At number four on our top 50 list, and the top island location, is sun-drenched Roatan, Honduras. Originally a British colony that was subsequently ceded to Honduras, Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands and, by far, the most popular with tourists, expats and retirees. The fishing industry, which had been the mainstay of the island’s economy, has been gradually superseded by the growth in tourism.
Visitors from the US and Europe have been drawn to Roatan’s white sand beaches, tropical temperatures (80s and 90s during daylight hours year round), the close proximity to the Mesosamerican Barrier Reef (the second largest coral reef in the world), easy access, and the important fact that English is the primary language on the island.
Regular international flights to Roatan from most major US cities make it easy to retire here and still stay close to family back home. Carriers such as American, Delta and United offer non-stop service from Miami, Houston and Atlanta while Avianca provides connecting flights from many other cities.
Roatan is actually two islands in one. The eastern ¼ of the island, known as Helene, is separated from the rest of Roatan by a fifteen meter wide channel through the mangrove swamps. Originally designed to help small boats get to the various harbors on the island without having to go outside the reef, the channel itself has become a focal point for nature lovers who can take tours to discover the various varieties of flora and fauna that live there.
There are also a number of small satellite-type islands on the eastern end. With exotic names like Morat, Barbaretta, Pigeon, and Barefoot Cay, it is easy to envision a time of pirates, buried treasure and lost castaways (think Pirates of the Caribbean). Originally known as Burial Key, the name was changed to the less funeral, and more exotic, Barefoot Cay in 2001. Purchased by a private developer, the island has been turned into luxury resort favored by celebrities and the wealthy.
The western side of Roatan is definitely where most of the action is. Coxen Hole is the largest town on the island and is also the capital of the Bay Islands Department of the Honduras. The Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport is also located there. Named after the infamous and mysterious buccaneer, John Coxen,this is the best location for shopping, banks, and services. Major upgrades in the infrastructure during the early 2000s, has been a major factor in the growth of new businesses and expat population.
West End village is the center for Roatan’s social, tourism and diving activities. Like Coxen Hole, an ambitious infrastructure project has made this an attractive location for expats looking to combine tropical fun with modern convenience. With a number of good restaurants, places to stay and a lively nightlife, all on the shores of the Caribbean, it is little wonder that this area has become a major drawing card for Roatan.
Photo by Damian James
In recent years, Roatan has become an important hub for the cruise industry. Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Lines all have made Roatan a favored port of call. With ports at both Coxen Hole and farther east, at Mahogany Bay, just outside of French Harbor (midway across the island), visitors can experience the pleasures of island life as part of their ocean vacation.
Mahogany Bay does deserve a special note; as cruise ships enter the port, passengers are greeted by the sight of two rusted shipwrecks, in stark contrast to the serene white sand beach. This almost surreal combination adds a special quality to an already special place.
There are many resorts and hotels that range from high-end luxury to rustic beach bungalow in style and amenities. Restaurants and bars provide a great selection of dining and partying options. Some of the best in Caribbean seafood can be found here; not surprising given the importance fishing has played in Roatan culture and livelihood.
The pace of life here is just what one would expect of a Caribbean paradise; relaxed, laid back and friendly. There is a real sense that hurrying is not required; there is always time enough to do things. Roatan has a great selection of water-centric activities to choose from. Scuba diving, snorkeling, exploring the barrier reef, kayaking, jet skiing, or relaxing by the sea are just some of the choices that await travelers to this island destination.
With the increase in tourism and the attention that the media has given it in recent years, Roatan is rapidly becoming a destination for expats looking for a tropical retirement and investors seeking opportunities for projects to develop. What makes investing here particularly attractive is a recent incentive program for projects or plans on Roatan Island. Under this program, property taxes may be given a 20 year exemption.
For those looking to find an island getaway, property prices are still very reasonable. Rents for homes in Coxen Hole, for example, can run between $400 to $1000 per month. As can be expected on an island, utilities, such as electricity, water, internet, cable and phone are somewhat higher; $260 to $400 a month is not unusual. The number of newer construction projects are increasing and will provide a larger selection, albeit at higher prices. Obviously, the quality of lifestyle that is chosen (rustic to high end luxury) makes a difference on the budgetary bottom line.
For those considering buying property on Roatan, the market is still very favorable. Prices, here, as elsewhere, suffered during the collapse of 2008 and have been slow to rebound. As a result, bargains can be found. Foreigners can own land on Roatan up to ¾ of an acre; for larger tracts, a Honduran corporation can be easily set up with the foreigner as administrator, giving all rights of Honduran citizenship.
For retirees, all that is required to achieve Retirement Residency is a verifiable income from a source outside the country, such as Social Security or pension plan, in the sum of $1,500 per month. This makes finding that “island escape” a much easier search. There certainly is “treasure” that can be found on Roatan; a tropical island existence and a healthier more relaxed pace of life. These are things that even a pirate’s gold couldn’t buy.