Cruise Ship Shore Excursions
Most tours can be booked through the property, the local agencies, or through the cruise ships. Most ships and itineraries have a similar range of options available. Here are some of the most common:
Few will argue that West Bay Beach, sometimes called Tabyana, is not the best on Roatán. Turquoise water, excellent snorkeling, clean white sand, swaying palm trees, tropical drinks served in coconuts -- every cliché you can think of about a Caribbean beach can be found here. From Coxen Hole, there are a few ways to get to West Bay. First, you can take a set excursion with nearly any company that serves cruise ships; however, the price may be inflated for the service they provide. Most excursions to West Bay Beach are simply bus transport and maybe snorkel gear. If you want to save money, just hire a taxi for the 20- to 30-minute ride to West Bay. You can rent snorkel gear right from the beach, eat lunch from one of a dozen restaurants, and then hire a taxi to get back, even having time to stop off in the West End. Elsewhere on the island, fine sands can be found at West End, Paya Bay, and Camp Bay, though the parks listed below have nice beaches, as well.
Two parks on the island try to offer a range of activities that can please an entire family and provide transportation directly from the cruise terminals. If you decide to stay in or near Coxen Hole, I recommend Maya Key ★ (tel. 504/9995-9589; www.mayakeyroatan.com; must be booked directly from your cruise ship), a private cay owned by Anthony's Key Resort. It has a small pier just east of the cruise terminal, where a pontoon boat takes cruise passengers to and from the property. While it is no more than a half-kilometer off shore, the cay seems like an entirely different part of the Bay Islands. The tropical paradise vibe isn't lost. There's a nice clean beach, a pier jutting out over clear waters, and unspoiled reef that's great for snorkeling. After the buffet BBQ lunch, a group of Garífuna in traditional dress does a series of dances that are as good as any cultural performances on the island. There's a nice pool, a gift shop, and a small zoo on the property, as well.
Gumbalimba Park [kids] (tel. 504/2445-1033; www.gumbalimbapark.com) has the greatest range of activities of any of the parks, though it is also the farthest away, sitting near West Bay. The park has a small zoo on a small island surrounded by a moat with a handful of monkeys and parrots, a cheesy pirate cave, a pool, a private beach, all sorts of water sports, and a canopy tour. At last visit, they were building an insectarium and a pirate fort.
Zip-lining or canopy tours are wildly popular in Honduras, and this is especially true for Roatán. There are four companies with zip-line courses on the island: Gumbalimba Park (tel. 504/2445-1033; www.gumbalimbapark.com), South Shore Canopy Tour (no phone; www.southshorecanopy.com), Pirates of the Caribbean Canopy (tel. 504/2455-7576; www.roatanpiratescanopy.com), and Palmetto Ridge Canopy (tel. 504/2445-7853; www.tropicalrez.com). All are quite similar and run between L1,140 and L1,425 ($60-$75) per person.
Nature and Cultural Tours
For those who are looking to learn a little about the island's history, culture, or wildlife, there is a large lineup to choose from. One of the most popular excursions on the island, the Dolphin Encounter at Anthony's Key (tel. 504/2445-3008; www.anthonyskey.com), near Sandy Bay, enables guests to dive or snorkel with the resort's resident bottlenose dolphins. There will be plenty of chances to pet, kiss, and get your photo taken with these mammals as trainers make them perform and detail their learning process. The dolphin encounter area is at Bailey's Key, a private cay owned by Anthony's Key and operated by the Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences. Prices range from L1,178 ($62) for the dolphin encounter to L2,603 ($137) for a dolphin dive when booked directly through the resort.
Also in Sandy Bay, Carambola Gardens (tel. 504/2445-3117; www.carambolagardens.com; L200/$10 adults) is a nice way to explore the plant life of the islands. A few light trails will take you through their vast collection; you might even spot an iguana or two. While the Roatán Butterfly Garden (tel. 504/2445-4481; www.roatanbutterfly.com; L140/$7 adults) in the West End is nice, I don't recommended it for cruise passengers unless they are extremely interested in butterflies, as a visit here will take more time in transport than in seeing the butterflies and exhibits.
At the Roatan Zoo & Island Adventure (no phone; www.roatanzoo.com; L475/$25 adults, L285/$15 children), located at Blue Ocean Reef, is an 4.5-hectare (11-acre) sanctuary for Honduran flora and fauna. Animals are brought to the park after being confiscated from the illegal animal trade, orphaned, injured, or donated by private individuals, and the goal is to rehabilitate the animals enough to return them to the wild. Open daily 8am to 4pm.
For those who are less active, or who dislike diving or snorkeling but still want to witness the magic that is the world's second-largest barrier reef, you have several options. Two companies offer glass-bottom boat rides: Underwater Paradise (tel. 504/2445-6465; L380/$20 adults, L190/$10 children) from West End and Coral Explorer (tel. 504/4255-5379; www.roatancoralreefexplorer.com; L380/$20 adults, L190/$10 children) from West Bay.
The Roatán Institute of Deep Sea Exploration (no phone; www.stanleysubmarines.com; L7,600-L22,800/$400-$1,200 per person) is an experience you won't find in many other places in the world. Inside a small two-passenger submarine, you will descend anywhere from 305m to 610m (1,000 ft.-2,000 ft.) and see marine life that few divers could ever imagine, including the rare Lophelia Reef.
East of Coxen Hole is one unusual excursion, though I am not crazy about it. Near French Harbour, you can visit Arch's Iguana Farm (tel. 504/2975-7442; www.archiguanafarm.com; L160/$8 adults). While seeing hundreds of iguanas climb over each other in stinky passion to eat handfuls of lettuce is fine, the monkeys and coati in tiny cages with little access to food and water are beyond sad. I do not recommend a visit here for this reason alone.
Roatán-Based Companies for Shore Excursions
While every cruise line sells excursions and activities to points all over the island, locally based companies offer many of the same tours, sometimes even a greater variety, for much less. Just like your cruise ship-arranged excursions, they'll be waiting outside the ship for you when you touch land, with transport ready to go. Here are the most popular operators:
- Tabyana Tours (tel. 504/2445-1115)
- MC Tours (tel. 504/2445-2431; www.mctours-honduras.com)
- Tropical Rez (tel. 504/2445-7853; www.tropicalrez.com)
- Roatán Shore Tours (tel. 504/9959-1140; www.roatanshoretours.com)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.