Honduras Attractions: Copan Ruinas
Surely Honduras is not on most travellers “must see” list. Considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world (although it feels surprisingly safe for travelers), it doesn’t really know mass tourism. Honduras attractions are many, although not as famous as those of other locations in Central America. This translates into very good deals, which makes it a great place to visit for backpackers on a budget.
While many backpackers go to Honduras to explore the beautiful caribbean coast and islands which are great for diving, Copan Ruinas is among the best tourist attractions in Honduras, and the place to go for anybody interested in ancient history and archeology. It is a pleasant, small and tranquil little town and possibly the most traveler-oriented in Honduras. I saw, once I was finally there, that this doesn’t mean being surrounded by hordes of tourists. The town is beautiful: cobblestone streets, white adobe buildings, colonial churches. On the plus sides, there are excellent (and never expensive) restaurants and bars, and the surroundings are adventure-inspiring. Finally, people are truly friendly and always willing to help out, if somewhat interesting to see: picture men with gaucho style clothing, cowboy hats and boots and jeans, just to have an idea of what to expect. The overall feeling is that of a welcoming place that make a visit completely worth it: in a nutshell, I could have adventure, sports, culture and relax.
One of the main tourist attractions in Honduras remains the perfectly preserved ruins of Copan Ruinas, where one of the most prosperous Maya civilizations lived. If there is only one thing that your tight budget allows you to do in Copan Ruinas, this should be a visit to the archeological site, and here is why: this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it can be easily reached by walking the well signaled 1km footpath east of town. It costs 300 Lempiras to get in (roughly 15 dollars), but it is money well spent considering that the site is very well preserved, surrounded by the jungle where it is possible to go for a pleasant (long) walk, and that it is never crowded with tourists.
Macaw mountain and zip lining
Zip lining is probably out of the question for many, but I decided to do it, and it costed around 40 dollars for 10 zip lines that allowed me to fly from tree to tree. The ticket also includes a visit to the beautiful Macaw mountain, a nicely landscaped bird sanctuary and breeding centre about 3 km northeast of town, with lovely trails in the forest and plenty of rescued, abandoned and endangered birds. Some macaws are allowed out of the cages and they are very friendly and willing to pose for pictures!
About an hour drive from Copan Ruinas, this is a good place to relax. There are two sides: the less developed and much cheaper springs are on the side of the river; across from it, there is a spa which is more pricey.
How to get to Copan Ruinas (and away)
Copan Ruinas is close to the border with Guatemala and often reached by bus from Antigua. There are direct (luxury) buses that leave from Antigua with Hedman Alas, the trip lasts around 5 hours. I was willing to travel independently on chicken buses from Guatemala, so my last stop on the Guatemalan side was El Florido, from where I could cross the border and then get a minibus to Copan Ruinas.
From Copan Ruinas there are direct buses to El Salvador (El Tunco) and there used to be a shuttle to Nicaragua (Leon) with Gekko Explorers – the whole trip to Leon takes 18 hours and the bus was not the most comfortable I would have imagined for such a long trip, but it did its job. However, this service is no longer available. For those who are not in a rush to get away from Honduras, Tica bus is only slightly cheaper and connects San Pedro Sula to Managua (Nicaragua). It is necessary to reach San Pedro Sula, spend a night there and then connect the day after to Managua.
For more information on border crossing, read here.
Where to stay and eat:
Hotel Don Moises in Calle La Plaza is a family run hostel that has very good rooms at a reasonable price (and gives a discount for a booking of several nights – try to bargain the price). The family is really lovely and helpful.
For food, Café ViaVia is a good option with lots of choices which are very good deals, it serves HUGE breakfasts and is overall a nice place to hang out, as it has a nice courtyard and bar and a good terrace to look at passers-by. They also organise movie nights, concerts and dance nights. There is also a hotel in the rear and an agency that organises tours (such as adventure tours) and sells bus tickets at the front.
The most budget option may be one the many barbecues that at around 6 pm start serving food in the street. The smell is delicious and mouth watering!
I found the best homebrew beer in town at Sol de Copan, run by a very friendly German lad. They also serve very good German food (especially good for German travelers who may be a bit homesick!).