Our Check-It-Out Retire to Roatan trip
Late in 2015, I got a surprise offer from my company to retire 3 months earlier than planned with full benefits. It took me about 3 seconds to say YES! We had originally planned to head to Boquete, Panama based on all our research. But when this nice surprise fell into our laps, Paulette and I decided to retire to Roatan – at least for 3 months. [You will notice several times we stay in places for 3 months. Usually, this is the length of the tourist visa. If you want to stay longer, you have to take action to extend or become a permanent resident. Otherwise, you must leave.]
Have you ever thought of retiring to a Caribbean island? You’re not alone. From the first time we visited the Virgin Islands, we started dreaming about living the island life with clear, blue water and white sand. And later we vacationed in Cozumel, Mexico many times and that just renewed our interest in the idea. If you like this idea then you could retire to Roatan for as long as you like.
During our stay, we lived very close to West Bay Beach which is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We snorkeled right off the beach and saw amazing coral formations and lots of sea life. The water is unbelievably clear and comfortable. And the resorts along the beach like Infinity Bay Resort and Bananarama were two of our favorite spots. We spent lots of time there socializing and just enjoying the view and warm clear water.
Retiring to an Island with White Sand Beaches
When we looked into the cost to retire to Cozumel, we realized that would not fit into our budget. The cost of a property is high, and so are the rents! And because it is an island, everything has to be brought in from the mainland. We were not looking for expensive. As we were planning our “retirement adventure”, we decided to give Roatan a look. Should you retire to Roatan? Read on and see what you think.
Roatan is a long, narrow island 30 miles off the coast of Honduras. We first went to Roatan on a Caribbean cruise. We saw what a beautiful place it is. The water is every bit as clear as Cozumel, and the Virgin Islands, but unlike Cozumel, this island has a high ridge running its full length. This makes for incredible scenery and views of the ocean.
We boarded the plane from Houston to Roatan January 13, 2016, with four suitcases and our stuffed backpacks. Four days later, we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary in Roatan. We had all-you-can-eat lobster for that celebration and drank a bottle of the special wine I brought with us on the plane. It was awesome!
We settle in and make new friends
We didn’t know it at the time, but there is a great English-speaking church (“R” Church) that meets at Infinity Bay Resort on West Bay Beach. And within a few days, I realized that God had been planning to “hijack” my retirement adventure. We became very active in the church and got involved in one of the ministries that served extremely poor native people on the East end of the island. My wife also got involved in “The Dump Ministry”.
There is a community of islanders who live at the dump. R Church took a group of members and pots of pasta once a week to feed the residents and tell them about Jesus. These people had almost nothing and appreciated the help given by our group. Later, we met a Canadian couple who had a beautiful home on the beach. To get to their home we literally had to drive through the dump!
You will find if you relocate outside North America that Expats tend to hang with other Expats. And it was very easy to make new friends. Two of our favorites were Charles and Debbie, who had lived on Roatan for over 9 years. Debbie went out of her way to make us welcome. She spent one day driving us all over the place, showing us where everything was, the places to avoid due to safety concerns, and the best eating spots. They became two of our best friends. Although we both left Roatan almost 3 years ago, we still talk online all the time. And when we went to visit the US last March, they invited us to stay a week with them in their home in South Carolina.
I make my first mistake – the “Deadly Scooter”
Before our 3-month stay, we had only visited Roatan one day during a cruise-ship stop. And we headed for the beach on a beautiful day. So I paid no attention to the topography of the island. As I said previously, we had visited Cozumel many times. Cozumel is flat and everyone rides scooters everywhere. So I figured Roatan was similar.
As I was wandering around Facebook, I saw that a person was leaving the island and needed to sell his scooter. So I thought how neat it would be to have a scooter waiting for us when we landed. I bought it online, and the guy delivered it to the house we were going to rent. Of course, I had no experience riding a scooter, but how hard could it be?
The Scooter Caused Us Many Problems
I’m not kidding when I say that everything bad that happened to us on Roatan was directly connected with that scooter! People in the church started praying that we would get rid of it. The main reason it was a really bad idea is that Roatan is not flat. There is a big ridgeline that runs down the middle of the island. And the only real road runs along the ridgeline.
When we got to our house, I was looking at a drive that climbed at almost 45 degrees up and then did a 90 degree cut back to climb the rest of the way to the main road. We fell off the scooter, I fell off the scooter multiple times, I had scrapes everywhere, and one time I rolled down the road and almost off the edge to a 12-foot drop. I was just barely able to stop before the edge. I’ll leave the story about the dogs for another day.
