“It’s all here in Honduras.” That is the official tourism slogan for this Central American country nestled between Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea. And it is pretty accurate. There is a surprising amount of things to do in Honduras. Every once in a while, there is even a little snow.
But one of the top draws in Honduras is that it has its own set of Caribbean Islands. The Bay Islands, or Islas de la Bahia. There are three main islands in this chain, Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja. Roatan is the most popular tourist stop of the three. And the most popular spot on Roatan is West Bay.
West Bay is a long narrow, about 1 mile, stretch of pristine soft sand and picture perfect turquoise waters. The strip is lined with hotels, restaurants, little shops, and dive centers. There are all levels of accommodations, from small budget hotels right up to large fancy resorts. And the food and drink scene is delicious with a mix of imported goods and local caught seafood and Honduran rum.
The beach in West Bay is beautiful. Most of the time the waves are small and the current is light. The shallow soft sandy bottom stretches far out into the bay, making it a perfect spot for swimming, even for small children. There are buoys all along the outer edge of the swimming area to mark the channels for water taxis and other boats and to keep swimmers safe.
The beach is narrow because there is a ridge of small mountains directly behind it. Which makes this little tropical spot even more beautiful with the pristine blue water on one side, and the green forested ridges on the other. Though it does make the drive from the airport into West Bay a bit of an adventure.
West Bay is also a great spot for snorkeling. The edge of the bay is lined with a healthyl reef that is full of colorful fish and corals. The best spot for snorkelers is an area known as Mandy’s Eel Garden at the southern tip of the bay. The reef is closer to shore here, and shallow enough that boats can’t get through safely. But that shallow location is perfect for viewing the reef without needing scuba gear.
This reef is actually what put Roatan on the tourism map. It is a scuba divers paradise. Most of the hotels along the strip have their own dive shops because of it. And even though Roatan is well and thoroughly a ‘found’ Caribbean destination these days, diving is still its number one attraction. The reef is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, second largest in the world. Only the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is longer. The reef is 625 miles long and stretches all the way from the Bay Islands in Honduras to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
The water is clear and warm year round and this part of the Caribbean is not in the typical hurricane path. So it is uncommon for the island, and its barrier reef, to be hit by these damaging storms. There are more than 500 species of fish and 60 species of corals living in this clear blue water. Turtles are a common sight and dolphins make their appearance from time to time as well. The combination of conditions and creatures makes for some spectacular scuba diving.
Back on shore, West Bay is a great spot to choose a hotel as a base and to explore the other attractions on the island from. Roatan is a jungle island. The wild parts of the center are thick and green. Some of the most popular tourist attractions on the island are adventure and wildlife tours through the jungle. You can zip line, hike trails through the forest, or visit one of the wildlife centers. Gumbalimba Park is the top wildlife park on the island and it is located right outside the town of West Bay.
There are also a lot of fun water sports, other than diving and snorkeling, available right off the beach. You can easily find a vendor on the beach renting kayaks, paddleboards, jet skis, fishing excursions, or offering parasailing rides.
Another fun thing to do is take one of the local water taxis to the nearby town of West End (West Bay and West End are not the same place) for some shopping or dining. These are usually small, colorful, local owned boats that fit perhaps a half dozen people and have outboard motors. To find them, head to the long pier at the north end of West Bay, that is where most of the water taxis wait for fares. Though from time to time they do come right up to shore in front of the hotels, and most hotels will call one for you if you ask. The ride to West End is short but fun, and provides views of the island from the water along the way. Then it is equally easy to find a water taxi from the pier in West End heading back to the beach.
And last, but certainly not least, West Bay does indeed face West. And that means spectacular tropical sunsets from the beach every night. The best way, by far, to end a day in West Bay is to grab a drink and a beach chair and just sit and watch the sun go down over the beautiful Caribbean Sea.
By Laura Raffin.