West End, Roatan Budget Travel Guide
An Introduction to West End, Roatan
So, let’s start at the beginning. West End, Roatan, is basically heaven. The people are friendly and accommodating, the ocean is crystal clear and calm, and the food is incredible. The locals are friendly and accommodating, willing to provide tips or just tell you about their island. Best of all, Roatan is affordable- a savvy traveler can spend $1,000 or less for a month-long apartment rental, and food costs a fraction of what it does in the United States.
Is West End Safe?
Simply put, yes. Through the entirety of my trip, neither my girlfriend nor I felt unsafe at any point. Together we traveled by taxi, water taxi, collectivo (more on those later), and a whole lot of walking. There were a small number of people trying to scam tourists, but the scams were obvious and easy to avoid.
Be smart and you’ll be safe. Avoid walking alone at night, though I did that quite a bit and never had an issue. The nightlife is lively and inviting throughout West End, especially at Sundowners Beach Bar towards the north end of the town. Apart from the rolling blackouts that happen every other week or so, the main strip of West End is well-lit with a visible police presence. Even the blackouts are reason to celebrate. Locals and tourists alike flood to Sundowners to drink by the light of tiki torches.
In practically every way, mainland Honduras and Roatan are unrelated. Crime rate is very low, English is widely spoken, and there is a fantastic culture of conservation and ecological protection. Before my trip, I was told by many people that Roatan is dangerous since it is part of Honduras, a country known to struggle with high rates of crime. This is a complete lie. The truth is, Roatan’s crime rate is far below the national average for US cities and the culture is much more laid back than anywhere in the US. As long as basic safety precautions are taken, you’ll be fine!
How Expensive is West End?
West End is among the priciest locations to stay in Roatan, Honduras, but is very affordable by Caribbean or US standards. An Airbnb can cost you anywhere between $20 per day to $200 per day. When I first arrived, I spent a few days in a very nice cottage right on the reef. The final cost was $165 per night, which seemed an incredibly good price for such a great location.
My first Airbnb was right on the reef, with a garden to read in and a staircase directly into the sea.
For longer-term stays in more economical dwellings, prices can go between $800 to $2,400 per month. My month-long apartment was $1,100 and included air conditioning, an on-site washer and dryer, and a rather nice kitchen with new appliances. I was a two minute walk from the beach, and a five minute walk from the beach-accessible reef located on the other side of West End. Since my stay last year, prices have gone up quite a bit. Still, a savvy traveler willing to do their research can find a suitable apartment without too much trouble.
A more modest Airbnb for a long term stay. Despite being much less expensive, it had everything I needed to make myself at home.
Finding Affordable Apartment Rentals in West End
During the shoulder season, prices drop quite a bit and the island is much less touristy. Snorkeling spots that are otherwise swarmed feel secluded and intimate, and the island takes on a more open vibe. This is when you want to visit.
As a general rule, the more flexible you are and the further out you plan, the better the deals you’ll be able to find. Look for rentals that offer a discount for monthlong stays, have a handful of very positive reviews, and are in locations that are slightly off from the main drag. You can find very significant discounts if you book with a newer host. Newer hosts will often provide excellent service, but be careful- make sure there at least some positive reviews before you book. Not every host is good, and not every listing is entirely truthful. Balance the cost-savings from a newer rental with the unknowns that you may encounter.
Finding Affordable Flights to Roatan, Honduras
Flights to West End don’t really exist, but you can find affordable flights to Roatan from most major American airports. Only Miami has direct flights to Roatan, so you’ll have to fly to Miami then on to the island. Using Scotts Cheap Flights is my recommendation, as deals to Roatan come across every few months. I was able to find flights for around $400 from Norfolk, Virginia, but I’ve seen deals in the $300’s from similar markets along the East Coast.