Beaches, Resorts, and Restaurants
I already told you about West Bay Beach. The other favorite is West End Beach. You can take a water taxi from one to the other. But their definition of water taxi is a young barefoot islander with a boat. Both beaches have quite a few restaurants and places to stay. And the lobster and fish are delicious.
There is also quite a variety of live music in the evenings. And some evenings there are “crab races”. During the day and at sunset, a favorite activity was to grab a beer or cocktail and go out in the ocean with friends, or people you just met. Roatan is a very relaxed place.
We met one couple who bought their home through the HGTV program, House Hunters International. They opened a dive business and became good friends. We went on some trips with them and on one we saw the famous Whale Sharks.
Coming to Roatan on a Cruise Ship?
Most of the shopping is in the town of Coxen Hole. This is where all of the cruise ships dock except Carnival. There is a large grocery store that has many American products. There are also plenty of restaurants, banks with secure ATMs, and many other shops.
Several years ago, Carnival built its own dock along with some nice facilities and shops. When you are on the ship they tell you that Roatan is dangerous and you should just stay at their facility. They just want you to spend all your money with them.
Avoid the High-Priced Carnival Excursions
However, Roatan is not dangerous for cruise ship passengers. And the best parts of the island are not close to the Carnival dock. But there is a secret. Once you arrive and leave the ship, you walk through the Carnival shops, out the gate, and down the street about a block. There, waiting for you will be hundreds of local tour operators to take you on all kinds of excursions to the best spots on the island.
You can arrange all of these easily in advance through the internet (not through Carnival). This is what we did, and it was a much better experience than staying in the Carnival area. And don’t worry. They will have you back to the ship in plenty of time.
The East End of Roatan Has Its Own Character
Several times we took day-trips to the East End of Roatan. Some friends came to visit so we rented a car for the day. We went to a very remote part of the island to a small but famous restaurant called La Sirena. The lobster was supposed to be fresh and delicious. It must have been because when we got there they were out. We had a drink and a snack, but we were disappointed.
So we decided to go swimming. While we were gone, a small boat with two fishermen came to the dock, and now the restaurant had lobster. ? Let me tell you that was some very fresh lobster!
The End of our Visit to Beautiful Roatan
Our 3 months in Roatan was the start of “Our Retirement Adventures”. We have a Facebook group with that name where we tell about many of our adventures over the last 3+ years. You are welcome to join our group and follow along.
At the end of April, we needed to go back to Houston for the closing on our home. So we left after 3 months with many new friends and lots of memories and pictures. We enjoyed many things about our 3-month “check-it-out tour. Here are our conclusions about Roatan as a retirement destination.
Nice Place to Visit, Hard Place to Live
As I said previously, Roatan is a beautiful island. The water is crystal clear, and the diving and snorkeling are world-class. Seafood is plentiful and relatively inexpensive. And there is a very friendly Expat community and a great church. I highly recommend it as a vacation spot. However, we felt it was a hard place in which to retire and live. Here are the factors that were most important to us:
Factors to consider before you retire to Roatan
- It is very hot because it is at sea level.
- Sand fleas and other bugs will attack unprotected skin.
- Sand gets in everything.
- The wind coats your windows with salt every day.
- You cannot drink the water. Water has to be delivered in 5-gallon jugs.
- My wife felt she had to sanitize all of the fruits and vegetables with bleach and then rinse very thoroughly.
- The electricity went off all the time. One night we were at a restaurant watching the Super Bowl, and the entire island lost electricity with 1 minute to go in the first half. It didn’t come back on until long after the game was over.
- Of course, this also affects the internet connection. We could never count on having internet.
- The cost of living is significantly higher than in other parts of Latin America. A car is a necessity. (But stay away from scooters!)
- HIV is an enormous problem throughout Honduras including Roatan.
- Crime and government corruption are both significant problems for Americans looking for a safe, comfortable, and inexpensive place to live.
- If you own property, be prepared to do significant maintenance. The Salt in the air attacks everything. Replacing siding and roofs will be much more frequent. Finding and purchasing appliances and replacement parts will be time-consuming and expensive. And you will paint the outside of your home at least once every 3 years.
- It is an island. Everything has to come by boat or plane.
I honestly thought we were going to stay longer. But with a month to go, Paulette pointed out all these negatives, and I had to agree with her that we needed to keep looking. So we left on our original schedule. We flew back to Houston to complete the sale of our home, and then we were off again.
Next stop – Boquete, Panama
Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts about Roatan. Thanks for visiting us.
Steve and Paulette Tuggle