Visit Roatan! Don’t just Cruise in, Stay Over!

Roatan Island, off of Honduras, has long been a cruise ship destination. As we pulled in on the local ferry from La Ceiba, Honduras the boat dwarfed in comparison to the Holland-America and Carnival Freedom Cruise ships in port. Tourists disembark from their floating hotels to enjoy less than 12 hours on the island. They relax on the beach, take island tours, or head to the bar. They miss out on all the island has to offer in this rushed experience. Roatan is surely worth a stay.

We spent three nights on the island and were bummed to leave. Most people stay in West Bay and West End at the far end of the island. There’s more of a town with restaurants and shops for tourists in these areas. The hotels are also way more expensive and the area is busy with gringos.

We stayed near French Harbor on the under belly of the island. Through Airbnb, I found an affordable private room next to a couple’s villa in The Clarion Pineapple Villas Resort. Instead of paying $175/night to stay at the Clarion Suites, we paid $75/night for a private room with private entrance in their condo with the same amenities of the hotel. We had access to three beautiful pools, a spa and gym, and two restaurants.

Roatan was originally a British colony, so the local people come from African and British descendants not Spanish like the Hondurans. The local people’s first language is English making it easy for tourists visiting the island. The English pirates started settling on the island in the 1700s and bringing slaves from East Africa. There were also native peoples on the island that mixed with the Africans brought over. The locals are called Garifunas and have maintained their own African cultures, religion, and language in addition to English. In the last five years more mainland Hondurans have started moving to the island bringing Spanish to the island. The Garifunas and mainlanders don’t get along.

There’s an international airport on the island, where you can get direct flights from Texas and all over the world. Flights from mainland Honduras cost $180 round trip. We took the ferry over for $35 each way from the mainland, leaving out of La Ceiba. I wouldn’t stay long in La Ceiba though it’s not pretty and can be dangerous at night. Most people only visit on the cruise lines. They are missing out though.

The Clarion doesn’t have a beach, but has free access to Big French Key, a private island just off shore from Roatan. We spent our first day lounging on BFK and enjoying the chair service from the restaurant and the clear turquoise waters. Just across the water, a stones throw away, you can visit Little French Key. This island is also private and more developed. It costs a base price of $35 up to $300 to visit this island. There’s a wildlife zoo with lions, leopards, monkeys, and birds on LFK and several beaches and restaurants, plus water sports and helicopter rides. We were lucky enough to visit LFK two days later as part of our snorkeling tour package. It’s definitely worth at least visiting Big French Key for free to enjoy the calm waters.

For a hefty cab fair, we visited the West End for dinner and caught the tail end of the orange sky over the water after the sunset. The bars were lively with bonfires on the beach and live music played by gringos. Tourists clogged the seats at restaurants overlooking the water. We ate on the second floor of a new establishment connected to the Coconut Tree Inn. They don’t have a menu yet or take credit cards, but the Canadian owners sure make a good shrimp fajita. I also enjoyed a goblet-sized local drink called Monkey Lala, made with baileys, Kahlua, coconut cream, rum, and chocolate sauce. It tasted like a milkshake. Unfortunately, for the cost of the cab ride over on the pothole roads, it wasn’t worth the visit to pay $20 each way. So if you want a more lively gringo scene, you better stay in West Bay or West End.

The main reason we stayed over in French Harbor instead of the West End, was due to the golf course right next door to Pineapple Villas. My husband has been dying to play golf the entire trip. So when I saw that the Pristine Bay Resort next door had a golf course, I booked this place right away. It was worth it to be far from the crowds and have my husband be happy that he finally got to play golf on our trip. While he spent the day hitting balls at the golf course, overlooking the north shore of the island, I lounged by the pools and got a massage in the Piña Spa.

For our third day, we enjoyed a full day excursion, including a visit to the Monkey and Sloth Hangout, three snorkeling spots and three hours on the Little French Key. I booked the tour through Roatan Ocean Adventures for $70 a person and it was so worth it! I found them on Trip Advisor and their website looked professional. They offered the hopping snorkel tour that visited several reefs near the island and a beach break at the end. They also included the Monkey and Sloth hangout for free.

