Roatan, Honduras

Trip Start Feb 24, 2007
Trip End Mar 03, 2007

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Nine months after returning from my trip around the world I was itching to travel abroad, if only for a quick jaunt to a's been a LOOOONG winter in Kansas and some sand and sun sounded perfect.

Ryan and I did some research on some nearby places, mostly in Central America and ultimately chose th e island of Roatan off of Honduras. We'd heard from a mutual friend that it was wonderful and the reading I did on it made it sound small, unspoiled, quiet and CHEAP!

Now I'm wondering where I found the stuff I read!!

We spent 8 days in Roatan. Flew there directly from Houston (there are direct flights on Saturdays only from Houston, Atlanta, Miami). This saved a lot of money and the usual route on other days of the week which involves a stupid number of stops in San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and Ceiba. So the airfare was a good deal with the Saturday departure and return.

Roatan and a neighboring island, Utlia, are supposed to be the cheapest places in the world to get certified as an open water diver. Ryan took advantage of this and got his certification with a place called Reef Gliders, a great little dive shop in Roatan with very personal attention and nice staff.

I dove myself...and frankly my expectations were in no way met. The coral life is pretty healthy but other than that I was not impressed. I've only dove in Thaliand, Australia, Costa Rica and Egypt but I think they were all better. The diving is cheap, but then so is Thailand. If you're looking for a great diving vacation I don't think I'd head for Roatan.

Roatan is also VERY touristy...which surprised me (though it probably shouldn't have). I expected it to be smaller, less crowded, more "cultural", more "Honduran" but it was neither. Americans selling real estate are rampant. There are very few hostels to choose from (I think only two that I remember, Chilies and Milka). We stayed at the Seagrape Plantantion, a nice enough place, a ten minute walk from the main street (and thus pretty quiet), personal cabins with bathrooms, warm water and a generator, which turns out was very LUCKY.

Power, shortly followed by water, go out EVERY DAY for most of the day. I can't say I was really bothered as a tourist...what do you really need electricity for? But it was clearly a burden on the businesses, restaurants, dive shops, etc. who had to do without power for hours each day. Makes it hard to refill air tanks for the dive shops and the restaurants do without refrigerators and stoves (unless they have gas which some did) which means we, the tourists, get WARM beer and other beverages. Not a HUGE deal...except for the fact that the prices don't reflect the siutation. We were told that Roatan has the second most expensive electricity in the world after Madagascar.

We found the cost of things to be abnormally high for what we got. Food is mediocre at best. Alcohol is cheap enough but food wasn't. Having said that, there are a few decent places, the Bamboo Lodge is a nice little place, so was Cannibals, a little Mexican restaurant. And if you have a car (which we did one day after paying a guy $50 to "rent" his personal pickup that took about 15 minutes to start every time) there's an awesome place aptly called The View which was great, I think American- run but with a hint of local flavor, moderate prices and good food, not to mention the view.

We desperately wanted to visit Utila. It was whale shark season and we missed it! February and March are the best months to see whale sharks and apparently only in Utila. Getting to Utila from Roatan involves either a flight (I think about $80 RT) or two ferry rides, the first to Ceiba (port town on the mainland) and then to Utila. We just ran out of time to do this so I cannot speak to Utila and its attractions though the people on Roatan did not speak favorably of it. From what we heard it is cheaper, less touristy, more backpackerish but very HOT as there is a lot of concrete. It is very flat and has few beaches. Wish we had seen for ourselves but we ran out of time.

The weather was beautiful every day and some of the beaches were very nice, particularly in West Bay (the ritzier, more "resorty" part of the island a short "water taxi" ride from West End). There is also a very secluded smaller beach on the island called Paya Bay with one hotel on it. We drove to Paya Bay the day we had the car and it was beautiful. Wished we'd stayed there. Nothing but one hotel atop a cliff hanging over the turqoise water below and a nice stretch of white sand beach. This place looked very peaceful and quiet.

I can't say I was totally disappointed with Roatan, but I did expect more. I suppose having been to so many places at this point is a little bit of a curse as well as a blessing. I have seen so much and naturally (though I resist the urge) compare places to one another. I think this is especially true of beach destinations. It's easy to do after all, there's the water, the sand, the diving, the locals, and the "development" of a place. I think as far as Central America goes, overall, Costa Rica can't be beat. I know, I'm biased, but it really sort of has it all. Sure, the prices are probably higher than any other Central American country but then again, they certainly aren't higher than what we experienced in Roatan. I have not visited Nicaragua or Belize (yet). There are of course many beautiful beaches in Mexico as well.

It was a good eight days away, even if our wallets came back empty. Not the "backpacker" destination that I expected though I suspect Utila is more so. But hey, we're tan, rested...and eager for the next one...
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Where I stayed
Bamboo Lodge
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