Looking for the ultimate vacation destination that offers serene beaches, vibrant marine life for scuba diving and snorkeling, a laid-back atmosphere and on a budget? Look no further than Roatan! Nestled in the Caribbean Sea, just off the coast of mainland Honduras, this tropical paradise is a hidden gem that promises an unforgettable getaway and I’m here with a Roatan travel guide to prove it. When my friend Ana started looking at scuba dive-centric locations for her 40th birthday celebration, we were given a hot tip: Roatan is the place to be.  Thanks to it’s vibrant coral reefs, I can say with certainty (despite the fact that I was certified there) that Roatan might be one of the best places on the planet for scuba.  Don’t scuba? Well, get certified.  Just kidding, Roatan also offers a diverse range of attractions that cater to every traveler’s desires.

Roatan Travel Guide
Roatan Travel Guide

Roatan Travel Guide: it’s got beaches, beauty, and reefs

Roatan boasts some of the most stunning coral reefs and scuba diving options in the world. Diving enthusiasts flock to the island for an unforgettable experience.  Located within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which happens to be the second-largest coral reef system in the world, the island is practically encircled with vibrant coral reefs and an abundance of marine life. During our 10 day stay in Roatan, we did eleven total dives during which we had the opportunity to explore a vast array of dive sites including walls, drop-offs, canyons, caves, and shallow reefs.  Roatan definately isn’t just for divers though! The vast amount of shallow reefs teeming with colorful fish, sea turtles, and rays are great for those members of your group that are simply snorkelers.

Roatan boasts exceptional visibility, often exceeding 30 meters (100 feet) in optimal conditions. Better yet, it’s WARM which makes it comfortable for diving in just a swimsuit or a rash guard.  The dive sites are numerous, plentiful and varied.  Some of my standout favorites included Peter’s Place, which featured beautiful twinkling dancing light in it’s maze of canyons (and where we saw seahorses!), the wreck of the El Aguila, a 75-meter (250-foot) cargo ship that you can swim through, and inside the Blue Channel, which had starfishes galore, a plethora of eagle rays, these strange upside down jellies, and making my ultimate dreams come true – where we saw an octopus.

Roatan is home to numerous dive centers and resorts, providing a range of dive training courses for beginners to advanced divers. Whether you’re a novice looking to earn your certification or an experienced diver seeking further education, I couldn’t recommend getting certified here more. I recommend doing your online study course and testing well ahead of your travel plans so that you aren’t taking up valuable time on vacation completing it.  Once you pass the online portion of your exam, you just have 3 days of diving and in water instruction.  We certified and completed all our dives with the wonderful folks at Jackson’s Dive Center, a family run operation that was nothing but relaxed, chill and welcoming.  It was an incredibly unique and alternative experience. We were there in the “slow season” but even then you could see the difference between the hustle and bustle and just busyness of the other dive centers vs our experience at Jacksons. We had 15 people with us and Jackson’s catered generously to our group the entire week, picking us up by boat every morning at our dock. From start to finish, the family run center was the epitome of wonderful and we’re so grateful to Liana, Alon, Tony for making our experience so special. Also, as a side note, if you do 10 dives or more with Jackson’s each dive is an incredibly reasonable $30/tank!

Roatan Travel Guide
Roatan Travel Guide

Where to Stay in Roatan

Whether you’re seeking a tranquil spot to unwind or craving thrilling water sports adventures, Roatan’s beaches have it all. Because there were 15 of us, we booked a large 3 story vacation rental in Sandy Bay, which was close enough to the hubbub of the West End, but secluded and remote enough to be relaxing and calm. If you want to be in the action, you’ll want to stay in the West End, known for its dazzling sunsets, palm-fringed coastline, and bohemian and dive-focused lifestyle. It’s filled with travelers, expats, and long time island locals. Whether you stay in the West End or not, you’ll be spending plenty of time there so make sure you grab a cocktail after your day snorkeling, adventuring, or diving at Sundowners, late night tacos from Tacos Raul (photo below), some juice from Yahongreh, and a filling authentic Honduran meal from Loretta’s. The place that I would not stay (nor did we even visit) was the overly touristed, extremely popular West Bay. If you’re into cruise ships and large resorts, this is the spot for you. If you are into off the beaten path and quirky, stay away.

The one thing that I cannot recommend ENOUGH outside of Jackson’s Dive Center is hiring Chef Jennie for some meals in your home. Her food was absolutely INCREDIBLE and I threw a handful of additional images from her incredible dining experiences in the gallery at the end of this Roatan travel guide.

Private Chef Roatan
Tacos Raul Roatan

Whether you are seeking diving opportunities or not, Roatan offers an array of additionally amazing activities.  From snorkeling to deep sea fishing, from beaching to mangrove exploration, from late night street parties with the Garifuna people in Punto Gorda, there’s plenty to do. We hired Jaime with Baystar Roatan Tours to drive the 15 of us around and he did so with ease, along with picking us up at the airport and delivering us there for our returns. Jaime took us on a tour of the mangroves in the East End and a lovely meal and some very welcome cocktails at the Reef House.

The other opportunity that I think you can’t sleep on (literally) is immersing yourself in the Garifuna people’s Sunday evening dance party at their village. The street food there is plentiful and the atmosphere is electric.

Roatan Travel Guide
Mangrove Tour Roatan

The short of it is that Roatan truly encapsulates the essence of a dream island vacation. Whether you’re a beach lover, an adventure enthusiast, or a culture seeker, Roatan will leave you feeling jazzed on island life. I’ve visited a lot of central American islands between Belize and Honduras and I would be hard-pressed to tell you how to pick between the two, but I will say that you can’t go wrong with either! So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey to this tropical paradise that 100% will not break your bank account. Roatan is waiting to welcome you.

If you found my Roatan Travel Guide helpful, I’ve got a wealth of other travel guides on my blog because this girl loves to jetset!