Roatan’s East Side Looks Towards Brighter Future
Santos Guardiola, is the largest in area of the four municipalities on the Bay Islands. It did not always exist in the obscurity it finds itself now, but was once a thriving fishing community with more fishing vessels than any other municipality in Honduras.
“I remember Oak Ridge harbor being busy with fishing and cargo boats in and out all day long,” said Joonel Solórzano, whose stepfather owned the popular Blue Bayou restaurant overlooking Oak Ridge Harbor.
Established in 1960 and named for one of Honduras former president, S.G. boasted a dry dock that kept local fishing fleet in top shape and a seafood factory that exported its goods to the US and employed hundreds of workers from all over the island.
Santos Guardiola has lived in the shadow of its little sister.
Decades ago, Santos Guardiola was also the center of entertainment. “Back then, we were able to party for days with no problem and there were no crimes to worry about,” said Zelda Nixon, a resident of Pandy Town. Santos Guardiola was also home to several popular bars and restaurant including the famous and now defunct, Casa Grande in Pandy Town. There was also Happy Landing on Oak Ridge Point and Blue Bay restaurant on Lawrence Hill, Oak Ridge.
Compared to its sister municipality on the west, Santos Guardiola has been struggling when it comes to growth, development and finding its own identity. Santos Guardiola has lived in the shadow of its little sister to the west for years, however, S.G is slowly moving out of obscurity and back into its own light.
Created in 1960, the youngest municipality in the Bay Islands has seen a resurgence of old businesses and the upsurge of new ones. Super Economico, a supermarket in Oak Ridge, near the bus stop, opened its doors in January of 2017. “My father liked the area because of the land and sea proximity,” said Claudia Ramirez who helps run her family business.
With steady growth and construction taking place on the Roatan’s east, the building supply and hardware chain, Madeyso, inaugurated a store in Pandy Town, in June of 2017. The store employs 10 workers from the area. “We opened a store in Santos Guardiola because we had more clients on the east of Roatan than anywhere else,” said Jolanie Romero, a sales adviser working with the company since 2013. “It was difficult to cover all the [eastern] communities requesting material such as Diamond Rock, Pandy Town, and Camp Bay, in one day.”
In 2015 the petroleum company Texaco opened its first gas station in S.G. at the entrance of Oak Ridge. In summer of 2019 BIP (Bay Islands Petroleum) and Circle K convenient store opened facilities in Jonesville.
In the last five years the municipality has been paving and improving roads all over the area, as small businesses continue to hit the economic trail on the east. “I was motivated to open my restaurant because of the changes taking place”, said Kislen Dilbert, owner of Island flavor restaurant in Politilly Bight. “The roads are better, which allow people to come to the east without wrecking their cars,” pointed out the former Justice of Peace for the municipality of Santos Guardiola. Happy Landing bar, on Oak Ridge Point and Henry’s Cove Resort and restaurant, in Punta Gorda, both re-penned after years of hibernation.
The growth and development have reached as far as Saint Helena, a once forgotten Santos Guardiola outpost.
This sleepy island was recently the recipient of one of the largest educational centers on the east end, it acquired community wide electricity for the first time provided by RECO, and it’s now home to the first concrete built municipal community dock in Santos Guardiola.
With all the development taking place and plans to build the first cruise ship dock on the east, the municipality of Santos Guardiola seems to be coming into its own fifth year. “If we prepare ourselves, tourism could have a huge effect on our community,” says Alex Avila, councilman for tourism and owner of Mamery Garinagu Center in Punta Gorda. “There are negative aspects of tourism, but if we are creative, make use of our natural resources, it could make the tourism industry on this end sustainable, we should be Ok”
The closing of the municipalities’ only banking 2018, had some negative effect on businesses. “The closing of Banco Atlántida has affected our business, but we are still here thanks to the support of some loyal clients that appreciates our services. To provide even more convenience to them, we convinced Ficohsa bank to open a stall in our building,” said Claudia Ramirez.
Wendy Gale, president of the patronato of Camp Bay, believes that with the building of the new cruise ship dock, banks will return and so will other businesses.
Councilwomen, Genie Hernandez says that “tourism is going to be good for S.G., but it’s important to have control so it doesn’t get out of hand; with development comes responsibility.”
The municipal office has also benefited from the changes; it helped increase; its tax revenue. It increased from 32 million Lempiras yearly to 52 million Lempiras in 2017, which has allowed for more municipal funded projects to be completed. The latest of which is the renovation of the old lighthouse in Oak Ridge, a reminder of Santos Guardiola’s prosperous past.
With things looking up for the east end of Roatan, it seems that the municipality might be regaining its place in the economical realm of the Bay Islands and finally moving out of the shadow of its little sister, and back where it once was.