If you know Roatan at all, you know it for scuba. The Caribbean island, set 35 miles off the coast of Honduras, is actually surrounded by the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef in the world (the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland, Australia, is the largest).
Roatan is in the western Caribbean, by the second largest coral reef in the world
Beyond that, there’s not much else to know about Roatan and after Travel Agent visited the island this summer, we decided that that was just the way we like it.
The thing is, Roatan is a bit undiscovered, even though it’s accessible via non-stop flights from New York, Miami, Houston and Atlanta. There are no high rises and we’d be hard pressed to think of any large hotels. Mom-and-pop inns are more likely to be found here, adding to the relaxed, barefoot luxury that we grew to truly love over the course of our visit.
In fact, the lushly tropical island (think acres and acres of protected mangrove trees) is so non-commercial it doesn’t even have a national cocktail and you'd have to look high and low to find a fast food restaurant here.
But don’t let this talk of a lack of pretense fool you. Roatan is very cosmopolitan, filled with a sophisticated mix of ex-pats who meld comfortably with the locals, who are either of Spanish or Caribbean descent. And there is plenty to do, as the visitors who do come (most of them are daytrippers off the cruise ships that dock off Coxen Hole) can attest.
The majority of the activities, of course, focus on the water; sailing, snorkeling, the aforementioned diving. On land, there’s also zip-lining, horseback riding and excursions to the Butterfly Garden, but visitors will find it’s an amazingly informal environment. Then there’s always lying about on the beach; the west side of the island is the most popular by far for swimming, scuba and snorkeling. At West End Bay there are beach facilities, restaurants, bars, boutiques and shops.
Pristine Bay Resort is spread out over 400 acres on the island of Roatan
Of course, most undiscovered tropical Caribbean islands don’t remain undiscovered for long. Travel Agent soon realized that fact when we went to personally inspect Pristine Bay Resort. To put its size in perspective, this is a 400-acre resort development that's quietly in the works on an island that's two miles wide and 35 miles long.
When it opens, the resort will be home of The Black Pearl Golf Course, a Perry and Pete Dye design project. It’s almost goes without saying that this will be the island’s first golf course; nine holes are expected to be ready this fall and all 18 should be ready for play by first quarter next year. This is a serious course; alternately hugging the coastline and weaving through the island's foothills, the par-72, 7,157-yard layout will have 14 holes with Caribbean views and a Dye-signature, island-green par 3. We can’t wait.
The Black Pearl Golf Course, which is well underway, is being designed by Perry and Pete Dye
Good news for travel agents, who up to this point may not have had much luxury hotel product to sell in Roatan: The 120-room, five-star Resort and Spa at Pristine Bay, to be managed by the Lancaster Hotel Group (a serious player in the hotel development world), is scheduled to open along with the Black Pearl.
Pristine Bay Resort is being carefully planned out, with residences, a marina, a boutique hotel and a marina
With any world-class golf course comes a few luxury villas and Pristine Bay is no exception. The first phase of villas are in the works; with lots ranging from $230,000 to $700,000. Two-, three-, and four-bedroom villas are gong from $600,000 to $1 million; condo range from $348,000 to $700,000.
There’s got to be a marina in a place such as this and there will be, in the form of Pristine Bay's Beach Club, which is slated for a March 2010 opening. We expect to see a few ultra-luxe yachts lined up here, as word of Pristine Bay, and Roatan for that matter, catches the eye of the affluent sailing market.
All photos by Gideon Dean.