Historically, Roatan was a safe harbor for pirates. It’s rumored that, to this day, there is still hidden treasure buried on and around the island.
When Nate and I were first married in 2005, we thought that if we could make it to our tenth anniversary then we would deserve to celebrate, with friends and family flying to a tropical island to celebrate a renewal of our vows.
Time flew. Ten years and three kids later, we no longer felt the need for a big celebration. Instead, we wanted a quiet vacation just for the two of us.
Through work, Nate had racked up enough airline miles that we could fly to almost anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. We knew we wanted to go somewhere hot, near the ocean and inexpensive. We looked at deals on cruises and all-inclusives but nothing felt right.
I had always heard stories about the trip that Nate’s family took to Roatan, so when he suggested going there, I thought it sounded perfect. We reserved our plane tickets and booked a place on AirBnB. Two months later, we left the kids with my sweet sister and headed for the island.
Looking out the window, as we flew into Roatan, we saw the blue water, the white sand beaches and the vibrant green foliage. We knew that we had made the right decision. This place was paradise!
Stepping off the plane, onto the hot tarmac, we were reminded what it meant to be on a Caribbean island. The clothes we had worn on the plane had kept us warm but now we found ourselves at the back of the serpentine customs line in the hot and humid Caribbean air.
Two hours later, we stepped through the front door of the airport and found a taxi. A local man, the driver delivery us wide-eyed but safely to our hotel. He left his card and told us to call him when we needed a ride back to the airport.
We stayed at Hotel Chillies in West End. The garden cabin that we had reserved was back away from the road, down a path, past the main house, past the mango trees, beyond the communal kitchen and past a few other similar cabins. Our cabin consisted of one room with two full beds and a small table; through a curtain was a toilet, sink and shower; and on the front porch was a hammock, just right for enjoying long, hot Caribbean days.
At night, we listened to geckos singing and watched their silhouettes run across our ceiling in the moonlight. A few nights, we felt the cooler breeze that comes in with the storms, blowing in through the wood-slat windows and heard the song of the rain and wind.
Sand and Surf
Over the next week, we spent our days relaxing and exploring and generally enjoying ourselves.
Each morning would grab some breakfast and head out to explore. The first few days, we explored the town. Walking up and down the one and only road that was lined with restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops and dive shops.
We learned very quickly that Roatan has sand fleas and mosquitoes that can eat a person alive! We mostly kept the mosquitoes away with bug spray but bug spray doesn’t help with the sand fleas. The trick is to slather your legs, knee high, with oil. That way, when the flies try to bite, they drown in it.
The ocean was across the street from our hotel. Easy access to the beach and water was a requirement for this vacation. We laid on the beach and soaked up the sun. When we got too hot, we jumped in the water and swam, back to the sand, then water, and back and forth.
When we got tired of being in the sun, we would head back to our cabin. Nate would grab his snorkeling gear and I would lay in the hammock, either for a nap or to read my book, whatever my little heart desired.
We took three days to explore the rest of the island.
Water Taxi- We hired a water taxi to take us to West Bay. It was a beautiful ride, motoring around the island. It was a sunny, clear day and we could see everything around. When we got to West Bay, we went to find some lunch and then headed back to the ocean.
We spent the afternoon snorkeling and laying around. I’m not much of a snorkeler. I just can’t dive down very far before needing to come back up to the surface for air. So I spend most of my time on the surface. Nate, on the other hand, could snorkel all day. He was born to be in the water.
This was my first time being in Caribbean water and the colors were so bright and vibrant! Even from the top, the view was spectacular!
When snorkeling, Nate and I both like to take our time and look at all the life under the water. We look in the cracks and crevices. Nate’s got a great breath hold, so he likes diving down and looking under rocks and shells. We run our fingers through the sand to find what’s hiding underneath. Sometimes, we get startled by something living in the shadows but have yet to feel threatened.
After our time in the water, we took a snack break on the beach. We finished the day with Nate snorkeling some more and me kicking back with my book.
Scooter- We talked to some of the locals and asked them where we could really do some exploring. Then, we rented a scooter and took off for the day. We headed to a place where we heard that you could still find some ancient pottery shards. We found the beginning of the trail and started hiking. It seemed like we were going further than we were told to but we hadn’t found anything, so we kept going.
