Th, 03.08. Santa Ana, SV-Border Crossing- Copán Ruinas, HN
As I was still doing the Ruta de las Flores in Santa Ana on Thursday and the shuttle only left late in the afternoon I spontaneously decided after a usual price calculation to take a shuttle to Copán (after the scenic one in Costa Rica my only second one). $25 first seemed to be quite a lot but the chicken buses would also already have cost me $15 plus I would have needed another night in Santa Ana as I would have had to start early in the morning - so moneywise it was about the same but the bus was for sure more comfortable and with roughly 5h also a lot quicker with 2 border crossings in total (the route was via Guatemala). Via Metapan we went to the border Anguiatu/La Ermita to Guatemala (there was again no stamp for El Salvador) and then to the border post of El Florido to Honduras. El Salvador and Guatemala were both without fees, Honduras charged again a $3 entrance fee.
Welcome to Honduras! :)
As one of the most interesting, inspiring and untouched countries in Central America this country unfortunately also counts amongst the most dangerous ones with the highest crime rate - it is the second poorest country after Nicaragua, with more than half of the population living below the poverty line and San Pedro de Sula in the North-West has only been classified as the most violent city in the world for the 3rd time in a row in 2015 - unfortunately you can't expect a lot of help from the police either. Both locals as well as guide books warn of taking buses which are frequently attacked especially in and around San Pedro Sula and the capital so that there are also soldiers in many buses - they advise to always take taxis to and from the terminals and not to use buses after dark - a big problem as you rely on them as a backpacker. The political and economical situation is unstable and the country faces constant violence of the drug gangs ('maras'). The capital is Tegucigalpa, currency Hondurian Lempira.
As I am not interesting in diving (the Caribbean Bay Islands with Utila and Roatán are super for that and also really cheap) and also have to literally dance on a wedding in around 4 weeks' time ;) I thus decided to only visit the famous ruins of Copán and to eat myself 2-3 days through Honduras' specialities :P
The day is best started with 'Licuado', a type of fruit smoothie often served with bananas and cereals and thus quite filling. Similar to all other countries lunch is again the better and cheaper option, especially in the comedores with rice, beans, tortilla and meat. The most popular street snacks (and due to its similarity to Pupusas quite nice) are 'Baleadas' - white-flour tortillas filled with beans, cheese and cream (or any other type you can possibly think of) but the best version is with avocado. Apart from that there are more rice-free specialities such as 'anafre' (cheese, beans or meat or everything together fondue), 'tapado' (vegetable stew often served with meat or fish), 'guisado' (spicy chicken stew), 'sopa de caracol' (slug stew with coconut milk, spices, potatoes and vegetables).
The population is again quite Catholic and conservative, children usually stay close to their parents; though many of them move to the USA and send money back home nowadays. Hondurians are super friendly and in general quite happy about people willing to visit their country and enjoy telling where they are from. 80-90% are Ladino, a mixture of Spanish and Indigo with the rest being Indian minorities such as Maya Chorti in Copán.
Copán Ruinas itself is a cute town with cobblestone streets, red-tiled roofs surrounded by green hills and is of course especially known for its proximity to the famous Copán Ruins. Despite all it is still untouched, quiet relaxing and apart from the main square with its church and archaelogical museum also offers many interesting hikes and a bird park in its surroundings.
In spite of the shuttle we only arrived super late around 6:30pm and my first question about typical food immediately brought me to a local restaurant 'Buenas Baleadas' where I enjoyed the most typical dish here: Baleada sencilla - white-flour Tortilla filled with beans, cheese and cream; delicious but heavy and I definitively prefer the corn pupusas ;) I also had again a local experience with an elder Hondurian offering me parts of his typical food of tortillas, rice, beans, cheese and fried plaintains as well as telling me a lot about the country and its people ;)
Fr, 04.08. Ruinas de Copán
I directly went to the very popular but a bit remote Copán Ruins the next morning which are a World Heritage Site and the 2nd most visited destination in Honduras after the Bay Islands. They are surrounded by nice green hills and jungle mountains a 20min walk outside from Copán Town and were built between 250-900 AD, the Mayas main time with the highest urban density. It is one of the most interesting Maya sites - not in terms of size (Tikal in Guatemala and Chichén Itzá in Mexico are a lot bigger and more impressive) but rather due to its incredible artscraft having survived several centuries. It was once the most important city state of the Southern Maya world and also a lot bigger and more impressive than expected.
To avoid the crowds, school classes and heat I started again quite early and was typical German with being at 8am as the first visitor in front of the gate - but thus was rewarded with cooler weather, shade and above all ruins without people :) I took my time and needed around 5h to see Plaza Central & Gran Plaza, El Juego de Pelota, La Escalinata Jeroglífica, Temple 11, Acrópolis, Popol-Na as well as East & West Court. I liked La Escalinata Jeroglífica the most, it is the longest inscripted staircase not only in the Mayan but in the whole world and the reason for the site having been added to the World Heritage. Only the first 15 steps are original, the rest (I counted 45 more) are stone repiclas. Based on the difficult language with 2 dialects and 800-1000 characters only the first 15 stairs have been translated. They are heavily protected, since the 70s the public is not allowed to walk on them anymore and a big canvas is used to protect it against weather such as sun and rain - btw, I got all this info for free by using my Spanish skills listening to all the teachers of the many school classes :P
However, the best surprise were the many red and super noisy scarlet macaws, Honduras' national bird and together with the Quetzal very important in the Maya culture. They can be found in many Mayan pictures, stones and signs, the feathers of this sacred bird orned the hair of the wealthy people, were used as currency and represented with its many colours the God of the Sky between heaven and earth. Macaws stick to their partner for their whole life and can especially be found in the tropical forests from the South of Mexico until the Amazonas in South America.
After that I still discovered a Nature Trail - a welcoming 30min hike following the Maya, super calm through forest with many butterflies and birds. Cacao represented the drink of the Gods in Mayan culture and was traded for jade, sea shells as well as Quetzal feathers. The famous Ceiba tree is a symbol for the tree of life - the roots go all the way to the underworld, the trunk represents the current world and the brenches stretch all the way to heaven.
I then still read all the information and had a look at the handicrafts before enjoying super good delicious typical food amongst locals at some street stands. I had a Baleada with avocado for only L15 (55€ct) as well as Enchiladas, toasted corn tortillas with chicken, salad and cheese for only L10 (36€ct) - super yummy and I was taught by the locals how to properly eat them ;)
Well filled up I then went to Las Selpturas around 1:30pm, over 100 buildings and 200 tombs incl priests and shaman 1.5km further East of Copán and with another nature or river trail along Río Copán also nice and shady.
Back in town I went to the market, walked around the cobblestone streets and then only relaxed in the hammock after a super exhausting, a lot of stairs climbing but very interesting and nice day :)
So far I thought I would rush a bit now but there are always worse cases :P
On the shuttle I thus met 3 Norwegians visiting 8 countries in 4 weeks (!!!) from Colombia to Mexico; an American travelling from Copán to Antigua and from there immediately to Flores all the way up quite far in the north of the country (without visiting beautiful Antigua or doing sth there); but the absolute hit were a Dutch and British travelling around 10h with chicken buses from Santa Ana to Copán arriving around 5pm and already leaving around 7am the next morning to the Caribbean coast for another 10h - without even seeing the town and incredibly also skipping the main attraction of the ruins, totally crazy :P
Due to a lack in time and security issues Honduras was only a quick stop for me - the landscapes were beautiful, the ruins impressive, the people nice helpful and I prefer Pupusas instead of Baleadas :) Financially I was with 19,33€/d able to stay below my daily budget of 33€/d.Read more
V. CA Honduras/W1, 2d: Copán ENAugust 4
Th, 03.08. Santa Ana, SV-Border Crossing- Copán Ruinas, HN