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Native name:

Nickname: The Big Island[ citation needed ]
Roatán, Bay Islands
Honduras location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location Caribbean Sea
Coordinates 16°23′N86°24′W / 16.383°N 86.400°W / 16.383; -86.400 Coordinates: 16°23′N86°24′W / 16.383°N 86.400°W / 16.383; -86.400
Archipelago Bay Islands
Total islands7
Major islandsRoatán, Útila and Guanaja
Area83 km2 (32 sq mi)
Length59 km (36.7 mi)
Width8 km (5 mi)
Coastline154 km (95.7 mi)
Highest point1011 feet
Department Bay Islands
MunicipalityIslas de la Bahia
Largest settlement Coxen Hole (pop. 10,500)
Population44,657 (2015)
Pop. density538 /km2 (1,393 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Native Islanders, Garifuna, Expatriates

Roatán (Spanish pronunciation:  [ro.a.ˈtan] ) is an island in the Caribbean, about 65 kilometres (40 mi) off the northern coast of Honduras. It is located between the islands of Útila and Guanaja, and is the largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras.

Caribbean region to the center-east of America composed of many islands and of coastal regions of continental countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean is a region of The Americas that consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands and the surrounding coasts. The region is southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.

Honduras republic in Central America

Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. In the past, it was sometimes referred to as "Spanish Honduras" to differentiate it from British Honduras, which later became modern-day Belize. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Fonseca, and to the north by the Gulf of Honduras, a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea.

Guanaja Place in Islas de la Bahía, Honduras

Guanaja is one of the Bay Islands of Honduras and is in the Caribbean. It is about 70 kilometres (43 mi) off the north coast of Honduras, and 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) from the island of Roatan. One of the cays off Guanaja, also called Guanaja or Bonacca or Low Cay, is near the main island, and contains most of the approximately 10,000 people who live in Guanaja. The densely populated cay has been described as the Venice of Honduras because of the waterways that run through it. The other two main settlements on Guanaja are Mangrove Bight and Savannah Bight. Smaller settlements include East End and North East Bight.


The island was formerly known as Ruatan and Rattan.[ citation needed ] It is approximately 77 kilometres (48 mi) long, and less than 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) across at its widest point. The island consists of two municipalities: José Santos Guardiola in the east and Roatán, including the Cayos Cochinos, further south in the west.

José Santos Guardiola President of Honduras

General José Santos Guardiola Bustillo was a two-term President of Honduras from 17 February 1856 to 7 February 1860 and from 7 February 1860 to his death on 11 January 1862, when he became the only President of Honduras to be assassinated while in office in a crime committed by his personal guard.

Cayos Cochinos archipelago

The Cayos Cochinos or Cochinos Cays consist of two small islands and 13 more small coral cays situated 30 kilometres (19 mi) northeast of La Ceiba on the northern shores of Honduras. Although geographically separate, they belong to the Bay Islands department and are part of Roatán municipality. The population numbered 108 at the 2001 census. The total land area measures about 2 km2 (0.8 sq mi).


The island rests on an exposed ancient coral reef, rising to about 270 metres (890 ft) above sea level. Offshore reefs offer opportunities for diving. [1] Most habitation is in the western half of the island.

The most populous town of the island is Coxen Hole, capital of Roatán municipality, located in the southwest. West of Coxen Hole are the settlements of Gravel Bay, Flowers Bay and Pensacola on the south coast, and Sandy Bay, West End and West Bay on the north coast. To the east of Coxen Hole are the settlements of Mount Pleasant, French Harbour, Parrot Tree, Jonesville and Oakridge on the south coast, and Punta Gorda on the north coast.

Coxen Hole Place in Bay Islands, Honduras

Coxen Hole, is the largest city on the island of Roatán, and the capital of the Bay Islands department of Honduras, with a population of 5,070 as of census 2001. It is also the location of the island's Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport.

The easternmost quarter of the island is separated by a channel through the mangroves that is 15 metres wide on average. This section is called Helene, or Santa Elena in Spanish. Satellite islands at the eastern end are Morat, Barbareta, and Pigeon Cay. Further west between French Harbour and Coxen Hole are several cays, including Stamp Cay and Barefoot Cay. [ citation needed ]

Mangrove A shrub or small tree that grows in coastal saline or brackish water

A mangrove is a shrub or small tree that grows in coastal saline or brackish water. The term is also used for tropical coastal vegetation consisting of such species. Mangroves occur worldwide in the tropics and subtropics, mainly between latitudes 25° N and 25° S. The total mangrove forest area of the world in 2000 was 137,800 square kilometres (53,200 sq mi), spanning 118 countries and territories.


Located near the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean Sea (second largest worldwide after Australia's Great Barrier Reef), Roatán has become an important cruise ship, scuba diving and eco-tourism destination in Honduras. Tourism is its most important economic sector, though fishing is also an important source of income for islanders.[ citation needed ] Roatán is located within 40 miles of La Ceiba. The island is served by the Juan Manuel Gálvez Roatán International Airport and the Galaxy Wave Ferry service twice a day.

Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System A marine region from Isla Contoy at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula down to Belize, Guatemala and the Bay Islands of Honduras

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), also popularly known as the Great Mayan Reef or Great Maya Reef, is a marine region that stretches over 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) from Isla Contoy at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula down to Belize, Guatemala and the Bay Islands of Honduras. The reef system includes various protected areas and parks including the Belize Barrier Reef, Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, Hol Chan Marine Reserve (Belize), Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve, and the Cayos Cochinos Marine Park. Belize's coastline, comprising the Belize Barrier Reef, is home to approximately 80% of MBRS. The Belize Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and the second largest barrier reef in the world. The Belize Barrier Reef and Belize's three offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries—collectively termed, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System—has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (1996).

Caribbean Sea A sea of the Atlantic Ocean bounded by North, Central, and South America

The Caribbean Sea is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean in the tropics of the Western Hemisphere. It is bounded by Mexico and Central America to the west and south west, to the north by the Greater Antilles starting with Cuba, to the east by the Lesser Antilles, and to the south by the north coast of South America.

Great Barrier Reef Coral reef system off the east coast of Australia, World Heritage Site

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometres (1,400 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi). The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. It supports a wide diversity of life and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981. CNN labelled it one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Queensland National Trust named it a state icon of Queensland.


French Harbour, Roatan Roatan French Harbour.jpg
French Harbour, Roatán
Oak Ridge in the 1960s Roatan, Oak Ridge 1968.jpg
Oak Ridge in the 1960s

The Indians of the Bay Islands are believed to have been related to either the Paya, the Maya, the Lenca or the Jicaque, which were the tribes present on the mainland. Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage (1502–1504) came to the islands as he visited the neighbouring Bay Island of Guanaja. Soon after, the Spanish began trading in the islands for slave labour. More devastating for the local Indians was exposure to Eurasian infectious diseases to which they had no immunity, such as smallpox and measles. No indigenous people survived the consequent epidemics.[ citation needed ]

Throughout European colonial times, the Bay of Honduras attracted an array of individual settlers, pirates, traders and military forces. Various economic activities were engaged in and political struggles played out between the European powers, chiefly Britain and Spain. Sea travellers frequently stopped over at Roatán and the other islands as resting points. On several occasions, the islands were subject to military occupation. In contesting with the Spanish for colonisation of the Caribbean, the English occupied the Bay Islands on and off between 1550 and 1700. During this time, buccaneers found the vacated, mostly unprotected islands a haven for safe harbour and transport. English, French and Dutch pirates established settlements on the islands. They frequently raided the Spanish treasure ships, cargo vessels carrying gold and silver from the New World to Spain.

During the War of the Austrian Succession (King George's War in the US), a detachment of the British Army under Lt. Col John Caulfeild garrisoned the island from 1742 to 1749. The garrison was originally found from two companies of Gooch's Virginia Regiment, but these were eventually amalgamated into Trelawney's 49th Foot (later the 1st Royal Berkshire Regiment). [2]

In 1797, the British defeated the Black Carib, who had been supported by the French, in a battle for control of the Windward Caribbean island of St. Vincent. Weary of their resistance to British plans for sugar plantations, the British rounded up the St. Vincent Black Carib and deported them to Roatán. The majority of Black Carib migrated to Trujillo on mainland Honduras, but a portion remained to found the community of Punta Gorda on the northern coast of Roatán. The Black Carib, whose ancestry includes Arawak and African Maroons, remained in Punta Gorda, becoming the Bay Island's first permanent post-Columbian settlers.[ citation needed ] They also migrated from there to parts of the northern coast of Central America, becoming the foundation of the modern-day Garífuna culture in Honduras, Belize and Guatemala.

The majority permanent population of Roatán originated from the Cayman Islands near Jamaica. They arrived in the 1830s shortly after Britain's abolition of slavery in 1838. The changes in the labour system disrupted the economic structure of the Caymans. The islands had a largely seafaring culture; natives were familiar with the area from turtle fishing and other activities. Former slaveholders from the Cayman Islands were among the first to settle in the seaside locations throughout primarily western Roatán. During the late 1830s and 1840s, former slaves also migrated from the Cayman Islands, in larger number than planters. Altogether, the former Cayman peoples became the largest cultural group on the island. [3]

For a brief period in the 1850s, Britain declared the Bay Islands its colony. Within a decade, the Crown ceded the territory formally back to Honduras. British colonists were sent to compete for control. They asked American William Walker, a freebooter (filibuster) with a private army, to help end the crisis in 1860 by invading Honduras; he was captured upon landing in Trujillo and executed there.

