It's been a year since the pandemic started, and coming up to a year that I haven't been down to the wonderful island that is normally my home, and to my hostel that fills me with such joy. I've been up in Canada working another job in order to keep us afloat, and the travel restrictions that Canada imposes makes it pretty much impossible to pop down for a quick visit to check in on things. I feel very grateful that I have such wonderful staff keeping things maintained and taken care of, but boy, do I ever feel homesick! I've booked several tickets on flights back down, that were all cancelled, so I'm biding my time, and hoping it will be this summer.
What is it like to have a tourism-based business during a pandemic? Well, as you can imagine, it's a year of challenges. The country was completely shut down with borders shut from mid-March 2020 until the end of August. Once the borders opened, businesses were given an extensive list of biosecurity protocols to follow. There were several months of no bookings, and now is still a small trickle, not enough to cover our expenses, even with our employees working part-time. It's our 10 year anniversary this month, but I'm not there to celebrate. We will weather this storm, even though it's given us a beating. We look forward to better days ahead when travel becomes easier again, to welcoming back return guests, and to meeting new guests. I'm so looking forward to hanging out on the front porch with a mix of people of all generations from all over the world! And the pool, definitely looking forward to being back at our wonderful pool, basking in the warm Caribbean sunshine.
Don't forget about our magical little spot! Put us on your calendar as soon as you're able to come down for a visit!
Honduras opened its air borders for international flights near the end of August, and its land borders in October. International arrivals must have gotten a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours prior of their arrival (test must say 'negative'- if it says 'not detected', you'll be denied boarding), as well as completing an on-line precheck-in form.
The government sent out a lengthy document of all the protocols that need to be followed by businesses, including temperature reading of all guests on arrival, as well as daily temperature taking of staff, hand sanitizing stations, mask wearing, physical distancing markers, and cleaning and sanitizing protocols for accommodations.
Unfortunately, flights from various airlines have been changed and cancelled, which makes the logistics of trip planning pretty difficult. All the Canadian airlines that normally have direct flights to Roatan during the winter months cancelled their flights, and the two week quarantine that Canadians need to do when returning to Canada creates some pretty big obstacles.
If you have a month or more to come down, it makes it easier to work around the various obstacles. Roatan is a beautiful spot to spend the winter, and the island is sorely in need of some tourism. The hostel has economical rates- the longer you stay, the better rates we can work out for you, so just send us a message and let us know your plans.
I think it would be hard to be in the world right now and not have felt some kind of impact from the Corona pandemic. Countries around the world are imposing restrictions to halt the spread and protect the health of their residents. In Honduras, there is a complete shutdown of travel in and out (air and sea) with the exception of a few planned Canadian flights that will be coming empty to take Canadians from Roatan back to Toronto and to Montreal. The governor is working hard to coordinate with anyone who isn't on one of these flights, to arrange other flights to pick up foreigners who are trying to get back to their home country. We don't yet have any reported cases of Corona on the island, but as it can take awhile for symptoms to present, there is a shut down of all non-essential businesses (so only supermarkets, banks, hospitals, gas stations hotels/hostels and restaurants for take out are allowed to be open), a curfew has been imposed and people are encouraged to stay in their homes/hotels and not travel around the island unless they're going for groceries or something essential.
How does this affect me as a business? Well, I'm not empty yet- there are guests here that had planned to leave that can't, and others that were going to be here for a long stay that are still here.
Planning to visit our beautiful island? If you're going to be flying in, our Roatan airport, Juan Manuel Galvez International Airport, RTB as the letters to represent it, has domestic as well as international flights.
For Canadians (and Americans who might find it worthwhile to cross the border for their flight), in the winter months, there are direct flights offered from both Toronto and Montreal. Canadian airlines that offer flights to Roatan are the charter companies Air Transat and Sunwing (though they promote packages, it's also possible to just book the flight, Mon and Thurs flights only), and now West Jet is also starting to fly to Roatan for high season, on Sundays. You can sometimes find excellent deals. I find the Skyscanner site is a good way to search for best pricing- instead of plugging in specific dates, you can opt to search for through by month, which will come up with all the different pricing options. Travelers coming from the west side of Canada might find it more advantageous to fly with West Jet through Belize, catching a TropicAir flight from Belize straight to Roatan, or a red-eye with Avianca through El Salvador, then getting the direct flight from El Salvador to Roatan.
From the States, there are direct flights with Delta (from Atlanta) on Saturdays, United (through Houston) several days of the week, and American from both Dallas and Miami on select days.
