Back when we booked this trip, we were told by various people to avoid Honduras and to fly from Nicaragua to Guatemala instead. Naturally, all 3 of us decided to rebel against that advice and WE ARE SO GLAD THAT WE DID! Although we may not have been able to see the ‘real Honduras’ by most people’s standards, we had an amazing week on the island of Roatán and I can’t wait to share my experiences with you here…
I’ll start at the beginning, as I always do – the journey from León, Nicaragua to the border – and, as you’d probably expect from our track record, this did not go as smoothly as we’d intended.
This particular part of our Latin American tour had been discussed countless times: ‘How are we going to get into Honduras safely?’ ‘Are public buses a bad idea?’ ‘Is private transport too expensive?’ ‘Shall we stay overnight in a Honduran city like Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula?’ etc. etc.
Luckily, I found a website online called tornabe.com that organises shuttles between various Central American cities for a decent price. Considering the journey was going to take about 20 hours, we decided that spending more for private transport was better than suffering an even longer journey on about 7 different buses. We were scheduled to be picked up at 2am in the morning from León, Nicaragua for a 6pm arrival the next day in La Ceiba, Honduras. Great, right?
Except it wasn’t great because we didn’t wake up. That’s right, it was 2am and the three of us were fast asleep in bed. We were awoken by angry banging on our door from the hostel night manager who insisted that there was a bus outside waiting for us. Frantically, the three of us scrambled out of bed, put on whatever clothes we could find, grabbed our bags and ran to the bus. There were already a few other people waiting and the driver was furious that we were now running behind schedule for the other hostel pick-ups. Oops. That was a major screw-up on our behalf… apologies. It was lucky that they even gave us a chance to get out of bed, I can imagine most companies would just drive off if there was a no-show. At least now we know that Alice’s phone cannot be trusted to set alarms!
The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful. I somehow managed to get the best seat on the bus – at the back tucked away next to the bags with a comfy-enough headrest whilst Alice complained that it was the worst journey of her entire life. I’m not joking when I say that your initial seat decision on any kind of transport is vital in determining your overall travel experience – CHOOSE WISELY, MY FRIENDS.
The border crossing was smooth, it just took about 7 years. I’m not sure if any of you have seen the film ‘Zootopia’ where the sloths take foooooreeeeveeerrr to do their jobs but it was exactly like that (if you haven’t seen that film then cool, you have a much more sophisticated taste in films than I do). The line barely moved and when we were finally at the counter all we could do is stare in frustration at how painfully slow the whole process was.
Eventually, we reached the port in La Ceiba where you have the choice to take a boat to Utila island or to Roatán island, collectively known as the Bay Islands (ahhh, now you understand the title pun). Most travellers tend to go to Utila for the nightlife and diving. There are tons of travel blogs that will give you an in depth review of both islands, weigh up the pros and cons and help you come to a decision so that’s what we used to decide on Roatán (and it definitely turned out to be the best option for us).
Before we bought our tickets, we bumped into a woman who was selling transport to Granada in Guatemala. We spoke to her because we knew that was the next destination on our travel itinerary and hoped that we’d be able to organise something in advance to save us faffing around with it whilst we were on the island. Unfortunately, we couldn’t seem to find any options that were compatible with our dates but she gave us her number in case we changed our minds and I need you guys to remember all of this because it becomes relevant later on…
The ferry station is super modern. In fact, none of us could believe we were in Honduras – it felt more like Miami! Getting to the islands is pretty straight forward too: 1) You buy your return ticket from the booth (50$ – way more expensive than we anticipated) 2) You give your luggage to the staff 3) You get on the boat. We were pleasantly surprised by how easy the whole thing was, especially seeing as we’d been cramped in a mini bus for the last god-knows-how-many hours. It’s also a really nice journey… that is, if you like boats. Sorry, Alice.
When we got to Roatán it was starting to get dark but it was no issue to find a taxi as there are loads of drivers waiting at the port for the boat arrivals. The island is WAY bigger than we thought it was going to be – we were driving for about 30 minutes before we reached our hostel and we hadn’t even covered 1/4 of the island yet!
