Where is Roatan?

Roatan is part of a cluster of island archipelagos situated ten to forty miles off the northern coast of Honduras. Roatan is located in between Utila and Guanaja Islands. These islands are a gem in the western Caribbean, and they are surrounded by the largest barrier reef system in the northern hemisphere. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is only second in size to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. 

Climate in Roatan

Roatan has a tropical climate. The tropical weather in and around Roatan is inclusive of sea breezes which keep the annual temperatures within a range of 70F to 80F. The annual humidity for Roatan is estimated to be 77%. Annual temperatures average out at 86F. 

Roatan has two main seasons. The Rainy Season and the Dry Season. Roatan manages to stay green year round, even though its dry season. If you're looking for a dramatic scene, be sure to visit Roatan during the rainy season, which starts in October and runs through January each year. 

Roatan receives rain, on the average, on 112 days of each year. But these rains are usually scattered showers. The bulk of the rainfall occurs during the rainy season where rainfall can be consistent and can last for days on end. 

Roatan is outside the hurricane corridor and only sees a hurricane at a rate of one every 26 years. The weather alone, and the fact that Roatan is seldom in harm's way of a hurricane make it ideal for home ownership.

Roatan's Geography

Roatan is 40 miles long and at its widest its only 5 miles wide. It's a long and narrow island. Roatan's highest point is 900 ft above sea level. Roatan has an east-west orientation, and its northern and southern coastlines are both visible from several points on the island. 

Hillside homes receive steady sea breezes while waterfront properties enjoy sandy shorelines, beaches, Mangrove Forrest, and or an iron shore. 

The Iron Shore is a fossilized coral reef rocky shoreline found on the water's edge at various points along Roatan's coastline. The iron shore can easily be confused with lava rock because of its dramatic texture and dark color. But the Bay Islands do not show any evidence of volcanic formation in its history. 

Roatan's call to fame is its coral reef. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is world-renowned. It is the largest of its kind in the northern hemisphere and second largest worldwide. Only the Great Barrier Reef is larger in scope and size that is the reef in the waters around Roatan Island. The Mesoamerican Reef System extends from the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico, down past the Bay Islands of Honduras. The reef system around Roatan has all three types of coral reefs and in it live countless marine creatures as it is comprised of many marine ecosystems. The waters around Roatan are a combination of open water and sheltered water. This makes Roatan perfect for SCUBA and also many other water sports. 

Roatan's Economy 

As a Honduran municipality, the main currency used on Roatan is the Lempira. That said, the dollar is widely accepted. It is important to note that locals gain the upper hand when you pay in Dollars because they don't normally offer the official exchange rate. The national currency (The Lempira) gets its name from the Lenca warrior, Lempira, who lead the resistance against foreign colonization efforts in the 1530s. 

Fishing was the main industry for many years on Roatan. It fueled its economy almost exclusively in the early days. Over time, the SCUBA industry and tourism, in general, have taken the lead of the primary industries on Roatan. Today, Roatan has two cruise ship terminals which receive cruise ships on a weekly basis and often multiple times each week. Roatan also has an international airport which is responsible for incoming tourist on a daily basis. Incoming flights arrive from several international and local airports.

Mahogany Bay was built in 2009 and it is owned and operated by Carnival Cruise Lines. The Port of Roatan is located near downtown Coxen Hole. The Port of Roatan opened in 2007 and it partially owned by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

The busy season for cruise arrivals on Roatan is between November and April. During these months, cruise ships come on five or six times each week. There are days in which Roatan experiences the arrival of four ships on the same day. The large influx of tourist makes for good business, and it keeps the island vibrant. Unfortunately, Roatan's infrastructure isn't able to sustain this many visitors sustainably. Roatan is under constant public and political pressure to invest and grow its infrastructure. Most of these travelers visit the West Bay and West End areas. Some also visit the area of French Harbour. Few venture to Roatan's East End. 

