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Trip Report Guatemala and Copán, Honduras

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Trip Overview

My husband and I (in our early 60's) recently returned from an 11-day (9 days on the ground) trip to Guatemala and Copán, Honduras.

I will start this report with an overview of what we did and add to it as I have time. If anyone has specific questions about the places we visited (Copán in Honduras and Quiriguá and Puerto Barrios/Livingston in Guatemala, plus overnights in G City at arrival and departure) before I get to more detailed descriptions, please feel free to ask.

Our reason for traveling there at this (hot!) time of year was to connect for part of the time that our younger son (age 21) was doing research for his senior thesis. The main focus of his study is Quiriguá, a Mayan site in Guatemala, and he also wanted to visit Copán which was closely connected historically and artistically to Quiriguá.

We had seen Quiriguá on a family trip in 2009, and knew that it is a fairly small --though important-World Heritage site without much in the immediate area other than the huge Del Monte banana plantation that surrounds the archeological site. Our son originally estimated that he needed to spend 4 to 5 days in Quiriguá which I thought was going to be too long. We decided to set aside 3 days there with the thought that my husband and I could take a day trip to Puerto Barrios/Livingston before we all headed to Copán. Then our son could return to Quiriguá if he thought he needed more time there. As it turned out, the work at Quiriguá site took only two full days so the three of us went to Puerto Barrios/Livingston together in between time at the archeological sites.

We used The Rough Guide to Guatemala and the Moon Handbook to Guatemala (both have a chapter on Copán, too) and while in Copán also used the Rough Guide to Honduras which was in the library at our B & B.

Last year I had bought Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico by Ronald Wright at a library sale for our son. He brought this book with him on the trip. I borrowed it to read about the sites the author visited in Guatemala and my husband then took over the book from both of us. It is well written and interesting, and I would recommend it.

We also dipped into various books about the Maya at the Copán B & B. For anyone looking for good general information on the Maya these would not be needed--the guide books mentioned have good sections.

We agonized about whether to rent a car. We had done this on an earlier trip to Guatemala and were not too excited about repeating the experience. (See my TR for that trip for more discussion of how it worked out.) My husband was also convinced we would have trouble trying to cross the border into Honduras with a rental car. Finally we decided to do the trip with public transportation and/or shuttles. This turned out pretty well and was less stressful than driving.

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    Day 1: Boston to Guatemala City

    We flew to Guatemala City from Boston via Miami, leaving at 8:10 a.m. and arriving in G. City (an hour late) at about 2 p.m. The time difference is two hours.

    For some reason, when we made our reservations for this trip the cheapest option left involved flying first class for the trip down. We never do this so it was quite an adventure for us. The breakfast and lunches were not bad. The lunch was served with small bottles of balsamic vinaigrette dressing and I cleverly saved one of these for later use on picnic lunches. Also the two jelly containers to go with the jar of PB in my checked luggage.

    We had a tight connection in Miami but we and our luggage made it with no problem. The second leg of the trip went well until we were approaching the runway in G. City. There was a heavy fog and suddenly we stopped the landing mode and rose up away from the airport. We circled around to approach it from a different direction and eventually landed safely about an hour late.

    We had arranged to stay at a B & B near the airport, Villa Toscana, because our son would not be getting in until 7 p.m. from Philly via Dallas/Ft Worth. Airport transport is included in the price of the room and it was nice to be met.

    Villa Toscana is one of several B & B's right near the airport in a gated neighborhood. We have stayed at two others and this is definitely the nicest of the three, with attractive bedrooms and lounge and a pretty garden area for breakfast. The woman at the reception desk, whom I believe is the niece of the owner, speaks good English and was very helpful.

    Due to our late arrival and the bad weather (rainy and surprisingly cool) we decided not to try to go out that afternoon except for a short walk when the rain let up to get some fresh air.

    As I was checking out the lounge, I met a very nice couple from AZ who were getting ready to fly out the next morning after a 3 1/2 week trip in Guatemala and Copan which included a week at a language course in Antigua. We compared notes and discovered that the wife and I had both relied heavily on advice from hopefulist who also posts on Trip Advisor. They gave us some advice about Copan and presented us with a map and some left over Honduran Lempires.

    Our son's flight arrived on time with a smooth landing. He was regretting the fact that he had not been able to take advantage of an offer to be bumped on the last leg of the trip.

    The main problem with the Villa Toscana neighborhood is a lack of restaurants. We were all too tired to take a taxi into Zone 10 for a meal so we opted for take out which the B & B arranges. The choices ranging from fast food to more elaborate options seemed expensive and we were not very hungry so we had some not very good Pollo Campero (local fried chicken chain) and fries.

    We went to bed early, around 9:30 new time but 11:30 to us.

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    I've been eagerly awaiting this report, wondering why you had chosen this time of year. What a great thing to do with your son! First class cheapest option? Wow, that is certainly unusual!

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    First class was what was left because the cheaper economy class had sold out on these American Airlines flights. The other airlines still cost more and had less convenient schedules. If we had reserved earlier it would have been tourist class both ways and less expensive.

    I told my family that our flying first class reminded me of the SNL Eddie Murphy White Man skit--one of my all time favorites.

    When our son decided to do this project I wasn't sure whether he would want to travel with us but he seemed quite happy when we suggested the option. We were certainly able to help supplement his limited funds. He got funding for air fare and some expenses and the loan of a really good camera but did not enough money to cover the whole trip.

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    Vt< I had forgotten about that skit during which I now remember literally rollong on the floor laughing. There may have been an herbal component, but still, it was a riot. Another favorite was Eddie Murphy doing Stevie Wonder.

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    My husband did not remember the SNL skit but my kids knew what I was talking about right away. I had watched a lot of "The Best of SNL" tapes from the library with them years ago.

    I found this link with the Mr. White skit and others for my husband and some co-workers who had never seen it

    Sorry about this tangent to the TR. I will get back to a real report on Guatemala and Honduras soon.

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    That skit is a parody of the experiences of real-life journalist John Howard Griffin. He was a white man in the late 1950s who chemically darkened his skin, shaved his head, and spent 6 weeks riding a Greyhound bus through the segregated American South disguised as a black man. He wrote about the shocking racism he encountered in the book, Black Like Me, which became a best seller and was later made into a movie.

    I was in Copan and Guatemala this past March. Hope you liked it as much as I did.

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    This is the 1st time I've checked this forum in weeks - such a treat to find this report! I'm 2 weeks into a 6 week trip to Guatemala myself. Thanks for the shout out. Villa Toscana has really earned those glowing reviews on Trip Advisor imo. Looking forward to more!

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    Day 2--Guatemala City to Quiriguá

    We got a fairly early start on our first morning. This is always a challenge when we are traveling with our kids, especially this younger son. The weather had cleared and breakfast in the garden area was very pleasant--a choice between "typico" (eggs, beans, plantains, toast) or "American" (pancakes). Here as in many other places in Guatemala, the quality of the coffee was disappointing.

    We had determined the day before that we would have to go to a mall to find an ATM on our way to the bus station. It was a holiday in Guatemala so most banks were closed but those in the "commercial center" were open. The receptionist at Villa Toscana had explained all the logistics and arranged for a taxi, and the driver got us to a mall (what we would call a small shopping center) then to the Litegua bus station. Guatemala City has a very confusing zone system which I have yet to understand but we had a pretty good map ( I purchased it before the trip because we had so much trouble finding a good one there on our last trip). Different bus companies go to different parts of the country from different terminals.

    We had some lunch supplies and figured we could get more before the trip but this proved more difficult than expected so we settled for bottled water and plantain chips. There was lots of street food that looked tempting but we were determined to be very careful about what we ate.

    While my husband was off scouting for food, our son started talking to a man who was seeing his family off on another bus. This was the first time I had seen him converse and he quickly achieved the status of primary Spanish speaker for the trip. He had just finished two years of Spanish in college and although he wasn't all that impressed with the instruction, he was definitely able to carry on a conversation (More on this later) I should have mentioned in the overview that I speak French and German and my husband speaks German and a little Spanish. I am able to read Spanish pretty well and understand some but have a really limited ability to speak.

    The Litegua bus company is considered one of the better local buses and it was fairly comfortable although not air conditioned as advertised. We headed off for Quiriguá which is along the Atlantic highway, northeast of Guatemala City, about four hours away. We had driven this route on our trip to Guatemala in 2009 but it was still interesting to see how the landscape changed as we came out of the higher elevation and through a flatter landscape with cacti then into lush tropical land along the Motagua River.

    The town/village of Quiriguá is small and there is no regular stop for the bus but the driver pulled over and let us out--not exactly where we wanted but close enough. We had reservations for a B & B called the Posada de Quiriguá which was one of the very few options I could find in the town or nearby Los Amates. I had decided it would be ok based on a few reviews on Trip advisor and Lonely Planet but was a little nervous because we were going to stay three nights.

    Getting to the Posada was more difficult than we had expected. Because we were left off at the wrong stop, beyond the one at the center of the village and on the road to the archeological site, there was only one tuk tuk in evidence. Tuk tuks are the standard way of getting around in this area and there are many of them, driven by teen age boys and young men. Unfortunately, our tuk tuk driver did not know where the Posada was or understand what we wanted, because he first took us out to the archeological park (which had closed for the day!), then to the hotel in the village where I had decided NOT to stay because of reviews that were lukewarm at best.

