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This is the place where you will have fresh seafood for lunch daily, traffic lights don't matter or exist, and you may hail taxis around the water. Roatan is the biggest from the Bay Islands, 30 miles north of Honduras. Approximately 40 miles lengthy and merely 2.5 miles at its largest point, the remote island boasts whitened-sand beaches, pristine bays and spectacular barrier reefs.Today, tourism has overtaken commercial fishing as Roatan's top industry. Area of the world's second-biggest barrier reef system, Roatan's waters are teeming with vibrant barrier and sponges. Divers and snorkelers go swimming alongside schools of seafood, in addition to whale sharks, barracudas, mantas, and turtles. Water seems like your bathing hot tub water bath, calculating 80 to 84 levels, and scuba diving there's like watching high-definition television, with visibility an unbelievable 80 to 120 ft.
 
A large number of world-class diving and scuba diving sites are available from sandy whitened beaches round the island and thru numerous operators, congregated on West Finish village, the hub from the island's activity. Marlin, tuna and wahoo lure fishermen year-round, designed for the annual fall bill-fishing tournament. Roatan is another mecca for aquatic sports. kayaking, water-skiing, sailing and wake-boarding are popular activities. The previous sailing haven offers vacationers unspoiled charm and exceptional marine existence. Like a lot of its Caribbean neighbors, the area is undergoing a massive makeover. Costly new houses and resorts stand it sharp contrast to somber steel roofed houses. Other than cruise ships, direct plane tickets from Miami and Houston and weekly charters from Milan are getting large amounts of vacationers.
 
Visiting Roatán by cruise ship is becoming an increasingly attractive option for travelers, as more and more cruise lines send ships here and prices drop by the season. In 2008, the port at Coxen Hole took in approximately 200 ship calls and over 430,000 passengers, and in 2011, that number is projected to hit nearly a million. Passenger numbers have risen dramatically as both Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines opened their own terminals. There is talk of adding terminals on Utila, Trujillo, and near Tela Bay when the Los Micos Resort project is completed, so passengers can see more of the country and stay longer, but so far, it is just talk.
 
While plans for new terminals have not been finalized elsewhere in Honduras, new terminals are coming to fruition on Roatán. The Roatán Town Center at the Port of Roatán (www.portofroatan.com), funded by Royal Caribbean, was inaugurated in the final days of 2008 and opened a bright new retail complex at the port with such stores as TOUS Jewelry and Espresso Americano coffee.

At Dixon's Cove, Carnival Cruise Lines constructed an entire new terminal called Mahogany Bay with 8 hectares (20 acres) of waterfront, and even more retail and entertainment space, as well as a giant chair lift that takes passengers from the port to Carnival's own private beach.
 
It is good that the cruise ships bring jobs and a little bit more money into the pockets of islanders, but for travelers wanting an authentic Roatán experience, the cruise ships aren't the way to get it. Especially at Mahogany Bay, you are completely sheltered from nearly all island life if you don't go on an excursion to another part of the island. It's basically a fenced off part of the island filled with Carnival's own shops and restaurants, the same ones you'll find at every other port. If you just want a nice day in the sun and sand, you'll find it, and maybe that is enough.
 
For most cruise passengers, the biggest question is how to spend their day at port. When you step off your boat at Coxen Hole, you will find a seemingly bustling street filled with a few simple restaurants, bars, cybercafes, Caribbean straw markets, and various gift shops -- the typical spread for a Caribbean cruise port -- but this is all you will find in Coxen Hole. When there isn't a cruise ship in town, this street is empty, and few shops open their doors. This is one of the least attractive places on the entire island of Roatán, and most passengers take excursions elsewhere on the island.
 
Where You are Cruise Ship Docked
You will be moored around the south side of Roatan at 1 of 2 places. Coxen Hole, the biggest city and capital from the Bay Islands, is situated just west from the airport terminal.
 
Mahogany Bay, a 20-acre $62-million Circus-backed area particularly for cruise people, opened up in '09. It's situated just east from the airport terminal, and can hold a couple of  ships.
 
