moon Bay, and it was significantly better than the first. We saw a LOT of fish, and used our little blow-up boat for the girls. We saw lots of fish and coral. The coral around Roatan is in pretty good shape, however it’s not brilliantly coloured. It wasn’t as spectacular as I was expecting, although there were definitely lots of fish to make up for it!
We woke up Christmas morning, opened presents, ate breakfast, and headed off down the beach towards West Bay.
The most western end of West Bay is where the barrier reef is closest to shore. It’s only about 30m out and it’s shallow the whole way. We spent a few hours in and out of the water. Calais did great! It was here that she really came into her own with her snorkelling. She liked seeing all the fishies, and she got quite confident in the water.
Kacela was a different story! She was worried the fish were going to bite her toe!! She went out with Grandpa to where there was a large school of fish, and when I looked over at her she had her feet up around Grandpa’s neck. Hopefully once she gets a little bit older her irrational fear will abate a bit and she’ll get to enjoy snorkelling with the rest of us! For now she was happy building sand castles and playing in the shallow water.
Randy’s parents headed back home on Boxing Day (De 26), and we spend the day kayaking and enjoying the beach. The girls really enjoyed kayaking. Kacela liked being so close to the water without actually having to go near the fish!
On our last evening in Roatan we ventured into West End for dinner. It’s the night-life hub of the island. There’s a number of souvenir shops, a few restaurants and hotels, and a couple of shops and street-side stalls selling food and produce.
Wandering the street (there’s only one) in the evening was a lively adventure, and a good place to mix with both tourists and locals. We ran into our local dive master one evening while out for a stroll, leading me to believe (hope) that it at least is kind of a local thing to do too.
Once we finished dinner we had to figure out a way to get back to our house. During the day the water taxis roam back and forth frequently between West Bay and West End. Once the sun sets however, they’re much more difficult to come by! Our options were to wait for a water taxi, find a cab amongst the traffic jam on the road, or call Javier, our trusty driver…who would also have to fight with the traffic jam! We decided to wait for a water taxi and had a pleasant evening boat ride with another Canadian couple. At $3US per person the price is a bit steep, but we usually managed to negotiate no charge for the kids. And of course the girls loved the experience of riding in a boat every time!
Our impression of Roatan
Our experience on Roatan with kids was a good one. We found the island easy to navigate, and the people were incredibly friendly. We were generally able to get away without having to pay for the girls for most things, but the cut off for that seemed to be 5 years old. Some people charged for Calais, others didn’t, depending on how hard we felt like negotiationg! The water on the north-west shore is warm, calm and clear and the beaches are clean with beautiful golden sand. There’s some turtle grass in the water, but it’s very easy to avoid and there seems to be lots of places to swim where there’s just sand. If you’re looking to just go and relax, you can easily do so in Roatan. If you’re looking for a more lively adventure, you can find that in West Bay and West End. If you’re looking to be off the grid, there are places North-central and North-East where you can escape from it all. Roatan really has something to offer for everyone!
Where we stayed: Turtle Beach.
I would stay here again in a heart beat! It has a fantastic location, wonderful relaxed feel, lovely beach, calm waters and a great dive shop right on site.
Where we ate: Argentinian Grill & Beachers in West Bay, Blue Marlin in West End.
The restaurants in West Bay were both fantastic. I would highly recommend the beef dishes from the Argentinian grill, and the coconut shrimp from Beachers (amazing!!). The food at the Blue Marlin was good but not spectacular. It’s location, right over the water, was worth it though.
What we did: Half Day Island Tour with Long Island Tours. Scuba Diving with Clearwater Divers, Snorkelling trip with Rosa (arranged through Turtle Beach).
Javier, with Long Island Tours, was exceptional! He picked us up from the airport, drove us to and from dinner a few times, and took us on our island tour. I would recommend him to anyone! Similarly, Denisse and Sam with Clearwater Divers were incredibly professional, and the diving in Roatan is very good (and inexpensive!). One of the best companies I have had the pleasure of diving with. Our snorkelling trip was alright, although I would likely book through Denisse at Clearwater Divers were I to go again.
What did it cost:
Roatan is more expensive than mainland Honduras, but much cheaper than much of the rest of the Caribbean. Our two-bedroom house cost about $170US/night, groceries were on par with what we would pay in Canada, Diving was $45US per boat dive (equipment included), a Water taxi ride was $3pp from West Bay to West End, Dinner for 4 adults at the above restaurants was $70US, half day island tour was $50USpp. Both USD and the Honduran Lempira were widely accepted throughout the entire island.
We flew to Roatan from San Pedro Sula on CM Airlines, and returned on Sosa Airlines. Sosa was a bit cheaper, but they were both near-identical planes. Our original plan was to take the ferry back to La Ceiba and catch a bus to San Pedro, but the logistics was a bit ridiculous. For about an extra $40 total we flew in 1/5th the time.