John Dupuis has been working in and championing tourism in Honduras for decades. Here he talks about the best places to visit in Honduras for someone coming for the first time.
Central America is a small region with seven tiny countries crammed into it. Because of its size, many people think the Central American countries are the same.
But each Central American country is unique, with its own special attractions. And in my opinion, Honduras has more attractions than anywhere else.
Because I live and work in Honduras, you could say I’m biased, and I suppose I am a little. But Honduras is special and offers many things to do that you can’t in other Central American countries.
Honduras’s biggest asset as a travel destination is its people.
Catrachos – as their neighbors call us – are friendly, hospitable souls who will go out of their way for you. Their genuine smiles will make you feel welcome, and they will respect you for what you are.
Honduras has the largest English-speaking population in Central America.
This means it’ll be easier for you to communicate in English here, especially in the Bay Islands and on the Caribbean coast.
Part of this comes from the American banana companies that came to Honduras in the late 1800s and early 1900s. These companies turned Honduras into the first real Banana Republic in the world. (US Author O Henry first coined the term “Banana Republic” in Trujillo, Honduras in 1900.)
Nowadays, it’s tourism that can propel Honduras towards a brighter future. By traveling to Honduras, you can help create a brighter future for the country and its population!
The best places to visit in Honduras for a first-time traveler are along the corridor between the town of Copan Ruinas and the Bay Islands of Honduras.
Copan is home to the most artistic Mayan Archaeological Park in the world. It’s also the most studied Mayan site, which means we know a lot about who ruled this city-state and when. This comprehensive knowledge is a dream come true for archeology and history lovers.
There are four different museums in Copan Ruinas, each one offering a unique vision of life here in pre-Colombian times.
But there is much more to Copan than just the Archaeological Park.
Imagine a colonial town with cobblestone streets and red tile roofs. Boutique hotels and inexpensive hostels coexist here. Chic coffee shops and gourmet restaurants offer a variety of foods. Life is good in Copan Ruinas and you’ll feel the charm of Central America at its best.
Copan is also in the midst of some of the best coffee-growing areas in Central America. You can visit several different estates, and learn all about the harvesting and processing of your favorite morning drink.
Many of these estates have a shop in town, where you can sample and buy the coffee you like the best.
Another highlight of Copan is the Macaw Mountain Bird Park. Here you’ll see many beautiful tropical birds and parrots that are native to Central America.
All these birds were once pets or confiscated from illegal bird trafficking. Many of the birds at the Copan Archaeological Park were born at Macaw Mountain and released in the park.
After you visit Copan Ruinas, you should be on your way towards the Bay Islands of Honduras.
This archipelago was once under British rule. The locals are proud of their heritage and still speak English.
The easiest route to the Bay Islands from Copan Ruinas is to drive to La Ceiba, on the Caribbean coast. This city has an airport and port facilities with regular service to the islands. You can get to La Ceiba in time to catch the ferry or a plane to the islands.
But before that, I recommend a couple of nights in the La Ceiba area to visit the Pico Bonito National Park.
Most travelers here stay in the Cangrejal River Valley area, about 10km south of La Ceiba. There are several different hotels and lodges in the area. This is your chance to get up close to the tropical rain forests of Central America.
Adventure activities like white water rafting and waterfall rappelling are some of the many things to do in the area.
Any of the lodges in the Cangrejal River Valley will be happy to arrange your transfers to the La Ceiba ferry terminal to continue to the islands.
Most travelers visit the Bay Islands of Honduras to dive or snorkel the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. This is the second-largest barrier reef in the world.
Six islands and many small cays make up the Bay Islands archipelago. Of these, only three islands have permanent communities: Utila, Roatan, and Guanaja. These are also the only islands with real tourism services.
Each of the three is different from the others, and once here you can check out all three to get the best of each one.
Travel between Utila and Roatan is easy. The Utila Dream Ferry offers service four times a week between West End in Roatan and Utila.
Service from Roatan to Guanaja is less reliable. Many times you will need to travel to La Ceiba to get from one island to the other.
Famous for its dive shops, Utila offers some of the most affordable scuba certification courses you’ll find anywhere.
It’s also popular because of the whale sharks that live offshore. This gentle giant is the largest fish in the world.
Utila offers a relaxed, informal atmosphere and caters to younger crowds. Most travelers here enjoy bar hopping at night, and many have a hard time leaving the island.
There are also some nice higher-end dive resorts in Utila. You don’t need to be a party animal to enjoy the island!
Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands, is a popular port of call for cruise ships.
With two world-class cruise passenger terminals, it can get bust during midweek when the ships are in. But the island is long, and you can escape the cruise ship crowds if you want.
The most popular area in Roatan is the West End. Here is the small, eclectic beachfront community of West End, the more resorty area of West Bay Beach.
West Bay offers arguably the most beautiful beach in Central America.
Of the three islands, Roatan is the only one with a golf course. The island also offers some of the best resort communities in Central America. Real estate here is competitive compared to other Caribbean islands.
Roatan also has its own international airport with nonstop flights from several US gateways. American Airlines, United, Delta, and Avianca all fly directly here.
From La Ceiba, there are air and ferry services to Roatan. The ferry is a modern water jet catamaran and is fast and comfortable. The trip takes less than two hours on the ferry, with two daily departures.
On a personal note, I much prefer the East End of Roatan.
This is the authentic part of the island, where you will be away from the cruise ship hordes. Think small, intimate properties, lovely beaches, and charming old island communities.
If you stay in the West End, you should plan on at least a day trip to the East End to get a feel for the “real Roatan”.
East of Roatan you have four more islands.
Helene is an extension of Roatan. Technically, it’s a different island because there’s a natural canal separating it from Roatan. It’s swampy and has few people living there. There are no facilities for tourists in Helene.
Next to Helene is Morat, a small island with a saltwater lagoon in the center. There’s is not much to see here and the island is uninhabited.
East of Morat is Barbareta. This is a beautiful, private island with pristine beaches. Around the south shore of Morat is the Pigeon Cays.
These picturesque cays offer the perfect Robinson Crusoe setting for a day trip.
Finally, on the Eastern end of the Bay Islands archipelago, you’ll find the island of Guanaja.
Columbus landed on Guanaja back in 1502, during his fourth and final voyage.
Guanaja is less developed than Utila and Roatan and has more nature. It’s the most mountainous of the Bay Islands. With no roads on the island, the only way to get around is by boat.
Resorts are small and rather isolated in Guanaja. Because of this, they are pretty much self-contained, offering diving and meals packaged with their rooms.
Because of its relative isolation, Guanaja is more expensive. Getting to Guanaja from La Ceiba is only possible by air, but there is also a ferry service from Trujillo.
As you can see, there are many reasons why you should visit Honduras when you travel to Central America!
It offers the best of both worlds: Central America and the Caribbean. Imagine enjoying both in one small country in Central America! What do you think the best places to visit in Honduras are?
John Dupuis is a travel entrepreneur who has been living in Honduras since 1992. He and his wife manage La Villa de Soledad in the Cangrejal River Valley, outside of La Ceiba. He also writes about travel in Honduras on his Hondurastravel.com site.