Honduras is step by step building a name for itself through scuba diving and eco-tourism adventures in Central America for a fraction of the cost of some its more famous neighbours. I spent 2 weeks in March exploring solo some of the highlights of this beautiful country covered by green forests, mountains and plantations. Suffering from some bad reputations related to security issues, I met some of the loveliest people who were eager to help me and show me the best of their country. For almost 2 weeks, I travelled by bus and ferry across Honduras and walked alone in two of its biggest cities. In this article, I show the best itinerary, what to do and where to stay for an enjoyable, adventurous 2 week holiday in Honduras. The total number of days makes less than 15 days as like me you might need time to travel to Honduras with a connection flight and arrive 1 day before in San Pedro Sula to take your return flight the next day.
1 – La Ceiba & Pico Bonito National Park: 3 days
To go scuba diving in Utila, La Ceiba is a mandatory stop. Because of the schedule of the buses and the ferry, one night in both directions was necessary during my itinerary. I had the incredible surprise to discover that less than an hour away from the city centre of La Ceiba you could stay and have fun in one of the most beautiful national park of Honduras: Pico Bonito. This was the first step of my trip right after 2 flights and a bus from San Pedro Sula. I arrived in the heart of Pico Bonito in the evening, after a good night sleep with the sound of the birds and I woke in a lush jungle paradise. I couldn’t dream of a better place to fight the tiredness of the journey and the jet lag (8 hours of difference with Europe).
On my second visit to La Ceiba, before heading to Copan, I decided to stay in town to look for anything worth a visit as my bus the next morning was leaving at 5.15am. The Parque Central and the Cathedral were not incredible, but the Paseo de Los Ceibeños was.
What to do in La Ceiba?
- Hiking: Hiking to “El Bejuco”, an 80 m high waterfall was my initial plan, but because of the heavy tropical rain during the night, the walking path would have been too muddy to make it back on time to the lodge to take my ferry in the afternoon at La Ceiba Pier. If you can, do it, it looks like a fantastic walk in the rain forest.
- Rafting Rio Cangrejal: I wasn’t crazy about rafting since my first experience in Thailand that was way too easy and short, but here in Pico Bonito, we had full instruction and did rafting for at least 2 hours. On the quite portions of the river Cangrejal, it was also an amazing way fo touring Pico Bonito National Park. At least, I could see the waterfall from the boat, and I even had a toucan flying above my head.
- Sunset at Muelle Fiscal & Paseo de Los Ceibeños: On my way back from Utila and before boarding my bus to go to Copan, I had to stay another night in La Ceiba. I wanted to see by myself if it was worth the visit. The centre of the city didn’t impress me, but I followed my hostel advice and went to Paseo of Los Ceibeños for the sunset. It was beautiful, and the place is commemorating the history of La Ceiba as the primary port for the fruit export business through a series of mural paintings. On the new wooden pier that replaced the old pier (Muelle Fiscal) where bananas and pineapples were loaded on the cargo ships, families now come for a walk and buy sweets to their children while watching the sunset. It was my favourite hidden gem of my trip to Honduras.
Where to stay in La Ceiba?
Omega Eco-Lodge: With a choice of dorms for 15 USD or private cabins with a view from 35 USD, this is the perfect place to rest and enjoy Pico Bonito activities in the jungle. I had dinner, breakfast and lunch there and every time the food was delicious and at an excellent price. I recommend the catracho breakfast and the anafre (red bean puree with cheese served with homemade crispy tortillas) for a light dinner with a fresh Salva Vida beer for typical Honduran meal time.
Hostel 1877: I read everywhere it was the best hostel in La Ceiba and I can understand why. It’s immaculate, they give you bed sheets, a towel and they have a beautiful and secured garden to relax. They also organise many tours all around La Ceiba if you need some help during your trip. However, even if they said the area was pretty safe, I still felt kind of weird about the fence with barbed wire all around the hostel. Dorms (female only available) are at 12 USD per night. If hostels are not your thing, here is a charming address near the Paseo de Los Ceibeños.
2 – Utila: 5 days
The main goal of my trip to Honduras didn’t disappoint me. I got everything I was expecting and even more. Scuba diving was good with excellent visibility, and I finally made my whale shark dream come true. But beyond achieving my scuba diving goals, I just spent a fantastic time in Utila with lots to see and to taste! While in the Bay Islands, most visitors visit Roatan, but I never felt like I missed something by only visiting Utila. I heard because of the cruise ships visiting the island of Roatan, the influx of luxury tourism has made the island way more expensive than Utila which kept its backpacker feeling. Maybe I wished I had an extra day (I only stayed 4 days) to visit Cayos Cochinos, the two tiny members of the Bay Islands which are a protected area. Uninhabited, they are a tropical paradise to spend a relaxing day.
What to do in Utila?
- Scuba diving: With many dive sites in 30 m visibility water, beginners like advanced divers will find something exciting for them thanks to shallow reefs and deep walls. Many French angelfish, puffer fish and moray eels to spot while if you feel adventurous enough, you can go on a bioluminescent dark dive after sunset with Utila Dive Center.
- Snorkelling with whale sharks & dolphins: Every time I went on a dive, the captain of Utila Dive Center boat was looking either for whale sharks or dolphins. The results? In only my 3 days of diving, I could snorkel with both. Lifetime memory!
- Hiking: Interested to know more about Utila ecosystem? Why not joining the nature hike organised every month by Utila Dive Center with Kanahau Conservation NGO for the members of the eco program. In addition to the 360° view from Pumpkin Hill, you will learn a lot of the endemic species of Utila and pay a visit to the adorable bats of the cave located near Kanahau Centre.
Where to stay in Utila?
Mango Inn: Located in the heart of the main village of Utila in a lush garden by a swimming pool, the Mango Inn offers both dorms and private double rooms. If you take any training package with Utila Dive Center, you will have some free nights in the dorm, or you can stay in a private room for a small extra fee. Even if you don’t dive, this is still a perfect place to stay with many amenities and local restaurants without the noise of Utila’s main street. The also have their own restaurant which is open when everything else is closed on Mondays.
3 – Copan: 4 days
From my very first moment in the small town of Copan Ruinas, it was love at first sight. Dedicated to tourism thanks to the UNESCO World Heritage Mayan Archaeological site of the same name, the town has a colonial style with cute cobblestone streets and many restaurants. It’s the place I felt the safest walking by myself at night to digest from appreciating a bit too much all the delicious food that is available in Copan Ruinas. I came for the Mayan history, but there is so much more to discover in the green region of the Honduran Cowboys between the cattle field and coffee plantations. Copan Ruinas is only 12 km away from the border with Guatemala. I only stayed 2 days in Copan but it was a bit too intense, I recommend you to stay for 4 days to enjoy it.
What to do in Copan?
- Copan Ruinas Mayan archaeological site: Located just a 5-minute tuk-tuk ride out of Copan Ruinas town, this major Mayan archaeological site must be on your list if you are a fan of ancient history. After my visits of Teotihuacan, Palenque, Chichen Itza, Tulum in Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala, I was looking forward to visiting Copan, nicknamed the Athens of America. The site is not as impressive in terms of height compared to the other I listed above, however, the quality of the statues and high relief is incomparable in artistic quality and historical importance. The hieroglyphic stairs are the highlight of the site with 63 carved steps telling the entire story of the Copan dynasty. The stairs are featured on the bill of 1 Lempira. With my guide of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, we discussed a lot about what Copan teaches us about the structure of the Mayan society, its fall and how we can relate about what might happen to our modern civilisation. The total cost of the archaeological site, the tunnels and the museum is 37 USD. If you are not a complete nerd about Mayan history, you can skip the tunnels and save 15 USD, but don’t miss the museum. The museum is beautifully arranged made with the full-scale reproduction in colour of the Rosalila Temple at its centre (original can be seen by visiting the tunnels dug by the archaeologists) and many delicate original statues. A big highlight of Copan Ruinas is the wildlife present on the archaeological site, especially the flock of colourful parrots flying around. More information: www.ihah.hn (in Spanish only) or whc.unesco.org
- El Puente Mayan archaeological site: Way less famous, the Mayan archaeological site of El Puente is another must see if you want to see a beautiful pyramid in a preserved natural environment. Located 1 hour driving north from Copan Ruinas, you will need to organise an exclusive tour with a driver (your hotel will gladly do it for you). It’s way worth it if you combine it with the coffee plantation tour (see below) which is half way.
- Coffee plantation tour: The coffee farm “Finca Santa Isabel” is half way (30-minute drive) between Copan Ruinas and the site of El Puente. 3 options: you can just stop by for coffee and cake, and have a look at the coffee beans drying process. You can go on a 2-hour tour to learn the complete process of coffee production from the plant to your cup, the 4-hour tour includes a gourmet lunch. More information: cafehonduras.com
- Natural hot spring Mayan Spa: When I heard about it I just signed for the tour right away. I’m a huge fan of hot springs since my trips to Iceland and Japan. When I heard in the jungle of Copan there was a natural hot spring mixed with the fresh water of a torrent to create several pools at different temperatures, I knew I needed to try the “Mayan Spa” experience. For 22 USD, I had the transportation included with pick up at my hotel at 1 pm and the entrance. At my arrival, I added 500 Lempiras (about 21 USD / 20€ / £17) for a 30-minute massage above the 90°C waterfall. I don’t know if it’s because a customer didn’t show up but it lasted at least 15 minutes more. We had 3 hours to enjoy the different areas of this jungle spa before heading back to Copan Ruinas town. It takes approximately 50 minutes to go to Aguas Termales by minibus from Copan Ruinas. Make sure to book at least the day before. More information: lunajaguarspa.com
Where to stay in Copan?
