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Roatan with Kids

I’m not exactly sure how to start this one given that our trip to Roatan was almost completely ruined by bad weather. There is nothing to do here that is feasible in a lightening storm, it is all outdoorsy, nature type excursions so we had to cancel most of it, which was devastating (though the kids had a nice time with their activity books etc). So, I figured I would just write what could have been, populated a little with what we actually did get up to (and what we avoided!) and perhaps there will be a tidbit or two to help others planning a trip to the island paradise of Roatan.

You can get to Roatan by air or by ferry from Le Ceiba (more details on getting out can be found at the end of this post), however be warned it is quite a trek from pretty much anywhere!). We booked return tickets via the Galaxy Wave ferry website, which was surprisingly easy! Word of caution – this boat moves side to side about as much as it moves forward. It is incredibly rough, and locals were throwing up everywhere! It took us by surprise as the water looked pretty calm being in the Caribbean, and all other boat trips on this Central American adventure have been just fine. I popped a “sea legs” tablet just to be sure, and stood outside, starting at the horizon the entire time to see myself through it. Thankfully, Max was into his MP3 player and sat quietly with me, and Quinn and Willow fell asleep. Phew! So once you’ve arrived, what will you do?

Relaxing on the Beaches


This is why we came. Roatan is famous for its world class beaches – some do say the very best in the world. At just 8km across at its widest point and only has one road running its length – it’s impossible to be too far from a stunning beach at any point (or to get lost!).

West Bay is considered by many to be the best beach on Roatan. Cruise ships do come for this too so twice a week it will get very crowded but we did not see this (we were there Sunday, Monday, Tuesday). It was definitely busier than anywhere else we have been in our 5 weeks in Central America, but I certainly wouldn’t say it felt crowded – I’ve seen much worse in England. It was just as dreamy as I had read about, powder white sands and crystal-clear blue water. There were lots of options for food and drink as well as free sun loungers and chairs. There wasn’t much shade, but we always bring our pop-up beach tent as we’ve been so many places with no shade, or changing rooms, and it doubles as somewhere for the baby to nap as well – it’s super useful.


We also took a taxi out to West End beach one afternoon. This beach wasn’t as pretty but it did have better shade, cheaper food and drink, and felt a lot more local - there were actual Honduran families around. The bay was very calm and quite wide and shallow – great for the kids. We headed out with snorkels on recommendation here (see below).


All the sunsets are spectacular, regardless of cloud cover. All kinds of orange, yellow and pink, it's just great!

If relaxing isn’t your thing (you have kids!) then you can get out paddle boarding on the calm, clear waters. There is a wrecked sailboat with a giant rope swing off the coat of Half Moon Bay in West End, as well as a steel skeleton shipwreck in Mahogany Bay, which is awesome to explore as the hull towers over you while you paddle.



Snorkelling and Diving

Honduras is surrounded by the second largest barrier reef in the world. As such, Roatan is also largely known for its fabulous diving – coral gardens, shipwrecks and the largest fish on earth – the whale shark. Although they can appear any time, February-April and then August-October are best. Port Royal and Mary’s Place are reportedly fantastic. Utila, the island next door is generally cheaper for dives – check out the Canyons and Black Hills.


With kids in tow you are much more likely to be snorkelling than diving, unless you are very lucky or have older ones. In which case, snorkelling is pretty good straight off the beach at West Bay and West End’s Half Moon Bay Beach. You can snorkel right offshore and see lots of fish, shellfish and maybe even an octopus if you’re up early enough! Snorkelling boat tours are plentiful if you wanted to make a day of it. Similarly, there are a number of glass-bottom boat tours as well; we hoped to do this on our second day on the island but the rain was too intense.


Dolphin Experiences at Anthony’s Key


When researching the trip to Roatan, swimming with dolphins comes up on almost every blog. As I explain when I saw the terrible dolphin enclosure conditions at XCaret park (here), I am always deeply troubled to read people recommending these types of activities. This resort is one of the more deplorable ones in that it markets itself as the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences - DO NOT be fooled. This establishment plays the science card to give a lucrative business the air of scientific legitimacy. Marine scientist Dr. Naomi Rose recently stated, “About the only thing we have learned from research of captive cetaceans is that they shouldn’t be in captivity.” That about sums it up really.


Another despicable marketing gimmick here is that they claim to offer swimming with “wild” dolphins. Yes, an ocean pen is not quite as bad as a tank, but these are not wild animals by any means, they are captive and spend their lives in a pen doing the same tricks hundreds of times a day. As I state in the link above, wild dolphins live around 50 years, and captive dolphins die horrific deaths after an average of just 5 years. Patronizing any institution that keeps dolphins in captivity means supporting the concept of captivity. It’s like buying ivory or wearing a leopard fur coat and then justifying it by saying it’s OK because the animals were already dead.


Instead, you could visit this turtle on top of a building, or something that promotes sustainability such as the Rusty Fish, which makes art and jewelry out of recycled materials and proudly proclaims "Nothing Made in China" on its front gate!


