I have been to almost two dozen ports of call in the Caribbean on cruises, and I have to say that Roatán is absolutely one of my favorites. The wheelchair accessibility is poor, but there are so many beautiful things to see, and the people are absolutely wonderful. Roatán itself is an island located almost 40 miles off the north coast of Honduras, and is part of the Bay Islands. The water and the beaches are absolutely beautiful and great for lounging or snorkeling.
When visiting on a cruise, there are two places you can dock depending on your cruise line. You will be on the south side of the island at Coxen Hole, the largest city and capital of the Bay Islands. Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and NCL ships dock at the Coxen Hole cruise ship terminal and mall complex, which opened in late 2008. Here you can find a bank with an ATM, a large Diamonds International shop, a few restaurants, and a few other shops including a pharmacy and a liquor store. I did not dock here on the my Holland America ship. But from what I could tell from my taxi, you could technically leave the port area and go into town or hail a taxi. However, I would not put much faith in the accessibility of sidewalks or the local area right outside of the Coxen Hole pier.
Carnival, Princess, Costa, Holland America, and Regent ships dock at the Mahogany Bay Cruise Center, which is located in Dixon Cove east of Coxen Hole. This is a large and very wheelchair accessible shopping and dining area. As soon as you disembark from your ship, you will walk/roll along the dock and onto a wide curving walkway that will take you to Mahogany Bay. From there, there is a separate walkway that will take you to a beach. You can also take an aerial tram to the beach. I did not see if either the tram or the beaches are accessible.
If you would like to hire a taxi, you need to exit the Mahogany Bay complex. At the back exit, you will find a parking lot absolutely filled with white taxicabs and tour vans. If you hire an independent tour, you will have to keep going past this area and over a moderate hill to exit the secure port area and meet your guide. My friend and I took a regular taxi tour with the fantastic Roatán Custom Tours, and our guide (George, the owner) was able to meet us in the parking lot, sparing us the hike over the hill to exit the port area. At the time, I did not know that there is a wheelchair accessible van tour service operated by Victor Bodden Tours. It costs twice as much as a regular taxi tour, but it’s great to know the option exists for power wheelchair users who can’t use a regular taxi.
There are actually a few really cool things that wheelchair users can do over the course of a few hours in Roatán. One of the most amazing experiences of my life happened during our visit to Daniel Johnson’s Monkey & Sloth Hangout. This is a tiny little zoo, for lack of a better word, with huge walk-in enclosures that contain spider monkeys, sloths, guatis, and a few different types of birds. The guides take you through in groups of 10, and then they allow everyone to hold one of the two sloths. Yes, you read that correctly.
They also take everyone into one of the enclosures, where the spider monkeys can jump on you and take small pieces of fruit out of your hands to eat. One of the enclosures even has a small concrete ramp that allowed me to take part just like everyone else. One of the guides said that they are committed to significantly improving the accessibility and adding one or two more ramps to the enclosures within a month or two. When my friend walked in after we arrived to check on the accessibility, she thought we would be there for no longer than 30 minutes. After our experience, I would budget at least an hour and a half. The guides are so incredibly friendly and helpful, and really wanted me to enjoy the experience as much as everyone else.
Our guide later took us to the West End beaches and shops, which seemed to be the center point for tourists. We didn’t get out of the car because it was crowded, and there was no real sidewalk to roll along in order to see the shops and restaurants. However, it was lovely to drive by everything slowly and look at the beautiful water along the beaches. US dollars are widely accepted at shops in Roatán, so there is no need to exchange your money. However, be careful with some of the vendors, as we had a bad experience with getting charged without our permission while still browsing and for a price higher than was initially quoted for some shirts.
Bodden Tours lists an iguana farm and botanical gardens as accessible options for their tours, although we didn’t have time to visit them during our own tour. Our guide was able to stop at several locations where we could take really scenic photographs at overlooks and beaches without even having to get out of the car. Even though the local accessibility is poor, the Honduran people are incredibly friendly and helpful in case you need any sort of assistance.