The last two weeks has been an eye opener for knowledgeable tourists thinking of traveling to Roatan. A cruise line employee was gunned down near the port. The bloody death was widely reported in the local newspapers which published gruesome photographs of the dead crew member.
As a result, a major cruise line temporarily pulled out of Roatan. A major excursion company also canceled all tours of the island expressing concerns for the safety of cruise passengers.
The story revealed some disturbing information about the island. A number of tourists, some arriving by cruise ship and some by air going to dive, have been robbed at gun point and machete point this year.
Hundreds of people have left comments on our website and Facebook pages about what they think of Roatan. Many islanders and expatriates who bought homes and invested in businesses in Roatan swear that the beautiful island is perfectly safe. Others have stated that it is a dangerous place, with corrupt and/or incompetent/indifferent policemen, where crimes are covered up.
I have received a wide range of responses to my articles, including curses and threats from those who feel an obligation to protect the island's reputation, whether it be for sincere, patriotic reasons or in the calculated defense of their financial investments. I have also received comments from expatriates who have fled the island in fear, or who are stuck with their debt on the island, saying you-have-no-idea-how-bad-it-is-here.
The most expressive of expatriates in Roatan have informed me of the dangers they perceive presented by what they describe as the thugs in gangs or crack-heads desperate to feed their drug habits. These types intimidate the good people in the community who are afraid to swear out complaints to the police out of fear of retribution. There is animosity between the islanders and the people from the mainland where murders are so frequent as to earn Honduras the infamous designation of having the highest murder rate in the world since 2010. Honduras and the Bahamas are the only cruise destinations in the Caribbean with critical crime warnings from the U.S. State Department.
Some defenders of Roatan argue that things will get better and justice is possible in Roatan, pointing out that the police quickly apprehended the man who shot and killed the cruise line employee. (Photo above) But others point out that police work really didn't solve the murder. Rather, the mayor's $5,000 reward led to the alleged murderer's friends shooting him in the leg and then calling the cops for the reward money. Some people has posed the question to me - do you want to live in a place where a ship employee will be gunned down for a $250 cell phone and the crime will be solved only when the murderer's friends commit another crime by shooting him for a $5,000 reward?
It is with this backdrop that I read an article today in the Huffington Post entitled "Your Next Trip Should Be to Roatan, Honduras. Here's Why."
It's what I call a "puff-piece" by a travel writer, extolling the quiet "authentic island charm" and the "warm and friendly" people. There is no mention of murder or robbery or crime in the article - only images of the beautiful blue waters, the white sandy beaches, and the thick green forests of the "paradise island of Roatan."
The article has seemingly been liked and re-tweeted by virtually every resort, dive shop, and bar on Roatan.
Is Roatan the "paradise" portrayed by the article? The article mentioned several resorts and tourist attractions. Did the travel writer pay for her stay on the island or was this a quid-pro-quo great review for a free vacation?
Some people have warned me that if I travel to Roatan to check things out for myself, not to take a taxi or rent a car. Some of the tourists and locals have been held up by the taxi drivers. Tourists renting cars have been ambushed when they leave the main roads (photo right). If you complain to the police, I am told, there is an even chance the police will do nothing or, worse, they will be in cahoots with the crooks.
I have written before about travel writers ignoring crime and violence and painting a false and misleading image of travel destinations: Travel Writers and the Ethics of Reporting Cruise News.
As I said before, travel writers who ignore the murders and violence in the Caribbean ports are not doing anyone a favor. And they are providing a grave disservice to the next unsuspecting family who travels to Roatan blindly looking for paradise.
April 21 2014 Update: Top 10 Most Dangerous Cruise Destinations in the World
Read: Crime, What Crime? - Bay Village Voice January 2006
Photo Credit: Cruise Critic (bottom)