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Roatan – Jack of All Expat Offerings, Master of Most

photo by Samoano


So why haven’t you already settled on your expat destination in Central America? What’s keeping you from pulling the trigger and beginning your official house hunt in your own tropical paradise?

Maybe you’ve fallen in love with a place you recently vacationed, but just aren’t sure you can see yourself living there full time.  Perhaps you’re settled on a remote island destination, while your spouse wants something a little closer to civilization.

It could even be that you’re having trouble finding a place that meets all your “must-haves,” or at least one that does so without totally breaking the bank.

Have you tried Roatan, Honduras?

Let me introduce you to the quaint Caribbean island that literally checks off every box on the list of most potential expats.  It’s Roatan, Honduras.

This established expat destination, named the #1 island to retire to in 2011 by Island Magazine, excels in pretty much every way possible and represents the perfect balance in so many important categories.

Note I didn’t say that Roatan “offers something for everybody.”  A lot of destinations make that claim, and it’s often a good indicator that they dabble a little bit in all the things important to tourists and expats, without really doing any of them all that well.  

By contrast, Roatan meets or exceeds even the highest expectations in every classification, no matter what your preference.  Often the yin to its own yang, there are few expats who won’t find what they (or the rest of their families) are looking for somewhere on this 30-mile long island paradise.

photo by Kayla Sawyer

Kayla Sawyer

Roatan, Honduras, is easy to get to, but still feels worlds away.

Many would-be expats want an island home, but not the hassle of taking a plane, a bus, and a boat to get there and back every time they go back to visit family or just need a new washing machine or some more of their favorite brand of breakfast cereal.

That isn’t a problem in Roatan.  It has its own international airport right there on the island, with direct flights to the U.S. via several major airlines.  You can get from from Houston to Honduras in a mere 2.5 hours, without ever even having to set foot on the mainland.

If you do need to venture over for one of the few consumer items you can’t find on the island, there’s a reliable, safe, and inexpensive ferry that can take you to the mainland port of La Ceiba in just an hour.

However, despite its accessibility, Roatan is an island destination through and through.  It offers amazing scenery, a slower pace of life, and a shirt-and-shoes-optional tropical culture that quickly makes you forget how easy it is to get back to the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world.

photo by Marc AuMarc

Marc AuMarc

You can do as much or as little as you want with your time.

Although not totally overrun by tourists, the island of Roatan has a thriving tourism industry.  Largely due to the wealth of natural attractions that both cover and surround the island, the abundant opportunities for adventure ensure that you’re never bored.

Just off the island’s shores lies the world’s second largest barrier reef, the largest in the Western Hemisphere.  It offers over 130 easily accessible snorkeling and dive sites, including shipwrecks and Mayan artifacts, and the chance to see numerous species of tropical marine life.

You can also go kayaking or hop to one of the other Bay Islands.  There are sport fishing charters, mangroves to explore, and many other aquatic adventures.

The land loving adventurer can enjoy zip lining through the canopy, visiting a wildlife refuge, riding ATVs through the jungle, or even visiting a local Garifuna village to see how these natives live.  There are also plenty of dining, nightlife, and shopping options.  

For the expat who’s looking to slow down and spend more of their time relaxing, maybe even in solitude, that’s also entirely possible in Roatan.  This may seem next to impossible on a small island frequented by a number of tourists and cruise ships.  However, the island as a whole is not densely populated.

While the West End is hopping with activity, there are many areas of the island, such as the northern shores, where you can find a long stretch of isolated beach that you can enjoy all to yourself.

There are villages that still don’t have electricity and roadside markets and shops that are more in keeping with the authentic experience you’d find on the mainland. To many expats, this is a nice contrast from the souvenir vendors and thatched roof bars in the more heavily-touristed areas.

photo by Timothy Wildey

Timothy Wildey

Roatan offers authentic culture, with enough familiarity to make you feel immediately at home.

Finding a place with the right amount of North American influence is one area where many expats struggle to achieve the right balance.  The equilibrium in Roatan is a good one.

While not completely overrun with tourists and other expats, there is certainly a well-established expat community in Roatan.  There are also plenty of individuals of Caribbean, European, and African descent, which makes for a refreshing blend of diverse cultures.  And they’re all quite friendly.

In terms of languages, you’ll hear a lot of English, as well as Spanish and even the traditional Garifuna language.  And while you won’t see a Walmart or any of the universal golden arches, there are plenty of businesses and services to meet your consumer needs, such as an Ace Hardware and several excellent local supermarkets.

Whether you’re after the active lifestyle of an established island destination, the tranquility of a remote tropical setting, or the absolute best of both of those worlds, don’t settle for less until you give Roatan a try.

Perhaps Lonely Planet said it best when they called the beaches of Roatan “pitch perfect.”  Neither too much nor too little, this island destination is just right.  

Map of Roatan

Roatan Fast Facts

  • Population: 50,000
  • Typical temperature: From 80 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Nearest airport with U.S. flights: Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport
  • Nearest U.S. consulate: Tegucigalpa, Honduras

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