If you're not finding good enough pricing, another option is to look for flights to San Pedro Sula. There are more airlines that fly to San Pedro Sula, including Spirit from Houston and from Fort Lauderdale, so sometimes it can work out cheaper going that route. You'll need to factor in the cost/time to get to Roatan from San Pedro Sula, to make sure it's worth your while. The domestic flights between these 2 spots takes about 40 minutes and costs around $115 each way (sometimes you can find one a bit cheaper), with CM usually being the most reliable, and SOSA and Avianca also offering options. If you'd rather take a bus to La Ceiba (3 1/2 hrs, $5-20 depending on the bus) and then catch the ferry from there (1 1/2 hrs, around $33), it does save you some money, but ties up quite a bit of time. Lanhsa also offers flights from La Ceiba that are almost the same cost as the ferry, if you wanted to bus and then fly from there.
Traveling through Central America and want to come over? Direct flights from Belize are daily with Tropic Air, and from El Salvador with Avianca. If you'd rather bus/boat your way, for ferries, there are 2 ferry companies. The Utila Dream has a daily ferry from the neighbouring island of Utila to Roatan (as well as ferries between Utila and La Ceiba), and the Galaxy Wave has twice-daily trips from la Ceiba to Roatan. There are no regularly scheduled boats or ferries between Belize and Roatan, though sometimes private boats make the trip.
Need some help? Send us a message and tell us what you're looking for, and we'll see if we can help you with finding the best route.
Why would anyone be traveling with a pet? Actually, it isn't as uncommon as you might think. I've had several hostel guests stay with their pet. Maybe they've adopted a dog along their travels, or the hostel is a temporary home while they look for a more permanent place to live on the island. We also have guests that have been living on the neighbouring island of Utila, and are flying back to their country through the Roatan airport. Whatever reason you might have a furry friend along with you, Roatan Backpackers' Hostel does allow pets in certain accommodations. There's a deposit that is fully refundable provided your pet hasn't gotten on the furniture or caused any damage. Not all accommodations allow for pets (in consideration to other hostel guests that might have allergies or aversions, we don't allow pets in any rooms with shared facilities, so no pets in dorms or rooms that share bathrooms, and then door from the room must immediately exit to the outside, not to a hallway). If you are leaving your pet in the room when you're not there, you'll want to provide us with a way to contact you, in case your pet hasn't adjusted well and is causing a disturbance. You'll be responsible for cleaning up after your pet. There's a great spot to walk dogs along the beach just a few minutes from the hostel, if you'd like
We have several of our own outdoor pets, so it'll be your responsibility to make it a smooth transition.
If you've had to leave your pets at home for logistical reasons, you are welcome to shower your love on our dogs!
Lately it seems like there are new gas stations popping up everywhere. Petrosun is the main one- there are Petrosun gas stations in West End, Flowers Bay, Coxen Hole, just after Los Fuertes and at French Harbour, and now a new one has opened up across from the airport. BIP used to only have 1 location, just west of Los Fuertes, but they've now opened a new station with huge store, near where the new municipallity building is being constructed.
Gas stations aren't just for gas. They all have a store with them, not only serving the basic convenience store kind of items, but also serving meals. All the Petrosuns have great baleadas, tortillas made fresh right behind the counter, as well as serving pastelitos, sometimes soup (their conch soup is great!), and other plates of food. Some of the Petrosun stores also now have an E-Coffee, Blimpies subs, and Pizza Inn pizza, as well as a wide selection of drinks, and big beer cave (my kids like to see how long they last standing inside it in the cold). The new BIP store has hot dog machines, extensive fridge section with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and Dunkin' Donuts, though the donut shelves were empty when we stopped by to take a look (apparently they receive them every day at noon). Another BIP station is breaking ground in Sandy Bay.
April 12th is a celebration called Settlement Day in the Garifuna community of Punta Gorda, Roatan. The date marks the occasion when the Garifuna people first landed on Roatan, after being exiled from St. Vincent (for more on the history of Garifuna, see this article: https://roatan.online/roatan-garifuna-people ). The day's celebration includes a reinactment of the boats landing, a parade and partying into the wee hours of the morning.
Many people start of at the hostel with plans to possibly permanently relocate to Roatan- or if they didn't have that plan at the beginning of their stay, sometimes they have made that decision once they've been where a little while. There are often posts to discussion groups of what types of businesses are needed in Roatan, people wanting to relocate that are trying to get ideas for what business they could start. If you haven't spent any time living in Roatan, I think that's the best place to begin- it's pretty hard to start up a venture if you don't know the island well enough to get a feel for what business might work.
Every business is different, and there are probably different requirements depending if you're a bar, restaurant, dive shop, or hotel, but usually the start of any business begins with a trip to the lawyer. Find a good one, because having a reliable lawyer and accountant make a big difference. Generally you'd want to create a corporation, though it's apparently also possible to start a business as a comerciante individuale, though I think there's less flexibility with the second option (I was recommended to start a corporation). Once you've formed a corporation (this is pretty much all work for the lawyer- at the end, you'll get the legal document of your corporation), then you'll need to get an RTN number for your business (you also need an individual one). You used to be able to get this at the Zolitur office in Roatan, but apparently now you need to do it in La Ceiba. It's been awhile since I went through that process, I think you'll need to take along your corporation document as well as your ID.
