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Honduras Whirlwind...Flying Without 'Da Plan
by Glori S

Our Honduran adventure began on the website. I was so intrigued by what I saw and read here that I planned – and I use that word generously – an 11-day trip with my husband the first week in May, 2006. We decided to leave our itinerary completely open, so didn’t book any hotels, and even flew standby from Miami.

Based on reading the SidewalkMystic website, and the Moon Handbook, we knew we had to make it to Copan Ruinas, but that’s all the planning we did. In order to travel light, we packed in backpacks (that we quickly discovered were way too small) but carrying them on our backs made us that much more mobile.

San Pedro Sula

We flew into San Pedro Sula, and were happy to only have to spend one night there. One big, noisy city. We spent the afternoon wandering about the streets near the city square. We weren’t very impressed with the baleadas – the local snack that resembles a quesadilla, but with scrambled eggs and beans inside – but felt compelled to try them. We did love the fresh fruit stands on every street where we selected a beautiful mango that the vendor peeled and sliced for us. Found an authentic Honduran restaurant for dinner, where we ate a hot bean dip served in an anafre – a clay pot with hot coals in it, with a smaller clay dish of the dip resting on top. They were for sale in every shop, so had to bring a couple of them home! The restaurant was a block from a very modern shopping mall. We wandered through it and felt like we were in the U.S.

We had a great deal of difficulty exchanging traveler’s checks, even in the large city. Several banks turned us away completely, and the one that would cash them would only cash $100 worth. We discovered that it would have been much wiser and easier to simply use our bank card and get money from the ATM. There were ATM’s everywhere we went in Honduras, and they happily spit out lempiras!

As much as my husband wanted to ride on “chicken busses”, good sense prevailed and we took the Hedman-Alas buses everywhere we went in Honduras to get from city to city. They were reasonably priced – about $13 per person from San Pedro Sula to Copan Ruinas – a 3-4 hour drive. We rode in air-conditioned comfort, in comfortable seats.

Copan Ruinas

We arrived in Copan Ruinas on a Friday, and were greeted at the bus station by several anxious “tuk-tuk” drivers who clamored for our business. The mode of transportation throughout Copan was in these 3-wheeled golf carts, painted bright red with white canopy tops – all open air. Our driver took us to the Plaza Copan hotel – one of the nicest in the city, right on the Parque Central. Arriving without reservations, we were fortunate to be able to get the last room for the night in the Plaza. A block away at the Banco de Occidente we attempted to cash more American Express travelers checks. On a Friday afternoon before a 3-day holiday weekend, the bank was packed with locals doing their banking business. The armed guard at the door immediately recognized us as tourists and directed us to a beautiful young woman at a desk. She prepared all the necessary paperwork to cash $300 worth for us, then directed us to the front of the line to receive the lempiras. The bank was adorable inside – all whitewashed with dark brown beams and railings on the second floor. It reminded us of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie. I asked the armed guard if I could take a picture, but he didn’t feel authorized to give me permission, so we abided by his wishes and only took a picture of the outside.

As we wandered through town, we found the Tunkul restaurant and bar, an outdoor place with cold beer and our favorite rum. We threw all caution to the wind, and ordered rum and cokes with ice. We were assured everywhere we ate and drank that the ice was made with agua purificada. A beautiful setting with foliage and tiled floors, and definitely worth a visit! We were so amazed by the streets and sidewalks in Copan – very steep, uneven, and many just dropped off, like right outside Tunkul. Shouldn’t drink too many beers there, or you might just break your leg!

Our meandering through town brought us to Twisted Tanya’s, an upscale, touristy restaurant on the second floor. All open air with nice views of town and the mountains. Ate dinner there one night, and were treated to a rather gourmet offering of shrimp curry and filet mignon.

The town itself is clean, friendly and quaint. The cobblestone streets made walking a little difficult, and the rides in the “tuk-tuks” (one of our drivers called them that) were bumpy and adventurous. For a couple of blocks around the city square, it was pretty level, but then the steep hills up and down only added to the adventure! The square was always active with families playing there, people chatting, the ice cream vendor was ever-present, and little kids trying to sell trinkets to the tourists. We were pleased that the town didn’t seem overrun with tourists, but just enough to make it lively. On Saturday night the square was filled with hundreds of people listening to what seemed to be an American Idol type concert.

We observed that the women dressed in skirts and the young girls in very short skirts or jeans. The men all wore jeans, and most of those from the neighboring villages wore white straw cowboy hats. The tourists were easily identified by their shorts! It was extremely hot and humid – even by Miami standards – and although we wanted to fit in with the locals, we had to break down and wear shorts.

