Honduras: a central American country of Mayan Ruins, lush forests and Caribbean beaches

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Honduras is very much off the beaten tourist track ,yet it boasts fantastic Mayan sculptures at Copan and the lush tropical island of Roatan, writes Rupert Parker

Central America is one of those places that people remember because of the civil wars that ravaged the area in the 80s and the 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.

Mayan sculpture

Copan
Most people arrive in 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 Copan. It’s worth spending a couple of days here, as there’s much to see and the tiny town of Copan 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 Maya hieroglyphic text and is truly impressive.

Copan

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 bury through the walls in the dark, to suddenly find yourself in the light by the Copan River.

Tela
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 dare devil jumps, proving their manhood in front of the local girls. It’s a great place to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the sunset. I notice that people are darker here than in the rest of Honduras and learn that the area is home to various Garifuna communities. They’re originally from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, and, ethnically, are a mix of African and Carib, the indigenous population.  They were expelled by the British in 1796 and were given permission by the Spanish to settle on this coast.

Tela Beach

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 Americas and the most famous form is Punta, a frenetic rhythm which 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
Next day I’m on my way to La Ceiba further 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 over 5 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 five miles wide, Roatan’s forested slopes are surprisingly attractive and I make my base at the West Bay beaches.

Roatan

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 behaviours and then invites each of us to get closer and touch.  It’s a marvellous experience and I find myself with both hands full of one extremely frisky dolphin.

Anthony's Resort

Honduras has had a bad rap recently with sensational press stories describing it as extremely dangerous.  I travelled 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.

Mayan Staircase

 


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