Everything You Need to Know About Roatán
The verdant, jungle-covered hills of Roatán rise suddenly from the vivid blue sea. It’s a tropical paradise…without the high costs you might expect from a Caribbean destination.
These days a small but active group of retirees and other expats live on this long and narrow island, whose total population is about 80,000.
They share 32 square miles of white-sand beaches, undeveloped natural areas, funky tourist-oriented beach towns, traditional fishing villages, bustling market towns, and more.
When talking about Roatán, it’s important to understand the different lifestyles and characteristics of each section, as it changes along its 48 miles of length (it’s five miles across at its widest).
The west side of the island, including communities like West End and West Bay, is the most developed and most frequented by tourists. Go to the middle of the island and you have larger towns like French Harbour and Coxen Hole. Most expats don’t live here. But with hospitals and medical clinics, banks, larger grocery stores, hardware stores, government offices and other services, they often visit to run errands.
The farther you go east, there’s less development. Here you have mostly seaside villages. Expat communities tend to be small, with homes on the hillside overlooking the water, or on a stretch of virtually private beach. It is quieter and isolated out east, with the nearest sizable settlement a 30- to 45-minute drive away.
Part of the country of Honduras, Roatán—which is 30 miles offshore—is world’s away from the mainland. Although Honduras is Spanish-speaking and it is spoken on the island, English is also widely used thanks to its historical link to England (it was once a British colony).
Retire in Roatán
If you’re searching for a warm-weather climate, a lower cost of living, slower pace, surrounded by natural beauty…with plenty of services and amenities, retirement on Roatán could be worth a closer look.
It’s easy to make the place your full-time home. A residence visa for retirees, known as the pensionado, requires only $1,500 in income for life from Social Security, a pension or some other similar guaranteed source. This covers the applicant and a spouse as a dependent.
An international airport, with direct flights every day to multiple destinations in the U.S. and Canada, means getting to and from home (or having visitors come down) is easy.
You’ll find multiple housing options on the island, from lots to homes to condos. Ready to build lots on the water go for around $100,000, or a lot with a sea view will start from $50,000. Beachfront condos—one- and two-bedrooms—can be found for under $200,000, while hilltop homes with panoramic views of the surrounding jungle-covered hills and Caribbean start from $150,000. And if you’re a boater, you even have the option of getting a boat-access only home for under $200,000.
As far as grocery shopping, you have plenty of choices here. A local grocery store chain has plenty of items imported from Europe and North America. And a specialty market stocks good wine and gourmet meats, cheeses, and more. You’ll have to do without some favorite items from the U.S., but a lot of the time these can be substituted with domestic brands.
Lifestyle in Roatán
As an island, it’s no surprise that life on Roatán revolves around the beach and the Caribbean.
It’s a haven for scuba divers, with sections of the Meso-American Reef, which is the world’s second largest, just offshore (it surrounds much of the island). Take a boat a few minutes from the shore and see dozens of species of tropical fish, sea turtles, coral in a rainbow of colors, and more underwater wonders. You can even snorkel from right off the beach in some spots, including the famed West Bay beach.
Roatán is the perfect place for an active retirement in many other ways too. The boating is excellent, with plenty of smaller islands in the surrounding area to visit. And, of course, just spending an afternoon on the clear turquoise water is nice too. If you fish, you’ll be in heaven. Snapper, wahoo, tuna, and more are abundant in these waters.
But watersports aren’t the only thing to do. If you prefer to relax in the shade, with your toes in the sand, there are dozens of beaches to enjoy. Some are virtually deserted. Some might have one little beach restaurant. Some are residential and virtually private—but it’s a quick walk for you if you live in the community.
Others, like West Bay and West End, are packed with people, with resorts, condos, beach bars, and vendors abundant, with a soundtrack of Latin music and reggae.
Cost of Living in Roatán
A retired couple can expect to spend about $2,000 to $2,500 a month for all their needs on Roatán.
Let’s start with housing. Rents start at about $500 a month for an apartment or condo within walking distance of the beach. You’ll pay around $800 to $1,000 for something right on the water. Homes—two or three bedrooms—with views or close to the beach will run you $1,000 and up. These prices are for long-term arrangements generally, where you’ll sign a lease of three months or more.
If you’re renting short term, rates will generally be higher during the “high season” (December to April) . Also because of limited housing stock it can be hard to find a rental, especially during high season. It’s best to find and reserve something as early as possible.
Renting or buying a home in such a beautiful location in Roatán is a fraction of what you pay in North America or other Caribbean islands. But the lower cost of living is seen in your everyday expenses, too. Local restaurants offer delicious and filling meals for around $6 a plate. Beers are $2.
But this is an island, and everything is imported. So you won’t find bargain prices on these items. Expect to pay U.S. prices for staples at the grocery store. Also, top quality fresh fruits and vegetables (at least what isn’t growing on your property), though cheap at local markets, are more difficult to come by.
You can get fresh off the boat fish (snapper, tuna, and mahi mahi, for example) and lobster for a fraction of what you’d pay in the U.S. or Canada. And the fisherman might be your neighbor!
