Copan Ruinas: first impression of Honduras
After spending six weeks in Guatemala mainly to learn Spanish I was ready for a “vacation” and change of country. Before going to Guatemala I had a hard time convincing my family that it was safe enough to go there. “The real bad countries are Honduras and El Salvador, but I’m not going there”, at least that’s what I thought and said before leaving Holland.
The idea of going to Honduras all started when my retired housemate from Canada mentioned: “I’m going to Honduras next week, its super cheap, and there are tons of things to see. Safe? Yeah it’s fine, just avoid roaming around in San Pedro Sula and the capital”. We were staying at the same host family, and being in her mid-sixties after having travelled all over Latin America I surely did believe that she knew what she was talking about. Honduras was on my mind and I started doing my research. Before I knew it I was on a 150 Quetzales shuttle from Antigua (Guatemala) to Copan Ruinas (Honduras) one week later.
Stuck in a protest while getting to Copan Ruinas from Antigua
About 30km away from the border our shuttle got stuck in a protest for hours. People of a small village were protesting for land to establish a graveyard. In the meantime a market was established catering all people that were stuck in the protest. After being stuck in the protest for over three hours me and the others that were on the shuttle decided to cross the protest by foot, and take a Litegua local bus to the border.
I’ve heard stories about corrupt border officers, not getting the right stamps, etc. As we were without our shuttle now I was a bit anxious about the border crossing. However the border officers on both sides were very friendly and we crossed the Guatemala – Honduras border without any trouble. On the other side of the border we took a local bus to Copan Ruinas (the name of the village next to the ruins of Copan).
Finding a place to stay in Copan
I hadn’t booked any place to stay but had no problems finding a very nice room for less than 10USD at Casa Lastenia, a nice guesthouse owned by a local family. Actually the guesthouse found me, as the owner promoted his guesthouse when I got off the bus. The rest of the afternoon I decided to explore the village. The village is very small and it seems like everyone knows each other. I was the only customer at my guesthouse, and so were the people I met on the shuttle in their hostel. It seemed we were among the only tourists in the entire village. Honduras has a serious reputation problem, lots of people are scared away by the extremely high homicide rate the country is facing. That said, I haven’t felt unsafe for a second, not even walking back alone to my guesthouse after a few drinks at night. The locals told me crime is almost non-existent in this area of the country.
Interesing fact: the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs classifies this area as an “orange area” which means: “only go there if absolutely necesarily”. I believe this is mostly related to narco trafficking which exists in the border region, but this kind of crime is not related to tourists.
Exploring the ruins of Copan
The next day I started with a nice iced coffee at Cafe Welchez (yummy!) and walked to the ruins just outside of town. These were the first Maya ruins I saw this trip. I heard that the Copan ruins aren’t as famous and big as Tikal in Guatemala. I thus didn’t have too much expectations. Turned out the ruins were much bigger than I thought. I was impressed by the size and beauty of the “pyramids” and sculptures in the stones. Even more surprising, again there were nearly no tourists. It felt like I had the entire park for myself, which made the experience even better.
Jaguar hot springs
I stayed one more day and to visit the Jaguar hot springs and Macaw Mountain bird sanctuary the next day. There is absolutely no need to book a tour to the hot springs are local buses depart from the bridge on the edge of town just across the bridge leading to the ruins. The way up to the hot springs goes through a beautiful valley. After relaxing for a couple of hours in the termal baths (located in a lush environment!) I went down with the same public bus to Macaw Mountain.
Macaw Mountain is a bird sanctuary located just outside of Copan Ruinas (it’s only a 20 limperas tuk tuck ride away). The park exists out of donated birds, for some birds the owner couldn’t take care of them anymore, others were rescued when their natural living environment was confesticated by humans. The park prepares them for release into the wild again. The most popular part of the park in the chance to take photos with the macaws. These macaws are free, but got so used to the park and humans that they don’t want to leave anymore. After visiting the park the staff can order a tuk tuck to get you back into town.
My first days in Honduras were great and I realized it wasn’t all as scary as the media led me to believe. Next stop: Gracias, Lempira.