    Eventually with the help of the rough map I had from the owner of the Posada and some local people who actually knew where it was, the driver arrived at the foot of the small hill where the B & B is located. He was all set to try to go up the hill but the tuk tuk was clearly not up to this challenge, so we paid him and carried our luggage up ourselves.

    The Posada de Quiriguá is owned by a Japanese woman named Masaki who came to the town to work there (I believe she was trained as an engineer and was helping to work on a school building, but she never really explained her original reason for going to Guatemala to me). She designed the Posada herself and planted the garden around it, and she has both a few TA and Lonely Planet recommendations and her own web site.
    Masaki speaks good English in addition to Spanish and of course Japanese.

    If you are not interested in what the Posada and the town of Quiriguá are like, you probably want to skip the rest of the Day 2 description. I am going to give details in case others think they might want to stay here because it is a unique place.

    I had corresponded with Masaki to set up the reservations, to explain what we would like for dinner and to tell her when we would arrive. She greeted us after we trudged up the hill, showed us our rooms and set a time for dinner. At first my husband and I were not impressed with the rooms which are very simple, almost spartan and we worried about the 3 night stay. (Our son said he liked the Posada at first sight.) We decided to walk into the town and get some bottled water before dinner and my husband started quizzing me about why we were staying at the Posada instead of the hotel in the center of town which looked ok from the outside (and very possibly is fine for all I know). I responded defensively and pointed out that I had consulted him about the limited lodging options before making our reservation.

    As we walked through the town we could tell that we were attracting a lot of attention. We saw no other gringos there during our stay, although there must be others from time to time, including Japanese tourists who stay with Masaki. We checked out the various stores and ended up with water, an avocado and bread. There were a surprising number of small stores for such a small town but none of them sold the larger sized bottles of water we remembered from our last trip to Guatemala. (Throughout the trip, we were frustrated by all the un-recycled plastic bottles but could figure out no alternative except in places where we got carafes of water in our rooms and could fill our bottles from those. Local people and hotels and B & Bs buy purified water in large containers)

    We walked back to the Posada and once there decided our first impression had been far too harsh. The rooms really are very simple but this is an intentional style, and we began to appreciate it and to find it very restful. They and the common areas are immaculate. The windows have screens which is not true everywhere, and the rooms are equipped with ceiling fans. Ours had an air conditioner in one window but this did not work, and the fan was really adequate.

    Masaki's garden, full of exotic (to us) plants, is lovely, and there are hammocks on the veranda, so our son promptly retired to one of these with his Nook. My husband took a shower and was the first to discover that it was the kind that I have seen described as a "suicide shower." These have a heating element in the shower head so the water starts out cold then turns scalding all of a sudden, then just as you have mixed in cold water, goes back to tepid. I never really totally mastered it.

    We had agreed with Masaki that we would eat dinner at 6:30 and she had it ready right on time. She offers both traditional Guatemalan meals and Japanese meals. She and I had agreed in our email correspondence that she would prepare a Guatemalan dinner the first night, then discuss other options with us for the rest of our stay. The convenience of eating right where we were staying appealed to me, the other local options were extremely limited, and at least one review had said Masaki was a good cook so I thought we would eat reasonably well. In fact, the food was excellent.

    One of the strange things about traveling in Central America is that the length of the days does not vary nearly as much as it does in North America. In summer this means the days are shorter than they are at home. It got dark around 6:45. The Posada has a small dining room, and we ate by candle light. The first meal was a delicious chicken soup/stew with a salad and lots of tortillas. My husband thought the chicken was a little tough but it had good flavor and was very fresh. Most people in the town seem to have chickens roaming around. Masaki sells beer (maybe wine, too?) and includes a fruit drink--lemon one night, orange the next, pineapple the last--water and coffee with the meal.

    We arranged to eat breakfast at 7:30 the next morning and went to bed early. We found during the night that the peaceful setting of the Posada did not insulate us from all noise. In addition to the chickens in town, there were roosters, and they did not confine their crowing to the crack of dawn. To be fair, this seemed to be true in other places we stayed, too, even Guatemala City. Our son reported the next morning that an insect that sounded "like a fire alarm" had also started making noise outside his window at one point during the night. My husband and I were skeptical of this complaint until we heard a similar sound at the archeological ruins the next day.

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    Days 3 and 4: Quiriguá archeological site

    I seem to have gone on and on about the Posada de Quiriguá in my last post so will try to be more concise in describing our two days at the Quiriguá archeological site. This is an amazing place, but most tourists would only want to explore for a half day or so. We were there for two full days because of my son's project. Masaki asked us whether we were archeologists, and she seemed to think that no one else would stay in Quiriguá for three nights.