Local Government 

Roatan Island has two municipalities. The municipality of Santos Guardiola encompasses everything on the East End, which is understood to be everything east of First Bight, which is home to the Parrot Tree Plantation. The municipality of Roatan includes everything west of First Bight. The Santos Guardiola municipality offices are located in Oak Ridge. Coxen Hole is home of Roatan's municipality, and it is also considered the capital of the Bay Islands. 


Socioeconomic Characterization

Roatan's Culture 

Roatan is arguably the most diverse community in Honduras. The heritage of those living on Roatan ranges from expats from Italy, Europe, Canada, and the United States. There are also the mestizo Indians native to the island and the mainland. There is also a strong Black Carib community knowns as the Garifuna People. Still more, there are many residents from various Latin American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, and Nicaragua to mention just a few. 

Look no further than the common last names found on Roatan and the name of streets, buildings, and towns. They all reflect the Spanish, British, Carib, and mestizo heritage of the Roatan Community. Even the names of local flora and fauna reflect this heritage. You'll hear of names like, Jonesville, Oak Ridge, Port Royal, Los Fuertes, La Colonia, and Sandy Bay. All of which can trace their heritage to the early visitors to Roatan. Roatan offers an amazing international vide and its readily seen during large gatherings in places like West End, Punta Gorda, and West Bay. 


The population that inhabits the department of Bay Islands - because of its historical tradition is comprised of a variety of cultures, identities, and livelihoods which characterize these islands. These ethnic groups in the area are the Garifuna, the Afro-British, the Ladinos, the Mestizos, the British Whites, and others foreigners. "The Garífuna Community also known as the black Caribs and Garinagu, originated in San Vicente soon after the conquest of Central America, South America and the Lesser Antilles. Descendants of the Carib peoples, Arawakas and black Africans, who arrived on the island fleeing slavery. Traditionally, the Garífunas built their communities on resources provided by the sea. The Garifuna were also dedicated to agricultural activities. Women lead these types of economic activity and were mainly engaged in planting rice and cassava. Fishing is also a cultural-economic practice of the Garifuna in the Bay islands. 


The Department of Bay Islands is composed of three islands (Guanaja, Utila, & Roatan) and several cays and islets. The area is abundant in natural wealth and resources in regards to both its marine and terrestrial attributes. In addition to environmental wealth, these islands possess an abundant cultural wealth, thanks to the different populations that inhabit the islands. The Roatan Marine Park and the surrounding area known as the Bay Islands Marine Park (Parque National Marino de las Islas de la Bahia "PNMIB"), is comprised of 12 nautical miles around these islands. And although it is a marine park, the following chapter will include socioeconomic characteristics of the populations that inhabit the islands and that interact directly with this protected area. Historically, these islands have been inhabited by diverse ethnic groups with an identity and life that have a close link with the natural environment that surrounds them. In the pre-Columbian phase, according to the archaeological record, in the Bay Islands, there is evidence of material culture (sites, traits, and vestiges) which are manifestations of the Paya or Pech culture that resided in these sectors. After the Colonial period, the process of settlement and settlement in the Bay Islands is marked by the arrival of diverse cultures, that to date, make up a cultural mosaic that characterizes the towns as being multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural. 


The Afro-English ethnic group was established in the Bay Islands at the end of the colonial period. They are called creoles or blacks of English speaking. They call themselves this because of their origin and intercultural adaptation. The culture of the people of The Bay Islands (historically known as Bay people) can trace its origins to the English slaves. The speaking characteristics of their English dialect can be traced to the Western Caribbean. They practice a Christian-evangelical religion and self-identify with the Anglo-American culture of the Caribbean contemporary.

Ladino Natives

The Ladinos, are an important group within the life and history of The Bay Islands. The Ladinos arrived in the area because of their work in the fisheries and tourism sectors; the Ladinos dominate certain recent economic sectors such as transport by taxis, street vending, and garbage collection. Migration has been a constant factor all throughout the history of the peoples of The Bay Islands.  But in recent years, there has been a growing immigration of Europeans and Americans to the Islands because of the beautiful landscapes and summer homes. Tourism and business possibilities are also attractions for prospective expats from all over the world. 

