Whether you’re on the island on a cruise ship call, or simply using it as a jumping-off point for further travel (full disclosure: when I first came here, I was supposed to fly into Roatan for a day and then move on to Utila to do my dive courses… it took me TWO YEARS to make it to Utila!), you can still experience a lot in a day on Roatan. Read on to see my recommendations if you have just a little time on this beautiful island…
The first decision you need to make if you only have one day is: topside or bottomside. Roatan is a scuba diving mecca and it’s worth spending your day underwater here if that’s what you’re interested in. For those of you keen on staying dry, don’t worry, I have something special for you too!
They don’t call it a drinking island with a diving problem for nothin’! Roatan has a stunning section of the Meso-American Reef System, and with the protection of the Roatan Marine Park and all of its supporters, we have a beautiful healthy reef with plenty to see in all underwater departments: marine animals, hard & soft coral, wrecks and more! Spending your one day on the island underwater will leave you satisfied.
There are dive shops everywhere on the island, and many have packages that cater specifically to cruise ship divers. Most shops do three 1-tank dives each day – two in the morning and one after lunch, so you can choose the dives that fit best for you (bonus: those who like to sleep in can get in on the second morning dive while still getting some zzzzz’s first!). You have the choice of picking a dive shop on the north or south side of the island… the topography and marine life are a little different on each side. Head to the north side if you’re into pelagics like turtles, rays & sharks or you want swimthroughs or gently sloping walls. Head to the south side if you’re into macro stuff like seahorses and nudibranchs, or you’re a shear vertical wall aficionado. As dive shop owners, management and staff change frequently here, feel free to send me an email if you’d like my current list of recommended shops.
If you are new to diving: every shop offers a Discover Scuba Diving experience for non-certified newbies, no experience necessary! It will usually entail heading to the shop first thing in the morning to complete paperwork, do some basic dive theory with an instructor, shallow water practice for a couple basic skills like clearing your mask of water, and taking your regulator in and out, and then you get to go on a real dive on the reef with your instructor, to a max depth of 40ft! The reef on Roatan starts very shallow, so there is TONS to see at that depth. Usually you’ll be finished around lunch time, and can choose to do an additional dive on the afternoon boat if you love it. Good news: if you decide diving is for you, these dives can count towards your certification. Ask your instructor.
If you’re already a certified diver: you’re gonna LOVE diving on Roatan. Warm water, little to no current, incredible viz plus valet set-up and break-down at almost every shop – Roatan is truly an easy and enjoyable place to dive. With plenty of sites suitable for both beginner and advanced divers, there’s something for everyone. Dive guides strictly adhere to Marine Park regulations, so keep your hands and fins up and off the reef, and save your spear and reef gloves for another destination. Most groups are 6 divers or less per divemaster and bottom times, depending on air consumption, range from 50-60 minutes per dive at most shops.
I think the ideal day would entail the two morning dives, and then lunch and a local beer (Imperial is my fave) or two at a beachside bar & restaurant, where you can talk about everything you saw and do some suntanning in the afternoon to even out your wetsuit tan lines.
Insider tips: if you’ve only got one day, I really recommend making a reservation with your chosen dive shop beforehand as some of them do fill up quickly. Don’t forget to tip your divemaster or instructor! If you’ve got non-diving traveling companions, most shops will take snorkelers along for $15-$30 per trip. Don’t worry about which dive site the shop is going to – they are all fantastic and all on the outside of the reef. Boat rides are usually short 2-15 minutes to the sites (exciting for those who get seasick, I’m sure!) and not all boats have swim platforms, so if you have mobility issues or special needs, make sure you check with the shop first.
While the majority of activities on Roatan are water-based, landlubbers have options too! I have three different recommendations for a dry day on the island.
If you’ve got energy to burn: those of you looking for a little excitement can head to any of the ziplining parks in the morning, enjoy a lunch at a beachside restaurant and then spend the afternoon horseback riding.
If you’re feeling a little more chill: Roatan has lots of day spas to take advantage of, or yoga classes! It’s also not strange here in the slightest to spend the afternoon leisurely enjoying some drinks at a beachside bar, if that’s your thing.
If you want the bigger picture: Roatan’s towns are small, but spread out all over the island. A full-day island tour in a car is really the only way to see the most you can out of the island in a day. Tours run anywhere from $80-$120 for the day (not per person) and you can head all the way from one side of the island to the other. The western side of the island is bustling and very busy with tourists, the eastern side is quieter and gives you a better idea of how locals actually live. The driver can take you to great spots for snorkeling, lunch at the legendary Cal’s Cantina, a stop at the Garifuna village of Punta Gorda, and more.
Insider tips: I absolutely do not recommend renting a car, ATV or scooter. There is no beachside road to putt-putt along slowly and enjoy the scenery – there is only one road and it’s the main ‘highway’ which is full of potholes, insane drivers, animals & kids that run into the road, and lots of curves and hills. There also isn’t much in the way of beautiful scenery on the road anyway, and driving off of it if you don’t know where you’re going isn’t recommended. I have seen way too many tourists get into some pretty horrific accidents here. Just hire a driver, it’s worth it.
What would you do with one day on Roatan? Stay tuned for more Roatan itineraries…