Our hostel was a backpackers hostel in the Sandy Bay neighbourhood. It didn’t take long to discover that Sandy Bay isn’t a hotspot for tourism and we were in a pretty poor location in terms of amenities. All 3 of us were STARVING and desperate to find dinner but unfortunately we had to sit through a 45 minute long introduction speech by the owner of the hostel… I mean, I’m all for a welcome chat and getting some information about the area but maybe it would have been better to do it the next morning when we weren’t quite so exhausted? Ah well!
We eventually escaped and went in search of food. There are absolutely NO restaurants or cafes in Sandy Bay but we soon came to realise that local families would open their kitchens as restaurants to earn some extra cash. We stumbled into one lady’s kitchen, not having a clue what food was on offer. She just asked us what fillings we wanted (the choices ranged from refried beans to avocado to chicken to cheese) and so we placed our orders not really having a clue what to expect.
Little did we know that we were about to be introduced to one of the greatest culinary masterpieces in the history of existence…. the BALEADA. It’s a typical Honduran dish which basically consists of a doughy-crepey-bready thing filled with whatever you desire and then folded and heated. I know what you’re thinking, this doesn’t sound like much but you really can’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Plus, they cost the equivalent of about 20p each. Budget backpackers, rejoice!
The next day, we ate more baleadas for breakfast but this time at a much fancier place by the beach that made us pay $4 for one! Outrageous. As I mentioned, Sandy Bay is in the middle of nowhere so we knew we’d have to catch a bus down to West End (where the main attractions are) yet we weren’t entirely sure where the bus stop was. We were mindlessly wandering down the road, attempting to flag down every mini-bus we saw when eventually a van stopped. We peered inside to see about 7 kids in uniform all crammed into the back and the driver explained that he was running a school service but would be happy to drop us at West End. When we arrived, we offered him some coins but he refused to take them and wished us on our way – first impressions of Honduran people? THEY ARE AMAZING.
The first thing we wanted to do before we spent the day lying on the beach was book a scuba dive. I got my PADI qualification back in Portugal but Alice and Abbie were newbies and weren’t keen on spending the money to get qualified so we opted for a ‘Discover Scuba’ trip instead. We booked our dive at a place called ‘Coconut Divers’ in West End. The Bay Islands are renowned for scuba diving so, naturally, there are dozens and dozens of dive shops all hoping to do business with you.
The owner of Coconut Divers is actually a woman from the UK who could not have been more accommodating to us. She drove us free of charge to a safe cash point, told us where the best places to buy food were, allowed us to pay in £ via PayPal so we weren’t being ripped off by the currency exchange and even offered us accommodation in her hostel for just $5 per night. We started to wonder why we’d chosen to stay all the way out in Sandy Bay when clearly the best people were located in West End! We told her that we’d be back for our scuba dive the next day and consider her offer regarding accommodation but that, for now, the beach was calling. To top it all off, she then hailed us a private water taxi to take us to the best beach in Roatán, West Bay. I don’t know about you but I think it’d be pretty hard for any of the other dive shops to compete with the service these guys offer!!
West Bay has a super luxurious vibe. We were seriously impressed by the white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and extensive tourist amenities but at the same time we couldn’t help but feel like it wasn’t the real Honduras.
This particular beach attracts thousands of American tourists and boasts dozens of 5* resorts and gourmet restaurants. While we were sunbathing, we were interrupted by someone shouting ‘Are you Victoria’s Secret models?!’
Now, it doesn’t take a genius to know that we are absolutely NOT Victoria Secret models (I mean, we do the ‘arched back/breathe in’ thing for our Instagram pictures but I’m pretty sure we’re not kidding anyone). The 3 of us looked around in confusion to see a glamorous, older, American woman covered in bling. Then, before we knew it, we were sitting in her hotel bar and she was buying us juice. Yes, juice. I think she thought we were under 21 but no-one was complaining, I mean, it was free! She showed us a cap she’d bought with a diamanté marijuana leaf on it, told us that she’d spent all of her husband’s money in Shanghai and then explained to us that we could have anything we wanted from the bar because it wasn’t her credit card. The word gold-digger sprung to mind straight away but I didn’t want to judge too soon because hey, you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover (or should that be; you shouldn’t judge an older lady by her jewel encrusted weed hat?). 10 seconds later her husband strolled over – an unattractive balding man, originally from China who was a computer technician with absolutely 0 social skills…. ah, I guess some covers do reflect the book, eh! We took a selfie with this lady and her husband but I’m cropping us out of it because I think this couple need to be celebrated in all of their glory…
When we left, she gave us 2 loaves of bread to ‘feed the fish’ with. Not that we were sitting by the ocean or anything, where fish have a natural supply of food… I stuffed the bread in my bag to be polite but then ended up eating it later even though it had bag-fluff on it because I didn’t want to spend money on lunch (That sentence alone explains why I am not suited to the West Bay lifestyle).
