Tropical Escapes: Roatan’s Wild Side

Take a break from the beach to discover the natural attractions of Honduras' Bay Islands


The Bay Islands of Honduras have long been a destination that operated below the mainstream tourism radar. Tucked into a quiet corner of the Western Caribbean, they were visited primarily by scuba divers, fishermen and the backpack set. That changed when cruise ships started docking at Coxen Hole, transforming the western end of the island of Roatan into a day-trip destination. But for those willing to venture off the pavement, there’s still a wild side to this island.

More than half of Roatan’s rugged, hilly terrain remains in a pristine and natural condition, and the island’s eastern end is largely undeveloped. This area is home to the Port Royal Wildlife Refuge, a 2,000-acre tract of woodlands that provides sanctuary for a variety of native birds and animals. A number of trails give access to the refuge. A favorite is the route to Picacho Peak, which is the highest point on the island. Getting to the reserve will require a rental car or an extended taxi ride.

An alternative would be to base at Paya Bay, which is a small resort that sits on a private peninsula just down from the reserve. This low-key, family- owned property is a favorite with nature lovers, who consider it one of the Caribbean’s hidden gems. The resort staff can provide information on hiking and other activities in the area, or arrange for guide services for those who don’t want to go it alone.

If Roatan’s east end is beyond your comfort range, or if your time on the island is limited, a closer alternative for a nature walk is the Carambola Botanical Gardens, which is located on the island’s northwestern coast at Sandy Bay. At just 40 acres in size, it doesn’t offer the same opportunities for exploration, but it does provide a scenic showcase for the local flora and fauna. Activities include guided tours of the gardens, beach excursions and a trip to the top of Carambola Mountain for some big views of the island. Along the way, you may encounter a troop of playful monkeys and a variety of bird species.

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