Places Worth Visiting: My Love Letter To Honduras
(some names of locals were changed for their privacy)
As I departed from Washington DC for the second largest country of Central America on a brisk rainy spring morning, short on sleep, with a reasonable amount pre-travel jitters, I began my journey to Honduras.
I must be transparent, this is not my first time visiting this country. I’ve visited many times over the years however always with a travel companion. More specifically, someone who was 100% fluent in Spanish. To make this trip a somewhat of a first-time experience, I traveled there alone, only having some drives and day trips taken care of by local Honduran contacts I have in the country.
Upon arrival to Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport in San Pedro Sula, I was greeted by a local we’ll call my “San Pedro fixer,” who provided a ride to the bus station on the edge of the city. This is where I began the next leg of my trip, to the Northwestern edge of Honduras in the small city of Copan Ruinas.
After a windy 5-hour bus ride I arrived in Copán, greeted by my next point of contact, Enrique. He shuttled me through town via moto-taxi to the family he arranged to host me over the next 5 days. Enrique owns and runs the Guacamaya Spanish School in Copán Ruinas, and being placed with host families is one of the options they have for students. They’ll feed you, give you company, conservation, and welcome you into their home like family. Now you might be asking yourself, Angel, aren’t you Hispanic, i.e., you already know Spanish? Well, sorta. I understand quite a bit but overall, my spoken Spanish was generally horrendous and pretty much useless beyond ordering food. While researching my trip I discovered the Guacamaya Spanish School and felt several days of total immersion with one-on-one Spanish schooling could get me to the conversational level I would prefer having as a solo traveler. My time at the Guacamaya School got me where I wanted to be for this trip at least. Results will vary depending on how much Spanish you already know or don’t know. Do you need Spanish to visit the popular tourist destinations in Honduras? No, not at all.
"What seems like chaos in the streets,...turned out to be just the rhythm of life in Copán."
*Begin Playing Real Soundbites from this trip & continue reading.
After my first couple days in Copán Ruinas, I felt far more settled and began to grasp the smallness of the town, seeing the same faces both locals, and the many passing tourists and backpackers. What seems like chaos in the streets, constant zipping of moto-taxis, cars, motorcycles, horns honking, turned out to just be the rhythm of life in Copán. It’s a decades-long symphony made by the masters of this living orchestra, the people. Which brings me to my favorite thing about Honduras, its people. Whether being greeted with a friendly “buenas” in passing, their simple way to say, hello, good morning, afternoon, evening. Or the uniquely charming “buen provecho,” which translates to enjoy your meal, a phrase given by complete strangers while you ate a meal in one of the local restaurants, this and other friendly gestures are just ingrained into the people of Honduras. It’s quite magical really.
Something else magical was the mangos. No, not the ones you buy in the store or at fruit stands, the ones that literally were falling from trees everywhere. Each morning both outside my room and outside where I studied Spanish, like grenades of sweet deliciousness, ripe mangos would fall from the trees, making an abrupt and startling thump, notifying you that you can now eat it. Que rico.
Before I left Copán Ruinas, I finally made it to the site of its namesake, the Maya ruins of Copan. The wonderfully preserved structures hide just feet away from the main road, giving visitors a glimpse into a civilization that is almost impossible to believe it could have existed without modern engineering. Unlike other ancient sites in Latin American, almost all of the structures can be explored, climbed upon, really letting you get up close and personal with history. The Copán Archaeological Park is truly breathtaking, it’s green and lush, the national bird, the La Guara Roja, or Scarlet Macaw, sores through the tree canopies, singing their song that echoes off the preclassic temples. For bird lovers, Copán is a two-for-one deal as dozens of native birds call this site home, fighting for your attention while you admire the artistry of the carvings found on sculptures and stelas (statues). I was short on time and daylight but you can get guided tours of the tombs, there is a museum, as well as a life size replica of the Rosalila Temple recently opened to the public. If you know you may only visit this part of the world once in your life, see and do it all.
After departing Copán Ruinas and a brief stay in San Pedro Sula, I then headed South to the capital of Tegucigalpa. It’s a shame I couldn’t spend more time in San Pedro Sula. My “San Pedro fixer” was unbelievably kind and welcoming, and the marimba playing and dancing she told me that takes place in the center of the city sounds quite wonderful to witness. I suppose I must return again soon for this as well.
