Expats are flocking to Roatan in growing numbers, and with good reason. Once referred to as the best-kept secret of the Caribbean, the island has now earned a place on several lists of top places to retire abroad, including International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index.
Expats reside in virtually all areas of the island. Stunning views, pleasant weather, and endless things to see and do can be found everywhere. There is no industry on the island, making for clean, fresh air.
In this post, we will examine three distinctly different choices of where to buy or build your dream home.
Then, we will point out a couple of places that are an integral part of life on the island, but not necessarily the best ones to set up home.
Three Places to Live in Roatan
1. West Bay/West End
West Bay and West End are the main tourist areas in Roatan. Both towns are situated, as their names suggest, at the west end of the island, where daily sunset-watching becomes addictive.
Trip Advisor’s list of the top 10 beaches in Central America rates West Bay Beach in Roatan as #1. Most of the larger resorts are located along this long stretch of powdery white sand. A by-law restricts the height of buildings on the island, so there are no high-rise hotels or apartment buildings to block your view. The beach is free, and chairs are available to rent.
From West Bay, a stroll along the sandy shoreline or a short ride in a modestly priced water taxi brings you to the funky seaside town of West End. The entire shoreline around Roatan is public, so you will never come across gates or fences blocking access like on some Caribbean islands.
Dive shops, deep-sea fishing charter companies, restaurants, bars, and appealing shops line the main drag. Many expats manage or work in these establishments and live in or just outside of town. Modestly priced apartments and houses are available to rent or buy. West End offers an active nightlife, with a wide range of musical entertainment.
The annual Catch and Release Fishing Tournament, held in September, is a popular West End event.
2. French Harbour
For many expats, the gated communities in and around French Harbour deliver a suitable secure lifestyle. Located mid-island, the town is a thriving business center. Here you will find many of the larger and more modern grocery and hardware stores, pharmacies, and banks, as well as a wide range of restaurants. Most of the medical centers and modern hospitals are in French Harbour.
Gated communities on both the north and south coasts offer gorgeous beaches, swimming pools, restaurants, and bars. The mid-island location is ideal. Since the island is only 48 miles long, it is a short drive in either direction.
The Black Pearl golf course at The Infinity Resort in Pristine Bay is in French Harbour. The 18-hole, par-72, 7,200-yard championship golf course was created by Pete Dye, who designed several state-of-the-art golf courses around the world.
The Pineapple Villas, also in French Harbour, is a Clarion Suites Hotel and a popular expat hangout. Both the Pineapple Grill Steakhouse and Herby’s Sports Bar offer air-conditioned indoor seating and outdoor patios with a stunning view of the south shore.
Herby’s, known as the best sports bar in Honduras, if not Central America, includes a large memorabilia museum. Thirty-four HD TVs surround the restaurant. An arena-style suspended scoreboard hangs from the ceiling in the middle of the room. Sports fans can watch any game or sporting event you can think of. Live musical entertainment, karaoke, and poker nights are also big draws for the expat community.
Arch’s Iguana Farm and Marine Park will feature on any list of things to do in French Harbour. Visitors get a big kick out of having their pictures taken with monkeys, sloths, and birds at the “Monkey & Sloth Sanctuary” and with hundreds of iguanas of all sizes.
3. Venice of the Caribbean
The stretch of south-shore, sea-side communities from Blue Rock to Calabash Bight has earned this nickname and is home to many of Roatan’s expats. A well-protected series of waterways connect Blue Rock, Jonesville, Oak Ridge, Pandy Town, Fiddler’s Bight, Calabash Bight, and Lost Isles.
The bights (bays) on the south shore provide excellent protection from the open sea. Fleets of lobster and shrimp boats call these quaint fishing villages home. Colorful homes, built on stilts high above the water, are dwarfed by the ships moored out front. Tourists trek from the west end of the island to explore this unique area.
Long dories, fitted with sunshades and thatched roofs, chug at a leisurely pace, ferrying tourists through crystal clear water, under footbridges, and through mangrove channels. To the south, just beyond the reef, is the Caribbean Sea. On a clear day, the giant peaks of mountains on the Honduran mainland are visible in the distance.
The social scene is a busy one, with daily events held at local venues. Restaurants and bars are built on stilts over the water, adding to the ambiance. The expat community in this area is a close one. Meeting friends and neighbors when you venture out provides a strong feeling of belonging.
Two popular marinas provide a safe base for visiting cruisers. Jonesville Point Marina hosts a fishing tournament each year around Easter.
Two Places to Avoid in Roatan
1. Coxen Hole
Before March 2020, most of the tourists visiting the island arrived on cruise ships. Both cruise ship terminals are located in Coxen Hole, the capital of Roatan. For many, this is the first and perhaps the only part of the island they see.
The narrow city streets are lined with small shops, banks, government buildings, restaurants, and bars. Traffic is busy and unless shopping for something unavailable elsewhere, many expats avoid Coxen Hole.
2. Downtown French Harbour
Not to be confused with the newer areas in French Harbour, which many expats call home, the older, downtown area, often referred to as French Harbour Cay, is not as popular.
Home to a large fleet of shrimp and lobster boats, “the cay” is an integral part of the island economy. Two popular restaurants draw both tourists and expats.
Romeo’s, known for excellent seafood, pasta, and pizza, draws locals, tourists, and expats to the downtown area. The view of the sea from the open-air dining area creates a comfortable atmosphere, and the service is impeccable.
Another downtown favorite is Gio’s restaurant, an island icon that serves a unique blend of Honduran, Caribbean, and Italian cuisine. Their signature dish, King Crab, earned it the title of one of the 30 Wonders of Honduras and the first wonder in the culinary category.
Proximity to the newer part of town makes it easy to visit but most expats would feel a little out of place residing in this busier, noisier part of town.