Don Udo’s Hotel: I couldn’t dream of a better place to end my adventure in Honduras. While I was exploring a big chunk of the region of Copan in just 2 days, I enjoyed staying in such a charming colonial style hotel. The hotel is very comfortable and offers many corners where you can enjoy reading a book, having a drink or like me editing your pictures. The view from the top terrace offers a beautiful view over the town of Copan Ruinas especially at sunrise with the fog on the nearby hills.
How to travel around in Honduras?
Travelling to and around Honduras was cheap, safe and comfy thanks to the bus network of Hedman Alas. There are many solutions to fly to Utila or Roatan, but the cheapest way is to fly to San Pedro Sula and travel by bus to La Ceiba. For less than the price of the return flight San Pedro Sula/Utila, you can tour around Honduras. La Ceiba is 3 hours away from San Pedro Sula by bus. Copan Ruinas is 8 hours away from La Ceiba including a 2-hour stopover at San Pedro Sula Bus Terminal. The buses were not the fanciest I’ve seen, but seats were really comfy, I had a snack and a drink each time, and the staff was helpful. Just don’t forget to bring something warm to cover yourself, the air-conditioning was too cold for me.
Special Tip 1: Hedman Alas website is entirely in Spanish but you can contact them by email, and they will organise your entire trip for you in English.
Special Tip 2: For 1000 Lempiras, you can get the Promodias card with Hedman Alas, it will give you a special discount (up to 25%) on your bus and ferry tickets, scuba diving with UDC, accommodation listed in the article.
Safety tips in Honduras
As said in my introduction, tourism in Honduras suffers from safety concerns. Given that the situation can be judged as not really good in Europe at the moment, today, security is a very relative concept (While I was flying to Honduras, an attack occurred in Paris Orly Airport, and during my stay, another happened in London). If I can live a normal life in Paris why people in Honduras couldn’t too (I do understand the nature of the threat is different). Nevertheless, I decided to take notice of the different warnings I read and prepared myself in consequence for this solo trip. I had a fixed itinerary (the one described above) that I shared with my relatives, and I promised to keep in touch via WhatsApp daily. Now that I travel with more and more pricey gear for my underwater photography, I also decided to upgrade to a safer backpack. I chose the Riut 25 backpack. It’s a very smart backpack which has zips and pockets only the opposite way, against your back. In the end, I never find myself in a situation of potential pickpockets. I felt the safety features of the Riut backpack were more useful in Paris train to the airport than in Honduras! The large space I had inside combined with the waterproof materials of the bag were what seduced me the most during my trip.
I never had one single issue during my solo trip, even by pushing the boundaries by walking alone in La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula [note: People in the streets were clearly surprised to see me. Honestly, you don’t need to do the same as there wasn’t anything interesting. Do it only if like me, you want to see by yourself what Honduras is like beyond the touristy areas]. Once again common sense is the most important tip, but I’d like to share a few more:
- Don’t walk at night by yourself in cities. Sunset is when you’re supposed to take a taxi back to your hotel/hostel
- Try to know at least a bit of Spanish: whether if was when my bus arrived late in La Ceiba and I needed a phone call, or when we discussed with my taxi driver in San Pedro Sula where and how I should take my taxi back to my hotel, getting information in Spanish and creating a friendly conversation definitely helped. In the Bay Islands, because of their British Colony history, everyone speaks English, then no problem!
- Try to pre-book your taxi with your hostel/hotel as much as you can, don’t hail a cab in the street.
- Travel in Honduras with reliable transportation companies. Hedman Alas uses secured terminals and always ask to show an ID before getting on board.
On the positive side, I’d like to highlight something: At the end of my trip, I realised I never had to bargain anything to pay the fair price (I always tried to get the information before), people never tried to trick me on change or rip me off in anyway. The honesty of shop owners, tuk-tuk drivers and anyone working in tourism was unusual compared to many countries I’ve been before.
Best time to visit Honduras
I chose to visit Honduras based on my dream of seeing whale sharks. As the peak season is supposed to be between March/April and September/October, I chose mid-March which happened to be just before Easter holidays so lower touristic season too.
Generally speaking, Honduras has a tropical climate with a wet and a dry season. There are differences between the islands and the mainland, but since I was looking at scuba diving, the season of the Bay Islands led my choice. The dry season along the Caribbean coast from February to June is to be preferred. The rainy season is between August and December.
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