Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Docking at Roatan, Honduras

Azure water, white beaches, and green forests attract visitors to Roatan.
Roatan, Honduras is one of our favorite ports when cruising in the Western Caribbean. Docks built by major cruise lines are only about seven years old, which means the tourist shopping area is also relatively new. Best of all, it is clean, attractive, and spacious—with locally-made items reasonably priced.
Located about 36 miles off the northern coast of mainland Honduras, Roatan’s appeal comes from its turquoise waters, emerald green hills, and sparkling white beaches. It is 37 miles long and less than five miles wide at its broadest point. Houses are clustered along the shore; inland the landscape is hilly and forested. Transportation is easy--Roatan has a small airport, and a highway goes around the island.

Lush green countryside makes a beautiful landscape in Roatan.

A colorful history full of pirates, Indians, English settlers, descendants of African slaves, and Spanish conquerors makes for a very diverse population. Treasure hunters still come to modern seaside villages and look for bounty stashed on the island by more than 5,000 pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries.  English is the main language, perhaps one reason why 25 percent of the 75,000 population is retired Americans (only 45 percent are natives).

Many varieties of coral are easily seen when snorkeling.
Snorkeling with Jolly Roger: Roatan is surrounded by a barrier reef that lies approximately 300 feet from the shoreline. More than 130 accessible dive sites make the island a diver’s or snorkeler’s paradise. An underwater museum of sunken treasures, shipwrecks, and Mayan artifacts offers additional spots to scout for fish.

A fun ride on the Jolly Roger catamaran.

In many places the reef crest is very shallow, just a foot underwater, but boat excursions travel to deeper water allowing for extended exploration around a variety of coral species. The opportunity to see beautiful coral enticed us to the Jolly Roger Marina, a short distance from where the Emerald Princess ship docked on our recent cruise. From there we took an hour-long catamaran ride to the west side of the island for enhanced reef snorkeling. It was the perfect Caribbean shore excursion—a sunny day and a pleasant boat ride with the wind behind us.
Because beaches are generally more attractive on the western end of the island (Tabyana Beach is considered one of the finest in the Caribbean), that’s where most hotels and resorts are located.  It’s also convenient for scuba divers or avid snorkelers.

Stunning coral species along the reef off the coast of Roatan.
When the boat docked, we swam in water that was often 15 to 20 feet deep and could see beyond the reef where drop-offs approached double that depth. In order not to touch potentially dangerous coral species, we followed the channels and had no trouble viewing dozens of stunning coral species and interesting formations in the crystal clear water.

Although we saw a few colorful fish and a sea turtle swimming, this experience was really about the coral. Indeed, it was one of our better reef snorkeling experiences. After an hour in the water, we climbed back on board and enjoyed a delicious lunch of chicken, rice, slaw, pasta salad, and watermelon. Oh, there was plenty of rum punch, too. Following lunch, a bus ride back to the ship gave us an opportunity to see more of the lush and verdant countryside of Roatan.

Ride the Magic Flying Beach Chair to Mahogany Beach,
walking distance from the cruise ship dock.
On land: Not into snorkeling? Near the dock, the Magic Flying Beach Chair takes visitors on a cable car ride 1,200 feet above the canopy of trees to Mahogany Beach, a 10-acre private island featuring 825-foot long pristine white-sand beach. If you chose to keep your feet on land, it’s an easy walk to the beach.
Cruise passengers walk from the dock
to the shopping area in Roatan.
If water activities are not your thing, you can see monkeys, exotic birds, pirate caves, and colorful gardens at Gumbalimba Preservation Park on the west end of Roatan. Tropical oak and evergreen palms grow in abundance, and you can observe many types of indigenous flora and fauna (iguanas are the unofficial mascot of Roatan) while walking jungle trails at Carambola Botanical Gardens. Or watch an ancestral dance performed by costumed natives who are descendents of the Back Carib Indians.  

There's so much to do that you'll probably want to schedule a future cruise to further explore this beautiful island.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier. Copyright protected.





1 comment:

Elaine J. Masters said...

I've heard so many wonderful things about Roatan and hope to dive there. Great to know the snorkeling is great too.