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Guide To Honduras and the Bay Islands

 

Description

Honduras with it's Bay Islands is a stunningly beautiful country, with marvelous beaches, lush green mountains, the idyllic Bay Islands, and the ancient Mayan city of Copan - just to scratch the surface.

Honduras is located in Central America bordered by Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Most visitors arrive by air.

Whether you are exploring the Mayan ruins, diving and snorkeling in the Bay Islands or relaxing on the North Coast at Tela or La Ceiba, there are great places to visit and things to do. The people of Honduras are very friendly and visitors and travellers are most welcome. If you have a spirit of adventure, make Honduras your next vacation spot.

Off the northern coast of Honduras, from 12 to 35 miles offshore, you will find the Bay Islands. They are located along the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.

The Bay Islands are Honduras' main tourism attraction and remain today as some of the Caribbean’s most beautiful, pristine and tranquil islands. This exotic archipelago is a divers paradise, boasting clear waters and unspoiled reefs that are among the healthiest in the Caribbean. These virgin reefs teem with a myriad of unique reef creatures and 95% of all species of the Caribbean’s coral can be found in these alluring waters.

Roatan is the largest island, with the most infrastructure and the most developed for tourism. It is a long, thin island, measuring almost 40 miles in length and with a total land mass of 49 square miles. The island has a mountainous backbone and is totally surrounded by coral reefs, offering superb diving.

Utila is just 11 km long and 4 km at the widest point. It is truly a tropical paradise surrounded by a beautiful beaches and a diverse coral reef system. The approximately 2500 residents are friendly and helpful and many operate the local hotels, restaurants and other local businesses. Don't look for any chain restaurants or stores, they are'nt there.

The tallest of the islands, Guanaja has become the most elite-oriented, with many of the better hotels on the Islands located here. Guanaja is a unique island, as it does not have any roads, and the largest community, known as Bonaca is not even on the island itself, but on a small cay a short distance from Guanaja. Guanaja has a paved runway as an airport, and is forested with the unique Caribbean pine that distinguishes it very much from its sister islands.

Getting There

Getting to Honduras is quite easy, there are four international airports operating in the country: the most frequently used airport is the San Pedro Sula airport, which has regularly scheduled service from New York, Miami, Houston, Atlanta and Mexico City in North America. Non Stop service from Belize City, Guatemala City, Panama City and San Jose, Costa Rica is also available. The following airlines operate daily into San Pedro Sula: Aeromexico, American Airlines, Avianca Taca, Copa Airlines, Delta Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Tropic Air and United Airlines.

Flying to Roatan

Delta
Aerolineas Sosa
United
Avianca

Utila

By Ferry
Ferry service between La Ceiba and Utila aboard the 118' Utila Princess - UtilaPrincess@yahoo.com
Departs La Ceiba 9:30 AM and 4:00 PM Tickets may be purchased at La Ceiba's main cargo port.
Departs Utila 6:20 AM and 2:00 PM - Tickets may be purchased at the Utila Municipal Dock.

By Air
Aerolineas Sosa

Guanaja
Getting to Guanaja is only by air only. Aerolineas Sosa has flights from La Ceiba to Guanaja.

Roatan

By Ferry - La Ceiba

The ferry, named the Galaxy Wave, is a 152 foot catamaran yacht, with a 460 person capacity. There is a concession area onboard which offers snacks and refreshments. Onboard entertainment is available. Cost is approximately US$28./Adult, US$15. Children 5 -10 years.

Schedule

Depart 7:00 am Roatan - Arrive 8:15 am La Ceiba
Depart 9:30 am La Ceiba - Arrive 10:45 am Roatan
Depart 2:00 pm Roatan - Arrive 3:15 pm La Ceiba
Depart 4:30 pm La Ceiba - Arrive 5:45 pm Roatan

Utila

By Ferry

The cost for the La Ceiba - Utila ferry is approximately $22 each way; the ferry is called the Utila Princess.

