Poof! Mind Blown.
It’s a bold statement. I’m well aware of that. But, then again, Roatan—the largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras—is a pretty bold place, color wise anyways.
And color is everywhere on West Bay Beach, the island’s most popular beach. Boats, blankets, restaurants, people, everything pops. Blue-greens, yellows, orange-reds are a gentle reminder you’re still in the Caribbean.
Our plan wasn’t to have a beach day in Honduras on our recent Carnival cruise. We had signed up for a beginner’s scuba diving excursion, but it got canceled at the very last second due to poor weather conditions. So we improvised. Thirty minutes later we were on a hop-on, hop-off tourist bus riding through the island’s forested interior, not really sure what we’d find.
Despite the Bay Islands being high on our places to visit, neither one of us (most likely just me) did a ton of research on the islands over the years. A number of our friends had been; they all loved it. I wrote a story about it once, interviewing said friends about their adventures in the islands, including the best things to do in Roatan.
Still, I never dug deeper, and by that I mean I never sought out pictures of Roatan or its sister Islands, Utila and Guanaja. For some destinations, I don’t like to know what it looks like before I arrive—Roatan was one of those places.
Located off the north coast of Honduras, the Bay Islands (Islas de la Bahia) are best known for their superb diving and snorkeling, as the reefs are part of the second-largest barrier reef in the world. Roatan, the largest and most developed of the islands, is no exception. “Roatan’s greatest appeal is its water, which is warm, crystal clear and home to some of the most beautiful, diverse and prolific marine life in the world,” U.S. News and World Report reported in 2013.
Despite Spanish being the official language of Honduras, Caribbean English is the primary language of the Bay Islands, as they were once part of British Isles and many of the locals, known as the Caracol people, are of European and British-Afro-Caribbean descent. Additionally, U.S. currency is also widely accepted. This fact, along with the widespread use of English, makes the islands all the more attractive to American travelers, since language and currency are usually the two biggest hurdles when traveling to a new a country.
Arriving in Mahogany Bay, Roatan, on a cruise ship like the Carnival Glory, is a real treat, as an old, rusting shipwreck breaks up the tranquility of the calm bay. Once in port, Mahogany Bay features a shopping village as well as a white sand beach resort complete with a chair lift.
Since attractions in Roatan are fairly spaced out, it’s not possible to walk to other beaches from Mahogany Bay. Instead, your best bet is the hop-on, hop-off bus, which is cheaper than using a taxi. As I said before, our scuba diving excursion got cancelled at the last minute, and as we were scrambling for something else to do, we found the stand for the tourist bus (approximately $22/rt/pp), which gave us the option to explore West End and West Bay Beach on our own. Better yet, the tour company is affiliated with Carnival, so we were able to use our sail and sign cards to pay for the tickets. The stand is easy to locate too, as it is right in the middle of the walkway after you pass through the duty free shop.
One thing to keep in mind about the tourist shuttle, and this is a biggie: If you don’t get off at West End, you can’t go back to West End on another bus from West Bay Beach. Communication was lacking about this, and we assumed (one of the biggest mistakes you can make when traveling) the buses ran in a loop between the two west side destinations. They do not. We found out the hard way. The driver stopped in West End for a few seconds, asked if anyone wanted to get off, we hesitated because we didn’t do our research, and before we could decide, the bus pulled out and headed down the road. No big deal, we thought. That is until we got to West Bay Beach and discovered the buses are on a one-way loop with the port.
Other than that the 45-minute ride to the west side of the island was pleasant and, along the way, the driver filled us in on details about the island, its people and history. And when it was time to leave West Bay Beach, the bus was on time and we got back to the ship with time to spare.
At West Bay Beach we walked the length of the beach to get a feel for the place before stopping at one of the many restaurants for lunch. We ate at Cayuco Beach Bar, where we had nachos, fried plantains, and sushi. It was a great meal and the view couldn’t be beat.
After lunch we grabbed a snorkel and fin set for $10 from a local on the beach and a couple of beers for another $5, and then made our way to the end of the beach. By this point, we didn’t have a lot of time to snorkel, but it was enough to see why people rave about the Bay Islands for diving.
Looking back on our time in Roatan, I’m glad we got to experience West Bay Beach. It lived up to the hype and then some. It’s a gorgeous beach—one the prettiest I’ve been to—and it planted the seed for our eventual return. My first choice would still be a scuba diving excursion; however, using the hop-on, hop-off bus to explore the island is solid second choice for those who prefer independent travel over group tours.
This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind.