Located about 40 miles off the coast of Honduras, the island of Roatan is a growing port for western Caribbean cruises. This small island is popular for nature-based activities including zip lining through the lush canopy, ATV adventures and wildlife encounters. Additionally, the island lies along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest reef in the world, making it a great location for snorkeling and diving.
Our first (and thus far, only) visit to Roatan was on a Western Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway. We had heard many great things about the island and were eager to visit. Indeed, Roatan proved to be a wonderful cruise port and it is easy to see why it is gaining popularity.
It is important to note that there are actually two cruise ports, both on the south side of the island. Thankfully, both offer a wide range of shopping, dining and access to Roatan’s many different shore excursions and beaches.
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Roatan Cruise Ports
We docked at the Port of Roatan at Coxen Hole. This port is used by Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. Right at the pier, you’ll find plenty of stores offering both local goods and the traditional duty-free shops found at many cruise ports. There are also many restaurants with outdoor seating to take advantage of Roatan’s fantastic weather.
As you disembark, just follow the signs to meet with your pre-arranged excursion. As usual, you’ll also find folks eager to sell you a last-minute tour or excursion.
Just outside the port area, you’ll find the small town of Coxen Hole. You can easily walk out of the port and follow the sidewalk to a few other shops, including a liquor store where we picked up a bottle of rum for some friends back home. There isn’t much touristy stuff outside the cruise port but if you want to walk a little on your own, you certainly can.
The Coxen Hole Roatan cruise port is starting work on what appears to be a significant expansion. Additions to the port area will include both a sea life and wildlife encounter, along with a lazy river, rum museum and more. I have no idea when this will be complete but it does look nice!
A second cruise port is located a little farther east at Mahogany Bay. This port is owned by Carnival, so is typically used by Carnival, Princess, Holland America and a few other cruise lines. We haven’t docked here, so I can’t say anything about it personally. But, from what I’ve read it is a much more developed port area with a variety of things to do right there, including a free beach for cruise passengers only.
Shore Excursions in Roatan
Many of the shore excursions in Roatan offer the opportunity to be adventurous (zip line or ATV ride), view and interact with wildlife (monkeys and sloths, in particular) or relax on the beach. Of course, there are also water-based excursions including kayaking, sailing, and snorkeling.
Thankfully, there are also quite a few excursions that combine two or three of these popular activities.
Roatan ATV Eco-Jungle and Beach Adventure
In an effort to see and do as much as possible, we booked Norwegian’s ATV Eco-Jungle and Beach Adventure excursion. This particular excursion actually had three parts: ATV ride through the jungle, a stop at the Mayan Eden Eco Park and time on the beach at the Las Palmas resort.
The description of the excursion was a little vague, so we didn’t know exactly what to expect. It almost sounded like we would ride the ATVs to the beach. In reality, the three parts of the tour were completely separate. Still, we enjoyed the tour and really liked getting three different experiences in one day in Roatan.
One note about this tour: the “bus” that picked us up at the cruise port and took us around the island was very small. Honestly, it was barely bigger than a camper van, which seemed to be the standard in Roatan. We were all stuffed in like sardines. Thankfully, the bus rides were not very long. Still, that is something to consider if you are prone to motion sickness or just don’t like being in tight spaces.
ATV Jungle Tour
Our excursion started with the ATV adventure. Along the drive from the Roatan cruise port to the adventure park, our guide gave us a brief overview of the island and the people who live here. That is really important for us, in that we want to actually understand what life is like anywhere we visit.
Once there, we suited up with helmets and got a safety briefing. From there, we hopped on our single-rider ATVs and took off!
The group followed well-marked paths that were fairly easy to navigate on an ATV. There really were only a few places where we had tight turns or deep dips that took a bit of careful maneuvering. Additionally, we had a guide in the front and many employees along the trail making sure we followed the right path and were safe.
Perhaps the biggest downside was that we did do quite a bit of starting and stopping. And, the course wasn’t terribly long, so we crossed the same path a few times. Still, we definitely had an adventure and came away with quite a bit of mud on us! That’s always the sign of a good ATV ride.
In all, we spent about 30-40 minutes on the ATVs.
Note: Norwegian’s Buggy Eco-Adventure and Mayan Eden Nature Park is the same tour (we shared a bus the entire day). The only difference is two-passenger buggies rather than single-rider ATVs. We were happy we chose the ATVs but if you have children under 16, you’ll need to book the buggy excursion.
Mayan Eden Eco Park
From there, the bus took us to the Mayan Eden Eco Park. Here, a guide led us through the park to see various animals.
We walked through a butterfly house and saw toucans, macaws and several other animals that you don’t find in the US. It was really cool to see the tropical birds and to have an up-close encounter with the scarlet macaw.
The park is home to several free-roaming White Face Capuchin Monkeys, which seemed to have run of the place. They were fun to watch and if you wanted a picture with one, the guide was happy to bring out some treats to encourage one to hang out with you. Just watch your hat!
There were several other animals, including spider monkeys and the coatimundi, which looks kinda like a raccoon. We even saw a paca, which is a large rodent, rummaging through the jungle floor, not part of the exhibits.
The highlight was definitely getting to interact with the White Face Capuchin Monkeys and a three-toed sloth! We were not able to hold the sloth, like some photos show, because it was pregnant. Still, it was neat just to see one up close and personal. Everything it does really is in slow motion!
The walk through the nature park wasn’t terribly long or difficult but you do need to be able to navigate uneven terrain.
We spent about an hour at the nature park.
From there, it was time to relax on the beach and soak up some sun! Our bus dropped us off at the Las Palmas Resort, where we had nearly two hours to enjoy the beach, get some lunch and sip on a couple of pineapple rum drinks.
Thankfully, we arrived early in the day and had our choice of lounge chairs. While we enjoy the beach, my fair skin can’t handle too much sun, so it was good that we found a couple of chairs in the shade!
First, we headed to the water to splash around and take a few pictures. Once we got in the water, it was great. But, right along the water’s edge, there were several very sharp rocks that were not easy on the feet. Still, the picturesque swing over the water was just about perfect!
After that, we headed to the beach-front restaurant for some lunch. We both opted for quesadillas (chicken for me, shrimp for Grant) and a local beer. The food was tasty but not anything super special. Still, enjoying lunch on the beach is not something we get to do often, so we really enjoyed it!
We ended our afternoon at the beach by partaking in the resort’s rum punch, served in a hollowed-out pineapple. Be sure to take advantage of getting a free refill!
Final Thoughts on the Roatan Cruise Port
After hearing many great things about Roatan, we were excited to finally visit. The Coxen Hole Port of Roatan is nice enough but definitely is a bit smaller than many other cruise ports, like Costa Maya or Cozumel. Still, you’ll generally find pretty much anything you need there. I am looking forward to the planned expansion and hope we get to enjoy that one day! I would also love to check out the Mahogany Bay cruise port sometime (I guess we’ll have to do another Princess cruise for that).
Roatan truly is a fantastic island and our only complaint is that one day wasn’t nearly long enough to truly enjoy it! There are a wide range of excursions available here, including both land and sea adventures or, of course, just relaxing on the beach. Regardless of what kind of experience you are looking for, you are sure to find something that you will enjoy.
Grant and I definitely enjoyed Roatan and all the lush vegetation. I could definitely see us coming back and staying for a week or so to do some more exploring and for Grant to do some snorkeling or SCUBA diving.
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