Cheapest Months to Visit
Apartment prices are wildly variable throughout the year. During the busy tourist season, which lasts from December to April, prices are at their peak and lodging availability is low. Though much more expensive and less intimate, the weather is usually pristine. This allows for easy snorkeling and diving- though likely with many more people. The wet season is from August to November, and is generally a bad time to travel to Roatan. Accomodations will be very cheap, but the experience likely won’t be all that fun.
To get the best bang for your buck, travel to West End between mid-April and late June. This is when tourism has slowed down from peak highs, but the weather is still favorable. There is a bit of a second peak between July and August, though it isn’t nearly as busy as the winter highs.
What Language is Spoken on Roatan?
The main language of Roatan is Spanish, though you will hear quite a few different languages- and combinations of languages- during your visit. Spanish, English, some French, and Creole English are all frequently heard throughout the island. Most locals speak at least some English, though the further out you venture from the towns of West End and West Bay the more Spanish and creole are spoken.
Creole English is a combination of French, Spanish, and Garifuna influences into English. It is very tricky to understand the first time you hear it, but after experiencing it a bit, can be easily understood and responded to. If you are a native English speaker or Spanish speaker, you will have no problem communicating in West End, and will have little issue communicating throughout the rest of the island.
Getting Around The Island
There are many different ways to get around West End, some more affordable than others. The most affordable modes of transport are water taxis and collectivos, though walking is always a great option, too. If you take the water taxis, expect colorful conversation with welcoming locals. If you walk, prepare to share the paths with all kinds of large reptiles and colorful birds.
The most fun way to get from place to place! Water taxis take off from the West End Water Taxi Depot across the street from Calelu’s, and only cost $3 USD for a trip to West Bay. These prices are only for groups, though, so if you don’t have a few people ready you will either have to wait for the taxi to fill up or pay a bit extra to make the trip alone. The “official” cost is $10, though I negotiated down to $6 when I had to go alone.
Pick ups and drop offs take place at the West Bay Water Taxi Depot right in front of Infinity Bay Spa & Beach Resort. If you are walking and need a water taxi, don’t worry- you can wave them down and they’ll usually stop for you. This can be done either along the beach depending on where you are, or at a dock along your route.
Collectivos are small buses- think sprinter vans with 8 seats that travel on semi-fixed routes. I’d recommend collectivos for trips between towns, but without a defined map of the routes, it is a bit tricky to navigate. I am currently trying to hunt down the maps, but they are… uh… vague at best. While I was on the island, some locals knew the routes by heart and were kind enough to share the pick up/drop off locations and timing with me. As a general rule, all routes began in the early morning and stopped before dusk.
The benefit of collectivos are the price- most trips seem to be between 20 and 60 lempiras ($0.80 to $2 USD). My recommendation is to talk to the locals and see if there is a pickup point nearby. What collectivos lack in comfort and dependability they make up for in cost, so if you’re really trying to simplify as much as possible this is the transport method for you.
Taxis are available throughout West End from practically anywhere. Walking along the main streets you’ll see one passing (and likely honking at you to solicit a customer) quite often. While they are the most expensive mode of transportation on the island, they are comfortable and largely reliable. The driving can sometimes be erratic (think swerving around on narrow roads, regularly cutting into opposing traffic) but I saw very few accidents so presumably it was safe. Taxis from the airport are cost-controlled from the government, but are very expensive. As of this writing, it is $20 USD for a ride from the the airport to West End.
Costs are more reasonable once you’re outside the airport, though still pricier than taking a water taxi or a collectivo. Still, it is well worth it for the convenience. If you need to travel around West End quickly, go with a taxi. If you have a bit more time to plan ahead and need to get to other nearby towns, consider a collectivo to save a few dollars.
Navigating by Foot
Now THIS is the way to see West End. The town is small enough that you can walk from side to side, exploring all of the fun little spots, easily and comfortably. In my opinion, there is no reason to use any other mode of transport between the restaurants and services a bit inland (the Shack, Mayak Chocolates, Petrosun, urgent care facility) or the main strip of West End from Cafe de Palo to Tita’s Pink Seahorse.