In the latter half of the 19th century, the island populations grew steadily and established new settlements all over Roatán and the other islands. Settlers came from all over the world and played a part in shaping the cultural face of the island. Islanders started a fruit trade industry which became profitable. By the 1870s it was purchased by American interests, most notably the New Orleans and Bay Islands Fruit Company. Later the Standard Fruit and United Fruit companies became the foundation for modern-day fruit companies, the industry which led to Honduras being called a "banana republic".

In the 20th century, there was continued population growth resulting in increased economic changes and environmental challenges. A population boom began with an influx of Spanish-speaking Mestizo migrants from the Honduran mainland. Since the late 20th century, they tripled the previous resident population. Mestizo migrants settled primarily in the urban areas of Coxen Hole and Barrio Los Fuertes (near French Harbour). Even the mainlander influx was dwarfed in number and economic effects by the overwhelming tourist presence in the 21st century. Numerous American, Canadian, British, New Zealand, Australian and South African settlers and entrepreneurs engaged chiefly in the fishing industry, and later, provided the foundation for attracting the tourist trade.

In 1998, Roatán suffered some damage from Hurricane Mitch, temporarily paralysing most commercial activity. The storm also broke up the popular dive-wrecks Aguila and Odyssey.


Roatan looking southeast with West Bay on the right and Coxen Hole and Manuel Galvez airport in the upper middle. Roatan looking northwest with West Bay on the right and Coxen Hole and Manuel Galvez airport in the upper middle.jpg
Roatán looking southeast with West Bay on the right and Coxen Hole and Manuel Galvez airport in the upper middle.
Roatan looking north towards West End Roatan looking north towards West End.jpg
Roatán looking north towards West End


The Caracol people are an English-speaking people who have been established in Northern Honduras (specifically, the Bay Islands) since the early 19th century. They are chiefly of European and British-Afro-Caribbean descent and are called Garifuna or Afro-Caribbeans. "Caracol" is Spanish for "conch, snail or shell", and relates the people of the Bay Islands to their unique environment and their seafaring culture. In its current usage, the term "caracol" refers to all people born in the Bay Islands region, and their descendants. The term "caracol" has also been deemed offensive by native Islanders and the term is only used by Spanish-speaking mainland Hondurans who have a long-standing rivalry with native Bay Islanders because of their differences in culture, language, beliefs and ideals. All native islanders regardless of race, creed or colour prefer the term "Islanders" when being referred to. The region of the Bay Islands encompasses the three major islands of Roatán, Útila and Guanaja, the Hog Islands as well as the smaller islands or cays. These people are also called "Islanders", especially locally.

English is the first language of native islanders, regardless of race, and Spanish is spoken second, whereas mainland Honduras is Spanish-speaking. It remains this way because of the islands' past as a British colony with descendants from the British Isles. With the steady influx of mainland Hondurans migrating to the islands in the late twentieth century, Spanish language use has increased, however because of the tourism and cruise ship industry that supports the economy of the islands, English continues to be the first spoken and dominant language among all native island peoples.

Over time, the form of English spoken by the Roatán Islanders has changed. The language differs mostly in morphology but also in pronunciation and accent and, to a lesser extent, in syntax and vocabulary, from the English of the other British Caribbean colonies, as evidenced by the usage of a wide variety of old standard English terms and words throughout the islands. They are similar enough to be mutually intelligible and understood throughout the entire Bay Islands. The language can also be learned, although it is not taught in the general sense, whilst the accent derives from the wide variety of expatriates living and working on the Islands from North America and Europe.


View from Big Bight over the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, second-largest barrier reef in the world Milton2106.jpg
View from Big Bight over the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, second-largest barrier reef in the world
Roatan Island Agouti--Dasyprocta ruatanica Roatan Island Agouti - Dasyprocta ruatanica.jpg
Roatán Island Agouti Dasyprocta ruatanica

Roatán lies on the southern edge of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest barrier reef in the world. Reef systems are very delicate and have experienced massive damage and degradation worldwide. On Roatán, unchecked tourism development and an increased population are putting a strain on its natural resources. Deforestation, run-off, poorly managed waste treatment, and pollution are the main threats to the terrestrial and marine environments.

The capital city of Coxen Hole underwent a major reconstruction between the years of 2003 to 2005 adding new black water and septic lines as well as fresh water lines to accommodate the growing business sector and population. These lines are used in conjunction with the new water treatment plant and a waste management plant that recycles waste which are adjacent to the Roatán International Airport.

A similar project has been completed and now serving West End Village (the Island's tourism, social and diving hub) with even greater success than its predecessors. Although the project was initially met with some scepticism and anger at a tax hike proposed to help fund the project, it has turned out to be an overwhelming success with a new state of the art road, pumping station, sewer lines and drainage system. The project and its facilities are currently maintained and operated by ACME sanitation and solutions. It was not that long ago where "sanitation" was provided by hundreds of out-houses located at the ends of short boardwalks over the water. In the smaller communities, this "system" may be still in use.

