Slightly smaller than the state of Ohio, Honduras is compact enough and easy enough to get around—mostly—so that any listing of itineraries can be broken apart and reassembled, mix-and-match style. The presence of four international airports and a good domestic air network means you can vary your arrival and departure points, too. (And, yes, there is more to the country than Copán and Roatán.) Note that there are no connecting agreements between the international airlines that serve Honduras and its domestic airlines, and same-day international-to-domestic flight itineraries (or vice versa) are not recommended.
The Big Two: Copán and Roatán
Day 1: Arrival in San Pedro Sula and Copán Ruinas
Arrive in San Pedro Sula. If your schedule permits it, taxi directly to the Gran Central Metropolitana, San Pedro's massive bus terminal just south of town, where you can catch a bus to the town of Copán Ruinas, about a three-hour ride. The bus company Hedman Alas also has transport from the airport with connections to its service to Copán Ruinas a few times a day. Arrive in Copán Ruinas late afternoon or evening. Check into your hotel. Twisted Tanya's or Jim's Pizza each offers reassuring surroundings after a long day of travel.
Day 2: The Ruins of Copán
Remember, the difference: Copán Ruinas is the town; Copán is the complex of Mayan ruins. The early bird catches the worm, as the saying goes, and it catches the best time of day to visit the ruins here, too. Walk from town—it takes about 15 minutes—or take one of the fun, three-wheeled "tuk-tuk" vehicles that are the town's taxis. Be there when the gates open at 8 am: it will be cooler—there's some shade but not as much as you'd like in such a tropical locale—and you'll be competing with fewer visitors. As the sun begins to rise in the sky (along with the temperatures), make your way to the on-site Museum of Maya Sculpture. The museum charges a separate admission, but the extra insight you gain is well worth it. Head back to town as noon approaches and treat yourself to a nice lunch after a morning of playing fantasy archaeologist. Take the afternoon to rest a bit, but remember that all those rest-of-Copán activities beckon and will easily fill this half day and all day tomorrow. One afternoon option is the Copán Coffee Tour, on which you'll learn about the life and times of Honduras's most important beverage. The afternoon tour leaves at 2 pm.
Day 3: Copán Ruinas and Environs
The Enchanted Wings Butterfly Garden sits on the edge of town on the road to the Guatemalan border. An early-morning visit—the place opens at 8—lets you catch the most activity, your laminated identification card in hand to help identify butterfly species. Another type of flying animal holds court at the Macaw Mountain Bird Park about 10 minutes north of town. This bird-rescue center is a must for anyone visiting the area. Lunch here is proffered by the folks at the Twisted Tanya's restaurant in town and is just as yummy. Spend the afternoon at the Hacienda San Lucas, south of town. An L40 day pass lets nonguests in to use the facilities, and the zip-line canopy tour and the walk to the small Los Sapos archaeological site are crowd pleasers. Lunch or dinner here is the best of Honduran típico in the setting of a century-old ranch house.
Day 4: San Pedro Sula and Roatán
An early-morning bus—think Hedman Alas again—gets you back to San Pedro Sula in time to catch an afternoon flight to Roatán. Check into your hotel and treat yourself to a nice evening meal. Taxi drivers in Roatán have been known to overcharge visitors. Ask the folks at your hotel desk for a lay of the land and an idea of what taxi fares should be.
Days 5 and 6: Roatán
Are two days enough for Roatán? Probably not, because a whirlwind of activities awaits. If you've never been scuba diving before, most dive operators offer a "get acquainted" course that won't certify you, but will give you a taste of diving and pique your underwater interest. Didn't come to Roatán for diving? That's cool, too. The same outfitters that organize scuba excursions—and they are numerous here—can also take you snorkeling. Back on land, you can choose from—take a deep breath—the Roatán Butterfly Garden, the dolphin shows at the Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences, the Tropical Treasures Bird Park, and the midday feedings of the namesake animals at Arch's Iguana and Marine Farm. And when all that wears you out, the white-sand beach at Half Moon Bay on the island's west end will give you a new standard by which to measure all such strands of sand.
Days 7 and 8: To San Pedro Sula and Departure
Catch an early-morning flight from Roatán back to San Pedro Sula. Check into your hotel—the city has a huge array of lodgings—and take time to browse the offerings in the Guamilito market, with one of the best selections of souvenirs in Honduras, just a few blocks north of the central park. Or if you're feeling more like being a mall rat after a week out-country, head for the massive Multiplaza or City Mall on the Circunvalación, the suburban ring road that surrounds the city. Enjoy a nice dinner at one of the city's many restaurants. Get to the airport in plenty of time your final day. Airlines recommend checking in three hours before departure.
Some international flights to San Pedro Sula arrive too late for you to be able to head out to Copán Ruinas that same day. (You might not feel like a three-hour bus ride after a long day of flying either.) Also, many flights also depart San Pedro too early in the day to be arriving from another destination that same morning. That frequently makes San Pedro a first-night, last-night place to stay. If you can't get to Copán Ruinas that first night, head out early the next morning. You'll have an afternoon to partake of the non-ruins activities, and head to the ruins themselves early the next morning.
Renting a car and driving to Copán Ruinas is always an option, of course, but under no circumstances should you drive the route after dark. Portions of the road between the crossroads town of La Entrada and Copán Ruinas are winding and potholed. Sunset is between 5:30 and 6 pm year-round. If driving, always be at your destination before then. Bus drivers know the route well; it's fine to leave the driving to them, no matter what the time of day.
Roatán has Honduras's second busiest airport, and with its handful of international flights, it is possible to juggle the order around and begin and/or end this itinerary from there.
If diving is your draw to Roatán, you'll likely want more than two days there. If you're planning to take a dive course, you'll need at least three or four days.
Day 1: Arrival in La Ceiba
Disembarkation at La Ceiba's tiny airport is as much a breeze as the light winds that blow in off the sea here. Check into any of the town's fine lodgings—there's a good selection here—and prepare yourself for an evening of Honduras's best nightlife. Take in a Garífuna music performance, engage in an evening of dancing, or enjoy a beer at a quiet seaside bar. But as in any port city, don't walk the streets after dark. Take a taxi to and from instead.
Day 2: La Ceiba to Tela
An early-morning start gets you to Tela, a scant 60 km (37 mi) west of La Ceiba. As with most travel along the Caribbean coast, the road veers inland on the drive between the hub cities and does not hug the shore. No matter: the route takes you through forests and banana plantations that are lush, green, and scenic no matter what time of year you're here. (Rainfall along the coast is more evenly dispersed throughout the year.) If you got going early enough, you should have time to take in a boat tour at the nearby Jeanette Kawas National Park. (Early is best for spotting the park's population of howler and capuchin monkeys.) Take in the Lancetilla botanical gardens in the afternoon—they're the world's second-largest such facility, or the nearby, distinctive Garífuna village of Miami, which bears no resemblance to the metropolis in Florida.
Day 3: Parque Nacional Pico Bonito
It's back toward La Ceiba on your third day, but south of the city lies the expanse of one of Honduras's best-known national parks. Pico Bonito means "pretty peak," and this nearly 8,000-foot summit looms captivatingly over the park. A stay at the park's lodge is pricey, but it remains one of Honduras's top eco-experiences. The lodge employs top-notch guides who will take you along the park's trails, the most popular being the trek to the La Ruidosa ("the noisy one") waterfalls. Dinner at the lodge is informal and festive, and you can join in the conversation about what you spotted that day. Such discussions frequently go long into the evening, even though everybody knows they have to get up early for the next morning's nature outing.
Day 4: Río Cangrejal
Take in the country's top white-water rafting experience on your fourth day. The Río Cangrejal offers Class III, IV, and V sectors with the option of half- or full-day excursions.
Day 5: Departure
Pico Bonito is one of those "so close and yet so far" destinations. Even though you feel as if you're a million miles from anywhere, you're close enough to La Ceiba that an early-morning departure from the park gets you back in time for a midday flight out.
La Ceiba does receive a few international flights, making it entirely possible to begin and/or end this itinerary there. San Pedro Sula does give you a bigger variety of flights from the United States to choose from, however, and there are plenty of domestic flights between San Pedro and La Ceiba, too.
