So I’ve just finished reading an article in USA TODAY about Roatan, that beautiful 37-mile long island off the coast of Honduras that is a paradise for scuba divers and snorkeling, because it holds the world’s second largest barrier reef. I know – I was out there last April. I’m reading along – yeah, yeah – full of ex-pats, English spoken almost everywhere, diving paradise, first golf course under development, great food in some areas, and a definite Bohemian culture like the Bahamas I recall from my youth – not what the Bahamas are today. There are really no big, huge fancy hotels on the island – yet. But the real estate market is booming and yes, you can buy there now and get beachfront property for a fraction of what you’d get in the states.
But then I continued reading and thought, OK, this is scary. They are not telling the full story here. And Second Shelter readers need to know the truth!
Let me tell you about our trip: we stayed in what was one of the most beautiful townhomes we’d ever seen right on the water, in a great development called The Meridian at Lighthouse Point. Very well-built — even the walls are made of cinderblocks. I was dying to buy a second story unit that had just come back on the market (distress sale) because we had a view of the mainland and water that was unparalleled — see for yourself. We were on the West End of Roatan, and that is where you want to be. No. Where. Else.
But Roatan is primitive. That’s what charming means, usually. We arrived and the young man, Jimmy, who works as a caretaker for Dallas friends who have a home there met us at the airport. He helped us get a rental car. It sure wasn’t Hertz. The cars were filthy and all stick-shift. An hour later, we were off to get groceries, bumping up the cliffy hills in our Kia. Jimmy drops us off at The Meridian and proceeds to back his car into a cement barrier left over from construction. His tire rim is history. We feel sorry for him, so my husband takes him to a gas station to get his car fixed. Next, we head for dinner on West End – great restaurants – but my husband warns me, this car is acting funky. Funky all right: it dies on the way home in the middle of the road, bottom of a steep hill in the heart of the jungle. We start it – horrible cranking noises – and miraculously make it to the nearest hotel. There we ask a security guard, who finds us the Roatan police. Suddenly we are surrounded by Honduran police who are very nice, pose for photos, and end up driving us home. (Though I worried for a moment we’d been ambushed.) We leave the car for the next day.
After we switch cars, we enjoy the island swimming, snorkeling, kayaking. Warning: you may need a wet suit: there is so much coral around the island, and you don’t want to touch it because it’s bad for the coral and bad for you, too. I got coral poisoning. And you will need something stronger than Skin So Soft, at least I did, for the bugs. The tiny, invisible mosquitos on the island just loved my legs , so much it took the bites months to heal after getting a strong cortisone ointment from my dermatologist.
We met and chatted with many locals who gave us the island low-down. A developer had had his legs broken by a real estate partner, and there had been a recent shooting on the island: drug lords. Oh. My. God. Yes, we were told, stay away from Port Royal on the East End – the drug lords have taken over the entire town.
One day Jimmy takes us on a tour of the island. We are having a great time driving, sunning, visiting developments and enjoying the views. Roatan is a raw island. The huge cruise ships pass through and supply most of the tourist trade, and developers are counting on the fact that many of them like what they see and will want to come back, buy real estate. I’d like to sell real estate here — the commissions are great. Hence many developments and real estate is a major industry. Which scares me: will Roatan be the next Phoenix?
I see a sign that says Port Royal – ahead. Freaking, I make my husband turn the car around and head back. But it’s a pirate cove, he tells me, I wanted to see it. Jimmy, too, says no. They have check-points, he explains, and they have guns.
I ask if the police cannot handle these drug lords? Jimmy says, well, their guns are bigger.
That was six months ago, and things may have changed. Maybe the drug guys went swimming with the fishes. But if you go back and buy, I’d stick to the West End until Port Royal manages to flush itself of the new-age pirates, the drug lords. Seriously, I do think the place has potential but it’s a foreign country a hour’s boat ride from Central America: anything’s possible.
Roatan, Honduras – Second Shelters Rating: 8 out of 10
Who is buying: Kelcy Warren, Dallas billionaire.