We bronzed ourselves, swam in the sea, sipped on coconuts, bought matching friendship bracelets and practiced headstands on the sand until we realised that our bodies were covered in sandfly bites and it was probably time to call it a day. We stopped off to buy veggies for dinner in West End before catching a ride back to the hostel.
That night we cooked fajitas and chilled with everyone from the hostel. The vibe was so nice, super chilled and candlelit and everyone was so friendly – we really did meet some amazing people in Roatán. The problem was that we couldn’t stop thinking about the $5 accommodation we had been offered earlier that day and, despite the Sandy Bay backpackers hostel being a nice environment, it was more expensive and not very centrally located so we made a unanimous decision to move the next day.
Along with re-locating, we also had a big day of scuba diving ahead of us! Because the girls hadn’t done a scuba dive before, they had to watch a video and complete a mini test first. I was still feeling a bit worse for wear after having a cold but the dive masters all agreed that it would be fine for me to dive. The three of us got geared up and headed to the dive site on a boat. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen – much better than the murky waters of Lagos, Portugal. There were miles and miles of reef leading up to a massive drop-off, which led down to what looked like an abyss. I had a bit of a mare trying to equalise my ears (which we knew would happen because I’d had a cold) and my mouthpiece stopped working so I had to switch to the emergency one but even with those slight mishaps it was a great hour-long dive.
Our dive master told us that they regularly see turtles but unfortunately we didn’t spot any. We did see a lobster, an eel and some rainbow fish, which definitely sounds less impressive in comparison but was still really great to see up-close. After our dive, we showered and relaxed. I noticed that I’d cut my leg on the seagrass (yet another mark to add to my infinite collection of bites, stings and scratches) which was solved with a rather unconventional method of vinegar and meat seasoning. I panicked a bit when I heard the word meat (#veganprobz) but was relieved to discover there was no dead animals being rubbed into my skin – just some herbs and spices.
Our decision to move from Sandy Bay to West End was a great one – after our dive we didn’t have to trek for 30 minutes across the island but could, instead, relax and watch the sunset on the beach. There’s a stationary boat just out from the shore with a rope swing that is very popular amongst both locals and tourists – if you’re ever in Roatán then make sure to check it out!
You’d think by this point we would have been exhausted but, surprisingly, we decided to make an event out of dinner. We got glammed up and walked to the restaurant strip where we ate enough baleadas to satisfy us for a lifetime. We spent hours and hours just sitting there, ordering more drinks and chatting about anything and everything. It’s funny because we’ve been travelling together for a month now and we’ve been inseparable, yet when we go for dinner it still feels like we have loads to catch up on. I’m about to start gushing about how much I love these guys again, but seriously, trips like this are nothing without good company ❤️
After dinner, the daunting realisation that we had absolutely no way of getting to Antigua started to set in and we realised that an ‘admin night’ was in order. Naturally, Abbie went to bed and avoided all responsibility, whilst me and Alice sat for hours trying to coordinate ferries, buses and hostels. We soon realised that we wouldn’t be able to spend an extra night in Roatán and would have to spend it on mainland Honduras instead (seeing as the public bus to Guatemala was leaving at 4am in the morning from there). We decided to message the woman that we’d spoken to at the ferry port… remember her? I told you to remember her and now we’ve reached the part where she is relevant again. You can put your memory to rest now, thank you.
We told her that we were taking public transport to Guatemala and wouldn’t need her transport services but enquired as to whether she had space at her hostel for us to stay the night before. She was more than happy to offer us a room and told us that she would pick us up at the port and take us there the next day. Our admin had appeared to pay off – we went to sleep feeling organised and content with ourselves.
