The journey from Copan to Roatan Island is arduous to say the least, as my Intrepid Travel group goes from a 7-hour car ride to a nausea-inducing 2-hour ferry to a 20-minute shuttle. We’re cranky and hot and tired; however, once we reach Posada Las Orquídeas ($30+ per day) on the island’s West End all of our anxieties melt away instantly, white sand between our toes and lapping waves creating a symphony of calm.
Since the ferry I’d been inhaling the distinct scents of marijuana, coconut and fish, essentially the perfume of an island vacation. The long journey has left us craving a hot meal, and our Intrepid guide, Javier, walks us over to Cannibal Cafe for lionfish tacos. Lionfish are doing tremendous harm to Caribbean coral reefs. As they have no natural predators in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, and their stomachs can expand up to 30 times its normal size, a single lionfish can eat a tremendous amount of food — not to mention they devour almost anything that fits inside their mouths.
Here’s the problem: When lionfish feed on fish that graze on algae, corals may become overgrown with seaweed and die. Lionfish can reduce local biodiversity by up to 80%, killing herbivorous fish that keep algae from overtaking coral, as the green non-flowering plant grows infinitely faster. If these corals don’t receive enough light they will die, and because algae are taking over the reef there is no room left for new corals to settle.
So basically eating them is an uber responsible meal.
As we’re visiting in low season (September) the restaurant ends up being closed; however, a local man stands in a parking lot whipping up gringas and marinated pork tacos topped with guacamole and pico, offering cold beers and loud reggae for pairing. We wolf down our plates (3 tacos is about $5) and head a little ways down the street to Booty Bar, electronic and Pitbull blasting along with the music videos, my group dancing so hard our Cuba Libres spill on our clothes.
Returning home from the bar doesn’t mean bedtime, but rum time, as we tote grocery store-bought Flor de Cana and lemonade to the hotel’s dock. Eric has brought his Bluetooth speaker, and we lay on the hard wood sipping homemade concoctions and gazing up at the stars, the constellations and shooting stars so clear it feels like you can touch them. I’m not an astronomy buff, but I’m pretty sure I see Neptune and Uranus (though I was pretty tipsy).
Under The Sea
The next morning I meet the day with some fresh fruit and granola on the balcony before hopping in a van to West Bay, where a snorkeling boat organized by Garcia Tours Roatan — who also provided the group’s transportation during the stay — would meet us.
Stocked with fresh papaya, watermelon and apple slices — and of course water and beer — we visit two dive sites (Roatan has over 150 dive sites). The first is unnamed, but features a flat bed of colorful colors of all sizes and shapes, tubes, cones, flaps and fingers jutting up beautifully from the sea bed. The turquoise waters are warm and translucent, and I can make out blue tang, grouper, trumpetfish, lionfish, rainbow trout and angel fish swimming through the seemingly coral highway system.
Javier also appears like a fish, free diving with my GoPro Hero4 to get close to the action. He looks so peaceful, gently swimming down while appearing weightless, bubbles forming an outline around his body.
The second site is called the Blue Channel, with a bit cooler water and choppier water. I have to be careful to stay near the guide, as an enormous underwater boulder of coral that looks like an aquatic Sonoran Desert, while beautiful, threatens to cut me with its corals. Not surprisingly, I still end up with a bloody foot, but any discomfort is quickly forgotten as a fish that looks like a flat disco ball swims near me, captivating my gaze.
An awesome morning of Caribbean snorkeling turns into an awesome afternoon of Caribbean dining, with our driver Luciano of Garcia Tours Roatan (Luciano.email@example.com) bringing us to the Bay Side Restaurant & Grill in Coxen Hole, the largest city of Roatan and the capital of the Bay Islands department of Honduras.
What they’re known for: the Sopa Marinera, or seafood soup. An enormous bowl offers lobster, crab, conch, shrimp, peppers and rice drenched in a sweet and spicy coconut both. As I ravenously rip apart crab claws and suck shrimp from their shells I begin profusely sweating, the ocean breeze no match for my love of all things hot and edible. I decide instead of suffering to dine in my bathing suit. Hey, it is the Caribbean. No shirt, no shoes, no problem, right?
Roatan Island Nightlife
By the time we arrive back at the hotel it’s almost sunset, and the group runs to shower before meeting on our balconies for drinks (we sadly never make it back in time to visit Sundowners Beach Bar, walkable from the hotel and supposedly a beautiful spot to see the sunset from the beach). It’s Thursday night, so the plan is to get some liquid courage before walking over to Blue Marlin for karaoke. Roatan Island’s West End has one main drag full of restaurant’s and bars. The farther you head west the crazier the party gets and, after (pretty bad) renditions of “Like A Virgin” and “U + Ur Hand,” it’s time to get our dance on.
The bars all close around 1am; however, there’s one venue that’s a multi-space dance club at one address: El Bosque. The group dances — I mean drip sweating, clothing melted onto your skin, pouring water bottles over your head dancing — until 4am. What I love is how much the locals enjoy our crazy moves, forming a circle around our group and giving me my So You Think You Can Dance? moment. We cap the night off on our normal perch on the hotel dock under the Big Dipper.
