Why visit Honduras?…….although many travelers are familiar with the Caribbean island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras and the spectacular ruins of Copan on the opposite side of the mainland, there are many other tourist destinations to explore in Honduras. It is a country with much variation in terrain, from the higher, dryer climate of the mountains of the district of Copan to the tropical rain forest outside of La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast. Clear, rushing rivers abound affording great river rafting and kayaking. There are a number of different cultures weaving the fabric of the country, from crafts to agriculture. Then, too, is the history of this country, which has always been a supporter of and connected to the United States. Although its currency is in “lempira,” U.S. dollars are used extensively and many prices reflect both currencies. English is spoken extensively, especially among young people, making it easy for the traveler who doesn’t speak Spanish.
The biodiversity and abundance of various eco-systems has made Honduras a prime destination for tourism. Known as a poor country, it is rich in culture and agriculture and offers many different experiences within the same country. There is a wide range of accommodations from basic to luxurious. In Copan we stayed at the beautiful Hotel Marina Copan with it’s lush gardens and courtyard pool. The rooms are highly individualized and although traditionally Spanish Colonial in style, it had the wood beams and carved stone providing the feeling of mountain décor. Morning breakfast is presented in a spacious dining room with gracious service to enhance the excellent food. Some of the rooms have small balconies overlooking the delightful courtyard and there are extensive tropical plantings providing lush blooms in vivid colors everywhere. It’s the kind of hotel you hope to find in Central America, small and personal, and with upscale comforts. The coffee in each room is from the owners’ own coffee plantations where they do their own processing as well, providing an outstanding coffee, Café Welchez, that they export everywhere.
Also in Copan, a little outside of the town, but within sight of the archeological site, and up a winding hill, is the Hacienda San Lucas. Owned and personally operated by Flavia Cueva, this rustically elegant Hacienda has been lovingly and artistically restored with another section of additional rooms added in the same architectural style. Its view is spectacular and recently they’ve added Gaia, a place for yoga and meditation in the large palapa with the same impressive view. The food, too, is excellent — creatively prepared and elegantly presented on the outdoor terrace. Inside, a woman prepares tortillas by hand with a blackened wall as a backdrop, testimony to the decades of use in the kitchen. Everywhere are beautiful floral arrangements, in the rooms, on the outdoor patios, the dining terazza, the bathrooms, the library, gift shop and reception. Much care has been taken with details everywhere and the entire operation is run without the benefit of electricity but uses solar light instead, augmented with many candles which contribute to the romance of this hacienda hideaway. Close to the Copan ruins and to town, as well, it feels completely apart from everything and offers the ultimate in privacy and quiet. While there, I purchased a beautiful hand carved pendant designed by Flavia’s daughter-in-law as a memento of my 40th anniversary of connection to the Mayan empire.
The archeological site of Copan is known worldwide not only for its size but for the amazing standing stelae with much of the intricate carvings still intact. Our guide was seventy-five years old and spoke English fluently from the time he was in the service of the U.S., as well as speaking several other languages in addition to his native Spanish. Obviously, he had traversed the site innumerable times and was extremely knowledgeable. This ancient Mayan site is one of the most remarkable of all the Mayan Empire, rich in ancient historical recording and stunning in its beauty. We were also delighted to see the brilliant colored macaws flying free, stopping without fear at some of the feeders. They’ve made Copan their home or perhaps are descendants of those birds who have made it their home for close to two thousand years.
The high, relatively dry climate of the region makes Copan extremely comfortable and the charming central plaza is well kept with people strolling around at all hours of the day and night. It’s an ideal destination in Honduras. While we were there, we enjoyed walking around and seeing all the extensions of the shops and restaurants with plantings and sculpture artistically arrayed outside on the sidewalk. During the daytime, we enjoyed checking out the various stands that displayed the work of various artisans from clothing to jewelry. The various small art galleries are also worth exploring. The town remains unspoiled and although tourism is definitely happening, it is on a relatively small scale. Even at the amazing archeological site of Copan, the feeling is one of discovery as, unlike some of the other well known Mayan sites, it is not over-run with tourists. We were able to take our time exploring the various buildings and staggeringly beautiful standing stelae without feeling any imposition of flocks of people chattering next to us. There seems to be a feeling of connection to the land itself as being unchanging since the temples were first built a thousand years ago.
Leaving for the return trip to San Pedro Sula, 3 ½ hours away, we stopped off first to see the coffee processing of the Welchez family who also own the Hotel Marina Copan where we stayed. Both brothers, one of whom we met the day before at the hotel, are gracious and devoted completely to all their enterprises where their personal attention for generations has provided something special in the ways of hospitality. Not far along the road, we also stopped at the Macaw Mountain,Bird Park and Nature Reserve where many injured or abandoned macaws are kept to be re-introduced into their natural habitat. We knew by now that these birds are monogamous and we saw many different pairs in plumage that seemed too vivid to be real. The repatriation program has been going on for decades and depends on private donations to keep their project going. They also have a really nice gift shop where you can buy excellent coffee that they grow themselves, as well as other hand-made crafts of the area. With a couple of streams plunging through, and old growth trees adorned with several kinds of orchids, it was a special nature walk and an experience to be remembered. We stopped off in the gift shop to buy a few more packages of their coffee to add to the stash we had already acquired at our previous stop at Café Welchez. The aroma of all the coffee in the car was better than perfume!
I brought back the coffee as well as some beautiful jade pieces from the jewelry store located across the street from the Hotel Marina Copan, all enterprises owned by the Welchez family. I also brought back a memory of a visit with Flavia, whose Hacienda San Lucas was a labor of love. The climate and the terrain and natural environment of Copan was another memory that will stay with me. But, the visit to the archeological site, was one of those special lifetime experiences. I have spent 40 years exploring ancient Mayan sites and this visit was a long time in coming, but something that needed to be experienced. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do that and would strongly recommend it as a destination for those who treasure the feeling of relative “discovery” of an important ancient culture.
IF YOU GO
Taca Airlines flies out of several US hubs