Saturday, May 31, 2008

Honduras Trip: San Pedro Sula, Roatan/The Bay Islands, Lago de Atitlan

Honduras is the original "Banana Republic", a country created from the enterprise of another, the USA. Honduras has always been Central America's poorest country with an unfortunate reputation of being the laziest! It, therefore, has had to endure being the butt of most regional rib-jabbing.

Like the rest of Central America, though, it appears to be dragging itself out of this sorry state. The people are lighter-skinned and less traditional, due to the lack of indigenous cultures, than their Guatemalan neighbors. Despite the sights not being World-class, Honduras has some beautiful parts which are well worth a detour, and the border-crossing between Guatemala and Honduras by dug-out canoe was certainly one of the highlights of our trip.


1. San Pedro Sula- More of a lowlight. Crime-ridden and typically dull Central American city. the second-largest city in Honduras serves its purpose as the major industrial, commercial and financial centre of the country. We stayed for one night and couldn't wait to get out to the beautiful north coast. The one saving grace being Cafeteria & Pizzeria Italia which serviced us with excellent pizza and cheap, cold beer.

2. Roatán/The Bay Islands- The main problem with Roatan is getting there. You can either spend a sickly 3 hours on a boat for $4.50 from La Ceiba or take the easy, more expensive option and fly for about $25. We were in a hurry and opted to fly from San Pedro Sula. It ended up taking us ten hours and got us into a massive row with a huge group of locals, but that's another story! We stayed in West End which was as good as anywhere if you're looking for a busy, value-for-money spot. I've been lucky enough to visit a few beautiful diving locations in my time and Roatán at first glance certainly doesn't appear to fall into their category. It's an average place above water with fair restaurants and bars offering a pleasant escape from the fulfilling yet sometimes taxing trek around Central America, but lacking in picture-postcard beauty unless paid for in the western part of the island. However, your eyes are well and truly opened when you venture out to sea, Portuguese Men-of-War permitting. The Bay Islands are located slap-bang atop the second largest coral reef in the world. The coral here, just 100 metres off the shore, is simply stunning. The variety of wildlife is just amazing. Snorkeling and diving here is sheer paradise. For those of you nervous of deep-sea swimming/diving, there's even ample possibilities for walking out to coral and kneeling by it or swimming over it in a metre of water. Or drier still, there's a glass-bottomed boat on the island which offers a view of the coral and its beautiful wildlife. Oh, would I love to be there now!!

As well as Roatán, The Bay Islands consist of Guanaja and Utila. Utila is known as the cheapest place in the world to take your dive-course, although Malawi I'm sure could give it a good run for its money. But I'm not sure the added bonus of malaria in Malawi is worth those few bucks. We chose Roatán for its variety and nightlife as we fancied a bit of fun and home comforts (there's even a Cybercafe on the island) but Utila and Guanaja are meant to be lovely and quiet, again with excellent underwater activities on offer.

Portuguese Man-of-War

This should certainly not put you off from visiting The Bay Islands but you should definitely be aware of some of the concerns of living in these idyllic places. If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction (it doesn't even need to be Hurricane Mitch), it will bring in the huge jellyfish with poisonous tentacles known as Portuguese Man-of-War. This happened while we were there; fortunately we'd arrived at the shore late after a few too many Pina Coladas the night before and had been warned of the danger, so we had to be content with sunbathing and drowning our sorrows that day. However, some had been caught out that morning. In fact, we'd met this American girl on the flight out to the islands and she'd got badly stung a few hours before. She had huge deep-red wealds all over her upper body. To add insult to injury, a local man offered to piss all over her. Something to do with ammonia healing the wounds!

3. Copán- Lovely, roasting Copan. Maybe, not as impressive as Tikal but I enjoyed every minute of it once I got off the bus that is! We'd spent a full 12 hours traveling across Honduras to get to Copan. In Europe, this would have been a bit of a chore, in Honduras this is an ordeal. Clenching your stomach while everyone else is losing theirs all around, hanging around waiting for buses in 40C+ heat, grabbing the rail of the seat infront in a mad attempt to stay on your plastic seat while the bus pitches from side to side swinging around the mountain-bends - la Italian Job are just some of the pleasures of Honduran travel. I'm not criticising (too much), it's just that even at 29 you find you can't muster the humour so easily to laugh it all off. Indeed, when we finally reached our destination, I put my rucksack on and I felt my legs faulter! It wasn't too hard to choose a hotel, our choice was dictated by how far I could stagger. It took two hours for me to even consider risking the head-spin of clambering out of bed. What a Larry!

Copán Ruinas is a lovely cobble-stoned mountain village, a mile from the famous ruins. Its steep streets contain lovely restaurants and shops to escape the overbearing heat. One word of warning - watch for the bloody roosters in the mornings; if you don't want to get up at 5am, choose a hotel room with a thick door and walls. Also, the dentist in town is well worth a visit if you like that sort of thing!

As I said above, Copan does not compare to Tikal in terms of gob-smacking beauty but there's something quite mystical about this World Heritage Site. We visited at the end of the dry season and the shades of yellow and brown were lovely, however, we saw photos of it in the wet season and the wonderful lushness of the greenery enveloping the ruins must be something to behold. Bring lots of water, you'll end up throwing it over yourself on top of the white-stoned temples. I don't think I've ever been so hot!!

From Copan, we headed across the border back to Guatemala, and after a trip upto Lago de Atitlán we flew onto Costa Rica. We expected Costa Rica to be pleasant, I think it turned out to be the highlight of our trip!

4. Tela- The one problem with visiting a region is that you generally suffer from not having enough time to visit everywhere you would wish. It was a toss-up between Roatan or Tela and the latter lost out. It's reported to be a lovely place to hang out and enjoy wonderful seafood and white sandy beaches.

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