What We Did in Roatan (besides dive)

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View from plane
View from plane – storm clouds over Roatan

It’s ironic that living in the Middle East – where there are closer destinations to go diving and bodies of water I’ve never been to but are high on my bucket list – that I still ended up at a dive destination in the Caribbean where I’ve done almost all my diving.

But as I was spending the summer in the US, it was actually a logical choice. It was to be a girls’ only trip and we had all known each other from college at the University of Miami.

After a bit of drama the day before my flight, I arrived at Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport in Roatan (I flew from Newark via Houston) to some stormy skies but excited for the week ahead.

I deplaned on the tarmac, as is the usual in small islands, and walked the short distance to immigration and baggage claim. I had a short connection in Houston so it was possible that my luggage might not have made it onto the Roatan flight (I have a terrible track record for delayed luggage). But I soon spotted my large suitcase and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

It was a 15-minute taxi ride ($20) from the airport to West End where our villa was. I remember passing lots of greenery, agriculture, large homes, small homes, vacation rentals, cows, horses, and a botanical garden. Turning off the asphalt road onto a single-track sand trail that is the main road of West End, we finally reached our destination.

We stayed in one of the five Coral Vista villas atop Half Moon Bay. We each had our own bedroom and the villa had a private deck and plunge pool overlooking Half Moon Bay.

Costa Vista pool
Plunge pool at our villa overlooking Half Moon Bay

The beach, small grocery stores (but major food shopping would be better done in Plaza Mar at Coxen Hole), restaurants, bars – everything we needed – was all within walking distance in West End. Our dive shop, Reef Gliders, was just down the lane from our villa.

August in Roatan is considered low season but the island was far from being a ghost town. There was still “traffic” in the evenings on the single-track sand road and the restaurants and bars never seemed to be completely empty.

The weather was mostly cloudy, overcast, and rainy (only at night) when we arrived but cleared up in a few days to plenty of sunshine and humidity with highs in the 80s (30°C).

The island had a varied mix of tourists – ranging from families, singles, couples, to backpackers. At one bar, the words “beer pong” was used as marketing to entice us over. It’s been a long time since my beer pong days and I would never have guessed that Roatan would be a hot spot for it.

The beach was of course popular for everyone but whoever said that sand flies are only in the sand have never been bitten the way I have!

After seeing two of my trip companions get eaten alive after barely 10 minutes on the sand (see photo below), I avoided hanging out on the beach (I preferred our private pool) but they still attacked me every time I was setting up my gear on the dive boat which was located at the end of a pier about 10 yards from the nearest beach.

And it wasn’t my imagination – I saw them hop on me and bite me and I squashed the living daylights out of them but there were just too many.  In fact, I think some of them followed me home and are still biting me.

Sand fly bites

Roosters would be our other nemesis of the week.

I was always led to believe that roosters only crowed at the crack of dawn. However, in reality, they crow all the freaking time! Before dawn. During dawn. After dawn. And way way after dawn. 4am they started in Roatan! And were still at it by 4pm!

After my first and second night at the villa, I thought I was going to have to silence the vociferous suckers by catching myself some rooster for dinner. But (a) I don’t know how, and (b) I’m not even sure roosters are tasty, and (c) I’d probably be thrown off the island for stealing someone’s property and livelihood.

Anyway, by mid-week I got used to the cock-a-doodle-doos and may even have slept better as a result. Like how I used to sleep better in my Manhattan apartment only when there was the sound of an NYC sanitation truck outside my window.

Besides eating and scuba diving in West End, we also spent a few hours in Coxen hole – the capital of Roatan. There wasn’t much to see but I wanted to walk around a bit and take in the local culture.

It wasn’t too touristy at all. I was told that most of the souvenir shops are actually inside the cruise ship terminals.

There was lots of fresh fruit being sold on the streets. I didn’t know what half the stuff was and was too distracted taking pictures to listen to the locals explain it to me.

Coxen Hole

School was already in session. There were children in their school uniforms walking about, some were doing homework, and some were playing in the streets.

Coxen Hole

We spent time browsing in a souvenir store called Yaba Ding Ding. I picked up some Honduran coffee and Honduran cigars for Scotch.

yaba ding ding

The Honduran pottery, Lenca, was very distinctive with its two-tone design and glossy sheen. The Lenca are an indigenous people of southwestern Honduras and eastern El Salvador. In Honduras, the Lenca are the largest indigenous group with an estimated population of 100,000.

Each piece of Lenca pottery is handcrafted using clay. Pine smoke is used in the curing process which gives the pottery its distinctive color. These techniques have been passed down through the generations of Lenca women and today’s artisans produce their art in eco-friendly cooperatives (run by women) in the hills of Honduras.

Lenca Pottery

We saw many other souvenirs that were locally made using environmentally friendly and sustainable materials like shells, palm tree leaves, pine needles, and banana tree bark and fiber.

Pine and Hand Woven Baskets

And our final activity for the week – zip-lining!

I had zip-lined once in the Monteverde cloud forest of Costa Rica but that was many years ago and I wanted to experience it again.

I noticed that the zip-line set-up in Roatan was slightly different in that there were two cables instead of one. Another difference was that in Costa Rica, I just held on to the cable and the guide positioned at the end of the zip-line would do all the breaking for me with some ropey contraption.

zip-lining in Roatan
Zip-lining in Roatan

In Roatan, I controlled how fast I wanted to go by breaking (or not!) with my right hand. I could spin around, do 180s, 360s, and my guide even let me go upside down with him – woo hoo!

Zip-lining upside-down

Here’s a video of what the last zip-line looked like. I loved the beautiful view of the blue sea as the back drop.

It was an awesome, laid back, and fun-filled trip. I was very sad to leave Roatan and wished that I could have spent another week there diving and exploring the rest of the island.

I hope to one day return with Scotch and Wee Scotch for a family vacation.

*   *   *    *   *

A little story about our trip back. Nic and I were on the same flight and we had a one-hour connection in Houston which was extremely tight as we had to go through customs and immigration and re-claim and re-check our bags.

We were already nervous about the connector and even more so when our flight was about 30 minutes late taking off from Roatan and we were sitting all the way at the back of the plane. The plane made up some time in the air but we still only had 45 minutes to catch our next flight.

We basically ran from the plane to immigration, immigration to baggage claim where our bags were already on the luggage belt (thank you powers-that be!), from baggage claim to baggage re-check (“Not that way!” the baggage re-claim guy called out to me as I stated to run toward the wrong direction), and from baggage re-check up the stairs to security screening.

After going through the metal detectors, Nic didn’t even bother putting her shoes back on and I may have lost a flip flop but we continued our mad dash from Gate D to Gate E.

Huffing, puffing, and out of breath as we we approached E gates, we almost gave up. I actually stopped running at that point as our gate still seemed so so so far away. That’s when the powers-that-be rescued us in the form of a Continental courtesy shuttle.

We quickly hopped on, threw our carry-ons into the cart, tried to catch our breaths, and before we knew it we were in front of our departure gate to Newark with five minutes to spare. Hallelujah! I tipped the driver all the U.S. dollars I had left (sadly, not much by that point).

So a one-hour connection in Houston airport can be done but I would not recommend it for the stress and for all the running!

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  1. thanks for your kind words in regard to our island. We like to share it with guys like you.

    Come back or tell friends about.

    I have put your link out in G+

  2. Sandy, really enjoyed all your pictures and the stories that go along with them. Sounds like it was an amazing get away. I hope Wee Scotch didn't miss mommy to much. 😉 Would love to get away myself!