I was a bit thrown off by the owner, Herbert, pulling up in a totally beat up Subaru with dents and broken door handles. When he emerged from the car right after I joked with Ethan, “watch, let this be our ride!”, and said he was Herbert, I got a little worried. As usual with things in Latin America, nothing is as advertised. Luckily, we were pleasantly surprised by the tour even though it wasn’t full of glitz and glamour. The company is locally owned and ran by friends and family members. Herbert went out of his way to make sure we were comfortable.

Our first stop at the Monkey and Sloth Hangout was a blast. This small establishment has five sloths that just hang in the trees around the property and about ten capuchin monkeys in different cages as well as two spider monkeys and small and large parrots. We were happy to learn that after customers leave, they let the monkeys out of their cages to roam free.

They let us hold a female sloth, who was absolutely adorable. She hung her long arms around our necks and sat in our palms. She was very interactive and kept reaching for Ethan’s GoPro. I could’ve held her for days, she was so freaking cute. Her blond fur blended in with Ethan’s beard. We fell in love!!

Then they let us enter one of the capuchin monkey cages and the cheeky monkeys hopped on our heads and picked through our hair. The guide gave us sunflower seeds to feed them and placed the food on us, so the monkeys would jump on us. They checked in pockets and in our clothes for food.

They won’t let you enter the cages with the mating monkeys or the spider monkeys, because they are aggressive. We did get to hold the small green parrots and the enormous scarlet parrots with their colorful plumage. Their claws left marks on my arms. They are magnificent birds, though. The birds are the only animals here that are native to the island. The rest are brought from the mainland.

After playing with all the animals, we boarded a small green speed boat and took off on the choppy water. I forgot to take motion sickness pills, so the rough rollercoaster sending us tipping and bowing on the waves, made me really nauseous. I jumped in the water anyway and floated with the rolling waves along the mile long reef. We flowed with the current at the edge of a steep drop off in the ocean. There were tons of spectacular fish of many sizes and colors. There were bright tie dye parrot fish, iridescent silver fish, red bellied fish with black fishnets, and orange coral.

Just as we reached a sunken ship below the sea, the seasickness caught up with me and I fed the fish my breakfast. This didn’t stop me though, I put my snorkel back in and kept swimming. We took the boat to the second spot, that was shallow and calmer waters. Here we spotted a 3 foot barracuda, a fat cheeked puffer fish, colorful frilly lobsters, and schools of blue and silver fish hiding in the turtle grass. I survived without puking and enjoyed following all the unique fish around.

Our last snorkel stop took us back to rough waters, but the most beautiful coral. The waves washed over my snorkel sending water down the tube and choking me. I tried to enjoy the scenery though. There were more parrot fish zipping around the coral. Purple coral fans waved as we swam by. A bright blue fish with polka dots hid in pink pasta-like coral. We saw a lot of the same fish, but the coral was more colorful and dazzling. Unfortunately the rough ocean made it tough to enjoy, so we called it quits after 20 minutes.

They dropped us at the Little French Key to round out the day. I was happy to stand on solid ground. A little ginger ale helped. We enjoyed lunch on the deck. Then we swam around to the different seats in the water and hammocks. We drank monkey lalas and played in the shallow clear, turquoise water. We asked to extend our time, so we could soak in more rays and enjoy the amenities a little longer. We also visited the local residents of the island-the kid lions, leopards, capuchin monkeys, toucan, mountain lion, and other birds. The whole interior of the island is a zoo. I wouldn’t pay to visit Little French Key, but it’s definitely fun if it’s included in a tour.

We left the island craving more. There’s still so much activities left to enjoy like visiting other beaches and snorkeling spots or zip lining through the jungle. Three days wasn’t nearly enough to enjoy everything the island has to offer. I suggest at least five days spent on the island. It’s definitely worth it!

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