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Roatan’s Colorful History and How to Experience it for yourself

Posted on April 17, 2013 by Christine Larose in Roatan's History

If you’re the type of traveler who appreciates history and would like to discover a more authentic travel experience while on Roatan, consider taking the time to become familiar with the island’s colorful history. Roatan islanders have ancestral origins in eight different cultures, including English, Spanish, Mayan Indians, Garifuna, Afro-Antillean, Anglo-Antillean, Spanish Honduran, and North American. The people of Roatan represent a very diverse Caribbean ethnic group to create their own unique culture.

Can you imagine experiencing such a wide array of traditions and cultures? By visiting Roatan you can see for yourself how its history and people have come together to create what makes this island so rich and wonderful.

Mayan Indians to pirates

When Christopher Columbus arrived to the island during his last journey to the Americas, it was home to the Mayan Indians whose culture goes back for a thousand years. During the Colonial period, Spanish and English colonizers lived together here but the riches of the continent drew constant attacks from pirates causing colonizers to leave while the pirates made these islands their strategic headquarters in the early part of the 17th century.

Did you know that at one time, there was estimated to be over 5,000 pirates who lived on Roatan and even ruled the island for many years? Some of the famous men who lived here include Henry Morgan and Pirate Captain John Coxen; Coxen Hole was named after this famous buccaneer who terrorized the Spanish Main. He was one a member of the famed Brethren of the Coast, a consortium of pirates and privateers. His ship was an 80-ton vessel that carried eight guns and a crew of 97 men but it seems to have disappeared without a trace – there is no record of it anywhere.

Today, Gumbalimba Park is a popular Roatan attraction where visitors can enter Coxen’s Cave where life-sized pirates stand at attention among treasure chests, old weapons and maps that conjure up the days when pirates ruled the island. In 1650, the pirates surrendered to the Spanish Crown.


In 1797, approximately 5,000 Caribbean black people, a mix of African black people with Caribbean and Arawak Indians from St. Vincent, arrived into Port Royal. They gave origin to the Garifuna people who are part of the cultural history of Roatan today.

Visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of Garifuna at The Garifuna Experience to learn about their history, language and traditions. Dancers entertain visitors to the beat of Garifuna music and may even be asked to join in the fun. See how cassava brad is prepared and baked in an authentic mud stove and even enjoy a taste.

This is the kind of experience you just can’t get from a textbook!

English Return

Between 1827 and 1834, Europeans began settling on Roatan. Some English families that had lived in the Grand Cayman Islands began settling on Roatan and neighboring Utila. Many of those descendants still live on Utila.

Roatan’s Mayor Dale Jackson is descended from a wealthy and influential family who arrived from the southern United States in the 1800s. The Jackson family descends from a confederate soldier who refused to surrender to the Union. The mayor made his fortune from the fishing industry, and while his home is not open to the public for tours, but the large white-columned colonial can be seen on the inland side of the highway between Coxen Hole and French Harbour.

While it’s easy to read and understand how Roatan’s long and fascinating history as well as the warmth and kindness of its people have resulted in the spectacular slice of paradise we know today, if you hope to truly experience what it’s all about, your next step should be to plan your holiday here!


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