Before we set foot in Honduras, we knew almost nothing about the country. Besides some creepy stories from drug trafficking in the jungle, cities with the highest number of homicide in the world, poverty in most of the rural areas.
Wait, wait, wait! Does this sound like a place you want to visit? Or even travel transit through? How about people who actually live there? One of our missions as travelers is to help places deal with their bad reputation. Sometimes we correct travel wrongs, sometimes we don’t.
After getting so much negative feedback on El Salvador and Honduras, we knew we would either skip them and maybe regret this decision, or we would go there to prove the haters wrong. We felt so empowered after visiting El Salvador and this part of the trip becoming one of the highlights of our Central America Grande journey. Therefore we had to give Honduras a try and pay at least a short visit.
After all, Honduras turned out to be an absolute highlight! If you take the regular for CA precautions and stay away from places that do not appeal to you, you are about to make some huge memories! We want to return someday and explore more of this huge country with great potential, a.k.a. Honduras!
So here it is, the post with all the highlights from Honduras or country number 5 in CA Grande!
Copan ruins – the archaeological site
There is a town nearby the border with Guatemala named Copán Ruinas. The name doesn’t deceive – there is a archaeological park of unbelievable Mayan ruins just next to town. Copan ruins have preserved their wealth of ancient drawings and art – we were there to enjoy all of it, most importantly – almost by ourselves!
One of the few positive sides of bad tourism reputation is that usually traveling and experiences come really affordable. Another advantage is that there are almost no people and you have a huge gift from Mayans to explore in solitude (and without tens of people on the photos). Some people say they get ruins fatigue in Central America – we were also getting there. However, in Copan one can explore the underground tunnels made by archaeologists and study the lower layers of the pyramids. This is kind of unique.
Our personal favorite things about Copan Ruins were the charming macaws who live in the park. We waited and waited for the feeding time to come, so we can see them even closer. Obviously they put them on diet that day so we just stared up to see what’s going on in their colorful world. The reward for the hurting necks were a few feathers of different size we collected from the ground.
Copan ruins – rural horseback riding
We bargained with a local person in the park and arranged an impromptu horseback riding. We left the town and passed the ruins to continue along the river and ride uphill. Views were relaxed, nature – viral. We left the horses to take a break from us and hiked up to a place that used to be Mayan hospital. We saw the stones where Mayan women used to give birth. The place is called Los Sapos (The Frogs) and it is carved in the shapes of frogs. The Mayans believed frogs symbolized fertility.
We climbed through bush to a village. Not just a village, but a very local village where kids chased us to sell souvenirs and a few ladies had opened a cooperative to produce woven items. We could see people were living most probably below the poverty line and at the same time they were not producing anything that would sell. We bought a bracelet though. The boss lady was not happy with our humble purchase.
Back to nature and to horses, we felt much better. Our horses were ready for a fast downhill ride so we literally shook it off. That were the best 30 dollars and 3 hours spent.
Copan ruins – Macaw Mountain
Another 20 dollars well-spent went for the Macaw Mountain entrance fee. Our tuktuk driver was kind enough to wait for us until we finish our walk in the park to drive us back to town as it was not quite the walking distance. We told him that 30 minutes will be enough for us but it took us more than an hour and certainly some minutes after the official opening hours.
The park is a sanctuary with so many birds that to say macaws are awesome will be an understatement. Most of them are keep in different cages by type with enough space for every individual to shine. Some birds were given a second chance after being found hurt or illegally residing in someone’s home.
It was allowed to enter two of the cages. First one – the macaw breeding cage. Oh my God, was the party on over there! Macaws were overly excited, screaming, laughing, singing and talking to us! We were not just only mesmerized by all that noise and energy, but also hoped that we looked nothing like macaws at that time. Can you imagine the sexual power of 30 macaws?!
The other cage featured the much more relaxed toucans. We could just stand and observe them, peaceful and quietly beautiful. Walking amongst them was like a philosophers’ walk. We felt much wiser after that encounter.
Copan ruins – the town
Copan ruins town is just the perfect mix of polished for tourists yet affordable restaurants and shops, and local vibes. We enjoyed the group playing marimbas in the Central Park, we enjoyed the hospitality of the locals and being able to walk safely after dark.
So far it felt like Honduras is a piece of heaven and those who claimed the opposite must have been hallucinating…
Day of travel
The next day we had to travel to Utila island. We had bought tickets for local buses. We had to change in San Pedro Sula, a city famous for heading the rankings of places with maximum numbers of homicides.
The journey took 12 hours and was far from pleasant. The first bus had been through a lot. Its interior was not renovated since the early 60’s and not cleaned since the late 80’s. We even managed to get some sleep, although space was not enough and we were constantly pushed and squeezed by passengers and their stock.
And this is a real confirmation of the term chicken bus. There was a guy carrying a dozen of pigeons in a box! Firstly we didn’t know what produced those creepy sound, then Nace felt something was moving in a box in the upper head compartments. Sometimes it’s better not to think and ask too much. Well, at the end we saw the pigeons, they had survived the whole journey. Unfortunately we can’t tell how much longer they survived after that.
Surviving San Pedro Sula
The change of buses in San Pedro Sula went smoothly. Every bus company had their own cell inside the terminal, well guarded by a man with a gun. Some policemen and military walked around with bigger guns. Maybe that’s why we felt so safe all the time. The stores with clothes and shoes were featuring unbelievable assortment of trendy stuff, but we had no lust for shopping.
