By Luisa Esquiroz Arellano
Located off the east coast of central America, Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands, is among Honduras' most popular tourist destinations.
Surrounded by spectacular coral formations, Roatan and sister islands, Utila and Guanaja, are popular destinations for divers, snorkelers and nature lovers.
A new Coral Cay marine park with resident turtles is shown at right.*
Increasingly, cruisers are discovering Roatan's charms. Of 750,000 international visitors who arrive in Honduras annually, some 300,000 arrive by cruise ship.
As a result, the government -- in partnership with Carnival Cruise Lines (www.carnival.com) and Royal Caribbean International (www.royalcaribbean.com) -- is upgrading and expanding cruise facilities.
New $50 Million Cruise Terminal
Carnival Cruise Lines is building a new $50 million terminal as part of a development project near the old port.
At right, the Carnival Valor is among the line's ships that call at Roatan.*
Called Mahogany Bay Roatan, the new terminal will encompass more than 20 acres of Caribbean waterfront.
The new terminal will have two berths capable of accommodating the largest post-Panamax vessels. It will serve up to 7,000 passengers daily.
Adjacent to the terminal, the project will also create a 35,000 square-foot Welcome Center, including retail shops, restaurants and bars. Also on tap are a 60-foot high lighthouse, a lagoon with cascading waterfalls and a nature trail.
The new terminal project will also have a transportation center to accommodate taxis, rental cars and tour buses.
Carnival projects that within five years Mahogany Bay will host 225 cruise ships calls and 500,000 passengers annually.
Royal Caribbean Investment
Not to be left behind, Royal Caribbean International, the port administrator, is also undertaking a $25 million project to upgrade and expand the old dock area. Among the perks? Cruisers will enjoy new entertainment areas and shops.
Additionally, Roatan’s new free port status is allowing the destination to push for more shops, restaurants and bars on the island's western end, near the port.
At left is an example of the casual Caribbean shopping that cruisers now enjoy.*
Among the cruise lines that now call at Roatan are: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises (www.princess.com), Costa Cruises (www.costacruises.com), Holland America Line (www.hollandamerica.com), Celebrity Cruises (www.celebrity.com), Regent Seven Seas Cruises (www.regentexperience.com), Seabourn Cruise Line (www.seabourn.com), Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com) and Oceania Cruises (www.oceaniacruises.com).
Unspoiled Beauty, Island Fun
When cruise passengers visit Roatan today, what will they discover?
First, they'll encounter a relatively unspoiled island. The destination's white sand beaches and placid surf are popular with swimmers and beach goers. One of the West End's pristine beaches is shown at right.*
Kayaking and fishing are other favorite visitor activities. And offshore, dramatic coral formations beckon divers and snorkelers to a fabulous underwater landscape.
Following are highlights of guided tours and other activities available for cruise passengers who arrive at Roatan:
Glass Bottom Boats: Two air-conditioned boats, each equipped with a cabin that extends seven feet underwater (see photo below*), offer scenic one-hour expeditions.
Cruisers will "ooh" and "aah" at the views of colorful tropical fish.
They'll also get eye-opening views of the coral reefs and the deep sea walls that drop straight down at the edges of the coral formations.
The Underwater Paradise departs from Half Moon Bay, east of the island's West End area. The Coral Reef Explorer operates from West Bay Beach. Visit www.roatancoralreefexplorer.com.
Carambola Botanical Gardens: Visitors enjoy a relaxing walk through a diverse collection of flowering plants, ferns, spices, fruit trees, hardwood trees and orchids.
Nature trails lead from the small well-tended gardens to the top of Carambola Mountain. From there, visitors enjoy a clear view to the reefs and the island of Utila. Visit www.roatanisland.net/carambola.htm.
Gumbalimba Park: Located in West Bay, this park is a natural oasis complete with waterfall, cactus garden and numerous species of orchids and halliconia.
Visitors will also enjoy exploring a parrot, macaw and monkey park in which trained animals either roam or fly free.
Above, a visitor enjoys an encounter with a Gumbalimba monkey. At left, a cruise visitor participates in a zip line experience at the park.*
A zip-line canopy tour offers a thrilling "fly through the tree tops" adventure at the park. Or, cruisers might opt for Snuba (www.snuba.com), a fun underwater option for the whole family.
Snuba combines breathing through an air duct with underwater immersion to a maximum depth of 16 feet.
It’s so easy even a four-year-old can do it; kids must be accompanied by an adult, of course. Learn more at www.gumbalimbapark.com.
Dolphin Show at Anthony’s Key Resort:
In addition to the show, cruisers have an opportunity to interact and swim with the marine animals.
A Roatan dolphin experience is shown at right.*
Check out www.anthonyskey.com.
Coral Cay Marine and Nature Park:
Just offshore from Roatan is the 10-acre Coral Cay Marine and Nature Park with 700 feet of beach. It's surrounded by a mangrove jungle. Snorkeling, kayaking and other water sports are popular.
In addition, cruisers might interact with eagle rays, turtles and nurse sharks. Visit www.coralcayroatan.com.
For More Information
For the official site of the Honduras Institute of Tourism contact www.letsgohonduras.com.
Another good resource for Roatan tourist information is this Web site created by one of the island's vacation rental firms: www.roatanisland.net/tindex.htm
Freelance writer Luisa Esquiroz Arellano contributes regularly to national travel publications. She has written for Travel Agent, Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent Custom Publishing, Cruise & Vacation Agent and other media outlets.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Roatan tourism, Carnival Cruise Lines or Anthony's Key Resort, Roatan. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.