Hanging Out
Besides Access to the internet, an ATM, a tiny retail center and a number of restaurants, there's little for vacationers. It is a good spot to buy cold drinks and sandwiches before heading east toward French Harbour and Oak Ridge, and west toward Sandy Bay and also to the West Finish. You may also easily walk beyond the port gates to the local roads, where you will find great local food and souvenirs.
 
Near the pier, you will find a strip mall-type central plaza, replete with souvenir shops, restaurants, an all purpose store, jewellery kiosks, shoreline trip information, vehicle rental fees, an ATM and, frequently, live music. Gleam chairlift which will give site visitors unlimited rides back and forth from Mahogany Beach, a close 10-acre private beach. 
 
A paved road runs north from Coxen Hole to West Finish and east to French Harbour. An unpaved road continues east to Paya Bay and Camping Bay. Taxis, car rentals, motor cycles and buses can be found in West Finish, Coxen Hole and French Harbour.
Some unscrupulous cab motorists have cheated cruise people many a times. Before entering taxis, read the fare. When the driver states 20, make certain he's estimating local currency, not dollars. Most cabbies accept both U.S. dollars and the local currency - 

Lempiras. -- Small-buses run either in direction from Coxen Hole. The fare is about one U.S. dollar of all routes.
 
Watch Out
The entire setup at Mahogany Bay is a little of the regular tourist trap. If you choose to explore elsewhere and wish to rent a vehicle, be cautioned the streets are quite narrow, and traffic lighting is essentially not there at all. While you would in almost any unfamiliar place, keep all unnecessary belongings onboard inside your cabin's safe.
 
Don't Miss
After paddling lower the shoreline at either Half Moon Beach or West Bay Beach, visitors can leave their kayak ashore to look around the magical barrier reefs together with their mask and snorkel. Scuba diving equipment is available for rental through tour operators, in addition to dive shops, some eateries and gift shops.
 
The Butterfly Farm is a fun attraction is situated right before the doorway to West Finish. 100s of exquisite seeing stars, representing 15-20 species, flit around inside a 3,000-square-feet enclosure. It is also the place to find stunning hummingbirds, parrots and toucans. Led tours can be found daily, except Saturday, from 9 a.m. to five p.m. Remember your field glasses and camera.

Things To see and Do
 
Roatán-in-a-Bottle Parks
Two parks on the island try to offer a range of activities that can please an entire family and provide transportation directly from the cruise terminals. If you decide to stay in or near Coxen Hole, I recommend Maya Key ? (tel. 504/9995-9589; www.mayakeyroatan.com; must be booked directly from your cruise ship), a private cay owned by Anthony's Key Resort. It has a small pier just east of the cruise terminal, where a pontoon boat takes cruise passengers to and from the property. While it is no more than a half-kilometer off shore, the cay seems like an entirely different part of the Bay Islands. The tropical paradise vibe isn't lost. There's a nice clean beach, a pier jutting out over clear waters, and unspoiled reef that's great for snorkeling. After the buffet BBQ lunch, a group of Garífuna in traditional dress does a series of dances that are as good as any cultural performances on the island. There's a nice pool, a gift shop, and a small zoo on the property, as well.
 
Gumbalimba Park [kids] (tel. 504/2445-1033; www.gumbalimbapark.com) has the greatest range of activities of any of the parks, though it is also the farthest away, sitting near West Bay. The park has a small zoo on a small island surrounded by a moat with a handful of monkeys and parrots, a cheesy pirate cave, a pool, a private beach, all sorts of water sports, and a canopy tour. At last visit, they were building an insectarium and a pirate fort.
 
Canopy Tours
Zip-lining or canopy tours are wildly popular in Honduras, and this is especially true for Roatán. There are four companies with zip-line courses on the island: Gumbalimba Park (tel. 504/2445-1033; www.gumbalimbapark.com), South Shore Canopy Tour (no phone; www.southshorecanopy.com), Pirates of the Caribbean Canopy (tel. 504/2455-7576; www.roatanpiratescanopy.com), and Palmetto Ridge Canopy (tel. 504/2445-7853; www.tropicalrez.com). All are quite similar and run between L1,140 and L1,425 ($60-$75) per person.
 
