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One of the best ways to see Roatan is to explore the island by car. Outside of the bustling tourist zones on the western side of the island you can find locals living the same way they did before Roatan became a hot spot destination.
Driving in Roatan requires attention, people dart on and off of the road, while taxis are blissfully unaware of the other cars. Fear not, there is only one road that runs the length of the island, so it’s nearly impossible to get lost as long as you stay on the same path.
A different and more authentic side of the island of Roatan
The east end of the island has a gradual shift in greenery as you head away from the western side. Palm trees and coconut trees give way to pines and fruit trees such as avocado, hog plum and papaya. As you begin to climb the center ridge of the island, you can stop in certain places and see down both sides of the cliff, giving you a rare view of both the north and south shores of the island at once.
As you pass French Harbor, the shipping and fishing commercial center of the island, you’ll find that the communities are much smaller and more traditional. There are no American grocery stores out here – many people live off the land. If you’re lucky, you might catch someone grating coconuts by hand to make oil or cookies.
A legendary east end Roatan restaurant not to miss is Temporary Cal’s Cantina, located near Parrot Tree Plantation in First Bight. Known to locals simply as Cal’s, this place is perched high up on the island’s central ridge and looks out over three bights on the south shore. You won’t find a restaurant with a better view. Quirky staff serves consistently delicious texmex-island fusion food at affordable prices. Ask Chef Carl about the name!
An encounter with the Garifuna
Be sure to make a stop in Punta Gorda, which is a traditional village that was the original Garifuna settlement on the island. It has grown into a vibrant local community eager to show its special customs, food (try the machuca soup or a whole fried fish!), drumming and dance, colorful clothes and their own language. If you visit on a Sunday, you’ll likely find lively games of dominoes happening at beachfront restaurants. The whole town heads to church together in the late morning and early evening. I always make it a point to stop in Oak Ridge, known as the ‘Venice of Roatan’ with its colorful houses on stilts over the water and mangrove forests with tunnels carved out from Roatan’s pirate days.
If the feeling for adventure has struck, make a plan to head to Camp Bay Adventure Lodge, where you can try kitesurfing, this is the only place on the island where you can try this activity and is only available during the windy time of year, so give them a call before you head out. If you’re looking for relaxation, the beach at the lodge is a fantastic place to enjoy Roatan’s sandy beaches and sparkling warm water.
The end of the road
The paved road gives way to a gravel road the further east you go. Depending on the day and time, you might find the road stops at a large closed gate and you have no option but to turn back. Other times you might find the gate open, and you’ll end up at the very end of the island. Old Port Royal and New Port Royal are tiny villages located at the end of the road. The road ends a few feet from the sea, and you’ll meet a quiet and calm ocean in the protected bay. Head out on the dock and enjoy the view at the tip of the island…the end of the road.
Find an Air Transat flight to Roatan and start exploring this unique island.
Cover photo credit: Rika Purdy