English Speaking Whites

English-speaking whites are among the most influential group. Whites have the means of production, semi-industrial fishing vessels, investments in tourism, and they bring along a great deal of know-how to business practices. 

Language in Roatan 

Language is without a doubt an interesting cultural experience and component in Roatan. While Spanish is the official language, English is spoken universally. Roatan Islanders speak a Creole English. This broken English gets its roots in French, english, and Spanish as well as a few words unique to the Garifuna culture. But if spoken slow enough, English speakers can come to understand what is being said. 

You do not need to speak Spanish to live and get around Roatan. However, much of the local people (taxi drivers, household staff, and government officials) all are primarily Spanish speakers. By contrast, hotel employees, beach vendors, many taxi drivers, tour guides, restaurant personnel, and young middle or upper-class residents are bilingual. Most of the islanders are bilingual. But there are many residents who have moved from the mainland who do not speak English. 

History of Roatan 

Both the Spanish and the English fought for the colonization and control of Roatan with neither party every settling on Roatan permanently. Yet both the English and the Spanish influenced the culture, language, and heritage we see on Roatan today. 

The history of Roatan is filled with stories of colonizing, enslavement, liberating, and ultimately settlements. The historic record has the Paya Indian living on Roatan and trading with the mainland. The record is also clear that Europeans traveled to Roatan and enslaved many of the locals. Roatan evolved into a semi-nomadic culture which produced ceramic items known today as "yoba ding dings." The arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1502 marks the deterioration and almost extinction of the island natives. 

Roatan and the surrounding Bay Islands where contest grounds for battles between the British and the Spanish crowns. A mirage of buccaneers and pirates found refuge in Roatan natural and well-protected harbors. Over time, these harbor communities made for a perfect location from which to raid passing cargo ships filled with goods, supplies, and some even came with teasures. 

Reportedly, in 1638 the first British settlement was established by William Claiborne. This settlement was located in what is now Port Royal, on Roatan's southeastern coast. By the year 1642, the colony was settled by residents that dabbled in raiding and pirating Spanish vessels. Because of these raids, spanish ships retaliated in 1650 and destroyed most of the Port Royal settlement. The Spanish chose not to establish a permanent settlement on Roatan. 

Re-Building Port Royal

In 1742 another British settlement came about to rebuild the fort at Port Royal. The current towns of Oak Ridge and Coxen Hole were also settled early on and then went on to grow into what we see today. The Port Royal fort lies in ruins today with only a few residents living in the surrounding area. 

By the year 1788, it is reported that the English had completely left Roatan yet again. They were reported ousted by several Spanish attacks. 

One other important note in History, in 1797 the British defeated the Black Carib on St. Vincent Island. Soon after, the British removed approximately 5,000 of their now defeated enemies and sent them to Roatan. A small portion of these settled in what is now Punta Gorda and home of the Garifuna People. The rest of these settled on the mainland of Honduras, in Trujillo. 

Punta Gorda became the first permanent settlement on Roatan after the Paya Indian population became extinct. The Black Caribs are known as the Garifuna

Most of the established families and residents of today came later through a strong migration from the Cayman Islands. This migration occurred after the British abolished slavery in 1838. Many of the family names on Roatan are similar or the same as the last names of families living on the Cayman Islands. 

Over time, Caymanians became the largest demographic on Roatan, and they shaped the culture of the island. This group changed the cultural and economic course of Roatan as well. 

The British briefly claimed the Bay Islands as their own in 1850 but ultimately ceded the territory to Honduras in the 1860s. After the Bay Islands become part of Honduras, the population on Roatan continued to grow. The Honduras influence gave way to a Spanish speaking mestizo on Roatan. These groups settled firstly along the southern shores of Roatan, in Coxen Hole and Los Fuertes. Tourism has always been a part of Roatan. By the late 21st century, Roatan had become an economic interest for expatriates from all over the world. Expats moved to Roatan gradually and had contributed greatly to Roatan's organization, development, know-how, and industrial growth.