Top Experiences in Honduras
Ponder the mysteries of the Maya.
Although historians know most of the background of the ancient city of Copán, a walk through its ruins in southwest Honduras is bound to raise more questions than answers: How could a people of a millennium ago have created the intricate stelae figures that populate the complex here? Are there ruins that are yet to be excavated? Oh, and what's going to happen when the Maya calendar comes to a scheduled end in December 2012? Should I put off my holiday shopping that year? After a visit to Copán, even the most no-nonsense curmudgeons find themselves deliberating the mysteries of the cosmos.
Come face-to-face with an eagle ray.
The Bay Islands are home to the second-largest barrier reef on the planet, one that also takes in Belize and Mexico, and are one of the world's great underwater destinations. Whether you're a finely tuned diver or haven't yet gotten your feet wet, rates here are reasonable for dive excursions, a beginner's course, or those "get acquainted" classes that won't certify you but will tease you with a diving sampling.
Wolf down a baleada.
Honduras's answer to Mexico's quesadilla is the ubiquitous baleada, and sampling one is a rite of passage into the fold of true Honduran travelers. Take a corn- or wheat-flour tortilla, fill with mashed black beans, and top with a dollop of sour cream. That's a baleada at its most basic, as it originated in La Ceiba. Dress them up with sliced tomatoes, cheese, sausage, chicken, pork, avocadoes, onions, peppers.... The variety is limited only by the number of people who make them and the part of the country you're in. Ever-present baleada ladies sell them on the street, but local sit-down restaurants all serve them, too, and that's probably a better bet.
Observe Holy Week.
You needn't be Catholic, or even Christian, to appreciate the pageantry of Honduras's Semana Santa processions the entire week preceding Easter. Most of the country flees to the beach for the week, but the faithful stay behind to reenact Jesus' last week on earth, with the biggest doings in Comayagua, Tegucigalpa, and Santa Rosa de Copán. Integral to the Good Friday observances are the alfombras, intricate street carpets made of colored sawdust. Why would townspeople put so much effort into creating something only to have it trampled by the processions in a matter of minutes? "What a question!" you'll likely get in response. They're sure to tell you it's in gratitude for some grace bestowed upon them.
You see them on flights to and from Honduras: groups of people wearing identical T-shirts, coming here to work on a development project, perhaps medical, perhaps educational in focus. Honduras is one of the hemisphere's premier destinations for a volunteer vacation. (A Google search of ""Honduras volunteer"" turns up 1.4 million entries and counting). Some of the groups are secular; others, religious in focus (hence the oft-used term "mission trip"). It's a way to make a difference—away from the glitzy tourist facade, the need is great here—and to give something back to Honduras.
Look into the workings of a fine cigar.
Yes, it is smoking—we know, we know—and we would never promote the activity. But cigars are one of Honduras's top exports, and tobacco has played a prominent role in engineering the country's economy since colonial times when the Spanish established the Royal Tobacco Factory in the highlands. Manufacturers in Danlí and Santa Rosa de Copán are happy to show you how tobacco is cultivated, harvested, cured, and rolled into cigars that rank right up there in quality with the finest Cuban product.
Dance the punta.
It's not reggae, or salsa, or hip-hop, but the punta music indigenous to the Caribbean coast's Garífuna people resembles all three. The name is thought to be a corruption of bunda, the word for "buttocks" in the Mandé language of West Africa, from where the music originated, and the name is apt. Can you remain stationary from the waist up while rotating your hips? If, yes, congratulations: You're a born punta dancer. If you're like the rest of us, probably not, but don't be shy about getting out on the dance floor and trying. Performers at shows always encourage audience participation.
Add to your life list.
Those in the know in the birding community salivate at the mention of Honduras. As the meeting place of the Americas, Central America's narrow landmass funnels an incredible amount of biodiversity—Honduras alone logs 700 species of birds—into its territory. Lago de Yojoa, in the center of the country, is a crossroads of another type, where highlands and tropical lowlands meet. If you're diligent, you'll check off 400 species at the lake. The Mosquitía is home to a few hundred species, too, but you need not travel so far afield either: La Tigra and Cusuco national parks, just outside Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula respectively, are perfect venues if your time is limited.
Veer around a Class III rapid.
Or if you're feeling particularly adventurous, try a IV or V. The easily accessible Río Cangrejal contains sectors of all three, and is close enough to La Ceiba or Pico Bonito National Park for you to be back at your hotel or lodge after a day of white-water rafting in time to establish bragging rights over dinner. The IIIs are really III-pluses on the Cangrejal, so inquire carefully before booking an excursion. Outfitters in this part of the country get high grades for safety and professionalism. Farther afield, the Río Platano, in the reserve of the same name in the Mosquitía, needs to be a multiday affair because of its isolation, but that gives you ample opportunity to soak in the nature that you can't focus on while you negotiate that rapid.
Aprender una lengua.
Learn a language—Spanish, of course. Honduras lacks the hordes who study Spanish in neighboring Guatemala, but that's a selling point for taking up the language here. (It means less temptation to lapse into English with all your classmates outside school.) Copán Ruinas, La Ceiba, Roatán, and Utila hold the bulk of the language schools. Morning might begin with you and your instructor, one-on-one—that's the structure for most beginning courses here—over a cup of coffee out on the school's patio, tackling conjugations with a few props to aid you. Bid farewell and move on to a café for the afternoon, notebook in hand to review your day's lessons. Evening means dinner with your host family and a chance to practice what you've learned. It's all about immersing yourself in the language.
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