Boarding the other bus to La Ceiba, everyone’s hand luggage was checked for guns. Well, except ours. I knew I’ve always had this trustworthy face, but Nace was sincerely surprised to be skipped by the check. Jokes aside, this is obviously the “backpackers with Bulgarian passports” privilege.
The second bus ride was even slower than the first and had too many stops. Everyone on the street was picked up and dropped off! First law of chicken buses.
Getting a colectivo taxi to the ferry terminal and taking the ferry were not as spectacular and adventurous activities as the previous legs. Utila island greeted us with a full moon and a beer pong championship in the dive center.
We were right in the mood for a shower and a long sleep without pigeons and potholes…
Utila, part of Bay of Islands is known as the affordable diving paradise. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef goes all the way to the water of Honduras and creates the perfect underwater scenery for divers.
We decided to take the opportunity to become certified open water divers in Utila. Affordable course rates and underwater paradise, how could we miss this?
What contributed to our decision to get certified was the fact that you’re not really allowed to dive at most sites around the world without having the certification.
Also, 71% of the Earth is covered by water. So how can we be world explorers if we can’t really discover the magic of this huge portion of the planet?
After some theory, confined water sessions and several dives we were proudly certified. We did our first two fun dives without someone to hold our hands or operate our equipment! Hey! We hope we were good students to our dive instructor Toby and we apologize to all the corals we unwillingly harmed during our training.
Whoever you ask in Utila, they’ll tell you that this is a bit of paradise and it doesn’t even feel like part of Honduras. Indeed, English is most commonly spoken, pretty much everything revolves around diving and partying. The island has its charming inland places too, and when it’s not raining you can go out and explore by foot or scooter or ATV.
More in the blessed island called Utila we plan to put in a separate post. After all, there’s so much we want to share about the underwater world and how we became part of it.
We stayed long enough on Utila, so it was hard to leave this tiny bit of paradise. Especially when we knew we had to travel through Honduras to get to any place…
The meaningful transfer
We have found a way to break this chain. We found direct transfers between different points of Honduras, with nice shuttles with no stock or pigeons inside. Yes, high-quality transportation is possible, it comes with the respective price. We even decided to book that shuttle from La Ceiba terminal to Leon in Nicaragua.
You may wonder why we didn’t put more places of huge Honduras in the itinerary. Well, first the journey was already taking us to the next country, second, we couldn’t handle more days of exhausting travel anymore. We also believed that smaller-scale attractions should be left for another visit.
And then we saw the option to combine the long transfer from La Ceiba to Leon with a visit to lesser-known but appealing places in the heart of Honduras. When the universe presented this opportunity, we had to take it. And this was the start of another paradise experience.
And by the way, we passed through the center of San Pedro Sula this time. We didn’t observe anything homicidal in the city. We learned a bit for the reasons for its high crime rate. Looks like narcotraffickers can’t split the cake so they sometimes have to deal with each other. Our local guide ensured us that if you don’t have to do with drugs, you’re probably way out of any danger.
Our meaningful day tour started in the Pulhapanzak waterfalls park. Actually, it started under, behind and inside the waterfalls. A crazy adventure we didn’t expect to be so extreme. Well, the heavy rain helped the extremity a little.
To warm up, we visited a local cocoa plantation (finca). Not only were we introduced to all the processes to making cacao, but also we tried different types in different forms. And the view on top of the Lenca hill, that view was worth all the mosquito bites!
Time to settle for a night in the D&D Brewery, but before that, we couldn’t skip delicious dinner (my new favorite ceviche) and the tasting set of homemade craft beers!
The morning took us to lake Yojoa itself. It’s the most beautiful and only lake in Honduras. A relaxed kayak ride took us to various birdlife, and the views towards mountains and greenery didn’t disappoint. To be a kayaking navigator is a responsible job in a nice office space, I assure you.
Cerro Azul National park expected us with a variety of hikes in the cloud forest. It’s called cloud forest because trees can shape up and split into tunnels that let almost no sunlight through. So it’s always kind of cloudy. We didn’t see the resident coatis but we stumbled upon spectacular views and a refreshing waterfall.
We continued our transfer to Leon after lunch in a local eatery. It was like we stopped time for a day, detoured to well-kept in secret places, and then continued with our old plan. We were just a day late. It was like we dived into another world and we didn’t care for the surface interval. For the record, when we dive underwater we do care about the surface interval.
We did encounter some unexpected mix of people in Honduras. Instead of drug dealers, killers and unfriendly to foreigners people, we met hard-working, nice and friendly, and positive people. Locals were respectful and welcoming to us, applying their knowledge and experience to show the country in its best light.
Travelers were not so many as we’ve seen in other countries in Central America. Copan ruins seemed to attract fans of ruins and wildlife from nearby Guatemala. Expats and long-term visitors were plentiful in the diving paradise of Utila and almost missing in more off-the-beaten-path areas like Yojoa.
In a few words
- We confirmed one more time that you should never ever listen to second-hand information or trust blindly media and news! We could have skipped a number of paradise places if we got scared of the bad reputation of Honduras!
- It’s a huge country with very few places developed for tourists. So make sure you go there before it gets too crowded with explorers and too touristy!
- Visiting different places in Honduras feels like visiting different countries or even different parts of the world! Vibes are totally different inland, on the islands, in popular places or following more off-the-beaten-path leads.
Do you get scared by rumors easily? Have you ever considered visiting Honduras? Would you combine road adventures with a chill in paradise?