Moon Honduras & the Bay Islands (Moon Handbooks) - Amy E. Robertson (2012)
Discover Honduras & the Bay Islands
THE BEST OF HONDURAS AND THE BAY ISLANDS
ADVENTURE TRAVEL: FROM CAVES TO CLOUD FORESTS
HIT THE BEACH
GOING GREEN AND CONNECTING WITH THE CULTURE
VESTIGES OF THE PAST
DIVING THE REEF
Honduras packs several personalities into a country the size of Virginia, boasting the fantastic natural beauty of sea and mountains, cultural riches, and a relaxing tropical vibe similar to Belize and Costa Rica, waiting to be discovered along a far less-trodden path.
The Bay Islands are Caribbean jewels of palm trees and sandy beaches lapped by turquoise waves, ringed by some of the finest coral reef in the hemisphere. It’s a scuba diver’s paradise, but even neophyte snorkelers can easily wade into an underwater world of angelfish, coral, and sponge. Back on the mainland, the Mayan ruins of Copán beguile travelers with their profusion of statues and glyphs carved in stone. Art and astronomy flourished in this first-millennium city, a New World Athens. Nearby, Copán Ruinas, Santa Rosa de Copán, and Gracias offer glimpses into small-town Honduran life and are launching points for exploring the mountainous countryside.
A different side of Honduras is revealed in the north coast jungles. Search for a shy manatee or quiet crocodile in the shimmering lagoons. Raft down the Río Cangrejal or go for a hike in the verdant Parque Nacional Pico Bonito, then retire to one of the nearby ecolodges. Farther east lies the Mosquitia—Honduras’s fabled Mosquito Coast, the country’s least accessible region. Intrepid adventurers are rewarded by miles of undisturbed tropical rainforest, home to toucans, parakeets, troops of monkeys, and even the occasional jaguar, as well as opportunities for community-based ecotourism.
Rhythms speed up in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, the business and political capitals, respectively. The list of tourist attractions may be short in these bustling cities, but that of eating and entertainment options is long. The two metropolises can also serve as bases for exploring colonial towns and natural attractions in the surrounding regions. Bird-spotting at Honduras’s largest lake, Lago de Yojoa, and swimming at its highest waterfall, Pulhapanzak Falls, as well as the golden beaches of Tela, Omoa, and Puerto Cortés, make for easy day trips from San Pedro. Day-trippers from Tegucigalpa can take their pick of colonial towns like Valle de Ángeles, or head to the Golfo de Fonseca for a swim in the Pacific.
While each region offers unique experiences, the warm, easygoing attitude of the catrachos, as Hondurans call themselves, is found everywhere. Come to Honduras prepared to relax. Leave the stress behind when you get off the plane, and let yourself slip into blissful contentment.
Planning Your Trip
WHERE TO GO
COPÁN AND WESTERN HONDURAS
Tucked into the mountains up against the Guatemalan border are the ruins of Copán, the Athens of the Mayan world. It’s a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, together with the nearby sites of Las Sepulturas and Río Amarillo. Copán has the added attraction of being located next to a friendly small town, full of opportunities for exploration. Farther off the beaten path is Gracias, a colonial town set in the beautiful mountain countryside. Right outside of town is the highest peak in the country, in the cloud-forested Parque Nacional Celaque. Beyond Gracias are remote Lenca villages like La Campa, San Manuel de Colohete, and Erandique. This is a great and safe trekking destination for the intrepid traveler. The attractive regional capital town of Santa Rosa de Copán makes a good base to explore western Honduras.
THE NORTH COAST
The Caribbean north coast has many attractions-first and foremost, its endless beaches. The beaches around Tela and Trujillo are the best known, but the adventurous can find pristine stretches of sand along the entire coast. Garífuna villages are particularly fine places to while away days, swimming, dining on fresh seafood, and drifting into a tropical trance, with Sambo Creek being one of the most popular. Active travelers will find plenty to do, from boat trips through coastal wetland reserves like Punta Sal and Cuero y Salado to world-class white-water rafting on the Río Cangrejal and jungle adventuring in Parque Nacional Pico Bonito. Bird-lovers will not want to miss the tropical garden at Lancetilla, near Tela. And those attracted by the rhythms of Caribbean nightlife are obliged to spend at least a night or two checking out the scene in La Ceiba.
