Welcome to Roatan island in Honduras! The largest of the Bay Islands, Roatan is about 40 miles off the northern shore of Honduras in Central America. Roatan has long been known as a scuba diver’s paradise. The world’s second-largest barrier reef ends at the Bay Islands, fringing just off-shore and teeming with life! In this comprehensive guide to Roatan island, we’ll cover the popular parts of the island, some insight into the tourism industry and general economy here on the island, and also the history, culture, and climate of Roatan.
There’s so much to explore, so let’s dive right in!
Roatan Life is the most respected real estate agency here in Roatan. We aim to offer helpful information about the island of Roatan, whether or not you’re ready to invest in your own island home. If you are considering real estate, get in touch so we can help answer your questions and guide you. We’re always happy to help!
An Introduction to Roatan Island in Honduras
First of all, let’s set the scene. The island of Roatan is part of the country of Honduras. Honduras is centrally-located within Central America, bordering El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Honduras benefits from both the Caribbean coastline and the Pacific coastline on its western shore.
On the Caribbean side, a series of islands called the Bay Islands rest off the northern coast of Honduras.
Think of the Bay Islands of Honduras as the Hawaii of the USA!
As the largest of the Bay Islands, Roatan has several neighboring islands that complete the archipelago. Those other islands include Utila, Guanaja, and several other small islands. The most popular are Cayos Cochinos (the Hog Islands), which make for a great day trip from Roatan for tourists.
Roatan is approximately 40 miles from the mainland. That means it’s very easy to access the larger cities, amenities, and various international airports there.
However, Roatan itself has an international airport and every amenity locals could need!
As a Caribbean island, Roatan is not as highly-developed as some more popular eastern Caribbean islands (for example, Aruba). It’s also not as remote or underdeveloped as some small but popular islands (for example, St John of the USVI).
In fact, Roatan is often called the Gem of the Caribbean.
This is because of its stunning natural beauty and its under-the-radar status. Thus far, Roatan has retained its traditional Caribbean charm while sustainably growing and adding amenities and infrastructure.
So, while we may be biased, we have to agree that the island of Roatan is, in fact, paradise.
Roatan Island Map + Communities
To help you learn more about Roatan island in Honduras, we have multiple maps available. They show the various areas of the island where you might want to look at real estate. These are also popular areas for property rentals, if you’re just visiting.
Keep checking back as we add more articles about each specific community on the island!
Roatan Island Government
Roatan is broken up into two municipalities: Roatan and Santos Guardiola. The Roatan municipality is the western half of the island. It is more developed and attracts more tourists and expats to its popular neighborhoods.
The Santos Guardiola municipality encompasses the eastern half of the island. Collectively, this part of Roatan is referred to as the East End. Within the East End, there are a variety of popular locations for expats. There’s also a growing tourism market, though it is decidedly less built-up overall.
Roatan Island Population
The population of Roatan island is currently estimated to be around 110,000 but there has not been an official census since 2000, so this is an estimation. There is also plenty of fluctuation in population numbers. The tourism industry and the number of temporary residents, especially during the winter season, affect the overall population.
Whatever the actual population, you’ll quickly see as you fly into the island that Roatan remains a natural paradise.
From a distance, the island looks nearly uninhabited with its lush, jungle-covered hills running the length of the 35 miles of Roatan. Along the shore, as you approach, you’ll start to see buildings and sandy stretches.
What you won’t see anywhere are high-rises or densely-concentrated cityscapes. Roatan has restrictions on the height of buildings in order to protect these beautiful views and vistas for everyone.
And, once you’re on the ground and exploring Roatan island, you’ll quickly realize just how precious those views are, no matter where you go on the island.
Where do expats live in Roatan?
There are many popular areas for expats living in Roatan. While plenty of homeowners don’t move to Roatan full-time, their vacation homes tend to be in the same areas of Roatan island as the full-time resident expats.
Expat communities thrive in Roatan. And it’s no wonder when you see how beautiful and welcoming this island is for foreigners! It’s easy enough to gain residency, and foreigners can purchase real estate even without getting residency first.