For the adventurous, the walk from West End to West Bay Beach is doable. I made the trek three times during my visit, only running into trouble once. It was caused by my own stupidity (slipping on some rocks and cutting myself), and some locals taking the same path stopped to help.
I would recommend taking the walk, with one very important note. Be sure to bring closed-toed shoes AND water shoes! There are some polluted areas with broken glass and sharp debris that you will have to walk through, some on somewhat slippery rocks. If you come prepared you will have no problem, but if you don’t have the right footwear it could become quite dangerous. Also, be aware that there is a quarter-mile stretch between the end of West End and the beginning of the West Bay resorts that is remote. There is a well-marked path through most of the journey, including a footbridge, but not too many people take it and you will be alone for large parts of the walk.
There were also some murmurs of robberies occurring on this path. I never heard any first or second-hand accounts, simply warnings that machete-wielding men had been known to hide in the jungle, step out to rob unsuspecting passerby, then disappear back into the jungle. While these stories could be true, a friend I made that took the path twice daily for work refuted them. He said that, while it was possible, it seemed more like an urban legend. In his experience, having taken the path hundreds of times over multiple years, he never encountered anything of the sort.
If you decide to take the path between West End and West Bay, be sure to take a pit stop at Roatan Rum Company. Leave the beach at Xbalanque Resort, walking up the steep hill on Tamarind Drive. The Roatan Rum Company will be at the top of the hill on your left. Directly across the street from the distillery is El Faro Roatan, a lighthouse with sweeping views of the island that is worth the few dollar entry fee.
The Best Restaurants in West End
You really can’t go wrong with any of the restaurants in town. From high-end Argentinian cuisine to affordable local dishes, there is something for every palate. All of the restaurants are located within about a half mile, so you’ll never have to travel far to find the perfect bite. I reviewed my favorites, which is why all of the ratings are so high. Throughout my travels I’ve never experienced the consistent meal quality that West End was able to provide. These are some of my favorites, a few of which I think about quite regularly (looking at you Cafe Escondido, Lily Pond, and Anthony’s Chicken) but all in all I never had a bad meal.
Best Breakfasts & Coffee
A dive shop below, a world-class breakfast spot above. Try the “Tank Filler”, a huge plate of breakfast staples cooked perfectly with the best potatoes you’ve had in your life (and that is coming from an Irishman). The banana pancakes were also incredible. Lunch if offered as well, though I never bothered to get it. I came here regularly at 9:30am, when the sun hit the beach just right and made it glow turquoise.
Café de Palo
A bit on the pricier side, but well worth it for the experience. A walk to the lesser-traveled north side of West End takes you to Cafe de Palo, a slice of tropical paradise built into the forest overlooking the water. The coffees are great and the environment can’t be beaten. Be sure to walk around the gardens once you’re done with your breakfast to take in the local plants and bird life.
Loretta’s Island Cooking
A home welcoming passerby to enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I visited for breakfast and lunch, and was greeted warmly both times by Loretta. The food was excellent and the conversation stimulating, with a fun mix of expat, local, and tourist patrons. While I didn’t have a bad meal either time, I’d recommned Loretta’s for the breakfast.
Sandy Buns Bakery
For Texas-sized portions of American southern cooking, go to Sandy Buns. The owners are friendly and the portions more than generous. While the burgers looked delicious, I came for the biscuits and gravy as well as their famous cinnamon rolls. Both items were heavenly. Be sure to come early, because their cinnamon rolls are best fresh (around 9am) and often sell out.
Roatan Chocolate Factory
A surprisingly great spot that I didn’t stumble across as a restaurant until towards the end of my trip. The breakfasts were affordable and tasty, and their Indian cuisine for lunch was a welcomed change from some of the other culinary styles around West End. Be sure to take a quick tour of the facility! They also offer some alcoholic drinks and, of course, tons of chocolate bars to take home as souvenirs.
