The Bay Islands in Honduras are the Caribbean dream that you didn’t know about. Swaying palm trees, crystal clear warm blue waters, sunny skies, sandy beaches. These 8 islands and 53 cays are known for snorkeling and scuba diving because of their high underwater visibility and location right on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.
This past month I visited Roatán, the largest of all the islands, and Utila, the smallest of the major islands (there are some minor ones, but the big three are Roatán, Utila, and Guanaja). Aside from the bathing in the sun and admiring the fish, I sampled as much as I could in one week, from chocolate factories to baleadas to Thai drunken noodles. Wondering what to eat in Honduras? Looking for vegetarian and vegan food in Roatán and Utila? You’ve come to the right place!
What is typical Honduran food?
Honduran cooking is a mixture of indigenous, Spanish, Caribbean, and African cuisine as the country has been touched by all of those cultures over the years. The most common Honduran dishes center around corn, rice, beans, cheese, plantains, and meat or fish. It’s popular to serve combination platters that contain either chicken, pork, or fish alongside rice and beans. Tortillas, both flour and corn, are popular, as are fried plantains in various formats, depending on how ripe the plantain is. There are also lots of fresh tropical fruits available.
What can a vegetarian eat in the Bay Islands, Honduras?
I wasn’t too worried about finding good local options given the prevalence of rice, beans, tortillas, and cheese. I felt confident I’d be able to eat well, and I was right! One aspect about the Bay Islands specifically is the high number of tourists and foreigners who have settled there. While I couldn’t find an exact figure, the foreign population on both islands is significant. This means that in addition to the typical Honduran foods you’d find on the mainland, you’ll also have options like burgers and fries, sandwiches, pasta, and more. I do think it would be harder for vegans because so many of the options included cheese or eggs.
Honduran Vegetarian Foods
Please note that these are the vegetarian foods I came across on the Bay Islands, and there might be other options in elsewhere in Honduras.
Baleadas – we can’t talk about Honduras for too long without bringing up baleadas! A baleada is a large flour tortilla spread generously with refried red beans, crumbled queso duro (a salty hard cheese), and cream, then folded in half. The cream is closest to sour cream in the US, but it’s not as thick or as sour. From there, you have filling options including scrambled eggs, avocado, mixed veggies, fried plantains, and don’t forget to add the hot sauce. So epic.
Typical Honduran breakfast – Hondurans often eat a large breakfast and yes, the most typical version does include chorizo or sausage. But I found it quite easy to request for the sausage to be excluded and then you have hearty veg breakfast! A typical breakfast includes tortillas, a scoop of refried beans, some avocado slices, fried or scrambled eggs, fried plantains, and a dollop of sour cream.
Sides & snacks – there are great vegetarian sides that include rice and beans, mixed veggies, various types of fried plantains (like plátanos maduros, though you might see them as tajadas in Honduras), or fresh fruit.
Chocolate – Did you know they make chocolate in Honduras? Internationally Honduran chocolate is often overshadowed by countries with larger production, so it can be harder to find internationally. But when visiting, finding a chocolate shop is a must and is not difficult on the Bay Islands.
Hot sauce – I had some fantastic hot sauces while in Honduras. You’ll see a yellow-orange sauce labeled “chile cabro” quite frequently, or you might see it as salsa calypso. This is a spicy Caribbean sauce likely made from the habanero pepper or its close cousin the goat pepper (I definitely went down the internet rabbit hole on this question, to no avail). There were also some red sauces that reminded me of tabasco, and for those who aren’t into hot sauce, there were some creamy cilantro ones as well. The great thing was there were lots of sauces to try and I did end up with a Salsa Calypso in my suitcase as a souvenir.
International Vegetarian Foods
These are the most common international vegetarian offerings you’ll come across on the Bay Islands.
Regional favorites including pupusas, quesadillas, nachos with beans and cheese, and veggies tacos
Veggie burgers, fries, onion rings, and basic salads are served at most bars and restaurants. I didn’t try a veggie burger, and I didn’t see a salad the entire time that was interesting enough for me to order it. I found mostly the iceberg lettuce, tomato, and cucumber variety which can be refreshing but is not a full meal.
Vegetarian pizza and pasta dishes
American breakfast: Egg dishes, avocado toast, yogurt with fruit and granola, pancakes, French toast, and more can be found at the numerous cute cafes on the islands
Eating Recommendations for Vegetarians
Cafe de Palo: Tucked into the back of Hotel Posadas las Orquideas in the West End, this tropical cafe had a great vibe. They have several vegetarian and vegan options on their brunch menu, including the vegetarian revolution featuring poached eggs, guacamole, grilled eggplant and tomatoes on toast (pictured below). The portions are generous – I couldn’t finish my toast!
Calelu’s: Another West End eatery housed above a grocery store by the same name, this spot was recommended as the place to try baleadas. It did not disappoint, with several baleada options ranging from $1-4 USD. This was the only place I found a baleada stuffed with fried plantains! Aside from baleadas, you can get other typical Honduras dishes here at an affordable price.
Circle K: This is a gas station chain – wait, bear with me! – and there’s a location right by the Utila Dream ferry. I went to get lunch before getting on the ferry, and their baleadas *might* have been the best ones I ate all trip. No joke. The gas station here was much nicer than most I’ve been to in the US and filled with local who clearly know the baleadas here are bomb (and a good deal when they see one). Also, they were two for 50 lempira ($2 USD at the time of writing). Totally worth it.
Roatan Chocolate Factory: Situated along beachside West End Road, which you will undoubtedly amble down if you’re in the West End, this cafe meets chocolate factory is a fun stop. They produce their own chocolate upstairs made from cacao shipped from mainland Honduras. When you visit, you’ll get a free explanation about their chocolate and then get to sample all the different flavors. You’ll undoubtedly walk out with at least one chocolate bar. Bonus – because they are made with organic ingredients with few additives, their chocolate bars don’t melt. Really. I can vouch for this because I kept two bars unrefrigerated in my room all week and they were still solid by the end of the week. Second bonus – they host chocolate-making classes regularly, so check the schedule to see if you can catch one.
Mayak Chocolates: Another chocolate shop in the West End worth mentioning. They also make chocolate in-house from Honduran cacao, and you’ll find them off the main island road across from the gas station and a funny hotel with a giant turtle on top (Roatán has one main road that takes you from one end of the island to the other).
La Placita Shopping Center: If you’re staying on the West Bay, behind La Placita Inn you’ll find a short pedestrian-only alley that has a collection of several fast-cash restaurants, coffee shops, and souvenir stores. It’s the closest thing I found to a food hall because the tables are shared among the restaurants. The gelato from Costa Dulce was great for a hot beach day. The restaurant attached to La Placita had a delicious typical Honduran breakfast, which is included if you stay at the hotel but open to the general public. I couldn’t find the name of it, but it’s right next to the hotel. Great place to sample a variety of options.
Other Roatán Food & Drink of Interest
I didn’t get the chance to visit these so I can’t vouch for them personally, but they were on my list. There’s just not enough time to eat all the food…
Yahongreh – Its name is the phonetic spelling of “You hungry?” and this West End café serves breakfast foods like baleadas, smoothies, pancakes, and more.
Crisp – this cute restaurant on the Carrera Principal in the West End advertises fresh and healthy options, with both vegan and vegetarian choices. They serve a variety of salads, bowls, smoothies, and juices.
Roatan Island Brewing Company – This is the island’s brewery, and while you might be able to sample the beers elsewhere (some bars on West Bay had their brews on tap), you can also visit the brewery for the widest selection. The catch is that the brewery is in Coxen Hole, which is away from the main tourist areas of West Bay and West End, but could be a good stop if you’re catching a flight or taking the ferry to another island.
Roatán Rum Factory – There are many tours that combine the chocolate and rum factory together. Visiting this locally-made rum factory seems to be a thing to do and is halfway between West Bay and West End.
The Pelican – If I had to pick the best meal on my trip, it would be at The Pelican. This was the only place I came across serving Asian food (pad Thai and drunken noodles, yes!) and while that was the draw, I was super impressed with their Tagliatelle in a cream sauce with broccoli and mushrooms. The place is small and it gets busy, so a reservation or patience waiting at the bar is advised. You’ll pay a bit more, but it’s worth it.
Neptune’s at Coral Beach Village – If you’re on Utila, make some time for Neptune’s. You have to arrive at this restaurant via a small boat that takes you through the mangrove forest, dropping you on a near-perfect beach that you’ll share only with a small number of others who made it onto the boat. You get it, it’s remote. But wait – it gets better! While a place with that location could serve garbage and get away with it, their food was good. It was also the only restaurant I visited the entire trip that had a vegan section on the menu.
Josie’s – A cute pink cafe with tropical plants painted on the walls that served the best iced coffee in glass mugs with metal straws. Good vegetarian and vegan options like avocado toast.
La Casita – An adorably decorated, brightly colored restaurant. For dinner, they serve tacos, nachos, baleadas, and quesadillas with vegetarian options. If you’re lucky, you might come on a night when they serve gringas (no, this does not mean American tourists) which are their specialty. Since I didn’t catch them on a gringas night, I can’t say more, but check their page if you’re in town. Their breakfast menu looked so epic that I came back for some fluffy pancakes and huevos rancheros.
Baleadas Mama Rosa – This is the place to go for baleadas on Utila. Every night this no-frills joint was packed full of locals and foreigners alike, all enjoying affordable baleadas. It’s on the main road where the ferry drops you off, which is also where most things (you will get oriented to the island center real fast)
Other Utila Food & Drink of Interest
This list is restaurants I either didn’t get to, or are worth an “honorable mention” but I couldn’t quite justify putting them in the list above
Captain Willis – Fancier than most island establishments, this sea-themed restaurant has date-night charm. I couldn’t put it on my recommendations list though due to the limited vegetarian options. While they did have refreshing spring rolls in peanut sauce, there wasn’t that much else I could order. It’s also on the pricier side for Utila.
Munchie’s – I enjoyed my meal at Munchie’s and they do have some veg options. But for me, it just wasn’t memorable and I was more excited about trying other places than returning. You can get a solid meal here, no doubt, and its central location is great. Likely the first place you’ll see right off the ferry!
Treetanic Bar – This was on my must-do list for Utila because there is buzz about this bar. It’s made some lists of the most beautiful bars in the world because it is covered with seashells, glass, and funky art. You can imagine then my disappointment to arrive and be told that it’s only open two days a month, and today was not one of them. You can still pay 25 lempira ($1 USD) to walk around the grounds and take photos. I had arrived at dusk and it was really too dark for photos, and I intended to go back but ran out of time. Hope you’ll have better luck.
Mango Tango – Some regard this as the best restaurant on Utila, but I didn’t make it out there. I’d definitely want to check it out if I go back.
Utila Chocolate Co. – I would have loved more chocolate, obviously, but after the number of places that weren’t open, I didn’t want to make the trek out to be disappointed again. You will likely see these chocolate bars sold around the island at gas stations and souvenir shops.
How much does it cost to eat on the Bay Islands?
Baleadas are the most budget-friendly option ($1-3 USD). The most I spent was $15-20 USD per person for dinner and a drink at the fancier places. Most options fell somewhere in between, so consider $8-10 USD a good budget for one full meal and beverage. It is relatively affordable, although because of the high number of foreigners on the island, I expect that prices are inflated.
The other thing you should know is that cash is king on the islands. Utila has a reliable ATM right off the ferry dock in the middle of town. You can pay in both dollars and lempira on both islands. I did notice that on Roatán, prices were more likely to be listed in dollars and people were pretty lenient about the quality of the bills you give them. They’ll accept lempira, but don’t be surprised if they ask to give you change back in dollars! On Utila, it was the opposite – prices were typically listed in lempira, but you could pay in dollars in many places. However, they were very picky about the quality of the bills…any crease or little tear and they wouldn’t accept it. So if you’re going to pay in dollars, make sure those bills are crisp! Luckily, many of the bills that they wouldn’t accept on Utila worked fine on Roatán. I didn’t notice a difference in prices paying in dollars vs lempira.
Any Other Tips?
Don’t rely on Google Maps or Facebook to tell you when things open or close, especially on Utila. It seemed that many restaurants were only open a few days a week and the schedule was rarely what Google Maps said. So ask a local, or simply walk around and pick from what’s open.
Sources: Mesoamerican Reef, Bay Islands Department, Honduran cuisine, Honduran food, Food in Honduras