I went on a Princess Cruise in the Western Caribbean that stopped in Roatan Honduras. At the cruise port there was a huge area where people could shop, go zip lining and sit at the beach with out actually leaving the port. Basically they could go to Roatan without actually going into Roatan. I decided to hire a private driver to take me around the island so that I could do some photography. That was all of the instruction that I gave the driver and he gave us an amazing tour. However, I had some mixed feelings about this island that I thought I would share. There is quite a bit of controversy towards cruising and this is the first place on all of my cruising that I really felt it.
1. Roatan is a popular place for Americans to retire or move to.
Roatan is a beautiful place to live. It is green and has beautiful beaches. It is easy to get residency in Roatan, and if you show that you have an income of $1,500, you can get a retirement visa and buy property. Taxes are quite a bit lower than in the United States as is property. However, with more Americans moving in as either a vacation home or as retirement the disparage between housing is pretty obvious. You see massive houses right above slums and the most beautiful pieces of property right on the cliffs or on the beach are being bought up by Americans. This left me feeling very uncomfortable with what we are doing as Americans to this beautiful island.
2. Routan is ethnically and culturally diverse
The main ethnicity in Roatan is the Caracol people. They are mainly of European and British-Afro-Caribbean decent. They are for the most part the leaders of the area, are the ones you will encounter in tourism and speak English. While the rest of Honduras is a Spanish speaking country, they speak English because of the English Colonial background of the island. The next ethnicity is the native Hondurans. From what I was told by my driver, and he took us through one of their shanty towns, they were moved over from the mainland by the government, speak Spanish, are more likely to be unemployed and are overall a poorer community. There are also quite a bit of Europeans who live and work in Routan. My impression from taking to people and asking my driver is there are a lot of younger Europeans, especially from the UK and Italy who came on their gap year and just stayed and started working in different parts of the tourist industry. There are also quite a bit of Europeans who own many of the businesses in Roatan from hotels, to restaurants, even a rum factory that I went to that is owned by Italians. Lastly, there are many Americans who have moved to Routan to retire and also own businesses and property there. So when you travel there, the only language that you need to know is English.
3. There is plenty to do in Roatan
Roatan has become a huge tourist destination with direct flights to the United States and many cruise ships are stopping. Because of this, there really is plenty of things to do. Scuba diving is huge as Routan lies on the southern end of the second largest reef in the world. There are plenty of options here from excursions on cruises, to different outfits taking day tours, and to hotels that specially cater to the diving industry. There are beautiful beaches to explore, some large with lots of commerce to smaller and more secluded beaches. There are mangroves and ziplines that you can explore along with different wildlife experiences. A popular place to stop by is Arch's Iguana Park. This is a private park started by an American who wanted to preserve the iguana's who are a popular ingredient in a stew in Roatan even though they are protected. About 2,500 iguanas live here and you can touch and feed them. It cost $10 to get in and it is worth the price.
4. Safety is an issue (kind of)
For the most part Roatan felt safe. Although it was pretty disconcerting that in front of many gas stations and stores had a guard with a very very large gun. The tourist areas are safe, although, as in all tourist areas, there is always the chance for robbery or begging, but I did not feel unsafe in any of the tourist areas. I was told that there are some areas of Roatan that are not safe and they do not recommend tourist going to these areas. Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world and the state department has a travel warning for the country. However, Roatan is much safer as it is removed from the mainland. I highly recommend reading the state departments travel warning before going which you can get here.
So if you are on a cruise and it stops in Roatan, it is worth getting out of the cruise area and enjoying the island. Come with an open mind and learn about the place. But if you are nervous or afraid, and just want to sit at the beach, you can do that right off the ship without actually going into the island. Go ahead and do that as well, it is your vacation and you should enjoy it as you feel comfortable.