A tranquil island off the coast of Honduras, Roatan boasts the best of both the Caribbean and Central American cultures. Whether you want to experience the colorful local scene or just engage in a little (or a lot) of R&R, you can do both in this fascinating yet undiscovered destination.
Roatan is about a 20-minute plane ride or hour-and-a-half ferry ride from the Honduras mainland.
Snorkel around a sunken ship
Legend has it that a ship called The Snigg was coming from Belize, missed the entranceto the channel and sank in the reef. You can check out The Snigg for yourself: Rent gear with Mike at Black Pearl Divers (www.blackpearldivers.com) and prepare to start humming the “Titanic” theme. The boat — not enormous but a sight to see regardless — sits in shallow water, so it’s hard not to be overwhelmed. Once you take it all in, though, poke around and see how an abundance of fish and coral have made the vessel part of their habitat.
Where to stay:This excursion is only open to guests at Las Verandas (www.las-verandas.com), which had a soft opening last year. The sprawling property is part of Pristine Bay Resort, a larger development featuring a beach club, residences, a spa, restaurants and a marina. At Las Verandas, you’ll wake up to the waves lapping outside your beachfront villa. Start your day or end your night with a dip in the hotel’s luxe infinity pool, or your villa’s own private pool. Into golf? The Pete Dye-designed course is ranked No. 1 in Honduras (and boasts an eccentrically wonderful pro in Thom Gilfoil). On your first night, you’ll probably be tired from traveling, so take it easy and dine at the property’s Las Pergolas restaurant. The produce comes from Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum, a bustling hydroponic farm on the island.
Beach it on your own private island
Hop a ferry to Pigeon Cay,a private white-sand island, for a day of undisturbed relaxation. Try not to step on one of the island’s many conch shells (but don’t remove them — it’s illegal). Before you head out, swing by a gas station (yes, you read that right) to pick up a baleada for lunch on the beach. It’s like a Honduran take on a breakfast burrito: eggs, chorizo, beans, avocado, cheese and sour cream wrapped up in a flour tortilla. The locals eat them at all times of the day.
Where to stay: For a truly off-the-grid experience, book a stay at Mango Creek Lodge (www.mangocreeklodge.com). Welcoming managers DD and Doc run the small group of waterfront huts that boast just the necessities for the perfect warm-weather vacation: a bed, a bathroom and a hammock. Take a break from your private deck to hang out with the two parrots in residence.
Get down and dirty on a dune buggy
The guides leading the Sand Blasters Dune Buggy Tour (http://roatanmjtours.com) are knowledgeable and friendly, but the real star of their show is Panchita, their domesticated pet monkey who will happily sit on your shoulder if you’d like. Sand Blasters’ go-carts look like they would easily roll over, but are surprisingly stable. And for good reason: Your first course takes you up rocky mountains that don’t have roads. From there, you’ll traverse the jungle, a mud pit (we suggest wearing clothes you won’t mind leaving behind) and the private Palmetto Beach, which only the locals really know to visit. Rinse off in the crystal-clear water before the tour ends.
Where to stay: The tour will bring you to eco-friendlyPalmetto Bay Plantation (www.palmettobayplantation.com), a resort that, like Mango Creek, also has private huts. Hit the outdoor restaurant for a banana smoothie and to take in the view. Does it look familiar? “Temptation Island” filmed there in the early 2000s.
2 more adventures
Soar to new heights
The operators of Caribe Sky know that you’re probably terrified to zip-line, but they’ll crack jokes to get you through it. And you’ll be glad to conquer your fear: The views of the treetops below are indescribable. You and your small group will soar 12 times through the forest, on routes that are both quick and luxuriously lengthy. You control the speed on your line, so you can opt for a thrill ride or a more relaxed glide. Bonus: Your guides will take pictures of you while you’re in the air, so you can brag to your friends upon your return home.
Explore out west
Start your day on the beach at West Bay, and break for lunch at Vintage Pearl, which is run by Sarah Benke, an expatriate from Oregon. Asked why she decided to uproot her life, all she does is point to the beach and say, “This.” After lunch, hitch a water taxi to West End, where you can wander the local streets and souvenir shop. We like Waves of Art (www.waves-of-art.com), featuring jewelry, pottery and textiles made in Central America.
Getting there: American Airlines flies to Roatan from Miami on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays; and from Dallas/Ft. Worth on Saturdays.
Where to eat: Jack’s Harbor View Grill (www.facebook.com/jacksharborviewgrill)
Jack Mitchell, formerly of South Carolina, infuses flavors from his Southern upbringing into the steaks and fish he serves at this waterfront restaurant.
See the sights: Book a shuttle bus tour with the knowledgeable and charismatic Emsly Hyde (www.hydetoursroatanhonduras.com), who will give you an insider’s view of Roatan’s many villages.
Bring this home: The banana rum cake from Roatan Rum Company (www.roatanrumcompany.com)will give your friends a taste of your island adventures. But maybe buy two so you can keep one for yourself.