Exploring West Bay
Luckily through twerking and jumping like my feet were on fire the night before I was able to sweat out any rum that could have possibly stayed in my system, and am raring to go the next morning. We start with breakfast at Yahongreh? at Hotel Chillies, made-to-order baleadas, to be exact. Baleada is a popular typical dish of Honduras, a flour tortilla folded in half and stuffed with ingredients like beans, cheese, butter and cream, and sometimes meat, eggs and avocado. For breakfast I dig into a bacon, avocado, cheese and egg baleada, paired with a banana and papaya smoothie, all for about $7.
From there my group has the energy needed to walk to West Bay Beach, which we’re told is an easy 45-minute walk. While I wouldn’t call it difficult by any means, I will warn there is a high and shaky bridge you must cross (not great for those afraid of heights) and a lot of steep and slippery rocks you need to maneuver. We make it unscathed, and the free-to-use beach beds and $6 frozen margaritas at Mayan Princess Beach Resort make the journey oh so worth it.
While West End caters to tourism I wouldn’t call it overrun with tourists. Typically visitors are brought in on cruise ships and go to West Bay instead, though the fact I’m visiting in low season means the beach isn’t crazy, and we have the resort beds all to ourselves. We alternate between relaxing in the sun and relaxing in the turquoise waters.
Half Moon Bay Adventures
Until it’s time for our next adventure: a water taxi ride ($3 per person) back to West End to enjoy the free-to-use kayaks in Half Moon Bay. We paddle out to a rusty ship that’s precariously rocking — it literally looks like it’s going to capsize at any moment — with a rope swing. Local kids and brave tourists climb the boat’s weathered ladder to swing like Tarzan, shrilly screaming at they plunge into the sea. I can’t help but think what a cool way to grow up this would be, all together finding authentic adventures around the island.
Our dinner that night is also on Half Moon Bay Beach, this time on the beach. Our Intrepid Travel leader, Javier, has pulled some strings to set up an after-dark barbecue, candlelight and stars illuminating the scene. Lobster, barbecue chicken, marinated pork, mashed potatoes and veggies fill our plates, and we share a rare moment of silence — our group is chatty, to say the least — as we dig into a delicious feast (Note: you can head down to Half Moon Bay Sunday-Friday to experience this during lunch without a reservation; there’s no official name for this “restaurant”).
When the plates are cleared, we pour Flor de Cana rum into paper cups, toasting to the evening and the trip itself. It’s only been five days — we have 17 in total — and already strangers are becoming family. It’s a notion as delicious as the meal we’ve just eaten, and leaves me excited for the days to come.
For more posts from my Way to San Jose trip, click here. Bonus: Get 25% off last minute deals with Intrepid Travel by clicking here.
Getting To Roatan Island: There is an airport on the island, so flying is an option with Delta, American Airlines, United Airlines, TACA, Island Air, and Sunwing. I personally drive from Copan to La Ceiba to catch a 90-minute Safe Way Maritime Transportation Company (~$28). Make sure to sleep during this time, as it’s rocky and you can get sick.
Getting Around: Most of Roatan Island is accessible via foot and cheap taxis (negotiate taxi rates before getting in) and water taxis ($3 each way between West End to West Bay). If you want to go to Coxen Hole, the capital of the Bay Islands and the largest city on Roatan, you can take a collectivo mini bus for $2 or less. You can also hire a driver or have your hotel hire you a driver for throughout your stay.
Currency: Honduran lempira. Almost everywhere accepts US Dollars, too, though you might get ripped off in the conversion. The exchange as of October 1, 2015, is 1 USD=about 22 lempiras.
Outlets: My USA plugs worked fine without an adapter, including my laptop.
Language: Spanish, but some people also speak English. Knowing a few key phrases in Spanish will be helpful though. A small pocket dictionary can also be helpful.
Safety: While I didn’t feel particularly unsafe in Honduras, it’s still Central America and a substantial amount of crime exists. I’d recommend a lock for your day bag with your valuables inside (I lock the zippers together), a safety whistle and Clever Travel Companion pickpocket-proof garments.
Read: Moon Honduras & the Bay Islands (Moon Handbooks) by Amy E. Robertson; Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States by John Soluri; Don’t Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks From The Heart: The Story of Elvia Alvarado by Elvia Alvarado
Diving: While I didn’t dive myself, Roatan has myriad dive companies along the main strip. The diving is supposed to be some of the best — and cheapest — in the world (dives start at $35 including tanks). What makes the destination especially unique for diving is that at night you can see a phenomenon known as the “Strings of Pearls”: microscopic pelagic shrimp leaving trails of phosphorescence. Here is more information on local diving on Roatan Island.
Border Crossing Notes: For the Americans, Europeans and Australians crossing the border from Guatemala into Honduras was super easy, especially with our Intrepid Travel guide Javier organizing everything and telling us exactly what to do. That being said, we had one traveler with an Kenyan passport who had a really difficult time getting through, despite having the proper paperwork/visa. If you have an “uncommon” passport realize you may need to resort to a bit of bribery. You may also want to have your consulate’s contact information handy in case needed.
*My trip to Central America was hosted by Intrepid Travel. I was not compensated nor required to write this post. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.
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