Pretty good food, great coffee beverages, hefty price tag. If you want to be close to the beach at a place with excellent Wi-Fi, this is a solid choice. Nothing at all local about it; Bean Crazy feels like an American hipster cafe that was picked up and dropped along a Caribbean beach. Still, if you’re a bit homesick and in need of caffeine, this may be just the place for you. Otherwise, there are better options around West End.
Best Lunches and Dinners
The Lily Pond House Restaurant
Come here. How the hell could I explain it? The people are weird, the place is otherworldly, everything is whimsical and fantastical. Sometimes there are bats- they come and go. There is a pond in the middle of the restaurant that is also a house that is also a bed and breakfast (sometimes). The owners, and seemingly all of the diners, are wonderful and eccentric. Something about the environment makes you open up, exposing a part of yourself that you may not even be familiar with. I ate delicious food, made interesting friends, and left with memories that perfectly sum up the time I spent in Roatan.
A criminally under-visited restaurant. This place had the most delicious chicken I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat, coupled with rice and beans and fried plantains. It was one of the most affordable restaurants in town, easily one of the most delicous, yet never had more than a few people in at a time. If you want the best cuisine that Roatan has to offer, you have to visit Anthony’s Chicken. Seriously, I still have dreams of this place.
The first restaurant recommended to me upon arriving in West End turned out to be one of my favorites. A local spot for baleadas and well-priced local cuisine. They also regularly showed soccer games, which I loved. Baleadas were only $2 to $3 each depending on your filling selections. One would be enough for a lunch, and two enough to make you uncomfortably full. The price point, the taste, the environment- all top notch.
Ginger’s Caribbean Grill
The only downside is the American price tag. Besides that, Ginger’s is an incredible experience for lunch, dinner, or a post-snorkel beer. Tucked away behind the main road right on the beach, Ginger’s is steps away from one of the best shore snorkeling locations in the Caribbean. I must have come here a dozen times during my trip, loving the experience each time. You can’t go wrong with the catch of the day.
Oh, man. I have good memories of this place. This was my main hangout for evening reading while I watched the sunset. The owners are hockey fans, so I’d come here to watch the playoffs as well. Come for the happy hour from 4 to 6 for the best drink prices around. At night, everyone comes here- locals, expats, divers, tourists- and the bar truly comes alive. The food is good, too, though that’s not why you’ll love Sundowners!
The Drunken Sailor
A small Italian restaurant in the heart of the main strip. There are only a few tables, along with a few swing seats overlooking the street perfect for people-watching. All of the pasta is made on-site, and tastes like it, too. The price was very reasonable for such outstanding quality, though still a bit on the pricey side. This was one of my favorites on the island for a big, hearty meal after a day of snorkeling or hiking.
A bit of a walk away from the main drag, but oh so worth it. The Shack isn’t so much a shack as it is a decommissioned Airstream RV preparing what is likely the best barbeque that Roatan has to offer. I’m a sucker for good BBQ, and this stuff almost made me weep. The price was fair and the portions generous. The fries could have been better, but the meat was good enough that I had no complaints.
A restaurant built on the owner’s home, Junior’s Patio is an intimate pizza spot featuring outdoor dining and- during my visit at least- live violin. Though it was a bit on the pricey side compared to other options around West End, the environment was well worth the cost for such a unique experience with such outstanding food.
Near-Shore Snorkeling in West End, Honduras
Now this is what makes West End truly special. The snorkeling at nearby West Bay Beach may be better, but West End still provides a world-class snorkeling experience for all skill levels. Crystal clear water, calm seas, and hundreds of species await you just feet from the shoreline. For the uninitiated, the shallows in front of Ginger’s Caribbean Restaurant provide an excellent training ground. For the more adventurous, push on to the reef’s edge to view triggerfish, sea turtles, and much larger parrotfish.