    Our three mornings at the Posada began with good full breakfasts eaten at a little sheltered table in the beautiful garden. On the second day, Masaki gave us some honey with our toast, explained that it came from "stingless Guatemalan bees" and showed us a recent English language magazine article about these rare bees which included a picture of her. She apparently has hives of two kinds of stingless bees, one of which makes the good honey.

    The archeological site opens at 8 and supposedly closes at 4:30. We did see groups with guides heading in at around 4:15 on the second day as we were leaving, so perhaps they are lax about this. I know that day tours to the site are offered from Rio Dulce and possibly also from other cities.

    As I mentioned in the overview, the archeological site is set in the middle of a banana plantation. It was originally owned by the United Fruit Company and is now owned by Del Monte. United Fruit purchased a huge tract of land in the Motagua Valley in the early 20th century and set aside quite a lot of land to protect the archeological site. The fascinating history of United Fruit is tied to the economic and political history of Central America. Rather than attempting to explain it I am supplying the wikipedia link for anyone interested:

    I read the first few chapters of a 2007 book, Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World by Peter Chapman of the Financial Times, at the Posada and am trying to locate a copy via inter library loan so I can finish it.

    It is hard to get a good sense of the working conditions at the banana plantation today. I believe there are tours of the packing facilities you can take if interested. There were lots of small buses going in and out with workers and gates with armed guards. (In general Guatemala and Honduras have an alarming number of young men carrying guns at places like banks, bus stations, etc.)

    To get to the Quiriguá ruins from the main highway or the town you can either walk or take a tuk tuk. My husband was interested in the first mode of transportation but my son and I vetoed the idea, arguing that it would take too long and tire us out before we ever reached the site and that it was just too hot for this. I was ok with riding in the tuk tuks except when they went out on the main highway where there were cars, buses, trucks, etc. They kept to the side when other vehicles passed but it still seemed very dangerous to me.

    Entrance to the ruins is 80 Quezales per person (The current exchange rate is about 7.5Q to the dollar) which seems high compared to other prices in Guatemala. However, we were happy to pay for the upkeep of the site. The facilities include a small area where people sell crafts and some food, a picnic area, a small museum and a store that sells jade and also has exhibits about the importance of jade to the Mayan civilization in this part of Guatemala.

    We took our own picnic lunches both days and only bought some bottled water, so I am not sure of the food options. (My husband went to purchase the water and I tried to stay away from the stalls because I didn't want to buy anything else.) Masaki asked me after the first day what we had to eat and seemed rather confused when I tried to explain PB & J and hummus. She might have made us lunch if we had asked, but I was concerned about carrying around anything requiring refrigeration in the heat.

    The site is famous (well famous in Mayan history buff circles) for the amazing intricately carved stelae, zoomorphs and altars in its Grand Plaza. The stelae, monolithic sandstone columns with hieroglyphs and sculpture, are the tallest ones ever discovered and are very impressive. The largest one is 35 feet tall and weighs 130,000 pounds. The zoomorphs are sandstone boulders in the shape of animals. All of these are now protected from the elements by thatched coverings.

    The history of Quiriguá is closely tied to that of Copan, the other Mayan site we visited during out trip. Quiriguá was a smaller city ruled by Copan for most of its history but it became dominant for a period of about 100 years during the Classic Period when its ruler Cauac Sky captured and executed 18 Rabbit of Copan in 738. Much of the sculpture in Quiriguá celebrates this victory. The two cities are separated by a mountain range and quite close as the crow flies but about 4 hours apart via the modern roads that link the two.

    There were very few other visitors at the site the first day we visited it. On the second day, there were several school groups. We also saw a Guatemalan T.V. camera crew that day and after a while the reporter approached us to ask us why we were there. After talking to us for a while (in Spanish) she said she would like to film an interview with our son. He agreed and explained his interest in the site in Spanish which seemed reasonably fluent to me. Again, I was impressed.

    The museum was not open on our first day at the site but it was open the second day. The hours listed indicated it should have been open both days. There was a phone number to call and I believe if we had tried it someone might have come--it might be worth trying. The exhibits are quite well done and explain the importance of the site and the history of its excavation.

    The weather was something of a challenge in July which is the "rainy season." Both days started out with clear skies but by early afternoon there were thunderstorms with heavy rain. After about an hour these passed by and we were able to go back to the site. We waited out the storms in the covered picnic area. There are also quite a few mosquitoes and repellent is a must. We all took malaria pills for the trip which is recommended for this part of Guatemala.

    We left the archeological park shortly before the announced closing time both days. We managed to get tuk tuks with the help of phone calls by the staff announcing that there were three gringos who needed a ride.

    We were able to relax at the Posada in the late afternoon before dinner. Masaki cooked two excellent dinners. Although she was willing to prepare tempura and sushi, she pointed out that she "thought we could get Japanese [but not Guatemalan] food in Boston." She suggested tapado, a seafood stew with coconut milk and Kaq'Iq, a traditional spicy soup/stew from the Verapaces region. Both were delicious. She seemed pleased when I told her how happy and surprised I was to find such good food in a small town like Quirigua.

    We were the only guests at the Posada for our entire 3 night stay. Masaki seemed quite happy to have the three of us there and took a lot of time and trouble over our meals. It was very pleasant to have everything to ourselves. Masaki's mother was also visiting from Japan but she didn't come out into the common areas.

    I had been fretting because we did not have enough Guatemalan money to cover our stay and we were not sure where we could find an ATM. We had planned to do this on a day trip to Puerto Barrios but after the first day our schedule changed. Fortunately when I asked her, Masaki assured me that she was happy to take our American dollars, so that problem was solved.

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    Day 5: Puerto Barrios and Livingston

    We had a leisurely last breakfast (pancakes, surprisingly good) in Masaki's lovely garden before heading out the next morning. Since our son had finished his work at the Quiriguá site earlier than planned and we had an extra day, we decided to visit Puerto Barrios and Livingston on the Atlantic coast to get a flavor of the Caribbean culture in that part of Guatemala before heading to Copán.

    We took a tuk tuk to Los Amates (along the highway again, but we arrived safely!) to catch another Litegua bus to the coast. The ride took us past cattle ranches and lots of fruit stands (good) but took twice as long as the time estimated on Masaki's web site, two hours instead of one (bad). On the trip my husband and I talked to a very nice sociologist who was headed to a conference on economic development in Livingston. She seemed surprised and pleased to meet two Americans who worked in what she considered socially responsible jobs.

    When we arrived in Puerto Barrios, our new friend was very helpful in calling a hotel we were interested in to make sure it had rooms available. We had decided to stay at the Hotel del Norte, an old style wooden hotel built at the end of the nineteenth century and recommended by several guide books and Masaki.

    The hotel was much as advertised--a throwback to another era. There are some very cheap rooms in the main hotel and some other newer ones with AC and TV at the other side of a small courtyard. We opted for the modern ones. The hotel is adjacent to a small park along the water. It is at the edge of a port area with huge shipping containers for fruit (mostly bananas) owned by Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita, so we saw the final Guatemalan destination for the bananas harvested in Quiriguá.

    My original plan was to take a boat to nearby Livingston and have more seafood tapado there for lunch but the longer-than-expected bus ride ruined this schedule. Our son was hungry and sort of grumpy, so it seemed wise to eat lunch near the hotel before trying to do anything else that afternoon. Our guidebooks had described a nearby place serving burgers, tacos and similar fare right down on the water in a simple bar built in two converted shipping containers. The location had changed hands but did offer a basic but adequate lunch of chicken, rice and beans and salad so we had that.

    After eating, we walked past all the fruit containers and into the town of Puerto Barrios. It is a rather uninspiring small port city that does little to take recreational advantage of being on the water. We stopped off at the Litegua bus station to try to get information for our trip to Copán the next day and ended up with some instructions to take a mini bus from the main market area (which proved, by the way, to be incorrect) then walked down to the pier where boats leave for Livingston.

    Livingston is a town on the northern bank of the Rio Dulce which is home to Guatemala's Garafuna population/culture. The Garafuna, who live along the Caribbean coast in central America, are descendants of Carib and Arawak (Amerindian) and West African people. They have a distinctive language and music and dance. There are no major roads into Livingston which is reached by boat along the coast from Puerto Barrios and Belize or via the Rio Dulce.

    Unfortunately the afternoon after lunch was probably not the ideal time to visit Livingston since we did not get a chance to enjoy the food or the music. The last launch back to Puerto Barrios left at 5:30 so we could not stay for dinner. We wandered the streets of the town for a few hours then had to leave. Livingston is an interesting town with a very different feel than the rest of Guatemala and would probably be a good place to stay overnight or for a few days with a chance to explore the Rio Dulce and the nearby beaches.

    The waves were much larger on the trip back than they had been on the trip over, and the launch ride back to Puerto Barrios was quite rough, almost like a roller coaster. This was apparently not unusual, because the crew gave the passengers in the middle who were getting quite wet from the spray a plastic sheet to hold up as a shield.

    When we got back to town, we decided to go back to the hotel during the remaining daylight hours rather than eating in town and walking back in the dark. The decision to eat at the hotel proved to be a mistake. The dining room with mahogany cabinets and bar is impressive, and the waiter was dressed in a white jacket but the food was bad. My husband decided that this was the Central American version of Fawlty Towers and called the waiter "Manuel." It was all quite frustrating since we knew Puerto Barrios has some very good seafood. Before turning in for the night we checked with the front desk staff about transportation to Copán and got the same (incorrect) information the Litegua bus station staff had given us.