We made the short trip to the ruins, just a couple of miles outside of town. We hired an English-speaking guide to take us around, and he was a delight! I’m sure it would have been less impressive if we had just walked around on our own, not knowing what we were looking at.

One of our favorite places to hang out was Carnitas Nia Lola – a funky bar/restaurant with a nice mix of locals and tourists. The view from the second floor made us start talking about moving to Honduras!

We used a local travel company to plan a trip to Aguas Termales – a hot springs about 45 minutes from Copan. We rode in the back of an open Land Rover (that 5 guys had to push start) on a beautiful trip through the mountains on a dirt road. We got there too late in the day to explore the area, but could see the hot water bubbling up out of the side of the mountain, where it flowed into a cool water creek. The closer you sat to the hot spring, obviously, the hotter the water – in fact we had to sit 20 feet or more away because it was so hot. The trip back through the mountains in the dark at 40 mph was quite an adventure! But we only had bugs in our teeth from smiling so much! As we passed through little communities, we saw the locals dressed up and walking to church – some walking miles through the mountains to get to town.

We spent part of one day at Macaw Mountain, a touristy developed park with birds in cages. The only thing that made that visit memorable at all was our tour guide – a 10 year old girl named Stephanie. She was a local, but spoke excellent English, was sweet and friendly and was wise beyond her years.

Spontaneous travelers that we were, we changed hotels each night for the 3 nights we spent in Copan Ruinas. The last night provided us with the nicest hotel stay of all at a newly renovated hotel called the Acropolis Maya, and for a very reasonable price. The proprietor was so friendly and accommodating – even with us showing up at his doorstep with our backpacks and no reservations.

Not to be missed is an evening at the Hacienda San Lucas overlooking the town. Once again, with no reservations, we set out in our tuk-tuk, dressed for dinner, and showed up unannounced. The owner of the hacienda, Dona Flavia, welcomed us with open arms, asked the cook to prepare a couple more meals, and gave us a lovely cocktail made with tamarindo. We arrived after dark, so couldn’t fully appreciate the magnificent view, but the grounds of the hacienda were incredible! Countless tiki torches lit up the grounds and the patio where dinner was served. There is minimal electricity at the hacienda – everything was solar powered. I was fortunate enough to be involved in making dinner – one of the cooks was hand rolling and frying the tortillas, and invited me to help. Loved it!! The meal was several courses, accompanied by wine and great conversation with the proprietor. After dinner, she happily delivered those of us who had come back down the mountain to town standing up in the back of her open air Land Rover. The hacienda has a few sleeping rooms – but of course, our spontaneity left us wishing we’d made an advance reservation there! Next time, for sure!

Tela - Miami

With no itinerary, we depended on the recommendations of other tourists about where to go and what to experience in Honduras. We got back on the Hedman-Alas bus and went back across the country to Tela, on the Caribbean coast. We stayed in a decent hotel right on the beach. We were dismayed at how filthy the beach was though – garbage strewn everywhere. Our mission though, was not to hang out at the beach, but to go to the Garifuna village of Miami – several miles up the coast from Tela. Rather than paying a ridiculous amount to the local travel agent who had tours that weren’t available when we wanted to go, we found a cab driver willing to take us there. He didn’t speak any English, but we communicated pretty well anyway (I speak adequate Spanish – enough to understand and usually get what I want). We had originally told him to just drop us off in Miami so we could check it out, but as we drove there on a narrow spit of sand road and didn’t pass another vehicle, we asked if he’d stay with us. Miami was all that we hoped it would be! It is a village of about 250 people on a finger of land between a lagoon and the ocean. The people live in huts built of palm fronds and sticks, right on the beach, and fish for a living. They have no apparent running water or electricity. They welcomed us warmly and offered us food and drinks. We had fresh fish – of course - accompanied by rice and vegetables. A few of the locals spoke English so we could get a feel for how they lived there. The scenery was incredibly beautiful, and we were fascinated how people could actually live with so few amenities.

La Ceiba

About an hour by bus from Tela, we arrived in La Ceiba. We checked into a horrible hotel on a dirty beach (we were using a local guidebook to select our hotels). After a two-minute stay, we asked for a refund, confused the poor clerk who spoke no English, and decided to splurge at the only 5-star hotel in town, Quinta Real. After walking several blocks in the heat from the first hotel, carrying our backpacks, we didn’t look like we belonged in such a nice place! Once again, we were fortunate that there was an available room. It was well worth the $90 per night to stay in luxury. The gorgeous pool and courtyard, staffed by friendly attendants bringing us tropical drinks, waiting on us hand and foot eased the pain of the colds we both had caught. The hotel is on the beach, and although the beach itself was very clean, the water was slightly brown out for several hundred yards, so we didn’t go in the Caribbean.

