Roatán is one of Honduras’s Caribbean Bay Islands. Part of the huge Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, it’s known for its beaches, dive sites and marine life, including whale sharks. In the southwest is busy West Bay Beach, with a coral reef near the shore. Cruise ships dock in the capital of Coxen Hole and nearby Mahogany Bay. To the east are smaller settlements, including the Garifuna village of Punta Gorda.
Roatan is often referred to as the Caribbean’s best-kept secret. The island’s most outstanding feature is the coral reef that virtually encircles it: it is part of the second largest reef system in the world. And Roatan’s reef is highly accessible all over the island with the best diving found in West End, West Bay and Sandy Bay.
History The Bay Islands are made up of eight islands and sixty-five “cays”: Roatan is the largest of the islands. Around 35 miles long and never more than four miles wide, its total area is 49 square miles. Neighboring Guanaja (discovered by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage) covers 21.6 square miles and Utila almost 16.
Climate Rain can fall at almost any time of year, although it rarely lasts for long. Temperatures vary little: the average for January is 78 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Centigrade) with 84 degrees (29 Centigrade) in September. The Bay Islands benefit from relatively constant but gentle trade winds. Although they lie close to the hurricane belt, records show they are struck on average only once every ten years (the last, Wilma in October 2005, caused almost no structural damage despite high seas and gale force winds for a couple of days).
People Islanders have an extraordinarily varied background. There are descendants of the original Paya Indians, of Spanish conquerors, of the English and Scottish pirates who colonized Roatan in the 17th and 18th centuries, and of settlers from mainland Honduras. Then there are the Garifunas, descendants of freed slaves from the Caribbean island of St Vincent, who maintain their traditional cultural ways in two local communities. English and Spanish are spoken interchangeably and the varied ethnic mix – topped up by tourists from around the world – is cheerful, tolerant and, above all, friendly.