Around a couple of rocky points about two kilometers south of West End is one of Roatán’s greatest natural treasures—West Bay Beach, 1.5 kilometers of powdery, palm-lined sand lapped by exquisite turquoise-blue water. At the south end of the beach, where a wall of iron shore juts out into the water, the coral reef meets the shore.
For anyone who wants a low-key encounter with an exceptionally fine reef without a long swim or any scuba gear, this is the place. It’s almost too beautiful—more like an aquarium than a section of live reef, with brilliantly colored fish dodging about, the odd barracuda lurking, and sponges and sea fans gently waving—all just a few feet from the beach.
The reef comes closest to shore at the beach’s south end, but for anyone willing to swim out a bit, the entire bay is lined by excellent reef, although it’s been showing the ill-effects of heavy traffic in recent years. Keep an eye out for boats when in the water. The cruise ship day-trippers frequently descend in numbers on West Bay, so it’s worth checking what days the ships are coming in.
Even on those days, though, the beach is generally quiet in the early morning or late afternoon, and always quieter at the northern end. Many cruise shippers end up at a section of the beach near the south end referred to as “Tabayana Beach,” where beach chairs and snorkel equipment are available for rent.
Until the early 1990s, West Bay was totally deserted, save for a few bonfire-building partyers. After a sudden flurry of real-estate transactions and building, West Bay is now lined with houses and hotels, most thankfully built out of wood in a reserved, unobtrusive style.
The construction boom on West Bay and in the hills behind has brought unfortunate consequences for the nearby reef. A large wetland area a few hundred meters behind the beach, at the base of the hills, formerly served as a buffer, to catch rain runoff and either filter it or let it evaporate in the sun. Developers promptly filled in the wetlands (annoying little swamp!) when construction began in West Bay. As a result, and coupled with the hillside construction and road building, the West Bay reef is coated with waves of silty water after every strong rain.
Reefs do not take well to such sudden drops in water quality, nor to the huge increase of inexperienced snorkelers and divers who bump, grab, or step on the reef, causing damage every time. The reef will still be lovely for several years to come, but it remains to be seen whether island authorities will take action to protect perhaps the single most important tourist attraction in Roatán for the future.
Getting to West Bay
From West End, you can walk to West Bay (45 minutes along the beach, past the rickety wooden dock on the point—do not carry valuables as there has been the occasional mugging along this route), or take a water taxi (US$2.50 from Foster’s) or car (a four-kilometer paved road turns off the main highway near the entrance to West End, while another paved road connects Coxen Hole to West Bay via Flowers Bay). Water-taxi captains are happy to arrange a return trip to pick up weary but content sun-fried beach bums at the end of the day.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition