The second largest barrier reef in the world is home to abundant ocean life and nearby islands supply an exotic, indigenous refuge, Tracy Hanes reports in this travel article for Canada’s Star. For the complete article, including practical travel information, follow the link below.
With a sharp tap of a metal carabiner on his scuba tank, dive-master Rino Jackson draws our attention to a fist-sized yellow lump tucked inside a tube sponge on the ocean floor. It’s a frogfish, with a dorsal spine that transforms to resemble a lure with dangling bait. When an unsuspecting small fish comes close, it opens its mouth and sucks in the prey with lightning speed.
The frogfish is a rare sighting in these waters and Jackson has seen only seven in more than 8,000 dives in his native Roatan, Honduras. “They typically blend in very well to the reef and don’t move.”
The vast majority of all Caribbean marine life species can be found just off shore in Roatan, the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands. The land mass is surrounded by the second largest barrier reef in the world. Numerous species of fish, beautiful coral and sponges, sinewy moray eels, green turtles and eagle rays can be seen.
“Roatan diving is so great because the reef is so very close (to shore) and it’s been protected by an amazing marine park, so it’s healthy and full of life,” says Jackson, a native Honduran, who, with his Canadian wife, Amanda Holder, operates Scuba Roatan (www.scubaroatanhonduras.com ).
“The average person doesn’t know where Roatan is, which makes it a great little secret for real dive enthusiasts.”
Much tourist activity is centred in West Bay, where all-inclusive resorts, rental condos and beach bars line a stunning white sand beach. Just a short water taxi ride away is West End, a funky seaside village where bars, restaurants, souvenir stores and dive shops rim the main street along Half Moon Bay.
Most island residents speak English and a large number of Canadian and American ex-pats live here.
Albertans Joan Cooke and Stan Wall came to Roatan on a cruise three years ago.
“When we were pulling into port, we saw the hills and the greenery, and, if there’s love at first sight with an island, this was it,” says Cooke.
The couple returned on another cruise eight months later, then came to stay for a week. That’s all they needed to convince them to buy a home in West End that they named Casa Canuck. Now they spend a good part of the year away from the harsher climate of Grand Prairie, Alberta, and play host to tourists who rent two studio apartments on the lower level of their house.
“The reef is definitely the big draw here,” Cooke says. “We can walk to Half Moon Bay in five minutes and snorkel right off shore. And Roatan is not over-commercialized. If you need street signs and WalMart, it’s not for you.”
A large part of Roatan’s charm is its unpretentious nature. You never have to wear anything dressier than flip-flops and shorts.
There’s lots to do even for those who don’t dive or snorkel; you can view marine life on a glass-bottom-boat tour, take a stand-up paddling lesson, parasail, book a fishing or sightseeing charter, or swing a club at the beautiful Black Pearl golf course. You can rent a car or scooter and head east from the west end — there’s only one main road so you can’t get too lost — to swim with dolphins at Anthony’s Key, visit the resident free-ranging lizards at Arch’s Iguana Farm in French Harbour, take a boat tour through the mangroves, or enjoy some of the island’s most spectacular ocean views over lunch at Temporary Cal’s Cantina, perched high on a jungle-side hill.
Roatan has a colourful history shaped by Paya Indians, pirates and Garifunas and you can learn about some of these influences at the Flamingo Cultural Center in Punta Gorda, the site of the first Garifuna settlement in Central America.
The Garifunas, descendants of the Black Carib Indians, settled in Roatan in 1797, and have maintained their lifestyle, culture and language. At the centre, you can watch ancestral dance performances or learn how to make traditional Garifuna dishes such as cassava bread and coconut candy.
For a fascinating Garifuna experience, Ruthless Roatan Charters (www.ruthlessroatancharters.com ) travels to a small island that’s part of the 15-island archipelego Cayos Cochinos, where the inhabitants live without electricity or running water. You can spend a few hours snorkeling in the pristine Marine Park of Cayos Cochinos, enjoy an island lunch prepared by Garifuna women and watch the fisherman bring in their catches. On the ride there, you might be lucky enough to haul in a barracuda or spot dolphins or whale sharks.
Although Roatan is still largely unknown by Canadian sun-seekers, a growing number are discovering this gem of a tropical island. Nolitours and Sunwing offer all-inclusive packages from with direct flights from Canada from November through April and major cruise lines including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Norwegian include it as a port of call.
For the original report go to www.thestar.com/life/travel/2015/04/17/roatan-honduras-floating-in-a-colourful-world.html