If ten of us were to travel to Honduras on vacation, each of us would have differing lists of the best vacation places. All of us travel with different sets of eyes, each seeing our own realities even as we look at the same event. Here are my “must-see” places, cities, villages, or scenery from Honduras.
A FLIGHT INTO ONE OF THE BAY ISLANDS
When you fly to the Bay Islands (Roatan, Utila, or Guanaja) out of La Ceiba or San Pedro Sula, you will be treated to the most spectacular view of the richest blue waters of your life. The Bay Islands boast of having the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world. No wonder that scuba divers and snorkelers from around the world trek here.
What is not to like about Roatan? Take off your shoes and visit the shops along the beach of West End, stopping every 100 feet for a soda, a Salva Vida (the Honduran beer, literally Life Saver), or a coffee. Visit Rudy’s for a smoothie. Take a water taxi to West Bay (better yet, stay there for the quiet). Sit on one of the piers and watch the sun slowly plunge in the west. Then, visit one of West End’s bars and take in some distinctive island music. Swim, snorkel or scuba dive the day away at one of the fine beaches at West End or West Bay. Eat at the Lighthouse Inn (West End) at about 3 p.m. when they are not so busy, coaxing owner Miss Mavis out of the kitchen. She is one of the finest storytellers you will ever have the pleasure of meeting.
Copan Ruinas (often referred to by tourists as just Copan, which is actually the name of the department, not the town). No trip to Honduras would be complete without a stop at the Ruins. But what would Copan Ruinas be without them? It would be a delightful, charming village of 1,200 people that is tourist-friendly while not being overly touristy. Visit the market (immediately behind the municipal building, off the square). Spend time in the city square. Evenings bring out entire families. After dinner, saunter over to the Welchez Cafe (near the Hotel Marina Copan,same owners) for the apple pie, ice cream, and espresso coffee. Yep, I said apple pie and it is very good. Pick up several pounds of coffee to take home. In Copan, as elsewhere in rural Honduras, make sure you look upwards each evening for a sky amazingly awash with stars. Unbelievable sight.
SAN PEDRO SULA
Without a doubt, a visit to the Musuem of Anthropology and History is worth it. The two-story museum is manageable. Arranged as an inviting series of displays, you will walk through the history of the San Pedro Sula valley, the arrival of the Spaniards, the conquest, and the interplay of the Spanish and Indigenous cultures. Many of the displays have English placards that enhance the time spent here. Plan on about 4 hours to do the museum any justice. Open Tuesdays – Sundays.
While San Pedro Sula boasts a large open-air market, it is over-stocked with $3 tourist items. There are better open-air markets throughout Honduras so there is no need to spend too much time here. One part of the market not to miss is the northeast corner where about 100 women each has a small cooking area, making tortillas by hand as they have been made for centuries. San Pedro Sula residents come in for their daily 2-dozen To-Go.
Ceiba, as Hondurans call it, has to be my favorite city in all of Honduras. If asked why, I can not give a definitive answer. This is a city teeming with life and energy. Find a good, local buffet. Visit the cathedral for a mass; walk Ceiba’s city square. Shop in the open-air market. Visit the Butterfly Museum. Have fresh fish for lunch. Dance the night away to Caribbean sounds from the clubs near the sea (1 Calle). Ride the entire city perimeter in a local bus for three lempiras. Search out that soccer game. Look for a good bottle of Honduran rum (ron). Flor de Caña Reserva Rum is made in Honduras and Nicaragua. It is an excellent 7-year old rum. In La Ceiba, a clerk wanted to sell me a 20-year old Guatemalan rum for $31. That bottle is still on the shelf.
While not an overly attractive town, Gracias is so rich in history, it should not be missed. Stand in the village square and imagine the area, as it might have looked when Captain Juan de Chavez entered the area in 1536. (In 1544, Gracias became the administrative center for all Spanish matters within Central America.) Stroll the town, taking in the colonial architecture, seen clearly in the the 3 churches in town. Mosey on up to Guancascos Restaurant for a dinner on the terraced patio. Magnificent view of the surrounding area. Catch the stars after dark. Celaque National Park is a mere 9 kilometers from Gracias and has hiking trails even for the casual hiker. The cloud forest holds Honduras’ highest peak at 9,350 feet. Celaque is the sacred heart of Lencan (the indigenous people of the area) spirituality. Hikers should ask at Guancascos or Hotel Erick for transportation ideas because a bus does not make the trek to the park
This city lies about 60 km east of Gracias, in the department of Intibuca – an area heavily populated by the Lenca people. The trip, on the road from Gracias to La Esperanza, takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Honduras. Adobe brick construction dots the landscape; bananas can be found growing at 4000 feet (sweeter than coastal bananas) and small plots of corn are perched on a 50-degree slope. You will see some deforestation, but nothing like the deforestation of Western Guatemala. Visit the open-air market. While at the market, buy tamalitos (small tamales but the best are made from fresh corn – jilote) and a small amount of cream (crema). That crema gets lathered onto the tamalito. Swill coffee. Slowly stroll the market for an hour and soak in the real Honduras experience. Stop and have another coffee.
Soccer fans will be pleased to know that soccer is alive and well in Honduras. While the best Honduran players move on to Europe, a very competitive league of 10 teams exists. Your hotel front desk can direct you to the stadium. Watching the fans roar is as much fun as the game itself. The La Ceiba area is the easiest to navigate if attending a game. You can also catch a professional game in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula (multiple stadiums). An amateur game is always going on – just keep your eyes open around schools and open areas.
SANTA ROSA DE COPAN
Find a building with an accessible roof or any high place surrounding the city and take in a sunset dipping below the horizon of the hills. Breathtaking. Visit the Don Melo cigar outlet next to the Hotel Elvir for hand-rolled cigars at less than 1/3 the retail cost in North America. (You can bring 100 cigars back into the U.S.) You can watch cigars being rolled by hand out at the factory near the bus stop. Contact Max Elvir of Lenca Land Trails (504) 662-1375 for 1-day to multiple-day tours of the Western Highlands. Five blocks east of the square is Pizza Pizza, a restaurant owned by Warren Post. Warren is an ex-pat who has done a great deal to promote tourism in the Western highlands and serves as an invaluable source of information about the area. Oh yes, have some pizza at his place while you are there. Holy Week procession is a phenomenal time in Santa Rosa. If you opt for wonderful event, advance reservations are really needed. Get them early.
ROAD BETWEEN SAN PEDRO SULA AND TELA/LA CEIBA
This leg of the trip is marvelous just for the miles and miles of bananas, cacao, sugar cane, pineapples, citrus and African palms. The Nombre de Dios mountain range juts up to the east and south of you as you travel through the lush tropical region. Keep an eye out for the llama del bosque (flame of the forest), a tall tree crowned with gorgeous red flowers.
Even before leaving Miami, spend some time in the concourse where the Latin American/Caribbean airlines originate. Take in the variety and beauty of the diversity of peoples. Before your eyes is a human rainbow. The bright, vibrant color schemes of the airlines are a welcome change from the dull pastels of North American airlines.
Whoops. That makes 11 things that are ‘must-see.’ Couldn’t narrow it to just 10.