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    Day 6 Puerto Barrios to Copán Ruinas

    We ate breakfast, better than dinner, in the Hotel del Norte dining room where we watched the semi-finals of men's tennis at Wimbledon. As we packed up in our rooms, a local band was playing the Star Spangled Banner in the park next to the hotel--no idea why!

    We took a taxi to the area where we had been told we could catch a mini bus for our trip to Copán. I had been skeptical about getting this kind of direct shuttle service and indeed we found out that it did not exist. The mini buses were all going to a town in Honduras that was in the wrong direction from Copán. No one had clear information about the public transit options to the right location, but these appeared to involve a many hours and several bus line changes. Eventually we decided to hire a driver who took us right to the Honduras border. This was fairly expensive but not outrageous and it did get us where we needed to go by early afternoon. We had worried that trying to take the buses would result in getting stuck en route in Guatemala rather than arriving as planned at the nice B & B we had booked in Copán.

    Copán Ruinas is only a few miles beyond the border and there are regular buses going back and forth, so we took one of these once we had dealt with the border formalities. Thanks to the map the couple we met in Guatemala City had given us on our first night, we were able to orient ourselves right away when the bus dropped us off in the middle of town. We set off for the Casa de Cafe, the B & B at the edge of town where we would stay for the next four nights.

    The Casa de Cafe was recommended by hopefulist as a good mid-price option in Copan and has excellent reviews on Trip Advisor. It is run by a very friendly and helpful couple, Howard (from the U.S.) and Angela. They also own a hostel next door which looks very nice and a house and am apartment they rent out by the night or longer.

    When we arrived, hot and sweaty from lugging our bags for a longish distance, we were immediately charmed. The woman at the reception desk showed us to our rooms and offered us iced tea, ice water or coffee. These beverages plus carafes of water in the rooms are available all day and very welcome.

    The B & B is in a quiet neighborhood (well, quiet except for the ubiquitous roosters) about five blocks from the main square. It bills itself as looking out over the "spectacular" Copán valley and mountains, and the view does not disappoint. We stayed in the newer wing which down a few stairs from the original building and adjacent to the beautiful terraced garden.

    The rooms are very attractive. There are ceiling fans, no AC, but the fans kept us cool enough at night. The water in the showers was hot and plentiful. We spent most of our time outdoors, lounging in the hammocks and admiring the garden and view. For the first two nights we were the only guests in this part of the B & B, which was great for us although possibly not ideal for the owners. When I talked to Howard later in our stay he said that they did not have as many reservations as usual this year, with fewer people booking from Europe.

    Revived by my iced tea, I wandered back to the common area near the reception desk to check out the library of books available to guests. There were many guides to Central America and books about Mayan sites, so I snagged a few of these. I also got information about the location of ATMs and some restaurant recommendations.

    By late afternoon, my husband and I were ready to explore the center of town, check out restaurants and get some cash. Our son waved goodby from his hammock.

    The modern town of Copán Ruinas is a charming place with cobbled streets and a good variety of hotels, restaurants and stores. After we had stopped at the ATM on the main plaza, we noticed a sign for a free photography exhibit, Fragile Memories: Images of Archaeology & Community at Copan. The pictures for the exhibit are digitized versions of pictures from the Peabody Museum taken when Harvard was excavating the archeological site. There is a slide show as well as a chance to examine the individual pictures.

    On our way back to the Casa de Cafe we checked out several restaurants for menus and ambiance and decided to go to Twisted Tanya's for dinner. This is a little fancier and more expensive than some of the other restaurant options, and we felt we deserved a good meal after our less than satisfying experience at the Hotel del Norte. A few hours later, we walked back to the restaurant and enjoyed a good dinner in the pleasant second floor open air dining room. Tanya's offers a very reasonable backpackers special from 3 to 6 p.m. as well as more elaborate three course meals for $22 later in the evening.

    We learned that the archeological park opened at 8 but decided to get a slightly more relaxed start the next morning and agreed to get up in time for breakfast at 7:30.

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    Day 7: at the Copán archeological site

    Breakfast the next morning proved to be a very good and very big meal. It included a large bowl of fruit, scrambled eggs and good toast with homemade strawberry jam. There may have been beans and other sides as well. For the first time in Central America we had really good coffee. The owners pride themselves on serving high quality coffee from a nearby coffee plantation and they offer hot coffee all day in addition to the cold drinks. If I had thought ahead far enough I probably could have arranged for iced coffee in the afternoon. The breakfast menu changed daily--we had waffles, huevos rancheros and French toast the other days. I am not sure how long the menu rotation lasts but there is definitely good variety for up to four mornings.

