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Roatan, Honduras: Jewel of the Western Caribbean

Roatan, Honduras remains a largely undiscovered jewel of the Caribbean. Cruisers are starting to become acquainted with it as more cruise lines add it to their list of ports. The island is home to two cruise ports that service accommodate hundreds of visits every year. Almost invariably, passengers fall in love with the lush paradise, which differentiates itself from many other islands in that the island home to tropical forests and palm trees that provide shade on many of the island's picturesque beaches. Cruisers aren't the only visitors, though, as SCUBA divers from the United States and Canada frequently fly down to spend a week or two underwater.

Diving is the undisputed top attraction of the island. At many dive destinations around the world, divers have to spend the better part of an hour or more to reach dive sites, substantially increasing the time commitment that people make to the activity, making divers prone to seasickness, and keeping divers from spending as much time as they might like on other activities. In Roatan, though, the reef is just a few minutes from the shore, with many dive sites located no more than a couple of hundred yards from shore. This means that divers can get in more dives in less time while enjoying some of the world's best diving.

For those who prefer to stay on the surface, there is no shortage of snorkeling options. Some SCUBA shops accommodate snorkelers as well. West Bay Beach, one of the top choices for islanders local and expat alike, is just a short swim from the reef, where wildlife is abundant. Half Moon Bay in West End also offers plenty to see, much of it in water that is waist deep.

West Bay and West End tend to be both the safest and most popular options for tourists on shore. West Bay has several resorts located right on the beach, putting the Caribbean Sea within a minute of their guests. The resorts offer several dining options, ranging from meals in the $8-$10 range to far more luxurious options. Available activities include jet skiing, parasailing, and SNUBA, an option for those who are not certified SCUBA divers to experience the underwater world.

West End is the island's main bar strip. It has everything from bars offering $1 beers at Booty Bar to the Argentina Grill and Lighthouse Grill, which cater to those looking for higher end dining experiences. Even those establishments offering high-end food, though, the ambiance is just as casual as it is throughout the rest of the island.

Visitors looking for other experiences on land can visit the Garifuna village to get a look at one of the island's oldest communities. For the adventurous sorts, ziplining and go carting are readily available. Animal lovers may also enjoy the iguana farm, where massive iguanas crawl over each other - and the feet of visitors, to eat the leaves that visitors feed to them. Opportunities for close encounters with monkeys are also an option. For animal lovers who want the most intimate possible encounters, a swim with the dolphins at Anthony's Key is a must.

Roatan has earned its growing reputation as a jewel of the Western Caribbean. It offers something for everyone, from those who want adventure to those who just want to relax and enjoy a few drinks on some of the world's most beautiful beaches. Anyone planning a cruise, or a relaxing vacation would do well to consider this largely undiscovered destination.

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