Here’s an example of a monthly budget for a couple living on Roatán:
|Rent (two-bedroom apartment)||$1,000|
|Gas & Water||$40|
|Cell Phones (2)||$50|
|Groceries & Household Items||$300|
|Streaming Media Accounts||$45|
Weather in Roatán
by Don Murray
The weather in Roatan is boring. And by boring, I mean it is almost perfect every day. With temperatures ranging from about 75 F in the winter months and climbing into the low 90s F in the heat of the summer, your need for clothing is minimal. A few pairs of shorts, a handful of tops, and some rubber flip-flops fills out the wardrobe of most island dwellers. In fact, I met some folks whose normal attire is a swimsuit every day.
Roatan may arguably enjoy the best weather in the Caribbean as it lies just south and west of the major hurricane highway. It escapes the guiding air currents that direct these huge storms toward other Caribbean islands. In fact, statistically, Roatan has only been impacted by hurricanes about once every 25 to 26 years.
Roatan is a beautiful, rolling verdant island with lush green jungles covering peaks and valleys and flowing across hillsides. Naturally, such dense vegetation could not exist without sufficient rain. The rainy period on Roatan begins in October and ends in January with the heaviest rains falling in November and December.
Travelers and especially divers can take advantage of the rainy season to score for some lower rates in hotels and Airbnb rentals. You may save as much as 10% to 20% during this time. If you are planning to spend much of your vacation diving underwater anyway, the rain won’t matter much, right? And full-time residents appreciate the rain and understand its importance.
Like other tropical locations, exposure to the sun needs to be monitored and sun screen is mandatory to reduce the chances of skin problems later. Local residents tend to spend much of their time outdoors so being mindful of sun exposure is important.
Diving on Roatán
Roatan is a world-class SCUBA and snorkeling destination. Flippered enthusiasts from across the globe, flock to Roatan for its nearly perfect diving conditions. The world’s second-largest reef system lies just offshore and slipping beneath the surface is like immersing yourself into an immense tropical aquarium. From my beachfront resort on the west end of the island, I simply waded, waist deep, into the gin-clear water and found myself surrounded by large schools of rainbow-infused fish and sprays of purple fan coral clinging to coral heads. I even saw a Moray eel guarding the entrance to her home.
The west side of the island is almost always perfectly calm as it is sheltered from the prevailing trade winds. Roatan is the perfect place to learn to dive. The water is warm and crystal-clear without dangerous currents to complicate things.
Local resorts and dive centers normally offer introductory lessons and the prices are hard to beat. For about $110, most dive centers offer some type of introductory class. Usually, these classes provide a four-hour session under the close, direct supervision of a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified instructor.
You will start out on the dock with a briefing about the gear, safety rules, and underwater behavior (some instructors/schools will use a pool). Then, you will move into waist deep water, kneel down and experience your first underwater breaths. Next, you’ll head to a shallow, confined water area to practice skills and add confidence and control, followed by a short swim around the area. At this point you will be ready to go diving. You will usually board a small boat for the ride to the nearby reef where you will follow an anchored line up and down a few times, getting more comfortable. At the end of four hours, you will be swimming freely about the confined area.
If you are like most and want to continue into the open water certification phase, that usually takes an additional two days and costs about $400 dollars. But don’t forget that you will almost always receive credit for the money you spent on your introductory dive.
Those interested can find more information at www.roatanclearwater.com
How to Get to Roatán:
Once on Roatan, you can immediately feel the island vibe soothing your soul as the fresh, salt air cleanses away the stress of the mainland life you left behind. But that first breath of sea air is going to cost you. Getting to Roatan is no bargain…unless of course you happen to find a great airfare deal somewhere. Normally, a roundtrip flight from any of the major hubs will run from $750 to $1,100. I did find two tickets on one site for about $550 but the routing was painful.
Both Miami and Houston offer direct flights with several carriers but most flights have one stop before landing at Coxen Hole airport on Roatan. U.S. citizens can travel with a passport without the need to apply for a special visa. Those seeking permanent residency must make an application according to Honduran regulations.
Roatan has become extremely popular as a dive destination and the small airport at Coxen Hole services thousands of passengers each week. Sometimes, three airliners arrive, one after another, and the small customs and immigration processing area becomes backlogged. It can take an hour or more to clear processing so bring plenty of patience with you.
5 Great Reasons to Move to Roatán
by Jason Holland
Little Roatán has its share of visitors. In high season, during the North American winter, it hosts multiple cruise ships each day. About a million tourists come each year, drawn by the tropical beach fun, world-class scuba diving, and relaxed attitude.
Still, it gets a fraction of the visitors that you would see in other Caribbean destinations and much of the development is small-scale and manageable. It’s low-key and a bit rough around the edges—which makes it fun (and still perfectly safe).
But this island, 48 miles long and about five miles at its widest, off mainland Honduras, is also a great place to live long-term. The retirees and other expats who have made it their home (joining the 80,000 or so Hondurans and native islanders there too) have found a great quality of life, with a low cost of living, warm weather year-round, that classic “island” vibe and tropical atmosphere, great restaurants, white-sand beaches, modern conveniences like high-speed internet, and, with the opening of a new hospital, good quality medical care.
