in the july/august 2002 issue jackie bernard, prow's edge contributor, explored the delights of the island of Roatan...

undiscovered vacation paradises – close to home

How would you like the opportunity to visit one of the last remaining “undiscovered” vacation paradises available in the world – and only have to fly a couple of hours to get there?

If this sounds too good to be true, the proof is right there waiting for you… the island of Roatan, Honduras, Central America. This lush paradise located just south of Belize is one of nature’s most welcome surprises.

A mere 750 miles from Miami, Roatan’s value as a tourist destination is virtually undiscovered and has much to offer enthusiastic travelers. The luxuriant vegetation, tropical climate and refreshing sea breezes are in themselves reason enough to visit this peaceful island.

Since Roatan’s value as a tourist destination has not yet been exploited, one may still enjoy a magnificent experience at a bargain price. As if the atmosphere and value weren’t enough, there are activities available to satisfy every vacation appetite.

For those who enjoy observing different cultures, the village of Punta Gorda is an inspiring place to spend time learning about the Garifuna people. They were exiled by the English from the work colonies of the island of St. Vincent 200 years ago in 1797 to the island of Roatan, where they settled in the town of Punta Gorda, bringing their own Caribbean patios and culture to the island. Two hundred years later the Garifuna community is still strong in Punta Gorda.

Since I am involved in the restaurant industry, observing ethnic trends of food and beverage consumption is always fascinating to me. Garifuna dishes include fish, chicken, pork, corn and manioc or cassava, and they work wonders with coconuts. I was so influenced by their healthy ideas that my entire attitude toward food and beverage consumption has changed!

Since our return from Roatan, I have not consumed one single soft drink or carbonated beverage…give me a cold glass of water with lime instead! The islanders believe that this natural concoction cleanses the intestinal tract from impurities. (The taste isn’t so bad either!)

The pristine beauty of the coral reef surrounding Roatan provides an open invitation for those who are interested in water activities. A simple stroll into the surf with a mask and snorkel provides the opportunity to witness a sample of what the reef has to offer.

For avid scuba divers, the undersea world of Roatan is just the fix needed to satisfy the desire to experience nature at its best. Numerous species of coral and fish are easily accessible to divers.

As a result, Roatan has become a mecca for scuba divers. I was fortunate enough to enjoy my first scuba experience there - now I’m not sure I’ll ever be happy diving anywhere else!

One of the finest dive resorts on the island, Anthony’s Key Resort, is home to the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences and Roatan Museum. Anthony’s Key houses a dolphin program unrivaled by any I’ve seen.

Their able staff works with the dolphins on a daily basis to provide demonstrations for the public as well as opportunities for individuals to get “up close and personal” with the friendly creatures.

We had the opportunity to actually interact with the dolphins as we posed for one fun photograph after another. This was the highlight of our vacation.

For those arriving in Roatan by cruise ship, Anthony’s Key offers excursions which provide for picking up cruise passengers from the ship and transferring them to the resort, where they have the opportunity to participate in the dolphin program.

In addition to their dolphin program, Anthony’s Key is home to the newest and nicest fleet of dive boats available in the area. Their dive program has been rated #1 in the world by the readers of Rodale’s Scuba Diving, with safety as the highest priority.

Cruise passengers interested in scuba diving are also catered to by the staff of Anthony’s Key. They have the opportunity to dive with the benefit of quality equipment and experienced dive masters.

For those passengers who are not certified to dive but would like to experience the reef, Anthony’s Key offers a “Discover Scuba” experience which provides enough knowledge to allow for a wonderful first experience with the deep.

If none of the above options seems appealing, there are plenty of other opportunities on the island of Roatan. All you need is the desire to experience mother nature at her best… the possibilities are endless!

photos: jackie w bernard