Monday, September 5, 2011

Holemans head to HONDURAS!

The week split between Antigua and San Pedro might include other Beca Sponsors but when we head to Honduras it will just be family. We'll have choices to make depending on sightseeing priorities, budget considerations, and time frames. I'll talk about transportation options 1st and then post more info about the sights, adventures, and lodging options for each area further along.

The cheapest option would be to head from Antigua to Copán Ruinas (5-6 hours) in western Honduras by road - either by private shuttle or 1st class Hedman Alas bus, depending on how many of us there are; at some point the shuttle becomes cheaper but both options are efficient and comfortable. We could spend a few nights to take in the sights in Copán before moving on (I LOVE that area) or head out the next morning.

It's another 6-7 hours from Copán to La Ceiba by road where we could head to Omega Lodge or a few days of adventure or (if we're leaving that part out or want to do it later) straight to the dock and the ferry to the island of Roatán.

If we're leaving Omega out or saving it for later we could also bus from Copán to San Pedro Sula (~3 hours) and fly to Roatán from there; slightly more expensive but much faster. If we want to head straight from Guatemala to Roatán and leave out mainland Honduras, there are flights available - quicker and harder on the budget (and Copán wouldn't be an option).

1st stop could be COPÁN RUINAS, a cute colonial town in far western Honduras with a nice market area and parque central (town square). At an altitude of 1800' it can get warm during the summer months but is rarely hot; it may go days without rain but afternoon or night rains are fairly common that time of year.
It's famous for the beautiful Maya ruins which are walking distance from town.

There are 3 nice museums: an archaeological museum on the parque central,

a wonderful Maya Interpretive museum a few blocks up the hill,

and a gorgeous sculpture museum near the ruins.

There are other options in the area we might want to make time for, as well, including beautiful hotsprings....
....and hikes to Maya sites in the hills outside of town. This site, Los Sapos (The Toads) may have been a birthing site in ancient times; it is on the property of Hacienda San Lucas, a working hacienda and a great place to take in the views over a glass of lemonade or a nice meal.

It's a romantic place to spend the night, as well, though pricey.
The village of La Pintada is further along the same path that leads to Los Sapos from the hacienda.
Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve is a beautiful place to hike and interact with exotic birds.

To the west of town is a nice butterfly place with a huge netted enclosure.
Although I doubt we'd have time for it, El Boqueron cave has bazaar formations and lots of bats....
....and can be combined with a hike to El Rubi waterfall; I used Yaragua tours for these 2.
There are lots of lodging and eating options in Copán but, since I've always lived and eaten with a host family there, my 1st hand experience is limited. I've noted a couple that I've visited and that have received good reviews; we'd have to research further if we decide to visit Copán.

La Posada de Belssy is a good budget place in a great location with surprising amenities like TVs and a pool, $16/double.
La Casa de Café is a nice bed and breakfast at $55/double.
The same people have opened a more upscale hotel, Terra Maya, and have several local homes you can rent.

The next area I'll focus on is near LA CEIBA on the north coast of Honduras. The city itself isn't very attractive in my opinion but the second you head south of town you're in the Pico Bonito (Beautiful Peak) and Nombre de Dios (Name of God) mountains.

We had a blast at Omega Lodge, nestled in the mountains less than half an hour from town; it makes a great jungly base for outdoor adventures. The grounds are lovely and they have nice touches like hammocks, handy fruit, orchids, and a pool. La Ceiba is HOT; since Omega is in the mountains it's a bit cooler but the pool still comes in handy.

They have excellent guides and equipment and offer rafting trips on the Cangrejal River (if you squint you might see yellow rafts amid the house-sized boulders),
kayaking on the river or through lagoons to a private Caribbean beach,
horse trips on the beach or through mountain villages,
and gorgeous waterfall hikes.

Lodging in the Creek Cabin and bunk house (which share bathroom facilities and a gorgeous outdoor shower) is free when you pay for an adventure. We stayed in the Creek Cabin and I would choose it again, though it's a long walk to the bathroom.

They also have more upscale, funky apartments.
The restaurant has a variety of options at different price points - we really enjoyed the food. The lack of alternatives or a self serve kitchen means meal costs are higher than most places we stay.
The other Honduras focus would be the island of ROATÁN which sits on the 2nd largest reef system in the world. We like the other main Bay Islands off Honduras, too - Utila and Guanaja - but on Utila there's not much to do if you're not diving or fishing, the beaches are not as nice, and it's more difficult to access snorkeling from shore. Guanaja is harder to get to and significantly more expensive with limited lodging options.

Roatán is a large, mountainous island just over an hour by ferry from La Ceiba. Many of the locals are expats or caucasian descendants of pirates and English is widely spoken. Most days are sunny and clear during July and August since the rainy season tends to start in the fall.

There are beautiful beaches,

rural roads with colorful wooden houses,

built up areas with resorts and fancy condos, rough-around-the-edges local towns, and cute touristy towns with sand streets lined with restaurants, shops, and dive companies.
There are secluded areas, too, and other spots of interest including an iguana farm....

....and the Carambola Gardens and Reserve, a great place to hike through indigenous forest with beautiful views of the water from the top.

There's a Garifuna village called Punta Gorda that provides cultural shows, Gumbalimba Adventure Park which has a variety of wildlife and adventure options including a large zipline tour, and Anthony's Key Resort which has dolphin interaction activities and a small Roatán history museum. There are more ideas and links here.

We have lots of options for homes and condos rented by owner, which might be a cost effective way to go with a group since we could split the cost and do much of our own cooking. We have plenty of time to research and can post ideas here as they develop. Here are 2 links to get us started:

The bottom 3 links in the LINKS list (above right) are a good resource, too, and the Moon Handbook to Honduras is the guide of choice.

For me, Roatán is about relaxing and being in the water - the beaches are beautiful, the snorkeling from shore is amazing, and the diving is excellent; it's also one of the cheapest places anywhere to learn to dive. I've pasted a few favorite photos below and you can see more photos and links from our 2011 visit here.


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