There is so much that makes Roatán special. But here are five of the reasons you might want to make it your home.
1. It Has a Natural Beauty
When you approach Roatán from the mainland by sea or from the air, it’s a striking sight. Verdant jungle-covered mountains and rolling hills rise from the spine of the island.
Get up close to see the details and it’s even more beautiful, especially along the coastal areas. Picture white-sand beaches lined with palm trees, surrounded by a sea of azure, impossibly clear water.
Or head to the highlands. From the top of the hills you have the perfect vantage point to gaze upon the slopes that cascade down to the water and lead out to the huge reef that encircles the island.
2. It’s the Perfect Place to Get in/on the Water
Visitors were first drawn to Roatán because the world’s second largest barrier reef is just a quick boat ride offshore. It offers some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities in the world, and there are many dive shops where you can rent and buy gear. If you’re an expat living on Roatán, you can get the local’s discount—with dive tours (boat, dive master, equipment, and everything included) for $25.
Boating around Roatán and nearby islands is also popular, as is fishing. Tarpon, bonefish, snapper, lobster, wahoo, and more are abundant in the surrounding water.
3. The Laidback Lifestyle
Roatán is the place many envision when they hear Jimmy Buffet singing about one of his tropical paradises. In communities like West End and West Bay, beach bars line the water, offering tasty cocktails and cold beers with views of the Caribbean. No shirt, no shoes…no problem.
And the laidback feeling isn’t just in those areas. Everywhere on Roatán runs on island time. Nobody is in a rush. It’s relaxed and casual. Sandals and shorts are the uniform—even for nice dinners out. And if you see a friend or neighbor out and about…you’ll always stop to chat.
4. You Can Find Good Value Real Estate
Homes, condos, and ready-to-build lots on Roatán are much more affordable than what you can get on other Caribbean islands. Consider beachfront lots in established developments for under $100,000. Go inland a bit, but still a quick walk to the water, and you could pay half that.
Homes on the water, built to North American standards, can be had from $200,000. And if you’d rather get a lock-and-leave condo in a resort-style community on something like popular West Bay beach, you can get a one-bedroom unit for well under $200,000.
Many homes offer water access too, whether it’s a community marina or dock, or even a private dock. Some homes are even boat access only—the ultimate in privacy.
5. There’s an Active Expat Community
There’s always something going on here. You can find live music, often from expat musicians, at bars and restaurants in places like West End and Sandy Bay. Watching sunset with a cold beer in hand and surrounded by friends old and new is practically mandatory. And there are plenty of dinners out, sailboat trips, parties, and other get-togethers.
But it’s not all about partying. Expats on Roatán also give back. When you fly in you’ll see volunteers, mostly retirees, helping confused tourists get through the customs and immigration area of the airport. You can also work with local school kids doing sports activities or teaching English. Animal rescue is another opportunity, as is working in a health clinic that provides low-cost care for those in need.
A Love Affair with the Honduran Island of Roatán
by Amanda Walkins
It isn’t hard to understand the love affair expats have with the little island that I’m happy to call home: the blue skies and turquoise seas, the endless sunshine, and lush, jungle-covered hills.
It’s a love affair that continues to suck more North Americans and Europeans into its vortex. Those expats who live on the island of Roatán, Honduras will tell you they couldn’t stand another harsh winter, or another day in their fluorescently lit office, or yet another advertisement telling them what else is missing in their lives. Roatán offers an escape from all that.
I made my escape two years ago. Do you want to know how many times I’ve regretted it since? Not once. Not when the polar vortex hit North America, not when the iPhone 6 came out and people waited in line for hours to be the first to buy it.
Instead of spending my life waiting in line for the next best thing, I spend it soaking up the sunshine and salt air, reading in my hammock on the beach, watching the sunset over the water, and chatting with friends and strangers alike.
When is the last time you went to a restaurant and didn’t see people sitting at the same table but paying attention to their phones instead of their friends or family? You almost never see that here—we live in the present. We don’t spend our money on gadgets, but on experiences. Maybe that’s why life is so affordable—we don’t waste money on things. Rather, we enjoy the experiences of lounging at a seaside bar to watch the sunset and perhaps spend $2 on a local beer to cool us down from the day’s sunshine.
We don’t spend tons on rent either. Even living right on the beach won’t cost you an arm and a leg here. My two-bedroom, beachfront apartment runs me about $750 per month with all utilities included (including HBO, Showtime, and STARZ in my cable/Wi-Fi package that runs me $75 per month). I even pay for a maid service—something I never could have afforded back home.
Because of the low cost of living in Roatán, I have been able to purchase a scooter for transportation, as well as a small boat just for fun.
I also go out to eat several nights per week, share drinks with friends, and I regularly host barbecues at my house—all without flinching at the cost. And, no, neither I nor most of the expats living here are independently wealthy… Yet because of the low cost of living here, we not only get by—we enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle.
As I said, it certainly isn’t hard to understand the love affair expats have with this little island…