If you want to experience some of the world’s best diving sites and private white sand beaches, head over to Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras. The 33-mile paradise island is surrounded by the second largest coral reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The reefs begin in as little as 20 to 40 feet from the surface of the ocean floor with delightful drop-offs up to 100+ feet that include canyons, coral and sponges. If you are new to diving, you can be certified after a few lessons that are offered at most hotels. Snorkeling is a great alternative too where you can watch thousands of marine creatures swimming in the turquoise blue warm waters of the Caribbean. At certain locations in Roatan, you can swim with hundreds of fish right off the beach in crystal clear water.
One of the must-do activities in Roatan is the dolphin encounter at Anthony’s Key Resort. Here you can swim, snorkel or dive with highly intelligent and entertaining trained dolphins. They will give you kisses and pose for pictures. It’s a lot of fun for the entire family.
Although Roatan attracts visitors for its warm and shallow seas, you may want to break away and indulge in some land activities as well. Walk alongside two thousand iguanas at The Iguana Park at French Cay, one of the largest iguana preservation farms in the world or get an adrenaline rush ziplining from the top of the mountain right into the beach ending at Gumbalimba Park. Here you can take a stroll through the lush gardens observing tropical fauna and get up close with capuchin monkeys and macaws.
There are plenty of lodging options on the island, ranging from all-inclusive luxury to basic dive resorts. On the western shore of the island is the Mayan Princess Beach and Dive Resort which offers three gourmet restaurants, spa and a private beach and dive shop. All of the rooms at the Mayan are condo-style with full kitchens, living rooms and huge balconies overlooking the pool, making it comfortable for a week long stay. It is also conveniently located close to the happening area of West End where you can explore the nightlife and rub elbows with the expats.
If you prefer quiet private surroundings where you can be one with nature, stay at the Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort on the eastern shore of the island. Popular with hardcore divers, the boutique hotel offers modestly priced rooms and scrumptious buffet meals prepared Latin American style. Turquoise Bay is the ideal place to take a good book and sit by the pool, lounge in the hammocks on the beach, or go out into the calm waters in a kayak.
All resorts sell dining packages with the room rate, but you should also try some of the restaurants on the island. The local cuisine is influenced by settlers from Great Britain, Africa, and Spain and includes rice, beans, seafood, fresh fruits and salads. Seasonings are generally limited to garlic, salt and pepper, but the focus is on the freshness of the ingredients. A popular street food is baleada which is like a soft wheat taco stuffed with bean paste, meat, queso and pico de gallo. You will also find ceviche and plantains at practically every meal. Lobster, conch, shrimp, clams and white fish are abundant on every menu.
If you are craving something spicier, Tong’s Thai Island Cuisine restaurant serves the best food in town and is very popular with tourists. The Paradise Beach Hotel is also a good choice for its three restaurants – il Pomodoro Pizzaria, Buffalo Steak House, and Aqua Lounge. After dinner, you must stop by The Blue Marlin for karaoke on the patio or the club and Mucho Bueno for live reggae music.
Roatan is an attractive destination because it still retains its authentic charm and is not overcrowded with visitors. You can experience modern resorts with high-end amenities, yet have a quiet time on the beach. The weather is warm year round and best of all, it is only a short flight away from the U.S.
Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal