Honduras: Mayan Ruins, Lush Forests and Caribbean Beaches

Rupert Parker’s special interest is food and travel but he writes about everything from wilderness adventures to luxury spas. Despite having tasted over 80 countries he’s still hungry for travel.

Central America is one of those places that people remember because of the civil wars that ravaged the area in the ’80s and ’90s, but now all is peaceful and it should be on everyone’s bucket list. Honduras boasts a Caribbean coast and borders Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador yet is well worth visiting in its own right.

Copán: Mayan Ruins and Hieroglyphics

Most people arrive in the city of San Pedro Sula by air, and there’s no real point in sticking around as it’s only around a three-hour drive to the Mayan site of Copán. It’s worth spending a couple of days here, as there’s much to see and the tiny town of Copán Ruinas makes a good base. Although the ruins are not as monumental as those of Tikal or Palenque, the real attraction is the intricate sculptures. Most of the originals are in the adjacent museum, but the highlight is the Hieroglyphic Stairway, 10 meters wide, 21 meters long with a total of 62 steps. It gets its name from the 2,200 hieroglyphs that form the longest known Mayan hieroglyphic text and is truly impressive.

When I visit, I almost have the site to myself and I spend a delightful morning exploring this once great city. It flourished between the fifth and ninth centuries with a population of 20,000 at its height but was then gradually abandoned and left to the jungle. Underneath some of the structures are tunnels dug by archaeologists, and you can see that the pyramids are like Russian dolls with larger pyramids built over smaller ones. Indeed there’s a touch of Indiana Jones as you journey through the walls in the dark, to suddenly find yourself in the light by the Copán River.

Tela: Flora, Flauna and Beaches of the Banana Republic

I next retrace my steps back to San Pedro Sula and travel another two hours to Tela on the Caribbean coast. Most of this area was cultivated by the United Fruit Company in the last century and gave Honduras the name of banana republic. One of their legacies is the Lancetilla Botanical Garden, which was started as a research centre in 1925 and now is the second-largest tropical garden in the world. It’s well worth a visit and there are swimming holes in the Lancetilla River, ideal for cooling off.

Just down the beach from my hotel is a crumbling pier, another legacy of United Fruit. A defunct railway track leads out to the sea, but today it’s home to fishermen and boys doing daredevil jumps, proving their manhood in front of the local girls. It’s a great place to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the sunset.

In the hotel restaurant, there’s a performance by a Garifuna dance troupe using acoustic instruments. They’re clad in traditional dress, and drums are a major feature. As you’d expect, the music is more African than Central American and the most famous form is Punta, a frenetic rhythm that has dancers moving their hips in a sensual circular motion. The music has moved on from its roots and the electric version, Punta Rock, is wildly popular all along the coast, particularly in Belize. After a few beers, I’m dancing the night away to the latest hot sounds.

Roatan: Tropical Island Retreat

Next day I’m on my way to La Ceiba farther down the coast. There’s a ferry here to the tropical island of Roatan, which takes just over an hour, but I opt for a short flight in a tiny prop plane. The island is a major cruise destination, getting more than five ships a day in the peak season, but today there’s just one boat in bringing passengers from New Orleans. At 37 miles long and 5 miles wide, Roatan’s forested slopes are surprisingly attractive and I make my base at the West Bay beaches.

A short drive away is Anthony’s Resort where I’m booked in for a dolphin encounter. Thankfully there are no animals doing tricks, and a group of us wade into the water to meet our new friend. Her trainer describes the dolphins’ characteristics, anatomy and behaviors and then invites each of us to get closer and touch. It’s a marvellous experience.

Honduras has had a bad rap recently with some press coverage describing it as extremely dangerous. I traveled by foot, minivan, and air, went to local bars and restaurants, strolled through street markets and hung out in village squares at night.   Everywhere I went I was treated with exceptional hospitality and nowhere did I feel under threat. Of course you have to be alert and be cautious where you go, but it would be a shame to miss out of one of the hidden gems of Central America.

Keep up with Rupert and his travels, planetappetite.com.

Featured Image: Copán Ruinas, Honduras (Shutterstock.com)

Fly.com Expert Tips

How To Get There: Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport (SAP) is approximately 7 miles from San Pedro Sula and is the busiest airport in Honduras. The airport is serviced by 13 domestic and international airlines, including American, Delta, Spirit and United. Information regarding the airport is available here.
Best Time To Visit: The best times to visit Honduras is generally February to April, when the weather is dry and predictable, and the trees are flourishing.

Sample Fares: Fares displayed are the lowest roundtrip fares found in the last 48 hours to San Pedro Sula from:
Houston — $684 Travel Dec. 21-29
Miami — $335 Travel Sept. 23-Nov. 25
New York City — $447 Travel Oct. 19-30
Orlando — $408 Travel Sept. 29-Oct. 14
San Jose, CA — $505 Travel Oct. 11-14
Flights to San Pedro Sula >>
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