Interesting fact, Nate is terrified of spiders! And hiking through the jungle of Roatan, there were some gigantic spiders. We tried to stay out of the overgrown areas but sometimes it was unavoidable. Climbing up and down the sides of hills, there wasn’t always a trail to follow.
We finally found a trail again and at the end was the most picturesque, hidden cove. There was not a soul around. We ran down to the water and spent a few hours in this protected haven. We had contests to see who could swim the furthest, past the point where the waves came crashing in. Nate was overwhelmingly the victor. We got some scrapes as the waves pushed us into the rocks and coral. Still, we had a blast being careless and irresponsible.
Finally, we decided to head back to the scooter. We made the mistake of not reapplying bug spray after swimming for hours. Halfway back to the scooter I realized every inch of my exposed skin was covered in mosquitoes! We ran back as fast as our legs could carry us.
Back on the scooter, we started aimlessly driving around the island. We drove through jungle, past immaculately manicured resorts and through villages with no other tourists.
At one point we drove past a garbage dump, where there were makeshift dwellings amid the trash and people sifting through, trying to find anything that could still be useful. When we travel to other places and see this kind of poverty, it always makes me so grateful for all that I have and to realize how blessed I am to be able to travel to new places and see new things!
Scuba-Diving- The day before we were going to be leaving our paradise, we decided it was time to go scuba diving. Nate and I love diving but can rarely go where we live in Idaho and knew we had to take advantage of being on the world’s second largest reef.
We went with a group from one of the many dive shops in West End. It was my first wreck dive. Before going to Roatan I had not been diving for seven years. When I first got under the water and started breathing I had a small panic and had to come back to the surface to get my breathing back to normal. That’s never happened to me before, so I told myself that I was fine. I had done this dozens of times before. That I was going to have an amazing time! I went back under the water and comfortably followed the group.
When we got to the wreck, we were able to look and move around freely. As this was my first wreck, it was especially great being able to see a whole, old boat 50 feet under the ocean. We looked in and around. We saw hundreds of colorful fish and rays.
The weather was stormy above but there we were, in a magical, peaceful world under the sea.
The island is made up of a mixture of people who are native to the island and people from mainland Honduras who came for work. The official language of the island is English and there is an island feel. It also has a lot of influence from Honduras, which gives it a good blend of Caribbean and Latin America.
Nate is a talker and loves to joke around with people. So we make friends everywhere we go. We got to know the people who ran the “grocery stores”, the water taxi driver, the makers of the baleadas that we loved so much, the lady who made me banana pancakes, the little girl selling bracelets that her family had made, and many other tourists.
We made friends with a lady from The States who had been living on Roatan for 10 years and ran a used book store.
Each morning found us visiting the restaurant in front of our hotel, where we ate the best breakfast baleadas! The two ladies who ran the food stand always had their children there with them and we had fun entertaining these little ones.
We spent a morning on the beach with a couple from The Sates who were spending their retirement sailing around the Caribbean, going from one island to the next, wherever the wind blew them.
On the front porch of the main house of our hotel, there were a few hammocks and benches where we would hang out in the evenings after dinner and got to know many other tourists/backpackers staying there.
We met a family from Ukraine who had been traveling around Central America for six months and were planning to keep going for another six months. It was because of them that we truly began to see the possibilities of traveling with our family. We still stay in touch with them.
Time to Say Good-Bye to Roatan
The morning of departure day, we took one last walk through town. We bought hand-made bracelets for ourselves, our kids and my sister. I bought a pair of hand-made leather flip flops and a pair of seashell earrings for Hadley.
We tried some papaya ice that we had been looking at all week. We should have kept looking, it turns out Nate and I don’t like papaya ice.
Too soon, it was time to say good-bye to some of the new friends we had made. It’s amazing how much more friendly and open you can be when you’re out of your comfort zone, without friends and family to lean on.
We called our friend, the taxi driver, and headed back to the airport.
While waiting at the airport and feeling hungry, we realized that we should have gotten one last Baleada. Instead, we settled for expensive, crappy airport food.
As the airplane took off, we looked back, knowing that we would be back. Next time we would be coming as a family, to show our children one more beautiful, laid-back, yet adventurous place in our world.