Grand Cayman is gorgeous, and Jamaica is jumping, but if you want to enjoy the pure unspoiled beauty of the Caribbean, there is nowhere better than Isla Roatan, Honduras.

The island is the largest of a chain called the Bay Islands, lying just over 30 miles off the northern coast of Honduras. Christopher Columbus once stopped by, but for most of its history, Isla Roatan was an unprotected rest stop for seafarers and a hideout for pirates.

Less than 40 miles long and 5 miles at its widest, it’s a tiny island almost always described as “un-touristy”, which can be hard to come across in the Caribbean now.

World Famous Scuba…or Snuba…Diving.

Isla Roatan is surrounded by calm, clear beaches and one of the world’s largest coral reefs, second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  It’s not hard to see why people come from everywhere to scuba dive with the millions of brightly-colored tropical fish, starfish and turtles around the sea walls, and shipwrecks in the area.

Every cruise ship coming to Roatan offers scuba diving expeditions, but if you’re not experienced, you can still enjoy the coral reefs while Snuba diving!  Snuba is an easy and safe way to check out the underwater world, even if you’ve never snorkled.  If you book a Snuba diving tour, you’ll learn how to breathe through a scuba regulator connected to an air tank.  Then, you can stay under water as long as you like, even down to 20 feet deep, and you can come to the surface whenever you want.  There’s even a designated Snuba trail through 50 yards of sea grass, where rays and octopus and fish like to play.

Isla Roatan also offers an incredibly wide variety of wildlife on land, from iguanas to oddly moving upright “Jesus” lizards, to bright scarlet macaws and parrots.  You can enjoy a tour on the nature trails through the Gumbalimba Preservation Park.  There’s a bird sanctuary, and a Monkey Refuge, where spider monkeys, white face monkeys and howler monkeys are all eager to play with you.  The park is also a great place to explore the island’s pirate history, with a stop at Coxen’s Cave, the home of Captain John Coxen and his stolen treasure.

A truly unique wildlife experience can also be found on a visit to Sherman Arch’s Iguana Farm in French Harbor.  It was started up in the late 1980s as a refuge for iguanas, and now nearly 3,000 of the lizards call it home.  The Red Iguanas are willing to let you pick them up, if you pet them first.  But be gentle.  If your cruise ship doesn’t offer an excursion here, it’s easy to grab a taxi at the pier and just tell the driver “Iguana Farm”.

Or you can skip the wildlife, and relax at one of Isla Roatan’s world-class spas.  The Santé Wellness Center is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, and you can spend your day getting a chocolate fondue body wrap, or a Salt Glow, and then swim in the clear lagoon and sunbathe on its private beach.

Whether you plan on spoiling yourself, diving with dolphins, hiking through an emerald forest, or playing with lizards or monkeys, a day in Isla Roatan will put you in touch with the untouched beauty and history of the Caribbean.

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  1. I will skip the spa. The unspoiled beach is more inviting. A trip to the park is great especially if you need to entertain kids.
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