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Port of Call Spotlight: Roatan, Honduras

By Georgina Cruz

Special Correspondent

September 13, 2010

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A popular stop on Western Caribbean cruise itineraries, Roatan, 30 miles off the coast of Honduras, is the largest and most developed of the Bay Islands, a region comprised of three primary islands and more than 60 isles and keys in the Caribbean Sea. A paradise for divers, it is surrounded by the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world's second largest, after Australia's Great Barrier Reef. There are some 80 special sites for diving, including rich marine life, dramatic drops, wrecks, crevices and caverns.

Over the centuries, pirate raids, conquest and immigration have left a cultural and racial mix of British, Spanish, African and Native American influences on the island.

A small isle, almost 40 miles long and approximately two miles wide, Roatan's natural charms are abundant: in addition to the reef, there are mountains, forests and beautiful beaches ideal for swimming, snorkeling, glass-bottom boat rides and dolphin encounters at the Roatan Institute of Marine Sciences, where programs educate visitors about these intelligent marine creatures and promote conservation of them and their habitat.

Popular shore excursions include zip-lining programs venues including at Gumbalimba Park, where participants fly over the canopy or the rainforest. Gumbalimba Park also features capuchin monkeys and exotic birds that are trained to pose for pictures on visitors' shoulders as well as such attractions as a 235-foot-long rope bridge over a creek, beach, pool, restaurant, crafts market and a cave with a life-size figure of Coxen, a pirate who in colonial times lost a hand, leg and eye on Caribbean battles for loot--a replica of his treasure chest is also in the cave.

Other attractions include the Carambola botanical gardens, with 40 acres of tropical flora, walking trails and mountain views. Additionally, there is a butterfly garden and an iguana farm with 2,700 iguanas. Still other pastimes in Roatan include kayaking tours, golf, horseback riding and fishing excursions.

Those who would simply like to spend a day at the beach may opt for the West End Beach (also known as Tabyana Beach), where facilities include a restaurant and volleyball on the sand.

West End restaurants offer island flavors including fresh seafood, tortillas, plantains and tropical fruits. If your ship stays in port until late, the West End area offers opportunities for nightlife with oceanfront bars featuring live music.

Good island souvenirs include handicrafts such as wood carvings, hammocks, embroidery and pottery.

Roatan has two cruise piers, Port of Roatan in Coxen Hole a town center with shops and restaurants, and Mahogany Bay Cruise Center in Dixon Cove with a "chair lift" that transports passengers from the ships to the beach. Among the cruise lines that call at Roatan are Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean.

Information: Visit www.roatanisland.net.