Nature and Cultural Tours
For those who are looking to learn a little about the island's history, culture, or wildlife, there is a large lineup to choose from. One of the most popular excursions on the island, the Dolphin Encounter at Anthony's Key (tel. 504/2445-3008; www.anthonyskey.com), near Sandy Bay, enables guests to dive or snorkel with the resort's resident bottlenose dolphins. There will be plenty of chances to pet, kiss, and get your photo taken with these mammals as trainers make them perform and detail their learning process. The dolphin encounter area is at Bailey's Key, a private cay owned by Anthony's Key and operated by the Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences. Prices range from L1,178 ($62) for the dolphin encounter to L2,603 ($137) for a dolphin dive when booked directly through the resort.
 
Also in Sandy Bay, Carambola Gardens (tel. 504/2445-3117; www.carambolagardens.com; L200/$10 adults) is a nice way to explore the plant life of the islands. A few light trails will take you through their vast collection; you might even spot an iguana or two. While the Roatán Butterfly Garden (tel. 504/2445-4481; www.roatanbutterfly.com; L140/$7 adults) in the West End is nice, I don't recommended it for cruise passengers unless they are extremely interested in butterflies, as a visit here will take more time in transport than in seeing the butterflies and exhibits.
 
At the Roatan Zoo & Island Adventure (no phone; www.roatanzoo.com; L475/$25 adults, L285/$15 children), located at Blue Ocean Reef, is an 4.5-hectare (11-acre) sanctuary for Honduran flora and fauna. Animals are brought to the park after being confiscated from the illegal animal trade, orphaned, injured, or donated by private individuals, and the goal is to rehabilitate the animals enough to return them to the wild. Open daily 8am to 4pm.
 
For those who are less active, or who dislike diving or snorkeling but still want to witness the magic that is the world's second-largest barrier reef, you have several options. Two companies offer glass-bottom boat rides: Underwater Paradise (tel. 504/2445-6465; L380/$20 adults, L190/$10 children) from West End and Coral Explorer (tel. 504/4255-5379; www.roatancoralreefexplorer.com; L380/$20 adults, L190/$10 children) from West Bay.
 
The Roatán Institute of Deep Sea Exploration (no phone; www.stanleysubmarines.com; L7,600-L22,800/$400-$1,200 per person) is an experience you won't find in many other places in the world. Inside a small two-passenger submarine, you will descend anywhere from 305m to 610m (1,000 ft.-2,000 ft.) and see marine life that few divers could ever imagine, including the rare Lophelia Reef.
 
East of Coxen Hole is one unusual excursion, though I am not crazy about it. Near French Harbour, you can visit Arch's Iguana Farm (tel. 504/2975-7442; www.archiguanafarm.com; L160/$8 adults). While seeing hundreds of iguanas climb over each other in stinky passion to eat handfuls of lettuce is fine, the monkeys and coati in tiny cages with little access to food and water are beyond sad. I do not recommend a visit here for this reason alone.
 
Cruise Ship Shore Excursions
Most tours can be booked through the property, the local agencies, or through the cruise ships. Most ships and itineraries have a similar range of options available. Here are some of the most common:

Roatán-Based Companies for Shore Excursions
While every cruise line sells excursions and activities to points all over the island, locally based companies offer many of the same tours, sometimes even a greater variety, for much less. Just like your cruise ship-arranged excursions, they'll be waiting outside the ship for you when you touch land, with transport ready to go. Here are the most popular operators:
 
Tabyana Tours (tel. 504/2445-1115)
MC Tours (tel. 504/2445-2431; www.mctours-honduras.com)
Tropical Rez (tel. 504/2445-7853; www.tropicalrez.com)
Roatán Shore Tours (tel. 504/9959-1140; www.roatanshoretours.com)

Beaches
Few will argue that West Bay Beach, sometimes called Tabyana, is not the best on Roatán. Turquoise water, excellent snorkeling, clean white sand, swaying palm trees, tropical drinks served in coconuts -- every cliché you can think of about a Caribbean beach can be found here. From Coxen Hole, there are a few ways to get to West Bay. First, you can take a set excursion with nearly any company that serves cruise ships; however, the price may be inflated for the service they provide. Most excursions to West Bay Beach are simply bus transport and maybe snorkel gear. If you want to save money, just hire a taxi for the 20- to 30-minute ride to West Bay. You can rent snorkel gear right from the beach, eat lunch from one of a dozen restaurants, and then hire a taxi to get back, even having time to stop off in the West End. Elsewhere on the island, fine sands can be found at West End, Paya Bay, and Camp Bay, though the parks listed below have nice beaches, as well.
 