The primary language on the island is English, even though the official national language of Honduras is Spanish. That’s because of the history of the island, which we’ll go into more later.
If you’re seeking the popular neighborhoods on the island of Roatan, we’ll share them with brief insights below.
Perhaps the most popular destination for expats and for tourists, West Bay is the western tip of Roatan island. West Bay Beach regularly features as a world-class beach and there are multiple resorts along there to welcome visitors.
There are several popular neighborhoods around West Bay for expats. These include Turtle Crossing, Lighthouse Estates, Keyhole Bay, Tamarind Drive, and more.
Read all about West Bay here.
Another highly popular area for tourists and expats, West End is a traditional beachfront village spanning about a mile along the shore.
Dive shops, beach bars, boutique hotels, and plenty of shops line this stretch. West End is a fun and vibrant neighborhood to enjoy.
Read all about West End here.
Located centrally on Roatan island, Pristine Bay houses the island’s only 18-hole championship golf course: Black Pearl. The legendary Pete Dye designed the course.
The gated community here offers golf course villas as well as townhouse-style condominiums. This is a prestigious neighborhood in a highly convenient location.
While not a popular part of the island for expats to live in nor for tourists to visit, Coxen Hole is nonetheless an important part of Roatan Island.
Coxen Hole is the capital of Roatan municipality and the location of the Roatan international airport. It’s also the administrative center and houses large grocery stores and government offices, plus medical facilities. Also in Coxen Hole, you’ll find the Port of Roatan cruise ship dock.
Learn all about Coxen Hole here
The extensive stretch of northern coastline between Coxen Hole and West End is, generally, called Sandy Bay. Within Sandy Bay there are many neighborhoods and developments, all of which are popular with expats. Many of these areas offer a more local taste of life on Roatan island.
This is also a popular area for tourists, so there are several small hotels, plenty of dining options, and lots of dive shops and other activity providers.
Read all about Sandy Bay here.
French Harbour is centrally-located on the island, at the far edge of the Roatan municipality and bordering Santos Guardiola.
Within French Harbour, you’ll find the brand new CEMESA Hospital and the largest shopping plaza on Roatan island. Additionally, there are many other amenities and offices, as well as several popular communities where expats live.
Read all about French Harbour here.
Situated along the north shore of Roatan, Palmetto Bay has long been a popular neighborhood for expats.
Its quiet location offers a similar tranquility and traditional charm that the East End provides. But Palmetto Bay is accessible from French Harbour or Sandy Bay, making it more convenient to all the amenities and activities of the western side of the island.
Located near Palmetto Bay, Turtling Bay has also been a popular expat neighborhood for quite some time. Still quiet and connected to the local community, Turtling Bay is ideal for retirees or a vacation home away from the crowds.
The East End of Roatan Island is a broad swath encompassing a variety of neighborhoods and communities. Largely speaking, the East End is less built-up and offers a quiet, more traditional Caribbean charm than the western half of the island.
Fewer tourists visit here, although they are certainly starting to head that way for true getaways and classic vacation options!
The East End neighborhoods most popular with expats and tourists include:
A quiet community near Punta Gorda, Punta Blanca is on the north shore.
First Bight & Second Bight
Located along the south shore, including the Parrot Tree Plantation community.
At the far eastern edge of Roatan island, Camp Bay Beach is a beautiful stretch. It’s a popular destination for this quiet side of the island
A thriving community on the south shore, Oak Ridge is one of the oldest neighborhoods on the island. It’s a popular meeting point for expats on the East End.
Read all about the East End here.
Roatan Economy & Tourism
Roatan’s economy has greatly diversified in recent decades, with an increasing population requiring a wider range of services and products. Within that, tourism continues to be a central focus for the island.
Roatan now has two cruise ship ports: Port of Roatan in Coxen Hole and Mahogany Bay, which is owned by Carnival Cruise Lines. Approximately 1 million visitors pass through those ports each year.
Beyond those day visitors, Roatan’s scuba diving and watersports industries have attracted many millions more to visit for longer periods of time. With so many fun activities and so much natural beauty to enjoy, Roatan welcomes all types of travelers.
