It seems that Cayman Airways’ decision to fly direct to Roatan rather than just La Ceiba has been a winning one. Already many residents of Cayman have taken advantage of this new, easy access and have flown to the largest of the Bay Islands to see what all the fuss is about.
Anyone who remembers and misses the Grand Cayman of about 30 years ago will probably fall in love with the laid back attitude in Roatan, along with its charming, low-maintenance bars and Robinson Crusoe-esque accommodations, for those who desire them.
Listen for some of the accents that seem indistinguishable from the Caymanians’ lilting way of speaking. Maybe that’s what makes it feel like a genuine home away from home.
Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands. It is a long, narrow, hilly island with a maximum altitude of 900 feet. It is almost 60 km long (about 37 miles) and only 5 km wide (3 miles) at its widest spot.
The island is completely surrounded by a large reef system, part of the Mesoamerican reef which boasts the largest marine biodiversity in the world and is part of the second longest barrier reef in the world, extending itself from the Bay Islands in Honduras on the south end to the Mexican islands of Contoy, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel to the North.
The coastline of Roatan has outstanding white sand beaches, ironshore bluffs and mangrove forests surrounding the island. The combination is almost perfect and provides the best of all three worlds, tropical beaches, such as the one in West Bay is considered the best beach in Central America and one of the best in the world; the ironshore bluffs offer some of the best oceanfront views on the island, and the mangrove swamps offer an insight to the tropical wetlands of the Caribbean and Central America.
Where to stay
You can go fancy or casual in Roatan, depending on your budget and style. Known for its wildlife and lush greenery, the island is home to a number of eco-resorts such as Tranquilseas Eco Lodge and Dive Center with its open verandas sporting comfy hammocks and the Upachaya Eco-Lodge in Man O’ War Harbour with simple décor, thatched roofs and wooden walkways.
Then, naturally, there are the many dive resorts from which to choose. Anthony’s Key Resort is serenely, breathtakingly gorgeous with stilt huts standing in the water. It’s hard to get any closer to nature than this. Look for amazing sea creatures and land animals, along with an extraordinary assortment of birds.
Infinity Bay Spa and Beach Resort is a bit more of your typical upscale resort, but if you’re looking for somewhere with character, you can’t beat the more rustic properties that truly emulate the laid back lifestyle in Roatan.
Speaking of which, if you have the time, you should make the hop to Guanaja and stay at Graham’s Place for a few days. Graham Thompson of the Cayman Islands made his home there years ago, and his resort is second-to-none. The fishing is great and the relaxing is better.
Going snorkeling and/or scuba diving is a given here. Roatan is known for its fantastic marine life and reefs. However, if you are more of a landlubber and a bit adventurous, going ziplining is a must. There are three companies that offer the opportunity to fly over and through the landscape: Jungle Top Adventures, South Shore Canopy and Pirates of the Caribbean. All are highly rated and give participants a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful island, its topography and vegetation.
Each offers different experiences. For example, the Pirates of the Caribbean company has the Pirate’s Extreme Zipline which features 15 long zip lines. The longest zip line during this tour has a total length of 627 feet with challenging ladders and bridges to cross and the highest zip line is 149 feet at its highest point.
The Extremely Extreme Zipline includes nine long zip lines with the longest at 1,980 feet and the highest point of 328 feet.
When it’s not an adrenaline rush you seek, take a water taxi to the infamous Hole in the Wall bar and restaurant in Jonesville, accessible only by boat. Its online presence is minimal, much like the place itself. Hole in the Wall is very casual and absolutely unmissable.