Caribbean islands and Mayan ruins in Honduras

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Before venturing out to Honduras with the tour company G Adventures, I didn’t know much about the Central American country of Honduras.

But now I know a lot more about the country, its people, the terrain and the activities on offer.

With my limited Spanish, doing a tour was a good option and also means you will definitely get where you need to go as transport can be unreliable in Central America. The tour includes a mix of private mini buses, public buses, and ferries. G Adventures is just one of many tour companies offering tours in Central America. Other companies include Inteprid and Gecko Adventures.

I spent five days all up exploring parts of Honduras with major stops in the rural town of Copan and on the Carribbean island of Roatan, located off the Honduran coast.

We drove the length of Honduras between these two stops, and while the roads were rough and potholed, the terrain was beautiful with densely tree lined mountains, banana plantations and coconut trees. (If you get car sick, you might want to consider bringing some motion sickness tablets with you!)

The reason to stop in the small town of Copan Ruinas is the Mayan ruins. The Copan Mayan Ruins were believed abandoned in the 10th century, but rediscoverd by the Spanish in 1570.

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But it wasn’t until the 1800s that the site started to be reclaimed from the jungle and excavated. Excavations are still ongoing and as you walk through the site, you’ll see large mounds undertaken by trees, dirt and moss. Underneath these are more ruins. And under your feet, there’s yet again more ruins and archaeologists have started to tunnel into the top ruins to reach the ruins that were built over throughout the years.

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The ruins site is only a short walk from the town of Copan Ruinas. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk mostly along a roadside path to the ruins or you can take a tuk-tuk.

As you go through the site – tour guides are available to explain what you are seeing – you’ll see temples, the residences of the royals and an amphitheatre, as well as a breathtaking restored staircase that is marked with inscriptions and depicts a figure representing each ruler through the city’s existence.

DSC_0446.JPGThere were 16 rulers in total throughout the Mayan city’s life, which is believed to have started in the 6th century.

There’s various viewponts throughout the site and you can climb up the stairs in several of the areas to capture great views of the complex.

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Tours leave from the visitor centre. Cost of entry is $A20 and $A6 for the guide. The ruins accept both cards and cash in US dollars or Honduran Lempiras.

You will also see brightly coloured macaws at the ruins as you enter the complex. This was the first time I’ve seen a macaw not in a cage so I was captivated by their brilliant red, green and blue feathers. They seemed pretty tame and used to humans so you’ll be able to get up close.

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Other activities on offer in Copan include the Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve, horseriding and the Luna Jaguar Hot Springs.

Horseriding takes you into the mountains near Copan. A couple of girls in my tour group did the horseriding and rode past a local Mayan community and reached a panoramic viewpoint of the Copan area. The horseriding sessions run for two hours with prices starting from A$40.

The Macaw Mountain Bird Park features a number of jungle birds such as macaws and toucans. Many of the birds here are rescue birds and will eventually be released back into the wild. Cost is about $A12. The reserve is about 2km out of town so you can walk or take a tuk-tuk.

The Luna Jaguar Hot Springs are set among the jungle about an hour’s drive from Copan on a rough road. Transport is offered at travel agencies in Copan.

The thermal pools range from very hot to warm like a heated pool. The higher up the pool, the hotter it is. There are also mud baths at the springs.

Be prepared that the hot springs complex becomes quite dark at night with only candlelight providing light around the site instead of electric light. You might want to bring your own torch. There are changerooms on site.

Entry into the springs is equal to around A$12 for the pools and river. Entry into the spas is extra.

Getting to Roatan from Copan is a long drive east and then a ferry across to the island.

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It’s about a 7-8 hour drive between Copan and the La Ceiba port on windy, bumpy roads. The ferry crossing to Roatan from La Ceiba is 90 minutes and you’ll end up at the Coxen Hole port. There are so called “chicken buses” – former American school buses that are now public buses in Central America – between Copan and the port. For our tour, we were lucky enough to take the journey on a private mini bus.

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I stayed in the West End area in the La Quinta Roatan Hotel – about a 30 minute drive from the port. The hotel features a lovely sun deck area, a pool and walking distance to the beach and local restaurants. Rooms are basic but have hot water.

Roatan is everything you expect a Caribbean island to be with coconut trees, beach bars, a relaxed atmosphere, and souvenir shops.

Snorkelling and diving are among the most popular activities on the island. I did snorkelling for $US25 or about A$33. I visited two snorkelling sites not far from the beach in West End and we were in the water for over an hour.

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Diving is a bit more expensive at about $A70 for one dive but the cost per dive gets cheaper the more you do. The diving company used by members of my tour was Splash, based at the Splash Inn Dive Resort. Splash offers diving sessions from beginners to experienced.

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On the island, you can also rent kayaks and jetskis, or take kitesurfing lessons.

From West End, the popular West Bay beach can be accessed by water taxi for $A4 each way.

When you’re hungry, you can’t go past Creole’s Rotisserie Chicken in West End. Reasonably priced meals ranging from a quarter to whole chicken with your choice of sides. Service is quick and the meals are nothing fancy but tasty. The desserts there also rate well and include coconut cream pie, brownie sundae and cheesecake.

For a delicious acai bowl or refreshing smoothie, try Roa Juices and Salads.

There’s beachside bars aplenty in Roatan. Frank’s Hideaway Bar and the Blue Marlin Roatan are among the popular nightlife spots.

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