Anyway…I digress…


Day Trips:


There are a number of exciting day trips to be had from Roatan. Cayo Menor and Cayo Grande, and thirteen tiny coral cays lie between Roatan and the Honduran mainland. These are together known as The Cayos Cochinos and are inhabited by the indigenous Garifuna communities. Utila is another of the Bay islands, popular with backpackers and generally a bit cheaper than Roatan. You can get there by air or ferry. Similarly, Little French Key has rave reviews as a private island paradise where you can do all the same relaxing beach activities by on a private island instead!


Visit the Thirsty Turtle:


We ate at the Thirsty Turtle, which wasn’t the cheapest but was very good – we actually got food with vegetables for perhaps only the second time in a month! We returned for the pizza on another day (we are rarely repeat customers anywhere! The smoothies were amazing and they had giant connect 4 and giant Jenga which the kids really enjoyed. The Thirsty Turtle complex (there is an ice cream shop and pizzeria in the same area) have a number of activities each night of the week (see timetable snapped below at the time of writing) and by chance we arrived on clearly the best night of the week – Sunday for the crab race a fire show! The kids had an absolute blast! Raising money for the children of HIV positive mothers, one pays to select a good sized hermit crab from a huge tank on site, and they are all bundled into the centre of a big ring. Whichever crosses the external ring first wins, and the sponsor of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd crabs receive a variety of prizes. The proprietors of the event were obviously quite kid oriented; not only did they let the kids look at and hold the crabs in the holding bucket before the race, but they also call for children to empty them out into the ring at the start, and then volunteers to help scoop up the crabs and return them to their tank at the end. Quinn got involved on every level and squealed with delight the entire time!

Immediately after the race was the fire show. This is obviously not particularly unique to Roatan, Honduras or the Caribbean, and wasn’t performed by locals, but the kids loved it all the same. One other place we ate that deserves a shout out was “Nice N Spicey” which had an amazing spring rolls and coconut curry. The taco place next door was great as well but expensive.

Wildlife:


There is lots of wildlife to be seen on Roatan. In fact, we had an agouti just casually stroll through out lodge one afternoon, completely unperturbed by the kids squealing in the pool. If you want a guaranteed sighting of something exciting though, Daniel Johnson’s Monkey and Sloth Hangout is one of the most popular wildlife parks on Roatan. Here you will be able to see capuchin monkeys, scarlet macaws, spider monkeys, parrots and sloths. Gumbalimba Park also houses several exciting animals as well as having a museum, pool, suspension bridge and a few waterfalls.


How to Get In and Out:


We did A LOT of research on how to get away from Roatan to El Salvador and Nicaragua. Our route was such that it sort of penned us in – having cut central Hondauras out of the itinerary there wasn’t a quick way to get back on track again. I looked at:


Flying in and out of Roatan – turns out you can do this from the USA no problem but only from San Salvador or Belize City in the sub-continent (?). We did consider booking return flights to Roatan from Belize but we wanted to see Copan, and the C4 visa would run into problems entering twice (doing Copan as a small trip out of Guatemala instead). These flights are horrendously expensive. Our next major plan was Managua/Leon. Flights for Roatan – El Salvador – Managua was around £4,000 for all 5 of us in July. San Pedro Sula - El Salvador – Managua was £1,100 for all five of us - much cheaper. There would be the matter of a 3 hour bus or taxi from Le Ceiba to San Pedro Sula but that would be nothing ($15 each for the bus or $110 for a taxi all the way.). This seemed feasible at least as the Galaxy Wave ferry has a departure from Roatan at 7am and 2:30pm, getting us to the airport with more than early enough even with bad traffic.


Alternatively one could also fly to Tegucigalpa from Roatan. This was another favourite option of mine – fly to the capital and then take the bus or private transport to Managua/Leon. This flight was only around £500 for all 5 of us. I really liked this idea because Google told me the drive was *only* 6-7 hours direct to Leon, which would save us time as we didn’t really want to spend time in Managua anyway! Sadly, none of the buses were running at the correct times to match up with the flights! They all seemed to leave around 9am, and the earliest flight was around 10am. This would mean losing an entire day. So then I got some quotes for private transport and the two I received were $600-750!! More than the flight for an awful drive!


I couldn’t find any night buses – this would have been an ideal option saving us time and money in accommodation and I would have liked to test out the kids resilience – we loved overnight trains in Asia. Frustratingly, this also didn’t seem to exist, I got the feeling from what I read online that it’s a safety issue – drunk driving and terrible road conditions, potholes etc and the lack of tourists this time of year means they just don’t run these services at night. It’s a challenging beast Central America! But totally worth it!


In Summary:


Roatan has a lot to do, in a compact space that is difficult to be too far away from something interesting. The power white sands and beautifully warm water are going to thrill and chill you and your family – providing the sun is out! If like us you unfortunately have to spend the days stuck inside, be sure to pack a number of rainy day activities (for our top picks, check out this blog here). We stayed at the West Bay Lodge in a “junior suite” which was an excellent sized, beautiful cabin with two bedrooms, a very well equipped kitchen and great AC. I would recommend this as great access to good food nearby as well as the beach a 5 in stroll away. The welcome drinks we were pleasantly surprised to receive were incredibly strong rums which went down a treat, as did their variety of pets (including two cute and talkative parrots). We were also super grateful for their nice pool where we which we managed to get to in between the showers.


As long as you’re not stuck inside wishing the climate would show some reciprocal love, you and your kids will love this beautiful island paradise.

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