To get your operating permit for your business, the municipality will give you the list of requirements (inspection from the fire department, inspection from the municipality, copy of land documents and a rental agreement if not on your own property, corporation document, RTN number- not sure what else is on the list of current requirements. There have been recent changes, now requiring that all businesses are members of the chamber of commerce, and any tourism based business is member of the tourism association, both which have yearly fees in addition to the fee for the operating permit.
The operating permits are based on a calendar year, so no point starting up a business at the very tail end of the year, might as well get yourself all organized to start at the beginning of the year. Once you have your permit, you'll need to get specialized receipt books: the requirements of these also frequently change, and they have expiry dates on them. For example, the government just changed their requirements, giving businesses 2 weeks to have new receipt books printed in accordance with the new requirements, with all old-style receipts no longer being valid after that date. Even if you had just gotten some printed, they'll all need to be turned in to be destroyed.
Your accountant may help you to get your receipt books (mine does for me). At the close of every month, the receipts need to be turned in and monthly taxes that have been collected must be paid, within about the first few days of the next month. My accountant does this as part of his monthly charge: I pass him the receipts from all of my expenses, the government copy of all receipts issued for customers that month, and the taxes due, and he takes care of filing the taxes. Every year, he also does the annual personal income tax from the business, which I think gets done in March or April. Occasionally the accountant will contact me with a new hurdle to jump, whenever there's some change or the other with a government agency and more paperwork of some type is required. Generally everything can be taken care of right on Roatan, though last year I remember there was some new hoop to jump through, with the government representatives on the island just a couple days for appointments, and the line up going out the door, down the stairs and along the road, so for that one, I took a trip to their La Ceiba office to handle things instead.
For me, having a business in Roatan has been a great choice. Though the sometimes convoluted processes and changes from the government sometimes don't make much sense, and being a small business owner sometimes means extremely long days, I love what I do, and have gotten such enjoyment out of growing my business and meeting people from all over the world. If you're thinking of taking the plunge and opening a business in Roatan, I wish you the best of luck! Feel free to contact me with questions about my experiences, I'm happy to help out if I can.
Tamales are a Christmas tradition in Honduras. This year, I took part in their preparation, at the house of my friend's mom. There are 11 siblings in their family, and I'm friends with a few of them. They've taken me under their wing and invited to many family get-togethers, and invited me to help out with their tamale making.
When I arrived around 1, their mom had already been hard at work for hours, preparing all the ingredients, including corn that had been cooked and ground by hand to make the dough. There were several large bowls outside on the table, one containing the corn dough, another corn dough mixture that had spices added, giving it a reddish-brown colour, and others with rice, potato, peas and meat. Being vegetarian, I normally don't eat tamales at Christmas, since they usually have either meat or chicken in them, but my friends have made me a vegetarian one previous years, and this year we made a few vegetarian ones as well.
If it doesn't have meat in it, they call it 'mudo' (literally translated, it usually means 'mute'). I didn't want my mudo tamales to get mixed up with the others, so Manuel tied a string around mine to differentiate it. He laughingly told me no one would voluntarily take a mudo one, that's considered the worst of the lot. When they were growing up, if the meat finished up in the tamale making process, but there were still other ingredients left, their mom would continue making mudo ones until all the ingredients were finished, so there would be no waste. The kids wouldn't know which ones were mudo until they bit into one, and once food was on your plate, you had to finish it. Apparently tears were shed over the agony of having to eat an entire mudo tamale. If I had grown up in their house, I guess I could have made lots of friends, taking the mudo ones off their hands :)
The tamales get assembled on top of a boiled banana leaf. In the past, the banana leaf alone was the wrapping, but now, the Munoz family also uses a sheet of aluminum foil so that they can be wrapped up more tightly, with the banana leaf still inside of the aluminum foil to help to give the tamale flavour. On top of the banana leaf, you put a big spoonful of the corn 'masa', then the other spicy corn masa, then a handful of each of the other ingredients. Next, you roll it up, making sure to tuck it tightly in, and compact the ingredients together when folding up the side edges, so that the finished product will have a firm, tightly packed consistency. Once all the tamales are assembled, they go into a pot of boiling water for around an hour. They're done when the potatoes inside have been cooked all the way through (all the other ingredients are already cooked, so the boiling process just firms up the dough and cooks the potato). Take them out of the water, and straight to your plate for a delicious dinner!
Mel is a Canadian who's been living in Roatan for 2 decades. Before being a single mom of 2, she used to travel around the world as a dive instructor. She looks forward to the opportunity to meet many other travelers in her hostel.