After a few days in Antigua Guatemala, we agreed it was time to move on. Our hostel in Antigua, Tropicana Hostel, was able to assist us in booking a shuttle to the town of Copan, Honduras, which was about a six hour drive and departed at the wonderful hour of 4am.
Copan is only thirty minutes past the border of Honduras, and is a town based around a Mayan archaeological site simply known as ‘Copan Ruinas’. Our hostel was called ‘Iguana Azul’ (Blue Iguana). It was clean, simple, and owned by an expat couple who ran the neighbouring cafe, which we indulged in for almost every meal. The coffee was grown locally, as was most of the produce. It was wonderful!
Whilst staying in Copan, we visited a Scarlet Macaw breeding and research facility, called Macaw Mountain. It began when illegal wildlife traffickers were intercepted and found to be smuggling twenty Scarlet Macaws (the national bird of Honduras) that were initially stolen from the wild and kept in captivity to be sold in the illegal pet trade.
The government organised for them to be released and cared for at the archaeological site in Copan by a team of researchers and carers, and the birds have since been breeding on site despite many complications and health issues they received from their time in captivity. It was a devastating situation that they seem to have turned into an opportunity for education and research.
There were also some other bird species on exhibit there that were captive, some in aviaries and some free-ranging. They seemed to be very well looked after and we enjoyed getting an up close look at them. I often think about the facility and wonder how they’re going, and look forward to learning of their progress over the years.
On our second full day in Copan, we went an a long bumpy ride inland to the dense jungle of Agua Caliente to visit the ‘Luna Jaguar Hot Springs’.
There is a variety of different temperature springs available, as well as mud baths and hydromassage falls. We spent about two hours here relaxing and taking in the lush surroundings.
The next day, we packed up and decided to journey through Honduras and across the border to Nicaragua. There aren’t too many ‘safe’ places for tourists to be in Honduras, aside from the Copan region and the Caribbean islands of Roatan and Utila, which we’d decided against visiting.
We did some research and determined that our best option for such a long journey was to catch a ‘TicaBus’ which is kind of like Central Americas version of Greyhound buses.
They also provided assistance with border crossings which was a relief to us as those were usually the most stressful of times.
The only concern was that in order to get to the nearest TicaBus depot that provided services to Nicaragua, we had to travel to a city called San Pedro Sula in north-western Honduras. At the time, this city was known as the ‘murder capital of the world‘, meaning it had the highest rate of murder per capita, with more than three people being murdered each day on average in that city alone. It has since been overtaken by Caracas in Venezuela and Acapulco in Mexico, but still maintains its violent reputation.
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Honduras.
“Criminals, acting both individually and in gangs, in and around certain areas of Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and La Ceiba engage in murder, extortion, and other violent crimes. About 70% of U.S. citizen homicides since 2010 occurred in these urban areas. San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa rank as two of the most violent cities in the world.”
We arrived at the bus station in a shopping mall in San Pedro Sula in the early afternoon. As soon as we got off the bus, we were approached by multiple men offering taxi services and accomodation. One man in particular was trying pretty hard, asking us where we needed to go and saying he could take us anywhere. It was a little nerve-wracking even though this had happened to us everywhere we had been in Central America so far – it was just that we knew this cities reputation so were a little uneasy. We politely declined their offers and started trying to find timetables and any info on when the next bus to Nicaragua would be.
The TicaBus booth was closed and wasn’t opening until the early hours of the following morning so we were a bit out of luck in terms of finding any legitimate information. We decided to find some wifi so started heading toward the food court section of the mall, realising along the way that there were soldiers all throughout the shopping mall with AK-47’s, seemingly on patrol. We didn’t know whether to be relieved or nervous about them. A fast food pizza joint in the food court had wifi, so we started looking for info on buses when someone approached us asking for money. We declined nervously. The whole situation was getting increasingly uncomfortable.
We found a semi-legitimate looking website that claimed there was a bus from there to Leon, Nicaragua departing at 4am, so we clung on to that hope and agreed to find a hostel and return in the morning. So off we went, back to the taxi guys, much to their amusement. We spoke to the one who had been particularly interested in us when we first got off the bus. We said the name of the hostel, he nodded and gestured to follow him. His taxi was merely a regular car with a piece of cardboard on the dashboard that had Taxi written in permanent marker.
The drive went smoothly and we were at our hostel – La Hamaca – within 15 minutes. Our driver seemed to know the hostel manager really well and they asked us if we needed a ride to the bus early in the morning. We told them yes and he promised he would return at 3:30am to collect us. We honestly didn’t know for sure if he would, but he did and we needless to say, we tipped him very generously.
In hindsight, I regret judging the city so early and being fearful whilst there. I wonder how I could have improved my experience – If I wasn’t so cautious with every local I met, I might have been able to interact more, and perhaps learn more about their city and their lives. But on the other hand, tourists are definitely targeted there and especially vulnerable, so being alert and cautious is necessary. Overall, I’m super grateful to have had such a positive and safe experience there and vow to relax a little in any similar situations during future travelling adventures.