The Roatán Marine Park was the main force behind introducing recycling to the Island as well as the popular "Coastal clean up" projects that have become very popular among schools, residents and expatriate communities on the Island. The Marine Park is led by a team of professional divers, marine biologists and oceanographers.

Roatán Marine Park

The Roatán Marine Park (RMP) is a grassroots, community-based, non-profit organization located on Roatán. The organization was formed in January 2005 when a group of concerned dive operators and local businesses united in an effort to protect Roatán's fragile coral reefs. Initially, the RMP's goal was to run a patrol program within the Sandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve (SBWEMR), to prevent over exploitation through unsustainable fishing practices. Over time, the organisation expanded the scope of their environmental efforts through the addition of other programs to protect Roatán's natural resources, including patrols and infrastructure, education, conservation and public awareness.

Roatán Institute of Marine Science

The Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences (RIMS) was established in 1989 with the primary objective being the preservation of Roatán's natural resources through education and research. [4] RIMS is located in Sandy Bay, specifically in Anthony's Key Resort, on the northwest coast of Roatán with over 30 miles of fringing and barrier reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, and shoreline. Over the past twenty five years, RIMS has established itself as a teaching institution and is visited by colleges as well as universities from abroad to study nearby tropical marine ecosystems and the bottlenose dolphins kept by the facility. [5]


All reef systems throughout the Bay Islands are protected by the local and central government with help from charitable donations and those on the front line. Through local donations to the Marine Park and the many causes along with a concerted effort from the resorts on the island weekly clean-ups are undertaken to insure no metals or plastics litter the reef system and beaches as well as all major dive shops doing clean-ups on most of their daily dives. There are still obstacles to be defeated but the Islanders and expatriates living on the islands have taken a united stand to conserve and educate.


The Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport (RTB) on Roatán is one of four airports able to receive international traffic that is in service in Honduras. The other airports in Honduras are the Ramon Villeda Morales International Airport (SPS) in San Pedro Sula, Toncontin International Airport (TGU) in Tegucigalpa, and Goloson International Airport in La Ceiba (LCE).

The island of Roatán airport has a terminal that is served with nonstop flights to Roatán from Houston, Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami, New York City (Newark International Airport), San Salvador and Milan. During the winter months, the island also receives flights to Roatán from Montreal and Toronto. The Canadian based charter airline, Air Transat operates flights from mid November to mid April. [ citation needed ]

On 9 September 2011, EasySky started operations in Honduras, serving the mainland City of La Ceiba and the island of Roatán in the Western Caribbean using a Boeing 737-200. [6]

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Black Carib ethnic group descended from Island Caribs and enslaved Africans

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Bay Islands Department Place in Honduras

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Atlantic Airlines de Honduras

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Utila Place in Islas de la Bahía, Honduras

Utila(Isla de Utila) is the smallest of the Honduras' major Bay Islands, after Roatán and Guanaja, in a region that marks the south end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest in the world.

Bay Islands English is an English variety spoken on the Bay Islands Department, Honduras. 22,500 native speakers (Caracoles) were reported in 2001. Mainlanders know this language as Caracol, which literally means "conch". Genetically this variety descends from Cayman Islands English.

Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport airport in Honduras

Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport is an international airport located on the island of Roatán, in the Caribbean Sea 50 kilometres (31 mi) off the northern coast of Honduras. Roatán is in the Bay Islands Department of Honduras.

The Caracol people are an ethnic people of mainly European/English-African-Caribbean descent, who have been concentrated in Northern Honduras since the early 19th century. They speak an English-based creole. Caracol is a Spanish term that literally translates as conch, or snail shell; it associates the people of the Bay Islands to their environment and seafaring culture. In its current usage, the term Caracol refers to all people born in the Bay Islands region and their descendants. The region of the Bay Islands encompasses the three major islands of Roatán, Útila, Guanaja, and the smaller islands or keys.


Belizeans are people associated with the country of Belize through citizenship or descent. Belize is a multiethnic country with residents of African, Amerindian, European and Asian descent or any combination of those groups.

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Guanaja Airport airport

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West Bay Roatan

West Bay is a bay in Honduras. It is located in Roatan, the biggest of the Bay Islands of Honduras.

There are a number of languages spoken in Honduras though the official language is Spanish.


  1. Roatan Institute of Deepsea Exploration
  2. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Autumn 2017, pp. 197–206.
  3. "The History of Roatan".
  4. "Home | Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences". Home | Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  5. "Roatan Institute for Marine Science (RIMS)". Anthony's Key. Retrieved 24 January 2018.