Scuba-diving: Sueno del Marly Dive Center, chosen best on Roatan by Diving magazine, features opening diving training. Licensed juniors, age range ten to fifteen years, must dive only under adult supervision.  Kids and beginners can join experienced equestrians inside a memorable horseback-riding ride across the beach and in to the hillsides at West Bay or between Calabash Bight and Paya Bay around the island's south side.
 
Active Tours The Iguana Farm around the borders of French Harbour is definitely an unusual refuge in excess of 2,500 reptiles. At lunch, 100s of iguanas of shapes and dimensions duke it for vegetables. Roatan's iguanas happen to be hunted to close extinction for his or her meat. Visit daily from 9 a.m. to five p.m. Home gardeners will love walking with the lush Carambola Botanical Gardens in Sandy Bay, the place to find 100s of exotic tropical plants, including chocolate trees, orchid flowers and heliconias. It's open daily from 7 a.m. to five p.m.
 
Bottle-nosed whales would be the scene-stealers in the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences. The Institute uses Anthony's Key Resort in Sandy Bay to look after in regards to a dozen whales. The citizens placed on a motion picture (Monday through Friday) and go swimming with site visitors. The most popular marine animals attract an audience it is best to make bookings a minimum of 3 to 4 days ahead of time. Discussing a structure using the Institute, the Roatan Museum features exhibits around the Bay Islands.
 
Roatan's central coast is from the beaten path, offering spectacular scuba diving and diving. Valley from the Nobleman and Parrot Tree are a couple of outstanding scuba diving sites. Nearby, Mary's Place, using its spectacular black barrier, is the Grand Canyon of wall-diving, and it is the island's most popular dive site. A dive master leads site visitors lower 1 of 2 sheer-walled vertical problems cut with the reef. Subway Watersports offers private scuba diving and diving activities.
 
For adventurous families with children age range 10 and older, the Tabyana Beach and Canopy Tour combine an excellent beach and scuba diving knowledge about the adrenalin soaring of the zip line canopy tour. The Tarzan-like adventure begins at Creation Rock, where you stand fitted inside a harness, lever and mitts and mounted on a cable.
 
Dixon's Cove
Shark Diving -- For about a decade, two Italians have been operating Waihuka Adventure Diving (Dixon Cove, Las Palmas; tel. 504/2445-1283; www.sharkdiveroatan.com) at Dixon's Cove. They offer guided dives with Caribbean reef sharks that are not chummed. Most dives go about 21m (69 ft.) below the surface and encounter as many as 15 sharks at a time. They offer dives Monday to Saturday at 9am, 11:30am, and 2pm (L2,850/$150 per person; 2 person minimum). Equipment rental is available at the center for an additional cost. Cruise passengers who wish to dive are expected to have been diving in the previous 6 months.
 
Sandy Bay
Windsurfing -- The steady winds and lack of waves make Sandy Bay a fine place to take up windsurfing. Wind Surf Honduras (tel. 504/2445-3292; www.windsurfhonduras.com; Tues-Sun 10am-6pm) has 60 boards on hand for all skill levels, which they rent for L380 ($20) per hour, including the use of a harness and sail. Lessons range from L950 ($50) for 1 1/2 hours to L2,300 ($120) for 6 hours.

West End
Beaches -- West End beaches are smallish and not nearly as nice as those in the West Bay (just a quick water ferry ride away), but there are a few spots where the water is just as clear as anywhere on the island. Half Moon Beach is probably the best option.
 
Submarines/Glass-Bottom Boats -- If you don't dive, snorkel, or even swim, but still want to experience the undersea world of the Bay Islands, you have a few options. The Roatán Institute of Deep Sea Exploration (no phone; www.stanleysubmarines.com; L7,600-L22,800/$400-$1,200 per person) offers 305m to 610m (1,000 ft.-2,000 ft.) dives and shark dives inside the safety of a submarine. The small vehicles have room for just one pilot and two passengers. Underwater Paradise (tel. 504/2445-6465) has semi-submarine glass-bottom boat tours three times daily from the Half Moon Bay Resort for L380 ($20) adults and L190 ($10) children, and the Coral Explorer (tel. 504/2455-5379; www.roatancoralreefexplorer.com) has a similar tour from West Bay.
 
Aerial Tours -- For another unique perspective on the island, Bay Island Airways (tel. 504/2946-5665 in the U.S. or 504/2933-6077; www.bayislandairways.com) offers a variety of ways to view the island from the air. They have aerial real estate tours (L6,840/$360 per hr. for two), trips to the Pigeon Keys (L10,000/$520 for a 3-hr. tour for two), and simple sightseeing and photography tours (L2,470/$130 for a 15-min. flight for two).
 
Fishing -- The waters surrounding Roatán are full of Pelagic species like tuna, wahoo, mahi-mahi, blue and white marlin, shark, and king mackerel. Early Bird Fishing Charters (tel. 504/2445-3019; www.earlybirdfishingcharters.com), a member of the conservation-minded Fishermen's Association of Roatán, leads frequent excursions from the West End to waters all around the island. Prices begin at L7,600 ($400) for a half-day tour with one to four people. Pescado Roatán (tel. 504/9930-6139; www.pescadoroatan.com) specializes in fly, flats, and remote deep-sea trips, all using new boats and top-of-the-line equipment. Pricing ranges from L950/$50 to L2,850/$150 per hour.
 
Oakridge & Jonesville
Kite Surfing -- With deep water just off shore past the reef, the south shore and east end of Roatán is one of the best spots in the Bay Islands for kite surfing, sometimes called kite boarding. The wind is ideal during the months of January to April and July to September, though the sport can be done any time of the year. Kite Surf  Roatan (http://www.kitesurfroatan.com), located  east side , offers beginner to advanced lessons using IKO instruction methods, with board rentals and repairs, as well as customized trips for advanced riders. Lessons start at L3,325 ($175) for 3 hours and include equipment rental, instruction, and boat support.
 
Eating Out
Casual, In-Town Joints: In the heart of Coxen Hole, Eldon's Supermarket's cafeteria whips up  eggs, together with fried beans and tortillas. The Lighthouse, situated in West Finish around the south side from the point, offers the best seafood tacos, grilled lobster and conch soup around the island. It's open 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Las Rocas, concentrated on a rocky point at West Bay, is renowned for authentic Bay Island dishes like shrimp with grain, chicken in coconut milk, and beef in coconut milk. It's open for dinner and lunch. Pura Vida, in the heart of West Finish, cooks up homemade pasta, pizza and sea food.

Shopping
Coxen Hole
Named after the local slang for pre-Columbian artifacts, Yaba Ding Ding (Bonilla Building, near the waterfront; no phone; www.yabadingding.com) is one of the best craft shops in all of Honduras. The store stocks one of the most complete collections of Honduran crafts, including Lenca pottery, straw baskets and weavings from the highlands, Garífuna art, and more. It's open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm. In town, just beside Yaba Ding Ding, is HB Warren, one of the best supermarkets and general stores in town.
 
West End
All shops are on Main Street in the West End, but most are little stores selling a mishmash of things. One standout store is Wave Gallery (tel. 504/2445-4303), a bright yellow house on the beach that's worth a browse for its paintings, jewelry, and crafts made by Honduran artists.

The Roatán Marine Park Office (Half Moon Bay, West End; tel. 504/2445-4206; www.roatanmarinepark.com) has an eco-store selling dive maps and some equipment, and offers information on saving the reef and natural sites in the Bay Islands. You can also buy a L190 ($10) Roatán dive tag/bracelet here.

The local handmade crafts are the best souvenirs you can find here. You are able to get them at stalls situated through the areas around the port. You will find everything from clothing and jewelry to cigars and chocolate -- all at great prices. In Coxen Hole, probably the most genuine choices are available should you go past the immediate port area, that is a little more commercialized.




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