We had one last morning of relaxing on the beach and eating baleadas before heading to the ferry port. One of our scuba diving instructor friends, Tony, was also travelling to Antigua at the same time as us and asked if he could take the same bus and stay at the same hostel. Travellers look out for other travellers so, of course, we said yes!
We caught a taxi to the ferry port after having negotiated a price beforehand ($10 each). We didn’t think it would be any problem for Tony to hop in with us (we actually thought it would make the fare even cheaper for all of us by splitting it between 4) but when we arrived at the ferry port we handed over the $30, the taxi driver refused to accept it. He demanded that Tony pay $30 for himself, on top of the $30 that we had negotiated for the 3 of us. It was ridiculous and we spent a while shouting about the injustice before we lost the battle and were forced to pay $60 for the 4 of us. I’m not really sure why this happened and it was SO frustrating – was it because he was a solo, male traveller? Probably. Girls do get special treatment here but even when I think about it now it still makes me angry.
When we arrived in La Ceiba, we saw the lady (who I’m now going to give a name to: Jocelyn) standing at the ferry station exit with our names on a sign. She ushered us into a taxi, agreed that it was fine for Tony to join us and then sent us on our way. When we arrived at the hostel, we realised it was quite run down and that there were no other guests in sight.
We didn’t care too much though because it was a quick stopover before catching our bus to Guatemala. Speaking of the bus, we hadn’t bought our tickets yet and thought it would be best to walk to the station and get them in advance instead of risking a last-minute purchase. On our way to the station, Jocelyn appeared out of nowhere. We couldn’t work out how she knew where we were but, whatever dark magic she uses, she found us.
All of a sudden, she started telling us about a hotel in the centre of La Ceiba that she wanted us to move to. She said we could stay at the hostel if we wanted to or we could move to the hotel for the exact same price. None of us could work out the catch – it all seemed a bit strange. Alice was keen to stay put because we’d had such a long day but Abbie and I were swaying towards the idea of the hotel…
Jocelyn walked with us to get our bus tickets and then said she would drive us back to our hostel pick up our bags and drive us to the new hotel free of charge 🤔 We had no idea what on earth was going on but just agreed to it all anyway (#doitfortheblog) and when we left the bus station there was a car waiting to pick us up (HOW DID IT KNOW WE WERE THERE? BLACK MAGIC, I TELL YOU). We returned to the hostel, Jocelyn had an argument with someone in a back room, we shoved our bags into the car and sped away to the hotel.
The hotel is clearly new or being refurbished because there was furniture everywhere and lot’s of unfinished painting and decorating but the rooms were a million times nicer than the previous hostel room we’d been given for that night. We danced around with joy – our weird gamble was worth it – and although we couldn’t quite work out why all of it had happened, we didn’t really care at this point. La Ceiba is rarely frequented by tourists and so there aren’t many hotels/hostels (Jocelyn probably owns them all anyway) and the ones that do exist rarely have any visitors so I don’t think they really need to put much effort into keeping their standards high.
As well as this day being an extremely eventful one, it also happened to be our one-month travel anniversary, so we decided to go out and celebrate the only way we know how: PIZZA. We couldn’t quite believe that we were sitting in a Pizza Hut on mainland Honduras. Such a tacky but brilliant way to spend our time. A balloon popped mid-way through our meal, scaring everyone at the tables and we joked that people warned us about gunshots here but not balloons bursting…
There was a TV in our hostel and we hadn’t actually seen any Honduran TV so far so we sat down to watch something before bed. All of a sudden, images of a bomb exploding, someone shooting a police officer and a dead body in the middle of a road started to fill the screen. We all thought we were watching a crime programme but instead the words ‘HONDURAS NEWS’ faded into view and a smiley news-anchor began discussing the weather. In the UK, our news programmes begin with a few panoramic shots of London, maybe a close up of Big Ben or the London Eye and a reporter looking through their notes… Honduras, however, decided that death, death and some more death is a more appropriate introduction…
So, that’s that – our weird and wonderful time in Roatán and La Ceiba summarised in just 3000 words (if only I had written my university assignments with such enthusiasm). Time to catch a 4am bus to Guatemala… wish us luck! 🇭🇳 —> 🇬🇹