Ever hear of a place called Roatan? Of course not, who has? What country is that in? The answer is…it’s a small island in the western Caribbean belonging to Honduras. The island of Roatan is home to some of the best diving and snorkeling in the entire world. It is contained in the second largest coral reef in the world behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Along with its neighboring island of Utila, they make up the gist of the Bay Islands of Honduras.
Located about 18 miles north of the northern coast of Honduras, Roatan is the slightly larger and more developed island and home to some of the prettiest white sand beaches the world has to offer. My friend, Jake, and I stayed in the West End, which is the home of most of the island’s backpacker population and the center of the nightlife. It has a few cheap hostels, shops, dive shops and restaurants.
We shacked up, paying a total of $12.00 for three nights in tropical paradise. Our hostel was right on the beach – more like a bay with bath temperature water. The water was not crystal clear and the sand wasn’t white, but we knew that the clear water and the white sand were only a mile or so away in West Bay.
In front of the hostel was a small, elevated pier that rose about 15 feet in the air, with a bench that ran out along the wall toward the bay. The bench then went into a wall that had a large flat top surface along the viewing area of the pier. I took a walk out there because I had noticed some people jumping off the pier. Naturally, my eyes lit up. There were four guys jumping, three Canadians and a Dutchman. The water below was only about four feet deep, but that didn’t stop these adventure seekers from enjoying the opportunity the pier presented.
I quickly asked if I could join them. I started with a basic flip for the first jump. The sand on the bottom that we slammed into was so soft, there was no pain at all. I didn’t even think about the risk once I had done that first jump. After running along the bench and doing dive flips for about 30 minutes with a few back flips and spins mixed in, we sat down to rest. We took time to have a beer, get to know each other and do what every backpacker loves more than anything – sharing stories about places they’ve been and places they’re going.
These guys were on the last day of their two weeks in Roatan. They had dived, snorkeled, relaxed and enjoyed the warm Caribbean sun. They were flying out to San Pedro Sula in the morning and making their way back down Honduras to Nicaragua. Since that was the route we had just taken, I offered advice. We said our goodbyes, I went back to the hostel for Jake and for the evening’s festivities.
There are small boats that you can take to West Bay for a king’s ransom of about 50 cents, but we decided to walk along the coast. It was a thirty-minute walk and very pretty. We passed through a few deserted beaches and secluded beachside restaurants and resorts. Finally we came upon a 30 foot high pedestrian bridge that crossed over a small inlet for boats to enter. For us, this was a major discovery.
Standing upon this metal bridge looking down into the dirty inlet water, we wondered how deep the water was. It was tough to tell and we debated a bit on who would be the one to try the jump out. Neither of us seemed keen. After about a minute of bickering, I hopped over and plunged thirty feet down into the six-feet deep, smelly water. Jake soon followed and we each jumped about ten times. Occasionally, we would see the taxi boats taking other tourists to West Bay and we would jump for their camera entertainment.
Moving to the beach, we saw two British girls walking towards the bridge. Naturally, we had to show them our macho side and jump for them. After we did, they seemed curious, asking lots of questions about doing it themselves. We pitched them into doing it and when they got up there, the first girl to go stood on the ledge clasping the rail for ten minutes before we said to forget it and we were leaving.
That was all the incentive she needed. To our surprise, she hurled herself down into the dirty water. After she popped up, she complained that she swallowed a lot of water and that it smelled. We thought this was hilarious. We told her it was toilet water and that she was swimming in other people’s bathroom waste. For all we know, it may have been. We had to calm her down, though, and tell her we were just joking. Looking back now, we both swallowed a lot of water as well and we were fine. Who knows what was really in the water, but it makes for a better story if it really was sewage.
After a good chunk of the morning at our bridge, we made it to West Bay. We were staggered by its amazing beauty. It was practically empty and looked different than every other beach we had passed along our way. The water was crystal clear and the sand was shimmering with whiteness. We plopped down in front of one of the small resorts dotting the beach. We then jumped into the water to get the sewage water off of us, and snuck into the resort pool area to grab an outdoor shower.
After a few hours of sunbathing, we decided to go snorkeling. The Bay Islands are famous for their coral and the extreme immensity and clarity of their caverns. It was a mystifying experience. I had never seen such underwater scenery. The Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea pale in comparison to the quality of the Bay Islands. The clarity of the sea life was great and the variety of fish that we saw was unreal. The actual coral formations were beautiful with plenty of deep caverns for closer exploration and little crevices for fish to hide out in.
Our stay on Roatan, as short as it was, will always be a special memory for me because we managed to find ourselves our own private bridge that most people didn’t even know existed because they were lazy and took the boat. We refer to it as our bridge in Roatan. I think that is pretty cool and mixed with all else that Roatan had to offer, I can see why people are starting to flock to this island paradise.
It gets a bad rap because it is in Honduras and that will scare many tourists, especially Americans. I hope it remains a secret and doesn’t become an expensive over-touristed island like so many other Caribbean islands. Recently I saw it advertised in the New York Times travel section. Time may be running out to see it raw and unspoiled. I will keep my fingers crossed and remember Roatan as being perfect.