Now in Tegucigalpa, in all respects, it is a modern metropolitan city and has everything you could ask for. In the mood for USA comfort food? If you must, it’s there for you. Mega malls with all the major stores and then some? Got those as well. Although not the original capital of Honduras it, Tegucigalpa is now the epicenter of government and finance. You are not likely to find this listed as a top, must-sees city in travel guides but I think it's overlooked and if you want to get a grasp of the real, non-tourism driven Honduras, this is a great place to experience that. It does have many beautiful sights within the city limits as well as several stunning villages both just on outskirts of town so again, don’t count it out.
Once I arrived via bus, I was greeted by my Tegucigalpa fixer who we’ll call, “Gordo.” Unlike the english translation (Gordo = fat), in Honduras and most of Latin America, Gordo is a playful, endearing, often times loving nickname used among friends & family. On my first full day, Gordo drove us South to the Pacific coast, a huge commercial fishing region for the country. We stopped in Coyolito only to jump on a boat taxi to the nearby island of Amapala.
Amapala is very sparse and isolated island in a good way, simple, reasonably undisturbed beaches where local fishermen keep their boats, then small waterside eateries offer freshly caught fair, beer, and hammocks. No frills, no city traffic, just picturesque views and the sound of the tide rolling out. Don’t plan on walking here, you get to places by moto-taxi. Our moto-taxi driver, much like everyone else I came in contact with here, he was filled with local knowledge, lore, and random facts about the tiny island he calls home. Our ride was more like a guided bus tour than a bumpy tuk-tuk ride. Gordo made arrangements with our moto-taxi so about 2 hours on the tiny island enjoying ceviche and beverages, our red, 3-wheeled chariot returned to take us back to the docks where our boat taxi was also waiting on us to return us to the mainland. Just like our moto-taxi ride mere hours earlier, the ride back across the Gulf of Fonseca was filled with fun tidbits, picking up cannonball Jellyfish out of the water for touching (they call them Medusas), then general conversations about life on the coast. As beautiful as Honduras is, once again, the people proved to be this countries greatest asset.
On my last full day back in Tegucigalpa, Gordo took me about 30 minutes Northeast of the city into the mountains. Popular day trips in this area are Valle de Angeles, and Santa Lucía, which is where we spent the afternoon drinking coffee, tea, and lemonade. The air was immediately cooler than in the city and the views were quite spectacular with the green valley ahead and blooming trees all around. That evening I was given a farewell dinner with Gordo's extended family at a locally run Mexican restaurant (the irony, I know) called El Adobo. The food was delicious, the company was even better. The people make this country.
Just as my trip started, it ended with a very early start with Gordo driving me back to the Airport in San Pedro Sula. I was told though, no trip between Honduras’ two largest cities is complete without stopping at Delicias del Carmen in the original capital city of Honduras, Comayagua. This travelers favorite is part rest stop, part convenience store, and all quintessential Honduran food. Here, I enjoyed my last “tipico” meal for breakfast, a staple eaten in homes and restaurants everywhere comprised of eggs, beans, cheese, some kind of meat, cream, sweet fried plantains, and tortillas. Greeted with a few last, “buenas” and “buen provecho” from strangers passing by. I already miss this random act of simple courtesy now that I’m back to the United States. Once we finally made it to the airport, I said farewell and re-entered the airport ecosystem where I slowly begin being re-exposed to English speakers, finally making it back to DC.
I think It would be irresponsible for me to not mention this, but just like many places all over the world, Honduras has some crime. However, don’t believe the blind warnings found on the news because as travelers and visitors, we’ll likely never experience any of it. As visitors, Honduras is just as safe (or dangerous at that) as visiting any other major city or country in the world. Travel simply, travel smart, research and plan ahead, use guides when it makes sense, private transport, and ask the locals for suggestions and advice to help make your stay as welcoming and enjoyable as possible. I'd love to film a full episode of A.W.O.L. if the opportunity arose because it's just that amazing. Everyone should visit Honduras, really.
My final thought comes to mind as I remember the family bible study I stumbled on at my host in Copán Ruinas, where after trying to sneak by while they were singing a worship song, I was quickly snagged, invited to join them, and prayed for to have protection and safety for the remainder of my journey. As one of my fixers put it, like anywhere on earth, there are good people and there are bad people. After traveling through much of the heart of this country and being invited into so many peoples homes, I’m confident saying that there are far more good people than the latter which will always be my number one reason to return.
Nos Vemos Honduras, te quiero mucho.