SO MANY REASONS TO CONSIDER THE BAY ISLANDS
Live music lilts through the gently shushing palms, as we sit, toes in the sand and feel the early evening sun begin to dip along the horizon. Warm we feel. The kids splash in the surf. The crystal clear waters of the Caribbean lap against the sugar fine sand, even as the sun falls ever quickly against the horizon. The water temps still linger near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. 27° Celsius. Lovely. Snorkel on children. Snorkel on. I will soak this in. Thank you.
Grab yourself a drink. Life is lovely at West Bay beach on the island of Roatán. This is Honduras. The Bay Islands. 8 islands and 53 small cays that lay off the coast of mainland Honduras in Central America. Islas de la Bahía. I have been here before. It is a place worthy of return.
Great Mayan Barrier Reef
The largest Honduran Bay Islands are called Roatán, Utila and Guanaja. They sit happily along the second largest barrier reef in the world. You may be familiar with the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. But we’re not going there. Not today anyway. Follow the Great Mayan Reef south stretching from Mexico’s Yucatan along the Mayan Riveria on into Belize and then continue off the shores of mainland Honduras. The Great Mayan Reef offers parallel beauty on this side of the planet. In the Caribbean. You’ve heard of that. I know it.
West Bay Beach | Roatán
Closer now the calls of local icon – the “Banana Donut” man. Sporting a full white beard and straw hat, we spot him along the surf’s edge, a large plastic container tucked under his arm. Inside, we soon discover are warm, fresh and sugary treats to tempt you. Banana donuts. For sale.
Milton is the real name of the Banana Donut man and he is the proprietary marketer for his wife – Elana’s – delicious warm baked wares. Of all the vendors that walked the beach, Milton’s melodic unmistakable sing-song “banana donut” call pulled people in droves. We answered the call. Many times. Something between banana bread and a cake donut – we were instantly taken and forever charmed. Yum.
But beyond banana donuts, Roatán offers much to charm the child in us all. This is the Caribbean at its finest. Wondering what one could do on this Bay Island? Here are the things that will tempt and treat you to enjoy.
TOP THINGS TO DO WITH YOUR FAMILY ON ROATÁN
UNDERWATER DELIGHTS | SNORKEL, SCUBA Or SWIM
Whether you’re an experienced scuba diver or a casual dipper, the water here is delicious. Straight from the beach, the reef is reachable for world class snorkeling or just plain splashing while swimming. One could spend countless hours paddling in the soft waves seeking spottings of sea creatures in a full rainbow of colors. We found damselfish, grunts and angelfish too. Hamlets and morays and snappers and tangs, a veritable aquarium just beyond your mask. Don’t have your own equipment? No worries – many local options for rentals by the day or the week.
Think that the sun setting stops snorkelers from seeing? Take a night snorkel with a local, whose familiarity with the reef, keeps everyone safe. We saw octopus and lobster and sleepy fishes. But the coolest was definitely when we turned our flashlights off for a few moments and just enjoyed the sparkly blue bioluminescence from invertebrates in the water.
Want to dive a little deeper? Scuba perhaps. It’s a family affair in my house. Here in Roatán, my eldest son completed his PADI Junior Open Water Scuba Dive certification and was able to join his parents and grandmother to see sea turtles along the reef. There are dives here for all levels in Honduras.
INFINITY DIVERS AQUA CENTER
Located at Infinity Bay Resort
Infinity Bay Road, West Bay, Roatán
ZIP THROUGH THE JUNGLE
Not so keen on wreck diving and moray eels, but still like to seek out a little adventure? I say zip through the jungle. South Shore Zip-Line Adventures will pick you up and show you the ropes. Literally. Fun for all ages. Even the grandparents joined in! Outfitted and rigged, we begin on the slow courses and gradually move to longer and steeper ziplines. Safe and super fun. The littlest zip liners can tandem with a pro. A brilliant few hours soaring through the jungle canopy with views out to the sea.
FRESH FISH FOR DINNER
As you can imagine, the seafood here is superb. Care to snare your own catch for supper? Hire a local guide for some offshore fishing. Up at the crack of dawn, we were out on the water before the divers and quickly head out beyond the reef. Our Honduran guides know the waters and practice sustainable fishing, careful not to damage fragile ecosystems with over-fishing.
They set up the huge and heavy salt water poles and we take turns. Only a few lines can trawl at a time through the waters. We have a hit! Henrik, our guide grabs the pole and hands it to my mother. She is the fisherwoman in my family and my son has caught the bug. And catching something is always fun. How about tuna for dinner? Sounds good to me! Back at shore, the guides clean the fish on the dock and recommend a restaurant down the beach that can cook it up for us.
HERMIT CRAB RACES FOR CHARITY
There is always something going on at the hotels and resorts on the beach. Check out the Thirsty Turtle at Bananarama Beach resort – tons of activities geared at families with children. We loved sipping fresh coconut juice and playing with the giant jenga when we needed a break from the sun. And once a week, the restaurant hosts hermit crab races for charity. For a small contribution, you can sponsor a crab. Pick yours from the collection – all numbered and waiting. Rings are drawn on the sand and a volunteer carefully dumps the racers. Whichever number makes it to the outside ring first wins! Usually a coupon to try the restaurant, but whether you use it or not, the scene is hilarious. Children are encouraged to gather the crustaceans to be set off again. Each race lasts only a few minutes, but is all good fun for a good cause.
THIRSTY TURTLE BEACH BAR & RESTAURANT
West Bay Beach, Roatán Honduras
TAKE A WATER TAXI TO WEST END
Take an afternoon and explore off the resort path that is mostly West Bay. Take a water taxi to the town of West End for a little more local flavor. Local produce and products and restaurants here. A colorful day out with a tour on the water.
SOAK UP THE SUNSETS
Seriously serene. Soak it up. The sunsets here live up to the hype.
SIZE: 83 km²
Up until the 1990’s, Roatán was a sleepy island known only to divers and fisherman. Much has changed in the past few decades and tourism has taken over the island with both positive and negative effects. A huge cruise terminal now sits at the Port of Roatán in Coxen Hole near the airport. Catered facilities at the cruise ship terminal mean visitors don’t see much of the island. Or that passengers are bussed en masse to beaches like West Bay for snorkel excursions. Best to avoid the beach on these days. Or save your snorkel for another time when the waters are not so crowded.
DIRECT INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS TO ROATÁN HONDURAS FROM:
Canada: Montreal, Toronto
USA: Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami
Belize: Belize City
El Salvador: San Salvador
WHERE TO STAY:
Infinity Bay Spa & Beach Resort
Infinity Bay Road, West Bay |Roatán, Honduras
Units with kitchens and double rooms available. Porches with views over pool and to ocean. Daily breakfast buffet included.
Anthony’s Key Resort
Sandy Bay | Roatán, Honduras
Individual bungalows available for rent around a lagoon. Diving and snorkeling facilities on site.
Not a big resort person? Prefer something a little more private and self-catering? Try airbnb. Locations around the island, look for beach front between West End town and West Bay beach.
Where to eat
Celeste’s Island Cuisine
West Bay Rd, West Bay | Roatán Honduras
Not on the beach, but casual fun atmosphere with great seafood.
Foster’s West Bay Resort
West Bay Rd, West Bay | Roatán Honduras
They grilled our caught fish and served it with local side dishes right on the beach.
The Bite on the Beach
End of West Bay Beach | Roatán Honduras
Follow the boardwalk at the end of the beach to this West Bay landmark. Sit upstairs with views over the water. Nightly visits by resident moray eels is a treat for the kids.
Save it for later!