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Honduras: Land of contrast and beauty

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Dardo Justino Rodríguez

Honduras is the second largest and most mountainous country in Central America, with a lengthy coastline on the mythical Caribbean Sea and an outlet to the Pacific on the Gulf of Fonseca. Every day, its four international airports welcome thousands of travelers who come to the country for business or pleasure, and when the time comes for those visitors to leave, almost invariably they promise to return.

This is because they have been captivated by the typical catracho (Honduran) magic, which manifests itself in the form of generous, natural hospitality, a varied and astonishing cuisine, and hotels that offer every comfort people have come to expect in the world today or friendly inns where life is simple and in close contact with nature. Moreover, the country’s magnificent mountain scenery, with waterfalls and evergreen forests, and its beaches and its reefs with their crystal-clear water where sea life can be observed without difficulty, are perfect settings for canoeing, zip lines, rafting, fishing, hiking and bird watching, to name but a few of the varied forms of entertainment available to locals and tourists alike.

Throughout the length and breadth of its varied terrain, Honduras boasts colonial villages and mountain trails where breathtaking landscapes appear round every corner. One example is Pico Bonito National Park, which overlooks, from the south, the port city of La Ceiba, rightly known as ‘Ceibita la Bella’ (‘Beautiful Little Ceiba’), although some people prefer to call it ‘The Bride of Honduras’.

Biodiversity abounds in the park, which is inhabited by armadillos, jaguars, wild boars, pacas, monkeys and toucans, not to mention a vast number of different species of birds, whose plumage delights the eye and whose singing brings joy to the ear. Because of the variety of animals, hiking is an exciting and amazing activity, one where a camera should always be at hand to capture a memento of the wildlife encountered.

46 rivers flow down to the Caribbean from the mountains, which reach heights of just over 2,400 meters above sea level. One of these rivers is the mighty Cangrejal, famous for its fast-flowing rapids, which make it perfect for kayaking and rafting. There is also the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Reserve, near La Ceiba and overlooking the sea, which is visited every day by locals and tourists who arrive in a rattling motor vehicle known as “la burra” which drives along the tracks of the old banana railroad.

At the Visitor Center in the village of Salado, where the river of the same name flows into the sea, tourists can hire motorboats or canoes and, with the help of a guide, penetrate into the maze of rivers and channels that cross the grasslands. There they will be able to see enormous caimans, scandalous howler (or white-faced) monkeys, playful raccoons, indifferent anteaters, green iguanas and garrobos, whose skin recalls the color of freshly roasted coffee.

The Garífuna village of Sambo Creek, east of ‘Ceibita la Bella’, is an ideal spot to savor the great variety of dishes on offer in this village of African origin. It is also the starting point for motorboats that take tourists to the beautiful Cochino Keys, on the route to the Bay Islands.

These keys are inhabited by Garífunas, and it is they who take visitors to swim, dive or fish in the translucent waters that surround them. Beyond the keys are the Bay Islands of Roatán, the biggest and the one with the most infrastructure, Utila, the smallest, which is visited mostly by young people who want to dive, fish, sail and row in the warm water, and Guanaja, the farthest from the mainland, which has no internal paths and on whose forested slopes stand numerous luxury mansions belonging to Hollywood stars or successful foreign and local members of the business community.

Roatán is an elongated, mountainous island with beaches and a warm, crystalclear sea, not to mention a marvelous coral reef on its seabed. It boasts every type of comfort, and its facilities include face-toface diving with sharks on the reef, paddleboarding, snorkeling and kayaking, and zip lines high up on its forested peaks. Roughly a hundred kilometers west of La Ceiba is the city of Tela, which stands on the bay of the same name. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone else, and is surrounded by beautiful, semi-virgin natural parks. In Jeannette Kawas Park, which is enclosed and has a wide buffer zone, the local inhabitants care for the native flora and fauna. Lancetilla Botanical Park, meanwhile, is a veritable haven of peace and calm, barely a few steps away from downtown Tela.

And Punta Izopo Park, at the eastern tip of the bay, is amazing not just for its lushness but also because various sports and leisure activities can be enjoyed in its mangrove swamps and on its lakes, such as canoeing and kayaking, bird watching, and observing all kinds of tropical animals. The same applies in all the parks in northern Honduras.

But still there is time for more amazement! If you venture further into the country, in a westerly direction towards the border with Guatemala, you come to the ruins of Copán, a Mayan city state. The small colonial town of Copán Ruinas, barely 12 km. from the frontier, is an ideal spot to relax. It can be toured on foot, by bike or scooter, or even better, by renting a ‘tuk tuk’, one of the small motorbike taxis that take tourists even to the entrance to Copán Archaeological Park.

This park can be visited individually or by hiring a guide, so you can hear its history and its legends. It’s a long walk and there’s no respite from the heat, so it’s a good idea to take plenty of water with you, and a good hat.

Part of Copán city state’s ancient splendor has been restored, enabling visitors to get a glimpse of what Mayan civilization was like through its buildings. Not to be missed are Rosalila Temple, the tunnels, the ball court and the ceremonial area. You will find history in every step you take, in the stones and in the surroundings themselves, where you are sure to come across the occasional mischievous, agile and curious white-faced monkey.

The capital, Tegucigalpa, is a large, cosmopolitan city beside which Hatillo Hill rises up. Behind this lies La Tigra National Park, zealously protected from encroaching civilization. A few kilometers from the city are Santa Lucia and Valle de Ángeles, small, cheerful and welcoming colonial villages whose houses line steep, cobbled streets where tourists mingle with the locals.

Handicrafts are a source of income for the inhabitants, notable among which are wood carvings and pottery. I have attempted to give a brief summary of the beauty and attractions of Honduras, but no words or photographs can accurately reflect the lushness of its vegetation and scenery or the warmth of its people. Only by visiting it can the mystery of this special and beautiful Central American country be understood.

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