    Fortified with all this food, we walked into town and then on to the archeological site. It is about 15 to 20 minutes from the main plaza. There is a nice path following the road, but Howard had told us it would be better to walk on the side of the road since there had been some robberies recently.

    The park itself has two sections, the main park with the plaza and acropolis and another site about 2 km farther down the road, Las Sepulturas. Copán is a much larger, more visited site than Quirigua, and it has a large gift shop and small cafeteria as well as a sculpture museum at the site.

    Copán is known for its beautiful sculpture and carvings and is sometimes described as the Paris of the Mayan world. It also has the longest hieroglyphic Mayan text ever discovered. The latter and the stelae in the Grand Plaza are covered over with canopies to protect them from the elements, and some of the original carvings have been moved to the sculpture museum.

    There are many guides who work at the park and for many tourists it would probably make sense to hire one. The tours seem to take about two hours. The gift shop also sells written guides to the park and there are good descriptive panels in Spanish and English. We decided to tour the park on our own, armed with our guide books. We did listen in on the guided tours as they went by during the day, and most of the guides seemed to do a good job.

    Another feature of the park is a flock of scarlet macaws that are being re-introduced to the park area and the Copán valley. These spectacular birds were sacred to the Maya and are represented in much of the sculpture. The scarlet macaw is also the national bird of modern Honduras. There is a lot of information about the birds at the entrance of the park including a rather oddly located plaque on the side of the building with the bathrooms.

    When you pay for a ticket to the park you have the option of buying a ticket to two tunnels dug by archeologists within the park as well. I am not sure these would be of great interest to everyone but of course our son wanted to see them.

    We spent a total of about 7 hours at the main park but I would imagine most people would want to visit for a shorter time.

    At the end of the afternoon, we took a tuk tuk back to the main plaza of Copán Ruinas. We wanted to show our son the photography exhibit, especially the pictures of the workers at the archeological site at the turn of the 20th century. We also spent some time at the Casa de Todo, a large gift store/cafe with internet connections, a laundry and a book exchange all arranged around a pleasant courtyard.

    We stopped to buy a few beers on our way back to the Casa de Cafe because we couldn't remember whether the owners sold beer there. It turned out that they did, and I rather guiltily took the empty bottles out again the next morning. Once we had returned to our comfortable rooms and hammocks, the rain clouds that had been threatening off and on all day finally let loose. There was a beautiful double rainbow in the early evening.

    We decided to eat at a nearby restaurant serving traditional Honduran food, the Llama del Bosque. The food was good and inexpensive but my husband and I ate something either here or during our picnic lunch that disagreed with us later that night. There was a huge birthday party at the restaurant, and we enjoyed watching the extended family celebration. At the end of our meal it started to pour again, and we encountered slippery cobblestones and puddles on our walk/run back to the Casa de Cafe.

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    Day 8: Las Sepulturas and Sculpture museum in Copán

    As suggested at the end of my description of day 7, my husband and I both experienced some of the dreaded travelers diarrhea overnight. Our son was not affected so we assume it was something that only the two of us ate. We had been very careful and really can't figure out what went wrong.

    We took some medicine that his doctor had prescribed for the trip in case we needed it and this seemed to solve the problem. We really had no problems at all for the rest of the trip. We did wake up feeling less than bright eyed and bushy tailed and I was a little concerned about following our morning plan for the day, a trip to the Las Sepulturas part of the archeological park. We decided to try it and everything turned out well.

    We took a tuk tuk out to Las Sepulturas and were able to enter using our tickets from the previous day. (We had asked Howard whether we would have to buy more tickets and his advice --which worked-- was "don't ask" and assume it is o.k.) The man at the ticket area started to give us a lecture in Spanish about the site and was all set to give a full guided tour but we told him we would explore on our own. We did not see any other tourists during our walk around the site although some others were arriving as we left in the late morning. The site was connected in Mayan times to the Great Plaza by a causeway. It was a residential area where many scribes lived. The information on the boards and the maps is a little spotty, but overall it is an interesting place to visit. I believe some of the English-speaking guides at the main site will include a side trip to Las Sepulturas for an additional fee.

    There were no tuk tuks around when we left the park so we walked back to the main part of the archeological park where we ate lunch on the pleasant porch outside the small cafeteria before visiting the sculpture museum. This museum is absolutely spectacular and I highly recommend taking the time to visit it as well as the Copán archeological site. The building itself has an interesting design with a tunnel-like entrance that opens into a dramatic central courtyard featuring a replica of Copan's Rosalita temple. The whole collection is very well displayed and well explained. Note that this is an art museum featuring sculpture rather than a museum explaining the buildings or social history of the Mayan city.