IF YOU HAVE …
the Acropolis at the ruins of Copán
· One week: Visit Roatan and the ruins of Copán.
· Two weeks: Add Pico Bonito, Lago de Yojoa, and either Chachahuate or Utila.
· Three weeks: Add Gracias, the Lencan highlands, and the Reserva de la Biósfera del Río Plátano.
· Four weeks: Add Comayagua, Yuscarán, Danlí, and Isla del Tigre.
THE BAY ISLANDS
This collection of three large emerald islands and a couple of dozen smaller cays is ringed with miles of coral reef and sand. The Bay Islands are one of the world’s least expensive places to get certified as a scuba diver, attracting visitors from across the globe. Add that to the quirky islander culture, throw in a few mainlander ladinos, and you’ve the fixings for a uniquely entertaining cultural gumbo. Utila is a favorite of the younger crowd, with the focus on diving and meeting other travelers, while on the larger and more varied Roatan, diving is complemented by naturalist trips and exploring the many beaches and small towns. Those after a blissed-out deserted island experience can find a number of small cays to camp out on, like Water Cay. Guanaja is much less-frequented than the other two islands, with just a sprinkling of beach hotels and dive resorts but more possibilities for exploring remote beaches and pristine reefs.
SAN PEDRO SULA AND CENTRAL HONDURAS
San Pedro Sula, in the hot lowlands, is Honduras’s most dynamic business city and a common point for airplane arrival and bus transfers. Nearby is Lago de Yojoa, the country’s largest natural lake and fast becoming a popular destination for the lush tropical forests along the lakeshore and the cloud forests in the two adjacent national parks, Cerro Azul/Meámbar and Santa Bárbara. Stop in at Los Naranjos, a mostly unexcavated pre-Hispanic ruin right next to the lake, and the 43-meter Pulhapanzak Falls along the Río Lindo. Across the mountains from Lago de Yojoa is the town of Santa Bárbara, set amid picturesque green countryside dotted with smaller villages like Colinas and Trinidad, which, together with the far more southern town of Marcala, produce some of the country’s finest coffee. Along the highway toward Tegucigalpa is the old colonial capital of Comayagua, where recent renovations have restored several Spanish-era architectural gems.
TEGUCIGALPA AND SOUTHERN HONDURAS
Honduras’s least visited region, southern Honduras harbors attractions for those interested in an out-of-the-ordinary trip. Set in the mountains at 1,000 meters, the capital city of Tegucigalpa, a major air and bus transport hub, is an old mining settlement that grew to take over an entire valley. The downtown area has a number of museums and colonial buildings worth checking out. Numerous colonial villages are within an easy day’s trip, including Valle de Ángeles, known for its handicraft shop. Nature lovers can hike around the cloud forest of La Tigra, right above Tegucigalpa. Farther afield, the old mining town of Yuscarán is a fine spot to enjoy the laid-back rhythms of small-town life. Toward the Nicaraguan border is Danlí, the cigar capital of Honduras. On the Pacific side, the Isla del Tigre (Amapala) is a funky, offbeat place to visit, with several tranquil beaches. Hikers should head to Parque Nacional La Botija, a unique dry tropical forest.
THE MOSQUITIA AND OLANCHO
The regions of the Mosquitia and Olancho have the most intact primary cloud forest and jungle in Central America. This is where to go if you’re after some real adventuring. The Mosquitia’s Reserva de la Biósfera del Río Plátano is the largest protected area in Honduras, its pristine tropical jungle alive with wild animals and accessible with the help of local guides. Jungles, lagoons, and coastline stretch farther across the Mosquitia, along the wild Río Patuca and on to Puerto Lempira and the Nicaraguan border. Olancho, populated with cowboys, loggers, and other hardy folk, is blanketed with pine forest and some of the finest high-altitude cloud forests in the country, especially at the national parks at Sierra de Agalta, El Boquerón, and La Muralla. Those who make it out there (with guides) will be staggered by the rich diversity of wildlife and flora. The adventurous can also explore pre-Hispanic ruins still unmapped by archaeologists.
a cayuco rests on the beach by the village of Triunfo de la Cruz
Final touches are added to a Good Friday alfombra.