Rates at The Lodge at Pico Bonito start at $240 per night, to which you might say, "Ouch!" All excursions in the park, as well as the Cangrejal rafting trip, can be done to and from La Ceiba as well.
Rafting the Río Cangrejal is not for everybody. The Class-III sectors could really be classified as III-plus, meaning you should have a bit of experience—or at least minimal fear—before undertaking the trip. A hike in the park to Pico Bonito itself is a nice alternative to the rafting trip.
Metropolitan and the Mosquitía
Day 1: Arrival in Tegucigalpa
Arrive in Tegucigalpa—most international flights arrive midday—and taxi to your hotel. You may have time for an afternoon of sightseeing in the capital's historic downtown. The cathedral, the Dolores church, and the Museum of National Identity are must-sees if you have an interest in the history of this sometimes-complex country.
Day 2: Valle de Ángeles and Tegucigalpa
The charming mountain town of Valle de Ángeles lies just under an hour east of the capital, and is a favorite day trip for visitor and resident alike. A few hours out here gives you an opportunity to grab lunch and browse the shops and stalls that populate the center of town. If you've not been able to shop elsewhere in Honduras, you'll still find souvenirs from around the country here. You'll appreciate long sleeves when you make the jaunt here; Valle lies about 1,000 feet higher than Tegucigalpa. Return to the capital in time for dinner.
Day 3: Tegucigalpa to Brus Laguna and Raista
An early-morning flight to the airstrip in Brus Laguna takes you from the big city to the wilderness of the Mosquitía in about an hour. Grab one of the waiting water taxis to the Raista Ecolodge, rustic to be sure, but still one of the region's best lodging options. An afternoon of horseback riding down to the coast gives you an entirely different Caribbean beach experience than Honduras's glitzier sections of coast farther west will give you, and most people who visit here wouldn't trade the isolation for anything. Take in an evening Miskito-dancing performance around a campfire.
Day 4: Raista and Belén
If you're up to it, grab an early-morning local water taxi west to Belén and the Laguna de Ibans. An all-day hike to the hamlet of Banaka takes you via rain forest, waterfalls, and ancient petroglyphs. Such an excursion is not for beginners, but does give you that day in the wilderness for which the Mosquitía is famous. An evening crocodile-caiman watch through the adjoining canals is always a crowd pleaser.
Day 5: Brus Laguna to Tegucigalpa to Comayagua
Catch an early-morning flight back to Tegucigalpa. Taxi to the bus terminal in the neighborhood of Comayagüela to grab a bus to Comayagua. (Note the difference: Comayagüela is the sprawling working-class neighborhood adjoining downtown Tegucigalpa—only visit to catch a bus—and Comayagua is Honduras's first capital and one of its premier colonial cities—it is worth visiting.) Spend the remainder of the day visiting Comayagua's four anchor churches and its wonderful Museum of Archaeology. The Hotel Colonial Casa Grande is the best lodging option, and dinner at Villa Real is the best dining choice for soaking in the town's colonial ambience.
Day 6: Comayagua to Tegucigalpa
Catch a bus back to the capital. (Once again, don't linger upon arrival in the Comayagüela neighborhood of the city and head right to your hotel.) Spend your last full day shopping: Tegucigalpa is Honduras's shopping-mall central but plenty of crafts and souvenirs are yours in the shops downtown and adjoining Colonia Palmira.
Day 7: Departure
Since most international flights depart the capital's Toncontín Airport at midday, you'll have a leisurely morning for breakfast at your hotel and a taxi to the airport.
Valle de Ángeles is at its most lively on weekends; if you can juggle your itinerary around to be there on Saturday or Sunday, you'll get the best feel for how the capitalinos enjoy their favorite weekend destination.
It is possible to visit Comayagua as a long day trip from Tegucigalpa, but spending the night gives you more time to explore the town at your leisure.
Brus Laguna can be reached by plane from La Ceiba, making the Caribbean city an option for beginning or ending your Mosquitía adventure, too.
The day of hiking to Banaka could be replaced with a half-day basic jungle survival course offered by local guides. It's not that you actually need such skills to visit the Mosquitía, but could you ask for a more distinctive body of knowledge to take back home as a souvenir?