A prominent part of this booming tourism industry is the vacation rental market. In fact, many of our real estate clients end up renting their homes while they’re back at home.
Whether you intend to retire in Roatan eventually or just want a vacation home in paradise, opting to rent your home while you’re off-island ensures it doesn’t stay empty or uncared for while you’re away.
Our sister company, Roatan Vacation Rentals, can help you with all of your property management needs.
Roatan Island History & Culture
Roatan today is a microcosm of the world, with people from various countries all calling this tiny island home. As it is today, Roatan has always been a landing point for diverse peoples. The history of this island spans centuries of arrivals and departures. They have all combined to create the eclectic community of Roatan today.
For a brief history, we can start with the Paya, who were the indigenous people living on Roatan as early as historic records can go.
The Paya were a nomadic group of hunter-gathers and fisherman. They traveled by canoe between the islands and the mainland for trade. Today, you can still canoe through the mangroves on the East End, which the Paya carved centuries ago.
In 1502, on his 4th voyage, Christopher Columbus came upon the Bay Islands and claimed them on behalf of Spain. For the next few hundred years, the Bay Islands flip-flopped under Spanish or English rule.
On April 15, 1797, several thousand Black Carib landed on Roatan after being deported from St Vincent and the Grenadines by the British colonizers.
This group, which partly settled in Roatan and partly carried on to the mainland, is today known as the Garifuna. You can visit the Flamingo Cultural Center in Punta Gorda on the East End to learn their incredible history and to see how their culture has influenced Roatan until today.
Many languages and cultures fill Roatan today. You’ll find food from all around the world, despite the island’s small size and relatively low profile on the international tourism stage.
While you don’t need to speak Spanish on Roatan, it can be helpful since the island is part of Honduras. English is the primary language of the island, so you’ll get by just fine with that.
Learning about the many layers of history on this small island, you can see where today’s fantastic blend of cultures and people comes from.
Climate on Roatan Island in Honduras
The climate of Roatan island in Honduras is tropical, with average temperatures around 80* Fahrenheit year-round. There are refreshing trade winds keeping the island feeling fresh and cool, however, so don’t let the high temperatures alarm you! Plus, any time we feel too warm, there’s that stunning, inviting Caribbean Sea to cool us down.
The rainy season in Roatan is heaviest from December to February, although there are rainy period throughout the year. This keeps the island lush and green, which we all appreciate!
Rainy season isn’t like monsoon season elsewhere. While we do get heavy rainfall, we also get plenty of sunshine even during the rainy season. Short, passing storms are very common, leaving a beautiful sunset in their wake!
If you’re thinking of living in Roatan year-round, you’ll quickly get used to the tropical climate. If you’re just visiting, you’ll probably want a vacation rental with air conditioning if you’re not accustomed to the heat. With that said, any rental on the hillside should capture beautiful breezes and any rental on the beach means you’ll be in the water every day!
Hurricane Season in Roatan
As far as hurricanes go, Roatan is very lucky to be fairly well-protected with its Western Caribbean location. While the Eastern Caribbean islands frequently suffer from direct hits, Roatan enjoys relative safety far from that typical hurricane path.
That doesn’t mean we don’t get the outskirts of big storms, which we can do if they take a more southwestern path. In 2020, there were two back-to-back hurricanes that hit the mainland of Central America. Again, Roatan was lucky to not be in that path and we just got some typical wind and rain.
Statistically, Roatan only experiences a bad hurricane once every 26 years, so it’s not an annual worry for homeowners or visitors.
While we have plenty more we could say about Roatan island, we think we’ve covered all the important bases here in this comprehensive guide. Feel free to peruse our other articles for more insights into Roatan, or contact us any time if you have questions that we can help answer.
We love talking about our beautiful island home and welcoming new homeowners to the community is always fun for us! Reach out any time. For now, we’ll leave you with some links that could be helpful resources for you…
Helpful Links for Roatan Island Resources
Vacation Rentals or Property Management:
- Embassy of Honduras in Washington
- Embassy of the USA in Honduras
- Central Bank of Honduras
- Banco Atlantida