“The verdant, jungle-covered hills of Roatán rise suddenly from the vivid blue sea. It’s a tropical paradise without the high costs you might expect from a Caribbean destination4.” Roatan is a Caribbean island about 40 miles off the northern coast of Honduras1. It is the largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras and is about 48 miles long by 5 miles wide1. Roatan is located between the islands of Útila and Guanaja1. Its unique history, culture, and location make it a prime tourist destination. If you are considering retirement and a low cost of living is at the top of your list, consider the island of Roatan, Honduras.
Christopher Columbus visited the indigenous Indians on the Bay Islands of Honduras on his fourth voyage to the New World in 1502 – 15046. Soon after, the Spanish discovered the Bay Islands of Honduras and began trading islanders for slave labor6. All the indigenous people on the islands eventually died due to European infectious diseases such as smallpox and measles because they had no immunity6. During this time, the Bay Islands of Honduras also attracted many settlers, pirates, traders, and military forces2. English, Dutch, and French pirates established settlements on the islands and frequently raided the Spanish cargo ships that carried gold and silver to the New World6.
The British Army garrisoned the islands from 1742 to 17492. The British also defeated the Black Carib in 17976. The Black Carib (or the Garifuna) are an ethnic group mixed with British, African, and Caribbean cultures6. The French government supported the Black Carib in their battle for control of St. Vincent6. After the British defeated the Black Carib, they were deported to Roatan’s island for fear that they would resist British sugar plantations6. Most of the Black Carib migrated to Trujillo on mainland Honduras. Still, a few stayed behind to form the community of Punta Gorda on the northern coast of Roatan Honduras6. The Black Caribs became the Bay Island’s first permanent post-Columbian settlers6.
The majority of Roatan’s population originated from the Cayman Islands near Jamaica6. They arrived shortly after Britain abolished slavery in 18346. Former slaves migrated from the Cayman Islands in larger numbers than planters and became the largest cultural group on Roatan6. For a short period in the 1850s, Britain declared the Bay Islands its colony6. It formally gave control back to Honduras in less than ten years6. The 20th century continued to see a population growth with an increase in Spanish-speaking Mestizo migrants from mainland Honduras6. The Mestizo settled mainly in the urban areas of Coxen Hole and Barrio Los Fuertes, near French Harbour2. In the 21st century, settlers and entrepreneurs worldwide became attracted to fishing on the islands. They provided the foundation for the tourist trade1.
Roatan Honduras has annual temperatures with highs of 90°F (32°C) and lows of 70°F (25°C)3. The rainy season is from September to January, and Roatan averages about 100 inches of rain each year3. You will find many housing options on the island, including homes, condos, Airbnb, hotels, and ready to build lots4. Roatan’s population is about 80,000, with the most developed being in the west and central parts of the island4. Some places further east on the island are mostly isolated and off-grid4. You can have your patch of private beach and tropical forest if you want to be on your own4.
The low cost of living in Roatan Honduras makes it an ideal location to live or retire. A retired couple can expect to pay around $2,500 a month for their basic needs4. An apartment or condo within walking distance of the beach will cost about $500 a month4. Homes that are close to the beach will cost $1,000 a month or more4. West Bay offers a sophisticated beach town but is pricier when compared to other areas on the island4. West End is a hip and relaxed village that attracts younger generations4. Most of Roatan’s populated regions offer various cafes, bars, restaurants, shopping, and entertainment.
Living on an island is quite different than visiting an island. Culture shock is experienced by almost everyone who chooses to live on Roatan5. It is normal to doubt the decision to relocate5. It helps to prepare and know the relocation area. Visit Roatan.Online for more information on the island and to get a better sense of the community5. Roatan is safe but is still apart of Honduras, which is a third-world developing country5. The most common type of crime on the island is burglaries5. Extra precautions should be taken in the areas of Coxen Hole, Los Fuertes, and French Harbour after sunset5.
There are lots of things to do both on the island and in the water. Roatan Honduras offers world-class snorkeling and scuba diving4. It sits on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest barrier reef in the world3. Scuba diving is the most popular attraction on the island, and underneath the water feels like a big aquarium4. There are scuba diving instructors right on the island that offer introductory courses to beginners4. The water is crystal clear and warm without dangerous currents4. Fishing and sailing tours are also top-rated on Roatan3.
Another popular attraction on the island that people often underestimate is the sloth tour. The sloth tours are located at various locations on the island3. The two best sloth sanctuaries are located near French Harbour— AJ’s Monkey and Sloth Tour and Daniel Johnson’s Hangout3. The sloths are adorable and photogenic; they will undoubtedly be the highlight of your day once you hold them3. You can also hold White Face Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Capuchin Monkeys, Parrots, and Scarlet Macaws3. The Mangroves on the island are also underestimated; you can walk in the Mangroves and see sloths hanging in the Mangrove trees3. Visiting a sloth sanctuary in the French Harbour is a very relaxing experience, and you can enjoy a beautiful view of Little French Key and Big French Key3.
The area that surrounds Little French Key was first settled by a Frenchman pirate and eventually abbreviated to French Cay or Key3. Little French Key is one of 53 Cays surrounding the Bay Islands, but it is one of the most popular3. With its crystal-clear water and diamond white beaches, Little French Key has been voted a top attraction in all Honduras3. It is a favorite with cruise ship travelers because it offers an all in one experience3. Activities include horseback riding, snorkeling, an underwater museum (Mayatlantis), a wild animal refuge, kayaking, paddle-boarding, jet skis, and scuba diving3.
Tips and Recommendations
Most of the major airlines like American, Delta, and United flight directly onto Roatan’s island. Some airlines like Spirit offer cheaper rates if you are on a budget, but often do not fly directly onto the island. It is recommended to get a rental car and remember to book your taxi before your arrival on Roatan3.
If you are renting short term during the “high season” (December to April), it is best to find and reserve something as early as possible4.
If you enjoy ATV tours, there is a facility in the Punta Gorda area of Roatan Honduras offering the experience.
Coxen Hole is Roatan’s capital and offers an outstanding shopping experience. Eldon’s Supermarket is a trendy grocery store. Plaza Mar is a unique shopping mall that is also popular on the island.
Visit the Explore Roatan page on TripAdvisor for listings and reviews of hotels, vacation homes, attractions, and restaurants.
For more safety tips, click here
Though there is some English on the island, learning Spanish is highly recommended if you plan to live in Roatan.
COVID-19 Alert: You will get arrested for not wearing a face mask in designated places.
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- Bay Islands Diver. (2020). The Bay Islands, Roatan, Utila, Guanaja. https://www.bayislandsdiver.com/home.
- Cormack, A. (2017). John Caulfeild, Governor and Commander-In-Chief of Rattan. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research,95(383), 197-206. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44872035
- (2020). Roatan Community. https://roatan.online/
- Roatán, Honduras: Cost of Living, Retiring & Lifestyle Information 2020. International Living. (2020, March 10). https://internationalliving.com/countries/honduras/
- Roatan Tourism Bureau ™. (2020). https://roatantourismbureau.com/
- Waddell, D. (1959). Great Britain and the Bay Islands, 1821-61. The Historical Journal,2(1), 59-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3020338