Gumbalimba Park is one of the best places to get in touch with the natural wonders of Roatan. Home to capuchin monkeys and a myriad of iguanas, colourful macaws and cheery hummingbirds, it gives you the opportunity to get close to all these creatures, before venturing out to explore the wonders that lie below. They offer an exciting zipline, in addition to the water-based activities which include snuba, kayaking, snorkelling, and sea-treks.
Our day started with a sleepy bus ride to the park, which gave us the chance to see some of the island. Starting off at the port, colourful houses and little shops lined the roads, slowly making way to untouched jungles. The winding roads took us into lush, green valleys and gave us incredible vistas of the turquoise waters below, before reaching West Bay.
When we arrived at the park we were split into groups, and taken to see the animals above ground before the rest of the crowds arrived. Our first stop was to visit a few iguanas lazing around, and our guide taught us about these native species. We then made our way across a rickety wooden bridge, which spanned over some very green water that you definitely do not want to fall into.
We walked across some blissfully shady paths, and found ourselves looking at a huge cage, topped with a bunch of tropical macaws. Helpful trainers were on hand for photo-ops, and anyone that volunteered found themselves suddenly covered in four or more feathered friends. This was a rather quick activity, since most people just wanted the photo and were eager to move on.
Next stop, Monkey Town! If you do not want monkeys climbing all over you, perhaps ask your guide for an alternative path. The cute capuchins are energetic and playful, but don’t wait for an invitation to get up close to anyone in the vicinity. I was getting ready to take a photo of a particularly clingy one, when I suddenly felt another one jump on my head! They are extremely comfortable around people, and didn’t hurt anyone, but they are unpredictable so be prepared.
We were taken on a walk through some of the gardens at the park, and saw some toucans and local plants. We spent a few minutes watching hummingbirds hover around a little display, and then it was finally time to get to the water.
After a quick brief, we rented out lockers for $2 (be sure to carry cash if you want to rent one), and received life jackets that we had to inflate ourselves. The kayaks were not the clear ones advertised online; those were yellowed from the sun and stacked next to the ones reserved for use. Apparently those were not as durable and discoloured quickly, and were thus replaced. The ones in use are opaque, with just the bottom made of clear plastic.
Once out on the water, we were grateful that we went kayaking before snorkelling, as the hot, Caribbean sun was beating down on us while we paddled and paddled and paddled some more. Our guide led us to the left of the launch point, parallel to the beach. The ride took us to a lively beachfront, dotted with boats and lined with little hotels, bars, and beach clubs. Unfortunately, the glass bottomed kayaks didn’t help us much on our path, as we travelled over tons of seagrass, a smidgen of coral, and perhaps 2 fish. If given the option, ask to kayak straight out, perpendicular to the beach, as those groups were treated to a much more scenic trip.
The kayaks used are meant for two people, and it isn’t as easy as it seems to ride if you’re unfit. There were plenty of bumper-bashings as most people in the group were beginners and were learning as we went on. If it’s your first time, be prepared for an arm work-out, as navigating is quite strenuous, even in the calm waters. A good partner also makes a big difference, as steering becomes a challenge if both people aren’t working in sync. Perhaps not a super-fun activity, since most of our effort went into steering and paddling, instead of appreciating the scenery, but you get a great sense of satisfaction after completing the ride!
By the time we returned, everyone was exhausted, sweaty, and eager to finally get into the clear waters that had been beckoning since the morning. We were split into smaller groups of about six, which made the trip much more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been with more people.
The guide gave a more detailed brief to the first-timers in the group, and also took a tube with so that he could tow anyone who was having a hard time on the snorkel. He did a great job at pointing out fascinating little creatures, bringing a few up to the surface and allowing us to touch them in some cases. The coral was gorgeous and colourful, plentiful and teeming with life. There was such a diversity in the fish we saw that we were quite miserable when it was time to return. The snorkel took us out perpendicular to the beach, and we had to stick quite close to the guide as boats and jet skis passed by quite frequently. The trip also takes you quite far out, and after a while half of the group were being towed by the guide. But it was by far my favourite part of the day.
After the organised part of the day is done, you’re welcome to spend time on the beach or get food at the on-site restaurant. There are shuttles going back to the port all day, but they depart when they are full, and not on a regular schedule. They will usually tell you which is the latest bus to get you back to your ship on time, and then it’s your responsibility to keep an eye on the clock and get back to port.
We ended up spending most of the afternoon at the beach, splashing around in the water and lazing on the hard plastic loungers provided. There are hawkers there, selling all manner of things, but a firm ‘no, thank you’ was enough to send them away and return to enjoying the peaceful setting. There are also souvenir shops on site selling the usual trinkets, along with one that specialises in gem stones. At the gem stone shop, assistants are on hand to tell you what your spirit animal is according to Mayan tradition, based on your birth date. You are then encouraged to purchase ‘relevant’ gems based on what they signify.
It’s a really fun way to spend a port day in Roatan, and we highly recommend it!