Schedule (subject to change - confirm in advance)

Morning
Leave Utila 6.20am
Arrive La Ceiba 7.30am

Leave La Ceiba 9.30am
Arrive in Utila 10.40am

Afternoon
Leave Utila 2pm
Arrive La Ceiba 3.10pm

Leave La Ceiba 4.00pm
Arrive Utila 5.10pm

Entry Requirements

Passport valid 6 months beyond intended stay in Honduras.

Ticket for return or onward travel.

Departure tax US$37.00.

Citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, USA and most Western European countries can stay 30 days without a visa. Nationals from most other countries not mentioned above must obtain a visa, please check ahead with the Honduran embassey before traveling.

Visitor Information and Tips

Getting Around on the Mainland
There are car rental agencies at the airports and in the larger towns. An international or foreign driving license is all you need. Roads in the city and on the highways are in fairly good condition but not so in the rural areas. Driving is to the right. If you prefer to let someone else do the driving, you can hire a taxi. But taxis are unmetered so remember to fix the fare before you step into one.

The cheapest option is the local buses. The signs on the buses indicate the direction they are headed in.

Getting Around on the Islands

There is little need for transportation on the smaller islands. Roatan with it's 60 miles of roads, offers cars, trucks, bikes and scooters for rent.

Medical
Medical care in Honduras varies in quality. Although doctors are generally well trained, support staff and facilities are not up to U.S. standards. Facilities for advanced surgical procedures are not available. The islands of Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja do not have a general surgery hospital. There is a decompression chamber on Roatan for divers. Travelers carrying prescription medicine should ensure that the medication is clearly labeled.

Language
Spanish is the official language of Honduras. English is spoken in the Bay Islands and in most tourist areas. Traditional languages are still used in some remoter areas of the country such as Olancho and the Mosquitia.

Money and Banking
There are banks in all major towns and cities ( Hours - Mon-Fri 0900-1500 (some banks open until 1800). Some branches open Sat 0900-1200 ). However, banks only exchange US dollars and very few exchange travellers’ checks. Even exchanging currencies of neighbouring countries away from the border is difficult. There are a number of ATM machines around but most of them accept only Honduran cards. Cashing a personal check is very difficult as is wiring money to Honduras. The best alternative is to carry US dollars before you enter Honduras and exchange to Lempira once you’re in Honduras.

When you first arrive in Honduras, San Pedro Sula and Tegus airports have exchange cages where you can exchange enough to hold you until the next day, when you can visit the bank. Shops and hotels usually charge hefty commissions to exchange currency.

American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are accepted. Check with your credit or debit card company for details of merchant acceptability and other services which may be available.

Shopping
Local craftsmanship is excellent and inexpensive. Typical items include woodcarvings, cigars, leather goods, straw hats and bags, seed necklaces and baskets. General shpping hours are Mon-Fri 0800-1200 and 1330-1800, Sat 0800-1700.

Food
The sweet tooth of the Hondurans is obvious in their variety of desserts. If you like sweets, try the sweet rice that is soaked in coconut milk and sugar. Coconut milk is a common ingredient used frequently in Garifuna cuisine. There is so much to sample, so much diversity, and so many dishes. And what may be called ‘baleada’ (something like a burrito) in one region may just turn out to be a tortilla stuffed with fried beans and onions in another. The staple food is combination of rice and beans and tortillas. But rice and beans may not always be just rice and beans - it may be cooked in animal fat.

Lots of fresh seafood is available, especially around the coastal areas. Grouper, snapper, tuna and barracuda are what you’ll find on the menu. Most fish dishes are liberally sprinkled with spices.

Honduras offers a fair selection for the vegetarians as well. The choice is somewhat limited but there’s much to sample and savour.

Wash down your food with Salva Vida beer, the most popular drink among the Hondurans.

Taxes/Tipping
A 12% value added tax is added to the price of all services and merchandise. Also many restaurants or hotels will add an additional 10% service charge as a tip. This is not compulsory to pay. Check your bill before tipping as it may have already been included.

Water
Water is not safe to drink anywhere in Honduras. This goes for the ice as well. Ask for agua purificada - purified water. In restaurants always check with the waitress to make sure it had been boiled.

