From my last stop in Guatemala, Rio Dulce, I took a bus towards Honduras, unfortunately it was only possible to take it as far as the border, once there my bag was thrown off and the driver signalled for me to start walking, I collected my bag and made my way across a rather low-key border crossing which looked more like a roadside cafe than an official entrance to another country. I managed to bargain an excellent exchange rate for my Guatemalan Quetzales into Honduran Lempira, strolled through security, and hopped aboard another collectivo full of locals going about their daily commute, despite my apprehensions after stepping off the bus, this wasn’t the worst border crossing I have been to by a long shot and although the collectivo was a tight squeeze, it was only a short ride to my next destination, Copan Ruinas.
Copan Ruinas is a quiet town in the hills to the West of the country, it is famous for its incredible Mayan Ruins found in the jungle nearby. It wasn’t initially on my list of places to visit but a few people I had met in Antigua recommended it as a stop off en route to Utila – where I would be taking my Open Water diving course. I had booked a couple of nights accommodation at Iguana Azul hostel and when I arrived I soon found that I was the only person staying there and a quick walk to the main square and back, I soon found that it wasn’t just my hostel that was eerily quiet.
The following morning, I enjoyed an amazing breakfast with some of the best coffee I had sampled so far on my trip, coupled with some fantastic views and some glorious weather, I was beginning to enjoy the calm away from the storm of the often crowded backpacker trail that you quite often find yourself on when travelling in Central America.
The main reason for my visit to Copan was of course to see the Mayan Ruins and they really didn’t disappoint. Although immersed in the jungle, the ruins have been wonderfully restored and the paths and trees directly surrounding the main site are perfectly manicured and it is just a beautiful place to visit. Again, when I was there I pretty much had the place to myself, so I could explore to my hearts content without having to barge my way through swarms of tourists on a day trip from a big city – like you would be doing if you visit Chichen Itza or Tulum close by to Cancun, Mexico.
Another thing that makes Copan Ruinas so special is the incredible wildlife, the trees are full of bright red Macaws and other types of birds and a quick walk through the windy footpaths in the jungle and you can find giant spiders and creepy-crawlies everywhere.
After my visit to the Ruins I walked back into town for lunch and then caught a tuk-tuk up to Macaw Mountain, a sanctuary for Macaw’s and other species of birds found in Central America. The walk around Macaw Mountain took around 2 hours, it’s set in a stunning location with lots of different species such as Toucans and Owls, but the main attraction and motivation for opening the sanctuary was to help rehabilitate and reintroduce Macaws back into the wild and from what I could see, they are doing a fantastic job.
Another noteworthy mention for my time spent in Copan was, oddly enough, my visit to a German style brewery found in the centre of town. Sol De Copan brews German style beers onsite and their fantastic Hefeweizen was one of the best beers I have sampled anywhere! The charismatic German owner was extremely proud of his home brew and having only intended to drink a few beers, we were quickly provided with a top up as soon as our glasses were empty, 7-8 pints later I can hardly remember how I got back to the hostel, but one thing I won’t be forgetting in a hurry is having to wake up at 4:30am the next morning to catch my ride towards Utila….why do I do this to myself?!!!
Hangover aside, the journey towards Utila from Copan Ruinas wasn’t too bad, around 7-8 hours in a brand new air-conditioned minibus, this is as good as it gets in Latin America, so I had no complaints. To get to the island of Utila, you first have to stop at the port town of Le Ceiba where you can then catch a ferry. At the ferry terminal, it was strange to hear more of the locals speaking English than Spanish – the islands off of Honduras are more Caribbean than Latin American – and the people catching the ferry out to the islands were a mix of backpackers heading to the islands to check out the diving or locals either heading out to the islands for a holiday or on a return trip to the mainland to pick up supplies.
Arriving on the Island of Utila, you are instantly approached by reps from seemingly every dive school on the island, trying to offer you the best deal, I actually had no clue where I wanted to go so I was a prime target! Luckily though, I had met a couple of lads on the boat on the way over and they had heard good things about Underwater Vision Dive Centre, I didn’t need much persuading so we all made our way there.
Having signed up for the Open Water course – PADI’s 4 day beginners course – with Underwater Vision, which included accommodation for a grand total of £185, we were due to start the course early the next day. Many people travelling around Latin America will mention how Utila is one of the cheapest places to learn to dive and I would find it hard to disagree.
The course was great fun and our group all had a blast. None of the exercises were too difficult and for me the biggest challenge was getting used to breathing with the oxygen tank and the occasional difficulty equalising when diving deeper, but these minor things aside I loved every second of it and the reef surrounding the Honduran islands is stunning.
On my penultimate day in Utila, we formed a group and decided to visit one of the many small islands near Utila. We stocked up on beers and snacks and paid a set fee for a local with a speedboat to take us to a deserted island. We spent nearly a whole day playing drinking games whilst chilling in the sun on our very own island, kind of like castaway but with beers and friends…and food and a way of getting home….ok, nothing like castaway! It was a great way to finish my time in Utila.
After Utila, I left Honduras and made my way south towards Nicaragua.