So you are coming to Roatan for the first time
Let this seasoned Roatan visitor give you some suggestions on how to make your time on the island more enjoyable. I have been coming to the island for the last 6 years on a regular basis, have made a few of these mistakes, and learned the rest from fellow divers.
Bug Spray and Sunscreen … and a few other things
While I am a patriotic Canadian, I wear my red and white on my sleeve, not on my entire body. The sun down here will turn that pale white skin red quite quickly, and don’t trust the “I’ve been here 3 days and I have a base tan so I can stop with all the protection”. Big rookie mistake. The other small annoyances are the sand flies, but bug spray works just fine, and makes those sunset beverages so much more enjoyable. I suggest these two are the most important items, and while they are available on the island, the locals know us gringos and raise the price on these two products substantially. A few other suggestions on things to bring would be: a dry bag, a good book (can trade for a new one), a portable speaker, save a dive kit (if you are bringing your own gear) and an extra pair of sunglasses.
The main reason you are reading this is you are a diver, and probably heading to the island to scuba. If you haven’t dived in a while, a refresher is always a good option to get reacquainted with safety procedures, and skills. There are a number of different types of dives available just minutes from the shop. Drifts off the western point, wrecks, swim-throughs and night dives are among my favorites, and there really is a dive for everyone here.
Nothing compares to diving your days away, but there are other things to do on the island that are quite enjoyable, and add to your vacation as a whole. Sunset cruises filled with adult beverages, a few tunes and good laughs, make for an enjoyable evening starter. Rent a car (not a fan of scooters) and go to the east end. There you can tour the mangroves and eat true local cuisine. Pack a cooler bag and your snorkel gear and head to West Bay, there is much enjoyment to be had simply idling a day away on some sand. While there are numerous organized activities companies on the island, take some of the pirate attitude of Roatan and go explore some for yourself.
Cash and Transport
Going anywhere for the first time is a little unnerving. When you come through customs there are two big non-ocean-type waves to hit, first is the heat, and then the taxi drivers. For the heat, you will be in the water shortly with beverages always near-by. As for the taxis, there is a set price to get to the West End of the island; it’s around $20 USD. Not a lot, but haggling and bartering is up to you and how much of your time do you want to spend to save five bucks.
Before coming to Roatan, I thought the whole world knew of a float and a till. These are still foreign concepts to a lot of the small independent businesses here, so bring small notes of American and save yourself the headaches of waiting 5 minutes while the owner’s child runs around to look for change.
Cruise Ship Days
A personal revelation; never buy anything on cruise ship day. This is when the locals make their money. You will notice a couple of days a week the street is lined with Capri pants and pastel shirts, more cameras, more venders and the surface of the water doted by neon life jackets and underwater scooters. These are the days to avoid going into shops, stay in the water and enjoy your diving. By mid-day, the island will settle back into its natural rhythm and you can go back to enjoying your banana donuts.
Things to NOT bring down
The world back home is what you are escaping from; it will go on without you being updated hourly. For two days while your brain adjusts, you will get phantom rings, and then something amazing will happen. You will forget that you need to check your phone constantly, conversations will drift from topic to topic, and you will actually be able to communicate with the stranger across the table from you with ease. Trust me, your basic human communication skills are still strong in you.
Roatan is a place where land meets water and time stops. Slow down and enjoy the island speed, no it’s not supposed to be like home. You don't need another tan line anyway, so leave the watch in the safe along with the other distractions.
Hope to see you down here and making bubbles.
About the Author
Barefoot Wanderer, also known by his mother's moniker Michael Holland, a Canadian ski bum and prolific world traveler, makes his yearly appearance here when the snows melt on the mountains of Whistler and it's time to get some color on that pasty white winter skin. Fulfilling some weird inverse snow-bird destiny, he heads back north when the snows start to fly (there).