Instead of roasting a turkey last Thanksgiving, our family of five took a chance on the “rainy season” in the Caribbean and spent five days on a Honduran island that delivered on the promise of sun, sand, and quality family time. Not only did we skip the cranberry sauce, we also skipped the jackets, the gloves — and the shoes!
Located roughly 40 miles off of the northern coast of Honduras, the island of Roatan is largely undiscovered, save for those who have a passion for scuba diving and cruise ship passengers who disembark for just a few hours. The island is only 48 miles long and 5 miles across and boasts gorgeous beaches and extraordinary scuba diving and snorkeling. There are few roads on Roatan and the main one requires some driving skills to avoid the potholes. The pristine white sand beaches are fringed with lush palms and tropical plants. The average temperature year-round is a perfect 80 degrees.
Roatan is part of an ancient coral reef — the second largest barrier reef in the world. The reef and its splendors are easily accessible, either from the beach or through a multitude of scuba diving outfits across the island. English is their main language though Spanish is also spoken and the U.S. dollar is generally accepted everywhere.
For our family vacation, I wanted the warm sun and sea without the glitz and glamour of high-end mega-resorts and the costs that go with that kind of holiday; I wanted to go someplace that still felt small and undiscovered by the masses but safe and beautiful. Roatan kept its promise in all of these regards. Our lodge, Bananarama Dive and Beach Resort, was on the smaller side, family-friendly, and offered a sincere focus on local charity work. They encouraged us to participate in “Pack for a Purpose” and bring donated supplies in our luggage. Before we even left on vacation, our kids enjoyed selecting a specific charity the resort was supporting and buying a variety of school supplies to help local Honduran children.
We landed in Roatan mid-morning and by lunchtime our kids were splashing in the waves in front of our resort. We spied a vendor selling empanadas from a cooler on the beach and had the first of many lunches in our beach chairs. That evening the resort put on its weekly crab races for charity. We selected numbered hermit crabs and bet on them to win — all proceeds benefit a local organization that is reducing HIV transmission between mothers and babies. Our kids had a blast cheering on their hermit crabs — though they did not win — and then listened respectfully to how the money raised that evening was saving babies’ lives.
The next morning, we left our two-room cabana barefoot, meandered down sandy paths to the beachfront restaurant and enjoyed breakfast with the sun on our faces. There is nothing quite like sipping your morning coffee while watching the waves roll in. We don’t scuba dive but we tried out our fancy new full-face snorkel masks and even our 4-year-old daughter delighted in the experience of dipping her face in the water and watching dozens of brightly-colored fish swim by. With our snorkel masks and reef-safe sunscreen in hand, we walked to the end of the beach where we played for most of the day. We snorkeled as a whole family or in pairs, watched the wild iguanas on the rock wall nearby or just laid on the beach together. I loved snorkeling with our oldest child. He would place his hand in mine and we would glide through the water side-by-side, pointing out glimmering fish to each other.
Another day we walked about half a mile down the beach to Gumbalimba Park — a sprawling multi-activity animal preserve that mixes history, culture, animals and activities. We had the park to ourselves for the first two hours and our guide toured us through a re-creation of a pirate cave that educated the kids about the early days of Honduras and its flora and fauna. We had the chance to interact with enormous Macaw parrots and charming white-faced Capuchin monkeys. The parrots and the monkeys roam free in a select part of the preserve which made it especially pleasurable. The monkeys clambered all over our shoulders and heads as the trainers talked about their individual personalities and histories. While the girls and I headed to the pool, my husband and our son Carter took an hour to go zip lining. The zip lines start high above Gumbalimba and run in sections down the mountainside through lush tropical trees. The last line ends at the beach, where our girls stood with astonished looks on their faces as their big brother completed his final run.
Each evening our resort had an event: hermit crab races, fire dancers, movies on the beach, trivia, or karaoke. Even if we had dinner at a different restaurant down the beach, we almost always found our way back to Bananarama for the activities. The island is quiet enough so that these activities count as the “nightlife.” During karaoke night, we were surprised when our two oldest children got up to sing twice, and the crowd went wild. We made some really special memories listening to and watching our kids belt out the lyrics to an Ed Sheeran song.
Our children are still young enough to think of the beach as equal to (or better than) Disneyland so we were fairly activity-light on this vacation. While the island boasts plenty of sea and shore activities, we chose to make the most of long, quiet days on the beach soaking up the sun and playing in the water.
On Thanksgiving, we woke up to a torrential rainstorm that simply cannot be described. While it poured all morning, we swung in covered hammocks, read books, played oversized beach Jenga, and the kids built an impressive fort with beach towels and the outdoor restaurant tables and chairs. That evening our resort offered a typical Thanksgiving dinner buffet but we skipped it and ate fresh lobster at the beachside restaurant at Infinity Bay Resort, a more upscale and posh establishment a few doors down the beach.
Our Honduran island adventure was so spectacular — filled with cherished family memories, that we can hardly wait to go back. Maybe we’ll skip the cranberry sauce again next Thanksgiving!