basic ingredients Bountiful Bay Islands: In addition to direct international flights and cruise ships landing on the island of Roatan, daily air service links the international airport at San Pedro Sula and the domestic airport at La Ceiba to this pristine archipelago that covers about 92 sq. miles along the world’s second largest barrier reef. Diving and snorkeling facilities draw beginners and experts to Roatan, the largest of the islands and the holy grail of scuba diving with 40 or more dive sites. While every kind of dive experience is here for the asking, sea kayakers, water skiers, anglers, snorkelers and beach lovers can also enjoy Roatan’s seaside wonderland. Other attractions include the famous “dolphin experience” at Anthony’s Key Resort, and there are botanical gardens to tour, canopy tours to zipline along, fishing villages to savor and fine beaches to find one’s place in the sun.
Copan, City of Kings: Located in western Honduras, Copan is among the most spectacular Mayan cities in the Americas, accessible by road from San Pedro Sula. Its main ceremonial center covers about 75 acres with pyramids, temples, ball courts and dozens of intricately carved stelae portraying those who ruled this great city between the fifth and ninth centuries. The history of the Kings of Copan is recorded on the Hieroglyphic Staircase, and treasures found in the ruins are housed onsite in the brilliantly designed Museum of Sculpture. The ancient Copan is one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Honduras (the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve is the other). Visitors stay in the pretty, laid-back town of Copan Ruinas, a good base from which to spend some quality time at the Macaw Mountain Bird Reserve & Nature Park, go horseback riding and dip in local hot springs.
The North Coast: La Ceiba is the gateway to many of the country’s most important natural wonderlands; nature lovers and birdwatchers are going to find the North Coast a superstar region. Many visitors base themselves in La Ceiba, taking day trips for class III and IV whitewater rafting on the Cangrejal. Others opt for a guided boat trip to explore the Cuero y Saldo Wildlife Refuge, a protected wildlife zone replete with manatees, crocodiles, howler and whiteface monkeys and birdlife galore. Also in this corner of Honduras is the Lancetilla Botanical Garden, the second largest botanical garden in the world. And Pico Bonito National Park, which embraces seven ecosystems between sea level and 7,000 ft., is a lush venue for rainforest hikes.
adding some spice The northern highlands, or the lands of the Lenca people, are mostly undiscovered and certainly untrampled. The most scenic access is overland through the cloud forests from Copan Ruinas up to the charming colonial town of Gracias—optimum time here is during the Guancasco or community festival held Dec. 12-16, coinciding with the Festival of Santa Lucia.
La Mosquitia or the Moskito Coast is perhaps the most adventurous cultural experience available in Honduras. Access is by 4WD vehicles, mule back, or dugout pipantes along the rivers of the Rio Platano Biosphere. Expeditions require a week’s time and good physical condition.
new products on the shelf Roatan Charter is offering a 7-night dive package to Plantation Beach Resort on a private island in the Cayos Cochinos Marine Biological Reserve—geographically part of the Bay Islands. Unspoiled and undiscovered, this intimate dive resort accommodates a maximum of 24 guests. For those not diving, there is hiking in the tropical forest, snorkeling the coral reefs or exploring the bays by kayak. For divers, the rate is $825 pp dbl, including accommodations, three buffet-style meals daily, three boat dives daily, unlimited shore diving, tanks, weights, belt and snorkel equipment. The non-diver rate is $697, and divers staying two weeks dive free. Call (800) 292-8932 or visit roatan.com.
Copan Ruinas Airport, meanwhile, is under construction 30 miles away from town and the Mayan site; it is scheduled to open next year. While small plane air service slated for this airport will make access easier from many points in Honduras, this is a project that has experienced many delays.
Capital city: Tegucigalpa
International airports: La Mesa International (San Pedro Sula); Toncontin International (Tegucigalpa); Roatan Airport
Nonstop air service from the U.S.: American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Spirit Airlines, Taca, US Airways
Domestic airlines: Atlantic, Islena, Sosa
Entry requirements: Valid U. S. passport and onward or roundtrip ticket
International departure tax: $34
Tourist information: (800) 410-9608