Roatan is part of the Bay Islands, which are located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Honduras. This island quickly became one of our favorite places in the world to unwind and we’ve been going back year after year. From Washington, D.C., it’s an easy flight to Miami (or Dallas) and then another short flight directly to Roatan. A 25 minute and $30 dollar taxi ride takes you from the airport to either of the two most popular spots on the island for vacationers, divers, and snorkelers: West Bay and West End. We’ll break down everything you need to know about both spots.
This is the beachiest vacationy spot on the island — but it still has a low-key, funky charm that you don’t get at a posh resort strip on other Caribbean islands. You’ll find quite a few small resorts and boutiques mixed with bungalows and lower-cost accommodations on a white-sand stretch of beach with world-class snorkeling and diving right from the shore. A little further from the main beach, you’ll find more vacation rentals for families.
Snorkeling: the warm and calm bath-like water is lovely and the coral can be explored just a few yards from the beach. The best snorkeling on the main beach is by the wall at Grand Roatan resort. Update: We had our best snorkeling actually in front of Infinity Bay, if you swim out a bit. Phenomenal! Just be really careful not to get into the boat traffic.
— Bananarama offers no-frills accommodations for a good price, as well as larger villas and bungalows. It also has a lively bar and a good breakfast.
— Grand Roatán is supposed to be luxurious, but we found it to be unimpressive for the price. Update: This property is now a Kimpton and just underwent a huge renovation and reopened in June 2023.
— Infinity Bay has a nice pool and a range of accommodations from studios to full condos—we prefer this to Grand Roatan. Update: In 2023, Infinity Bay got way more expensive than prior years, so we opted for Paradise Beach, which is close by.
— We also like West Bay Lodge, which is not on the beach but just a three minute walk to the beach (across the road from Bananarama) and is like a little bohemian oasis with a pool and really comfortable bungalows. You do have to walk either down a dirt road or up to Infinity Bay to access the beach, but this spot is perfect when we’re on a tight budget and the staff is so nice.
— There are some beautiful luxury resorts tucked away on the outskirts of West Bay (like the amazing Ibagari), but we like to be in the heart of everything — and they can get really buggy due to their location.
Dining: Argentinian Grill is our favorite spot for delicious seafood and steak dinners and a hearty breakfast, nice island ambiance and great service. Gula is hit or miss, but when it’s good it’s great—especially for the seafood. The Thirsty Turtle at Bananarama and the beach bar at Infinity Bay have great lunch options. There’s also an excellent wood-fire pizza place at Bananarama.
The downside to West Bay:
It’s touristy and expensive. When the cruise ships come in, the beach gets super crowded with vendors and tourists. There are some cheaper bars, however, on the walk to Gumbalimba.
The bottom line: If you want to be right on the beach, steps away from amazing snorkeling, and have lots of stuff to do, this is a great option.
We love both spots (and usually stay at both on each trip) but prefer West End. It has way less beach but is still on the water and has a happy little hippy vibe. There’s basically one main road that’s about a mile long with plenty of shops, bars, restaurants and dive shops. Your money will go way further here than at West Bay.
Snorkeling: Half Moon Bay at West End offers extraordinary snorkeling right from the shore. Some people like it better than West Bay and others don’t like it as much—either way though, it’s awesome. The water is deeper and there’s stronger swimming involved in Half Moon Bay than at West Bay. At first we thought there were less fish, but after exploring a bit, we found the place where they all hang out. If you’re facing the water, swim out and explore the left side. The coral here is outstanding, and you’ll find it after swimming through a bit of sea grass.
Accommodations: There are several low-cost options here.
— Mr. Tucan’s has affordable rooms in a perfect location for snorkeling and will set up loungers for you at Half Moon.
— Splash Inn is also close by and has excellent customer service. We rent a spacious condo at the Sunset Villas that was operated by Splash Inn. The condo was in a little community at the end of the main road. It had a community pool and includes daily breakfast and one snorkeling excursion in the price of the rental unit and costs way less than a basic unit at Infinity Bay or Grand Roatan at West Bay.
— We also fell in love with Cocolobo on our last trip to Roatan, which is an adorable and quiet lodge near Half Moon Bay that’s still walking distance to everything West End has to offer. You have to walk about 5-10 minutes off the beaten path, which may be an issue for solo travelers or those with mobility issues, but it was perfect for us to enjoy the ocean views in a quite and rustic location.
Dining: One of our favorite spots is on the second floor of the Beach House. The place has gorgeous views, amazing staff, and delicious food (the beet, feta, avocado salad is a must).
— Update: The Beach House went under a six month renovation and as of 2022 is absolutely outstanding for accommodations and the restaurant. This is the best place to stay and dine in West End. 💯
There’s also an Argentinian Grill that’s equally as good as the one on West Bay. The Sundowner is a great place for cheap happy hour drinks and amazing sunset views from the second floor. Also, the Thai Blue Elephant is really good and has lovely views of the water. You have to try one of the chicken places for budget-friendly local Caribbean/Honduran dishes. You cannot leave without trying baleadas!
The downside of West End: There’s not much beach and not as many accommodations have pools. So if you’re looking for an infinity pool overlooking the beach, you’ll probably prefer West Bay.
The bottom line: If you want a less crowded and touristy feel but still a laid-back vacation vibe with a bit of partying and great snorkeling and diving, West End is your spot.
The Good News
If you can’t decide between West Bay and West End, you can stay a few nights at each location or just pick one and take the water taxi back and forth. It’s about a 10 minute boat ride and the taxis run all day and night. If you stay at West End, you can go over to West Bay and rent lockers and have access to showers and beach chairs at Bananarama for cheap. Infinity Bay also offers day passes for a higher price (but they have a nice pool). We like to spend a few nights at West Bay and then make our way over to the West End. There are other parts of the island to explore (we’ve also stayed at Sandy Bay), but these are the most popular spots … for a reason.
If you’re into snorkeling, diving or just relaxing, you really can’t go wrong with either choice.
A Few Practical Tips
— Bring cash with you. While you can find ATMs on the island, they don’t always work or have money. You are better off bringing USD for taxis, tips, and some restaurants and bars. Sometimes you will actually get a better rate in USD than lempira (like for a taxi from the airport), but generally the conversion from stores and restaurants is accurate to the exchange rate (which is unusual in world travel). You can use credit cards at most hotels and hotel restaurants but you will need cash for some purchases.
— Follow general safety precautions. We truly relax every time we visit Roatan. The main strips at West Bay and West End feel safe, even at night. We also feel fine grabbing an official taxi from the airport rather than arranging transport in advance (though most accommodations will be happy to arrange for you). That being said, you should always follow general safety guidelines. We wouldn’t leave valuables on the beach or wander off alone at night or off the main drag. We also recommend taking a taxi or boat between beaches, rather than walking, because many of the roads are windy and don’t have good walking paths.
— Ask a local. People are so friendly on the island, and you’ll find a mix of locals from those born on Roatan or from mainland Honduras; expats from the U.S., Canada, and around the world; Creole, Garifuna, and other Caribbean cultures; and more. The diversity is one of the reasons we love Roatan so much.
Have you been to Roatan? Where do you like to stay? Let us know in the comments.