From the highway coming downhill to the water’s edge, it seems Oak Ridge is scattered all over the place, clinging to hillsides, cays, and peninsulas all around a large harbor, which is literally the center of town. The harbor has always been the town’s entire reason for existence, first serving as a refuge for pirates fleeing Spanish warships, then as the center of a major boat-building industry, and now as home to a fishing fleet and processing plant. Oak Ridge is the capital of the José Santos Guardiola municipality, which covers eastern Roatán.
Perhaps because of its relative remoteness (it’s about a 40-minute drive from Coxen Hole to Oak Ridge), more of Oak Ridge’s 5,000 residents are obviously of English descent than elsewhere in Roatán. But Spanish-speaking immigrants are beginning to settle in Oak Ridge, particularly along the highway coming into town.
Though not a major tourist destination, Oak Ridge is near plenty of pristine, little-known dive sites on the southern and eastern Roatán reef. Two local dive resorts welcome walk-in divers. There are extensive mangrove swamps near town, which can be visited by hiring local boats.
Near Oak Ridge
Not far from town in both directions, but especially east, are several beaches. Dory captains on the main dock near the bus stop will transport you there for US$10 return. Longer trips to Barbareta, Pigeon Cay (off Barbareta), Helene, Port Royal, or through the mangrove canals are also possible, for negotiable fees. The mangrove tunnels, formerly used by pirates to hide from their pursuers and now filled with all sorts of wildlife, are frequently recommended as a great trip, usually costing around US$15 an hour. Make sure you agree on the amount of time beforehand, as there have been reports of boatmen giving only 15-minute tours.
Buses stop at the mainland dock next to a BGA (which changes cash and travelers checks and advances money on Visa cards) and the fish-processing plant. From there, a visitor can walk along the shore, past the fish plant all the way around the western end of the harbor, over a small bridge, and out to a narrow point facing the ocean.
Apart from a couple of stores and a weather-beaten wooden church, there’s not much on the point, though it’s interesting to check out the town and docks. The ocean-facing side of the point has no beach, only exposed, rocky coral, which makes it difficult to get out to snorkel on the reef.
At last check, no budget hotels were open in Oak Ridge, though you might find a room by asking around. For food, however, BJ’s Backyard (www.roatanonline.com/bj-backyard), on the waterfront, is a local institution. B. J. herself is quite a character, and she turns out great fish sandwiches, served on homemade bread. To get there, take the road from the highway toward Oak Ridge, bear right, then look for the sign on the left. If you reach the Hondutel office, you’ve gone too far. Mangrove tours can be arranged at BJ’s as well.
From the dock by the bus stop, water taxis will take a visitor over to the cay (“cayside”) for US$1 or so, though some drivers may try to charge you more. Cayside is much the same as the point; several houses sit among the trees behind the rocky, coral-covered shoreline.
Most cayside tourist visitors are coming to the Reef House Resort (tel. 504/435-1482, U.S. tel. 866/478-4888, www.reefhouseresort.com, weeklong dive and meal packages for US$1,038 pp for a couple), one of the oldest dive resorts on the island—but a well-maintained one, having seen recent renovations. Technically, it’s not on Roatán, but on Oakridge Cay, a tiny island a five-minute boat-ride away. The owners dive many little-known south-side sites nearby, including an excellent wall right in front of the hotel. The dive packages include three boat dives daily and unlimited shore diving. Daily rates (which still include all meals) are US$157 nondiver and US$168 diver; and packages can be arranged for any length of stay. Come prepared with your own entertainment (a couple of good books? a deck of cards? a watercolor set to paint the landscape?) for when you’re not diving or snorkeling.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition