Stretching 37 miles long but a mere 5 miles wide, Roatan is a long and spread out island that is deceptively large and difficult to access with public transit.
With its hilly landscape, turquoise-lined coast, and dense forests, driving through Roatan is beautiful — at least, it is when you aren’t trying to squeeze through the occasional narrow, pedestrian-packed street or get stuck behind a truck kicking up dust for miles on end.
Yes, Roatan’s driving conditions can occasionally test your skill (and patience) due to some unpaved roads, traffic, and steep roads, but it’s a small price to pay to be able to access the island’s more remote corners.
Many of Roatan’s coolest sights are rather dispersed, stretching along the island.
If you’re staying in the West Bay or West End, as most travelers do, you’re a long way from East End beaches and places like the Daniel Johnson monkey and sloth sanctuary.
Renting a car in Roatan is the easiest way to get around the island and see all of its sights: here’s what you should know before you do just that!
Where to Rent a Car in Roatan
I recommend checking Discover Cars when renting a car in Roatan — they check over 500 agencies to find the best deal for your rental.
If you want a car for the entirety of your stay in Roatan, renting a car at the airport is a good call, as the airport is about a $25-30 USD taxi ride away from most hotels and resorts.
If you just want to rent a car for a day, you may find it easier to rent a car from a local agency — ask your accommodation to help you arrange that.
If you book far enough in advance, a weeklong car rental is about $300-400 USD, breaking down to about $50 per day, but it can vary depending on how long you rent for and when.
(Psst: don’t skimp on getting full coverage insurance, especially if you’re visiting the more remote areas of Roatan. Last thing you want on your vacation is a cracked windshield from some kicked up gravel or a keyed car to stress you out all trip — true story from past Iceland and Mexico trips!)
Key Things to Know Before Renting a Car in Roatan
Roatan is larger than you think — and transportation can get costly!
I mentioned this a bit in the introduction, but it bears repeating: Roatan is a surprisingly large place once you get oriented!
For example, once we arrived, we heard that one of the most fun things to do in Roatan was visit Punta Gorda on a Sunday afternoon to see the indigenous Garifuna culture being celebrated.
We were instantly intrigued — and then we immediately learned that getting there would take about an hour each way, and we’d have to hire a driver for a half-day, costing at least $120 USD.
Had we had our rental car already, it would have been a no-brainer to go! Unfortunately, we only had our rental for one portion of the trip.
Note: If you also plan to visit Utila, there’s no need to rent a car there — there aren’t even really any cars there! You can get around by tuk-tuk or rent a scooter, golf cart, or ATV.
Have all your documents ready for pick-up.
Obviously, you’ll need a valid driver’s license to rent a car in Roatan, but you should have a few other things in order.
Technically, you should have an International Driving Permit alongside your license. We weren’t asked for one when renting a car, but you may be.
You also may be required to show your IDP if you’re driving and get pulled over or pass through a checkpoint (more on this later!).
Also, many rental agencies require a credit card, not just a debit card in order to rent a car.
There’s always a chance your rental agency may place a large deposit in the form of a hold on the credit card.
There are only a few car rental companies at the Roatan airport — reserve in advance!
The Roatan airport (RTB) is quite small. Accordingly, there are just a few rental companies at the airport: basically, the big names you’ll find everywhere like Sixt, Hertz, and Avis.
If you plan to rent a car while you’re in Roatan, you should definitely reserve it in advance, especially if you’re traveling during the high season (roughly December through April).
The inventory is limited, so once it’s gone, it’s gone!
The inventory of automatic cars is even more limited.
Here’s a note for my fellow Americans who are absolutely helpless at driving manual cars — be sure to double check that the car you are renting has the transmission type you want!
Roatan’s road conditions are a bit rough in places, especially in the less-developed East End. Also, many areas are quite hilly, including the touristic West Bay.
If you’re not absolutely familiar with driving a manual car, opt for automatic: otherwise, you may get stressed out by driving in in Roatan.
The weather can change on a dime.
Even though I visited Roatan during the “dry season”, I was pretty surprised by how quickly the weather could turn!
While driving towards the East End, I got caught in a total downpour. Moments before, it had been just barely overcast.
Luckily, it passed quickly, but it’s important to note this, especially since road conditions can quickly turn dangerous.
We saw a man on a scooter slip off his bike right in front of us at a roundabout — luckily, everyone was driving slowly and he wasn’t hurt further and was able to get up.
Plus, there are a few dirt roads that you’ll see, like the road to Camp Bay Beach, which could get muddy in extremely rainy conditions.
Observe posted signs and limits.
This is pretty obvious, but keep an eye out for the posted speed limit signs — especially if you’re used to driving in miles per hour, your speed in kilometers may not be as intuitive.
Road signs are typically posted every few kilometers, so keep an eye out for them.
You may need a 4WD or SUV if visiting the East End.
We luckily had a 4WD SUV as our rental car while we were exploring the more remote parts of Roatan.
Frankly, I don’t know if a non-4WD or a non-SUV would have been able to navigate the road down to the East End.
Quite a long stretch of that road is unpaved, packed with potholes, and rather uneven.
Even in touristic areas like the West End, you may suddenly find yourself on an incredibly bumpy patch of road.
I needed to turn around at the end of the main road through the West End, and it was very uneven (I drive a low-clearance Kia back home, and I would have been trembling trying to do it in that car!)
Having a 4WD SUV meant we didn’t have to worry much about the road conditions, which was a relief.
Prepare for varying road conditions.
Continuing the point from the above, the road conditions in Roatan vary — and they can change pretty quickly.
A paved road can suddenly give way to a gravel road only to turn into a paved road again — followed by a section of road that is half paved, half gravel.
The area around the East End of Roatan in particular is like this, as it is slowly becoming more of a developed area.
It’s no major concern, but just keep your eye out and never get too comfortable when driving in Roatan!
Be ready for the occasional checkpoint.
We saw two checkpoints when we were driving in Roatan along the main road — one that was on the other side of the street and one that we had to pass through.
For us when we were driving in Roatan, the officer just asked if we spoke Spanish — I do — and then he asked us to roll down the back window so he could take a look in the car. After that, he waved us on.
This is a good place to note that there is quite a visible police presence in Roatan.
What I’ll say is that Roatan feels very safe, and crime is low there compared to mainland Honduras.
That said, there’s a pretty extensive police presence in a lot of places — stuff like armed guards at gas stations, ATMs, and roundabouts — which can sometimes feel a little odd!
It can be hard to navigate more populated areas like Coxen Hole and West End.
The more populated areas of Roatan are a bit like a video game to drive through!
Pedestrians walk through the streets, cars are parked haphazardly, roads are narrow: you’ll have a small window to squeeze through an area or pass by, and you’ll have to take it.
Ultimately, I didn’t find driving in Roatan extremely stressful, but there are a few crowded areas where it was a little tough to find a place to drive between the heavy pedestrian traffic and lack of street lights to manage the flow.
Some two-way roads are very narrow.
On a similar note, there were definitely a few places where the two-way roads in the busier areas were very narrow.
Sometimes, one person may need to back up a little to let the other pass through.
Once, when we were with a taxi driver, it felt a bit like a game of chicken!
That said, we didn’t have any huge problems with this when we were driving, but it was something I definitely made a mental note of to pass on.
Similarly, watch for narrow two-way roads on curvy or hilly roads and highways — other cars may not be as attentive as you, so always drive defensively.
There’s limited parking in places like West End.
In areas like the West End and West Bay, the parking situation can be pretty limited.
It was fine since our hotel was a little bit outside the main West End area and we had parking on the premises, but there’s not a lot of parking in much of the main strip.
If you’re coming from another part of the island to a place like the West End, just realize there’s not a ton of parking, though there is a small parking lot in Coconut Tree Plaza just off the main road.
West Bay similarly is a difficult place to find parking, though it is possible; we drove around for a bit until we saw a sign for parking and just followed that until we found a free parking lot just behind the beach (I think on Fosters WB Road).
Watch out for scooters!
In addition to all the pedestrian traffic you’ll see in the busier parts of Roatan, you’ll also want to keep an eye out for scooters!
Lots of people get around on motorbikes, and sometimes they’ll pass you rather quickly and closely — don’t get startled!
Additionally, give them plenty of room in bad weather — as mentioned above, I saw someone fall off his scooter in the rain.
Most importantly, always check for scooters if you are changing lanes or maneuvering around something, like a stopped car in your lane (quite common!).
Allison Green is a former teacher who has been travel blogging since 2016. She has a Masters in Teaching and a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Her blog posts merge her background as an educator with her experience traveling to 70+ countries to encourage ethical, meaningful travel. She has been a speaker at the World Travel Writers Conference and her writing, photography, and podcasting work has appeared in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, CBC Canada, and Forbes, amongst others. Now a full-time traveler, she has lived in Prague, Sofia, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area.