The reason we specifically went to La Ceiba was at the recommendation of others, to be sure we went on a canopy tour. We were the only guests of the tour that morning, so we had the undivided attention of the two guides. After they outfitted us in harnesses, gloves and helmets, we rode some scrawny horses up the side of the mountain to the most fabulous adventure of all! Because there were only two of us, I didn’t have time to get nervous about gliding 50 feet above the jungle floor on a cable. What a rush!! There were 13 platforms and connecting cables to get us back down the mountain. We flew over hot springs and rushing creeks, connected to a cable by a couple of clamps. Slowing down and stopping was an acquired art, but fortunately the guides were there to keep me from crashing into the trees! Halfway down the mountain we stopped at a hot springs waterfall and changed into bathing suits for a swim. But the water was way too hot, so we only dunked our toes. The canopy tour was the highlight of our trip to Honduras – one I highly recommend to anyone with a bit of adventuresome spirit.

Guamilito Market

Back in San Pedro Sula before our departure for home, we spent half a day at the Guamilito Market, buying all the souvenirs we passed up for the previous 10 days, because our backpacks were too small to carry them. Everything there can be bargained for. We found leather goods, pottery, ceramics, jewelry, t-shirts, of course.

Some observations

There were men with guns all over the country. We were in a modern shopping mall in La Ceiba, going into a bank to attempt to change travelers checks, and a man walked up to the door of the bank, handed his 357 magnum to the armed guard at the door, and went in to do his banking business. When he came out, the guard gave him back his gun, and he put it in the waistband of his pants! At every bank we went to throughout the country, the guards carried serious rifles strapped around their chests. I don’t think we felt unsafe anywhere, but it was an interesting observation.

The hotels we stayed in ranged from $30/night to $90/night. Most were clean and quiet. Food was very reasonably priced. We mostly ate in restaurants frequented by tourists, but did eat from a couple of street vendors. Neither of us got sick from the ice in our drinks, nor from the food.

The countryside that we passed through as we rode the air-conditioned bus from city to city was beautiful. The little villages were so poor though. The houses were made of mud bricks, most had no glass in the windows, the children playing in the dirt outside. There was lots of garbage everywhere alongside the roads.

There weren’t many tourists anywhere we went, which was perfect for us! Knowing that we were going to the mountains, I packed some warm clothes – mistake!! It was incredibly hot in the mountains – probably even hotter than on the Caribbean coast. We saw no rain in the 11 days we were there. I think we beat the rainy season by a couple of weeks.

If I had to summarize the trip

Don’t miss Copan Ruinas – both the town and the ruins themselves. We stayed 3 nights there, and talked about how great it would be to actually live there.

The Garifuna village of Miami was interesting, but the city of Tela wasn’t worth going to at all.  (Editorial insert:  See Lynne Harrington's account for a second opinion on Tela).

The canopy tour in La Ceiba was a must-do, and the 5-star hotel was worth the money and good for a resort-style vacation.

Don’t take travelers checks – use your ATM card instead. 

Pack for hot weather, and don’t be afraid to wear shorts. We had read that it was more appropriate for women to wear skirts – so I brought long ones – and regretted the space they took up in my backpack!  (Editorial insert:  If you are traveling off the beaten path, where tourists don't tread, my wife suggests skirts - Dave).

All in all, our Honduras adventure was everything we hoped it would be. The people were friendly and hospitable, the scenery was fabulous, the culture was rich and interesting.  Our spontaneity was rewarded with adventures we hadn't planned for, and we pulled off a very inexpensive trip.  Honduras seems to be one of those countries that hasn't been discovered by the hordes of tourists - yet. Go now, while you can enjoy the special warmth of a country unspoiled.

Glori and her husband Ken live in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  Spanish-speaking countries hold a special appeal for these two who grew up in the Midwest, and they spent a year living, working and traveling in South America. 

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This article is offered by a May 2006 visitor to Honduras.  Thanks for giving back Glori!

Glori and her husband Ken live in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  Spanish-speaking countries hold a special appeal for these two who grew up in the Midwest, and they spent a year living, working and traveling in South America. 

La Esperanza
Copan Ruinas
La Ceiba
May 2006
Oct 2007
San Juan Co-op
San Lorenzo
San Pedro Sula
Sta Rosa de Copan

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