Iglesia de Rosario in Sabanagrande
WHEN TO GO
In Honduras, as in many tropical countries, temperature has a lot more to do with altitude and geographic region than with time of year. The Caribbean and Pacific coasts are hot year-round, cooled down somewhat only when it’s raining. The Bay Islands, stroked with steady breezes, are a bit cooler, but not much. By contrast, the highland regions across most of the center of the country are usually moderately warm during the day and pleasantly cool at night. The coldest parts of the country are the mountain towns in western Honduras.
Though Honduras is not generally on the hurricane path of the Caribbean or the Pacific, the August-November hurricane season is a time of frequent inclement weather, especially on the Caribbean coast and the Bay Islands, with October as the rainiest month. Less disruptive but sometimes still torrential are the frequent winter storms in January, known as nortes. As with most stormy weather, the Caribbean coast is the most affected, but nortes can cause rain throughout the country.
The most reliably dry time of year is in March, April, and May, before the spring rainy season starts. The late spring and early summer months are usually dry for most of the day, with a brief early evening thunder shower. By late August and September, the rains return with more intensity. The southern Pacific coast and the border with El Salvador are the most arid parts of the country, while the northern coast (particularly around La Ceiba) and the Mosquitia are the wettest.
Try to avoid Honduras’s more popular tourist destinations (the Bay Islands, the ruins of Copán, and the north coast beach towns) during Christmas, Easter Week (Semana Santa), and the first week in August, when they can be overrun by Honduran and Salvadoran vacationers, and the price of accommodations doubles. One of the best parties in the country, the Feria de San Isidro in La Ceiba, held in mid-May, is worth scheduling a trip around.
BEFORE YOU GO
VISAS AND OFFICIALDOM
Citizens of the United States, western Europe, Canada, Argentina, and Chile are not required to have a visa and are issued a tourist visa on arrival in Honduras. Authorities are currently granting 90-day visas (valid throughout the CA-4 region of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua), and any extensions (30 more days are available) must be taken care of at the immigration office in Tegucigalpa. Citizens of all other countries are required to obtain visas before entering Honduras.
Foreigners are technically required to carry their passport with them at all times, but rarely if ever will it be checked.
No vaccines are required to enter Honduras, but travelers should be up-to-date on their rabies, typhoid, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), tetanus, and hepatitis A and B shots. Yellow fever is required only when arriving directly from certain South American countries from Panama south.
Honduras has four international airports, in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Roatan, and La Ceiba. The first two receive daily flights from Atlanta (Delta), Houston (United/Continental), Miami (American), San Salvador, El Salvador (TACA), Mexico City (Aeromexico), and Panama City and San José, Costa Rica (Copa). Spirit Airlines also services San Pedro Sula. There is weekly service to Roatan from Atlanta, Montreal, and Toronto (Sunwing) and twice-weekly flights from Houston. Sunwing also flies to La Ceiba.
Driving to Honduras from the United States (or elsewhere north of the Panama Canal) is certainly possible, particularly for those with a good command of Spanish. There is also weekly boat service between Placencia, Belize, and Puerto Cortés.
the golden sands and blue seas of Tela
A diver checks out the coral.
Transiting between the main destinations in Honduras by inexpensive public transport or a private car is not difficult, apart from in the Mosquitia. The main highway system is generally in good shape, although be prepared for a lot of long, bumpy rides (sometimes in the back of a pickup truck) if you head out to more rural areas. The Bay Islands are easily reached by frequent airplanes or ferries from La Ceiba.