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Roatan: A Charming and Affordable Caribbean Isle

Kathleen Peddicord

Approaching Roatan from the air, you will see a small Caribbean island that is 40 miles long, 2 miles wide and very green. Roatan is the largest and most developed of the three Bay Islands offshore from mainland Honduras, but it's still a very natural place.

There aren't any high-rise hotels here. Construction regulations don't allow buildings over three stories. This fact and density setbacks from the beach have succeeded in keeping the development on this island low-key. Bananas and coconuts grow everywhere. Cows and pigs graze in the lush grass, and occasionally you encounter them wandering down the road, as well.

The lifestyle on Roatan is laid-back, and the people are hospitable and friendly. Change comes slowly on this western Caribbean outpost.

Roatan's greatest appeal is its water, which is warm, crystal clear and home to some of the most beautiful, diverse and prolific marine life in the world. While Spanish is the official language of Honduras, English is the language of the Bay Islands, which were once part of British Honduras. The increased tourism and expanding construction industry of the past decade have created an increased demand for labor, and many Spanish-speaking workers from mainland Honduras have migrated to Roatan in search of work. As a result, both languages are spoken on the island, as well as many others.

Europeans and people from all over the world are seeking out Roatan for first and second homes. The expat population on this island is established, expanding and eclectic. Roatan appeals to an assortment of demographics, including both retirees and young couples with families. If you appreciate island living, enjoy diving and want an uncomplicated life, Roatan could have your name all over it, no matter what your age. This island is also an emerging golf destination, thanks to the Pete Dye-designed Black Pearl Golf Course, which is attracting a more jet-set crowd.

Roatan, though, is not a typical jet-set destination and may never be. There's a single main road, which runs almost the length of the island. Access beyond the reach of this main thoroughfare is via a series of other loops, many of which are now hard surfaced. The second expansion of the international airport in 10 years was completed recently. You can fly here direct from Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Toronto and Milan weekly. Regular flights to Dallas are planned for next year, and other destinations are added seasonally.

Roatan's appeal for retirees is straightforward. It's quintessentially Caribbean at a fraction the cost of more developed Caribbean isles. Real estate, especially, can be a bargain in the wake of the post-2008 downturn of global property markets, which hit this island hard.

It's even possible to find fire sales. A home site of more than an acre in the prestigious development of Lawson Rock was priced at $220,000 in 2009. Today it's on offer for $89,900. A five-bedroom house in the same development valued at $900,000 in 2008 is now listed at $324,000. And even these discounted prices can be very negotiable. A cute two-story home on a corner waterfront lot in CoCo View was listed for $120,000, but sold this year for $83,500.

The cost of living and real estate can be tempting, but not all retirees would find life here comfortable. "You need to realize that life here is going to be different than you're used to in the United States," says Janine Goben, an expat retiree who has been living on Roatan for 10 years. "For example, there are no addresses on the island. If you were to ask for my address, you'd be told to look for the gringa's house on Brazil Hill above the road to the air traffic control tower... I find that charming. Some others, though, might find it maddening."

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, How To Buy Real Estate Overseas, published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.

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