Legend has it that pirate treasure once buried on the island of Roatan in the 17th century remains hidden to this very day. At least that is what the locals claim as they speak of the island’s history with a gleam in their eyes. Whether or not there is any truth to this folklore remains to be seen. But regardless, one thing is certain – Roatan itself is a treasure worth discovering.
Located in the Bay islands off the coast of Honduras in the western Caribbean Sea, Roatan is an elongated 49-square-mile island stretching 28 miles in length, by 1-2 miles wide. Its landscape is marked by wooded peaks and valleys that gently slope down to marshes, mangrove forests, rocky bluffs and white sandy beaches met by the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. This lush paradise is surrounded by jewel-toned waters lapping the shore in a hypnotic lullaby that soothes the soul and rejuvenates the senses. It is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world – the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – drawing diving aficionados who enjoy exploring the vast underwater world with its stunning coral formations and wildlife that glitter beneath the filtered rays of the Caribbean sun, as well as the sunken ships that lay in their final resting places, providing refuge to the many scaled, finned, crustaceous and gilled occupants that lurk and glide through their eerie remains.
Flora & Fauna
Roatan’s hot, humid climate ranges from 77-84 degrees Fahrenheit year round, and receives over 100 inches of rain annually, with refreshingly constant easterly trade winds that are typical to the islands. Its lush tropical forests are rich with a variety of plants and trees, including coconut palms, banana palms, almond and cashew trees, mango and papaya trees, crab apple trees, graceful oleanders, fragrant eucalyptus, imposing fig and breadfruit trees, tamarind trees and elephant ears with their huge waxy leaves.
Large hibiscus in bright pinks, oranges, yellows and reds, as well as birds of paradise, orchids, bougainvillea and pride of Barbados with their delicate bunches of flowers and tiny oval leaves in lacy fronds are among the many flowers that stand out in colorful contrast against the greenery. Thick ivy and passion fruit vines creep possessively up many of the moss-covered tree trunks, only to drape from their branches in graceful abandon.
The island is home to white-tailed deer, green and black iguanas, several species of bats, agouti (large brown rodents which look like big rabbits without ears), turtles, frogs, lizards, snakes, monkeys and a variety of birds including toucans, macaws, turkey vultures, herons, hummingbirds and parrots of many species. Bottle-nose dolphins can be seen frolicking off the coast in playful pods, as well as amazing underwater wildlife, from eels to eagle rays and fish galore.
Island Homes and Transportation
A single paved road winds about the island, though water taxis await to transport people by boat along the calm coastal waters. A ride on a water taxi also affords spectacular views of the coastline and its plantation-style homes with large wrap-around porches that make the most of the panoramic vistas. The houses are all built on stilts to protect against rising waters and sand flies, among other insects.
Just beyond the coast with its various houses and structures dotting its expanse, looms the jungle – impenetrable and foreboding as it rises above the sea – a constant reminder of nature’s indomitable presence.
The heady scent of dense vegetation, moist and earthy, with the salty sea fills the air. And as a dark orange sun sets beneath a glowing horizon, a wild chorus of frogs, crickets and birds resonates with a primitive splendor that sets fire to the imagination.
Activities, Recreation & Dining
Roatan is much more than a hub for scuba diving. There’s zip-lining through the rainforest canopy, parasailing, swimming and snorkeling, fishing, horseback riding, mangrove tours, scooter rentals, paddle boarding, sunset cruises, various parks with gardens, assorted tours and much more. Its many cays lay like tiny islands off its coast, waiting to be explored.
The island has a very laid-back relaxed feel that is unpretentious and inviting. No shirt, no shoes, no problem! Most dining is al fresco right along the beach, where flip flops and shorts are the norm. Menus consist largely of freshly caught fish and seafood with vegetables and salads, and include such fare as conch ceviche, shrimp cocktails, hearts-of-palm salad, lobster, and a variety of catch-of-the-day specials. The delicious cocktails are fruity, as many use fresh juices from fruits grown right on the island.
Whether you are off exploring the island on a tour or nature encounter, lying back on the beach under an umbrella, or doing a bit of both, Roatan is a lovely place to visit. As it is still relatively unknown, it remains uncrowded with a very primitive feel – something that awakens one’s passion for nature and allows for peaceful exploration of its lush landscape, away from the noise and stress of city life. It is a place for families to reconnect to each other amid stunning surroundings. And although you may not find buried pirate treasure from long ago, you will find peace. And that alone is priceless.
Previously published in TotsandTravel.com