Spot 1 – Snorkeling West End Beach
Beginners looking to snorkel in West End have it good. Just walk down to Ginger’s Caribbean Grill, put on your flippers and mask, and start swimming. After encountering a brief patch of sea grass a few meters from shore, the water will deepen and you’ll start coming across the first small coral formations. In this shallow section keep an eye out for schools of reef squid, as well as smaller fish species such as grunts and sergeant majors. As you venture further from shore you will notice a coral ledge with elkhorn coral and sea fans giving way to deep, open water on the other side. This is the easiest area to navigate, and provides some excellent snorkeling. Within this stretch I saw multiple chain reef eels, lobsters, trunkfish, cowfish, and a rockfish. If you continue following this ledge as the water deepens, you will see increasingly large parrotfish and angelfish, as well as larger schools of grunts and jacks. As you travel the ledge, a few coral channels will open up that you can explore. Within these narrow openings I saw many different smaller fish species including butterfly fish, squirrelfish, and blue head wrasse, as well as more eels.
If you choose to head to the shallows closer to the peninsula wall, be wary of the sea fans and some of the shallower corals- accidentally brushing up against corals could be painful for you and damaging to the coral. If you’re not confident in your ability to navigate the area without disturbing the environment, don’t risk it. There is plenty to see elsewhere! If you do choose to explore this shallower section, you will be rewarded with schools of reef squid, burrfish, and blue head wrasse, as well as smaller parrotfish and angelfish.
This first snorkel section is closed off to boat traffic, so you can snorkel freely without worry. There are no waves, no currents, and excellent visibility. Just stay within the bay and you’ll be fine. Happy snorkeling!
Spot 2 – Snorkeling The Outer Reefs of West End Beach
Now this is where it gets fun. Near-shore snorkeling in West End beach is great, but the quality of the reef? Not fantastic. There are large barren areas with unhealthy coral, and though there are still tons of fish species, it leaves something to be desired. If you are a strong swimmer, the outer reef is for you. To start, make sure that you have a diving flag or, at absolute minimum, a fluorescent rash guard. The swim out to the reef, and indeed the reef itself near the buoys, is subject to boat traffic. Swimming around this area is safe as long as you have a flag, but still check around you regularly and maintain a strong sense of your surroundings.
To get to the best part of the reef, start from Ginger’s Caribbean Grill as you did in the first spot. Follow the ridge out, and continue swimming past the edge of the peninsula. Preserve your energy through the first two thirds of the swim, accelerating during the brief dangerous spot along the point of the peninsula. At this area boat traffic visibility is low, and boats often come hurtling past quite quickly right beside the end of the land. I never had any issues, but to be on the safe side, swim past this area as quickly as you can. As you head further out, you will notice the water appear as if it is glowing- go to this area. The deep blue waters will give way to spectacular coral formations, each more vibrant and lively than the next.
Once you make it to the reef, stop and catch your breath by taking in the wonders below. You are floating above a metropolis- peaks and valleys of corals bustling with fish big and small. Most notably, I encountered a hawksbill sea turtle and a black triggerfish (also called a humuhumu’ele’ele in Hawaiian). The individual species were not as impactful as the landscape; an endless stretch of coral and innumerable species going to and fro over the reef. Once you’ve had your fill, follow the edge of the reef to continue exploring. Do not keep swimming out, as the reef gives way to open ocean.
Once you’ve had your fill of snorkeling, retrace your steps so you can head in a straight line for the shore. As you did before, take special precautions around the edge of the peninsula to make sure there is no boat traffic. Once back within the protection of the shallows near the peninsula wall, enjoy your swim back to shore by taking in the schools of large fish swimming among the sea grass on your side facing the rest of the beach.
About Baylen McCarthy
I’m a travel writer and marketing strategist based in Norfolk, Virginia. When I’m not busy hurting myself by walking unreasonable distances, I can be found reading in a hammock or watching Tottenham underperform.
Have a question about an upcoming trip you’re planning? Shoot it over to me, I’d love to help if I’m able.
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