Time Zone
GMT/UTC -6

Electricity
110/220V, 60Hz

Internet Connections
High speed internet connections are available at cyber cafes throughout Honduras. Ask at your hotel's front desk for the cafes with the fastest connections.

Weights and measures
The Metric system is in use here

Visitor Activities and Attractions

From sight seeing to scuba diving, Honduras has a range of attractions within a short distance of all major Honduran cities. Country clubs have swimming pools, tennis courts and golf courses. Lake Yojoa, an uncrowded volcanic lake with world class bass fishing, is only a few miles from the main Tegucigalpa-San Pedro Sula highway. The National Energy Company arranges visits to an other beautiful lake, created when the El Cajón hydroelectric project was build.

Mayan archaeological sites are scattered throughout the country. The most renowned is Copán, a two hour drive from San Pedro Sula. This uniquely preserved site, in a sylvan setting, presets not only the Mayan monuments and stele, but also the living areas and life style of the ancient Mayas.

Caribbean beaches are an hour's drive from San Pedro Sula and the Bay Islands are only a twenty minute flight. These verdant Caribbean islands are noted for their barrier reef, second in length only to Australia's. Well-equipped resorts provide excellent scuba diving and snorkeling.

Copan

The Copan Ruins are located in the western part of Honduras, about 60 kilometers from the border with Guatemala. Copan - known as Xukpi to the Maya - was the dominant Mayan city in the south of their territory. Its rich stone sculptures and intricate hieroglyphs make Copan a feature attraction along "La Ruta Maya". This beautiful village with cobbled streets passing among white adobe buildings with red-tiled roofs is 1km from the famous Maya ruins of the same name. The village has a lovely colonial church and an aura of timeless peace. The archaeological site at the ruins is open daily and includes the Stelae of the Great Plaza, portraying the rulers of Copán, dating from 613; the ball court and hieroglyphic stairway; and the Acropolis, which has superb carved reliefs of the 16 kings of Copán. There are hot springs a one-hour drive from the village, and the nearby picturesque mountain village of Santa Rita de Copán has a beautiful plaza and a peaceful colonial church.

Tegucigalpa

There are plenty of attractions around Tegucigalpa, including the huge Gothic Basílica de Suyapa, 7km (4mi) southeast of the city center. The Virgen de Suyapa, patron saint of Honduras, is believed to have performed hundreds of miracles. Santa Lucia, 13km (8mi) east of the city, is a charming old Spanish town with meandering lanes and a beautiful church. Valle de Angeles, 11km (7mi) past Santa Lucia, is an old Spanish mining town restored to its 16-century appearance. La Tigra National Park, northeast of the city, is one of the most beautiful places in Honduras. Located at an altitude of 2270m (7446ft), the pristine 7482-hectare (18,480-acre) park preserves a lush cloud forest that is home to ocelots, pumas, monkeys and quetzal.

Comayagua

Comayagua was the capital of Honduras from 1537 to 1880, and retains much evidence of its colonial importance. The cathedral in the center of the town is a gem. Built between 1685 and 1715, it contains much fine art and boasts one of the oldest clocks in the world. The clock was made over 800 years ago by the Moors for the palace of Alhambra in Seville, and was donated to the town by King Philip II of Spain. The first university in Central America was founded in Comayagua in 1632 in the Casa Cural, which now houses the Museo Colonial. The museum has religious art spanning four centuries of colonial rule. Comayagua's first church was La Merced, built between 1550 and 1558; other fine churches include San Francisco (1584) and La Caridad (1730).

Tela

Tela is many travelers' favorite Honduran Caribbean beach town. It's a small, quiet place, with superb seafood, several good places to stay and some of the most beautiful beaches on the northern coast. It's basically a place for relaxing and enjoying the simple life. There are plans to boost tourism in the area, so see the place while it's still unspoilt and quiet. The best beach is east of the town, in front of the Hotel Villas Telamar. It has pale, powdery sand and a shady grove of coconut trees.

Trujillo

The small town of Trujillo has played an important role in Central American history. It was near Trujillo on August 14, 1502, that Colombus first set foot on the American mainland. The town sits on the wide arc of the Bahía de Trujillo and is famed for its lovely beaches, coconut palms and gentle seas. Though it has a reputation as one of the country's best Caribbean beach towns, it's not usually full of tourists, except during the annual festival in late June. Apart from the attractions of the beach, there is a 17th-century fortress, the grave of William Walker and a Museo Arqueológico. To the west of the town is the Barrio Cristales, where the Garífuna people live; this is the place to go for music, dancing and revelry.

The Bay Islands

Thirty miles off the northern coast of Honduras, the Bay Islands group is an oval chain of eight islands and 65 small cayes forming the largest and most southerly chain of Caribbean islands at the end of the barrier reef.

Utila is a low sandy piece of land and the cheapest of the Bay Islands to visit and basic budget accommodation and facilities predominate. It has caves you can walk to, one of them reputed to have been the hideout of the notorious pirate Henry Morgan. But the only real reason to visit Utila, unless you happen to like being bitten by sand fleas, is to go diving. It's a half-hour boat ride from the town of East Harbor to a chain of small islands called the Cays and a bit further to Water Cay which is surrounded by some of the best coral reefs in the Caribbean.

Roatan is the largest and most popular of the Bay Islands, also the most expensive. It has some interesting places to visit, including Oak Ridge, built on a caye around a deep inlet, Port Royal and French Harbor. Some of the resorts here rank among the best sun and sea destinations in the world - perfect for honeymooners or anyone who likes to be totally pampered while doing not much of anything.

But again, the main reason people come to Roatan is to dive and all parts of the island feature hotels large and small with excellent facilities for exploring the region's marine wonderland.

Guanaja, the easternmost of the group, was declared a forest reserve in 1961 and is now also a marine national park. Diving and other aquatic activities again are the main attractions.

Getting to the Bay Islands
You can fly direct to Roatan from Miami, Houston and New Orleans or take connecting flights from Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula. All three islands are serviced by regular flights from the mainland port of La Ceiba, with connections from Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.


Shopping
Unlike neighboring Guatemala, Honduras is not known for its textiles. But it is gaining a reputation for its mahogany and cedar wood carvings (the small chests are especially beautiful) and for its primitive paintings of mountain villages. (The beauty of the paintings is often enhanced by hand-carved mahogany frames.) In the gift shop at the Copan ruins, you'll find small replicas of stelae, carved in stone, that are quite well done. You can also purchase jade jewelry, statues and other carvings that local artists have faithfully reproduced from artifacts recovered by archaeologists.

Expertly woven baskets and hats also are available throughout the country, as are quality leather goods. Honduras factories now make brand-name purses and other leather items and ship them to the U.S. Many name designers have their leather purses assembled in San Pedro Sula, where they are sold for reduced prices -- without the designer name, of course.

You can also buy Honduran cigars, which rival those from Cuba in taste and quality. Cigars are made at the Royal Tobacco Factory, which was founded in 1765 and is not far from the town of Copan Ruinas. Cuban cigars also are readily available in many parts of the country, but do not try to take them back to the U.S. It is illegal.

Haggling over prices is not as popular in Honduras as it is elsewhere in Central America. Where prices are marked, a request for a precio mejor (better price) is likely to net at best a 10% descuenta (discount). If prices are not marked, expect to haggle for a somewhat, but not greatly, lower price. Be aware that the local shops recommended by tour operators and taxi drivers generally pay for the privilege. Prices at those shops may be somewhat higher than others.

Festivals
There are festivities in just about every town to celebrate saint's days. The fair for the Virgen de Suyapa, patron saint of Honduras, is celebrated in Suyapa, 7km (4mi) southeast of Tegucigalpa, during the first two weeks of February. Services and festivities attract pilgrims from all over Central America. Carnaval at La Ceiba is celebrated during the third week of May with parades, costumes and street music. There are other popular fairs in Copán Ruinas, Tela, Trujillo, San Pedro Sula and Danlí. The Feria Centroamericana de Turismo y Artesanía, a Central American international artisans' and tourism fair, is held annually in December. Another cultural fair is held in Copán Ruinas which is also in December.

 

 

 

 


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