    There is another archeological museum in the main plaza of Copan Ruinas but unfortunately this was closed for renovations during our visit. A third museum, the Casa K'inich Children's Learning Center is also in the main town. We had considered going on to this museum which Howard had assured us is interesting for adults as well as children, but we were still feeling a little under the weather so we decided to return to the Casa de Cafe after the Sculpture museum.

    We enjoyed iced drinks and read for a while back on the patio, then set off to have dinner and see a movie at Via Via, a restaurant a few blocks from the Casa de Cafe. Via Via is part of a Belgian chain of "international meeting places." The Copán location has a nice courtyard with a pleasant bar, and it shows movies three nights a week. We ordered dinner and took the food and some beers to an upstairs room to watch Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. We chose fairly simple meals (chicken and roast potatoes) due to our still-slightly-queasy-stomachs, but there were some other more unusual choices on the menu. The movie audience included a young couple who are traveling around the world for a year and a middle-aged teacher from Florida who was doing curriculum development at one of the language schools.

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    Day 10: more Copán Ruinas

    After two days spent at the archeological sites, we had a final day to explore the area before heading back to Guatemala City.

    There were more than enough things to do on this final day of sightseeing. We decided on a trip up to Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve which came highly recommended by Howard, several Fodorites, and the couple we had met in Guatemala City. We bought tickets for the Mountain at Basecamp Tours, the travel agency/information center affiliated with the Via Via restaurant and hotel. We also purchased our tickets for a shuttle trip to Guatemala City the next day.

    Macaw Mountain is a reserve for rescued and endangered birds from the area including scarlet macaws. It is located on the side of a mountain outside the town and is reached by car or tuk tuk. The round trip tuk tuk transportation was included with the Basecamp tours ticket.

    The reserve has a network of shady walking trails around the various aviaries. There is a breeding program for the macaws and the birds were nesting in their large aviary so we could not go inside that. We spent a long time talking to one of the men who cares for birds in the central interpretive center and saw him feeding two very young rescued birds. Apparently there is a large illegal business involving the sale of macaws and other parrots as pets. Part of the work at the Mountain includes an educational program for area children explaining the effort to re-introduce a flock of macaws into the Copan valley.

    The Mountain also has a swimming hole (not open when we were there) and a pleasant bistro with tables on a bridge over the mountain stream. The food concession is run by the Tanya of Twisted Tanya's and we had a good lunch there.

    The nature trails also include elevated viewing platforms and a section of coffee plants. Near the main entrance a coffee house serves very good coffee made from freshly roasted beans,and we had some of that before heading back to town.

    Our son claimed his hammock at the Casa de Cafe while my husband and I walked into town to do some shopping at Casa de Todo. (Notice a pattern here?) We bought T shirts, some small souvenir gifts and some carved maracas for our son to take to summer camp students he has worked with in Vermont. I had intended to buy some bread at the Casa de Todo bakery so I could make sandwiches for our trip the next day, but the loaves looked awfully big for our purposes. A very pleasant woman came out and described a range of sandwiches she could make for us, and these sounded much more interesting than our PB & J, so we agreed to return the next morning to buy some.

    We explored a few more streets and restaurant options in town but we really were not hungry enough for a big dinner. We eventually decided to eat a light meal at Jim's Pizza. Jim is a friendly transplanted American and he makes good wood fired pizza and also offers pasta specials and burgers.

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    Day 10: Copan to Guatemala City

    I notice I labeled the last day Day 10 instead of day 9 by mistake but it's too late to edit that.

    So on the real last day of our trip:

    We had arranged to take a shuttle at noon so we had time for a leisurely breakfast and a last walk into town to pick up our lunch supplies.

    We were sorry to leave Copan and Casa de Cafe. We could easily have spent more time there and may go back some time to take a Spanish course at one of the language schools. Honduras in general had not been high on our list of places to go but we have more interest after this trip.

    Our shuttle trip went smoothly until we reached Guatemala City where the early evening traffic was terrible. Most of the other riders did not have lunch food with them and our sandwiches and cookies attracted a lot of envious glances. When the driver left us off in Guatemala City we had only a vague idea of where we were.

    We hailed a taxi and lucked out with a good driver who got us quickly and effeciently to the Hotel Aeropuerto near the airport. This is a simple place where we had stayed on an earlier trip to Guatemala in 2009. It is not as nice as the Villa Toscana but it does have the advantage of offering inexpensive meals. We had dinner with a student from Kalamazoo college and a Jehova's Witness from California before turning in.

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    This doesn't exactly fit with the rest of the TR, but I wanted to mention that we saw the excellent exhibit Maya 2012: Lords of Time at the UPenn Museum of ARcheology and Anthropology last weekend. It runs through 1/13/13. It is a good exhibit for anyone interested in the Maya in general but especially interesting for people who have gone or plan to go to Copan
    There are many interactive exhibits for kids

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