Currency: 20 Lempiras/$1. Honduras offers Visa-On-Arrival for most nationalities and it should be free. Honduras is also part of the “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” mentioned in my Guatemala post. Check that out for more details if you haven’t read it already. It may cost $5 to exit the country at a land border depending on the border guard on duty. If you exit the country by air there is a $38 departure tax..
After spending a night in Antigua deciding which direction to leave Guatemala, our new group of 10 found out the hurricane only left us one option, the road into Honduras. With a major Mayan ruin in Copan, the cheapest diving in the world available on the Bay Islands, and the hope for sun filled beaches, we were excited!
For 120 Quetzals, the shuttle from Antigua to Copan would take us 6 hours from hostel door to door and wait at the border. At under $1 an hour, this was a great price! In general you can expect to pay about $1/hour for bus rides in Central and South america, and a bit more when taking smaller minivans or a border crossing is involved. Guatemala border agents are notorious for charging exit fees and pocketing them. Make sure you know the rules of your own country, but for most there should not be an exit fee. Depending on how much they try to charge you, refer to the law mentioned above, and you can decide if this is a fight you want to take on.
Copan Ruins is the name of the local Mayan ruin, as well as the name of the town. The town is quaint and quiet with a nice small town vibe. When we were there, the ViaVia Cafe was the only social place to be for food and lodging. This probably changes depending on the season. Based on value, most of our group stayed at another local hostel named Manzana Verde. It was clean and only 100 lemps for a dorm bed with common bathroom. If you are planning to backpack through town, both ViaVia and Manzana are good options.
While Tikal will mesmerize people with its height and scale, the Copan Ruins impress with artistic creativity. The Copán site is known for a series of portrait monuments called stelae. Most of these were placed along processional pathways in the central plaza of the city and the adjoining acropolis. The acropolis is made up of a large complex of overlapping step-pyramids, plazas, palaces, and a large court used for playing the infamous Mayan ballgame where tribal members played for their life. The monoliths are carved in intricate detail, and the ball court is still in excellent condition. There is also a Macau sanctuary on the property. As the national bird, and once worshiped by the Mayans, its nice to see the Macau still thrive here. At over $20 it is expensive compared to other World Heritage sites, but worth it.
After Copan it was time for fun, sun, and diving in the Bay Islands! Before getting there though, we would have to take a bus to the town of San Pedro Sula, and then transfer to a bus for La Ceiba where we could catch a ferry to the islands. The transfer is simple and cheap, but it does take 6 hours. If you expect to make the ferry out of La Ceiba, you’ll need to take the 5am bus out of Copan. This will get you into San Pedro around 8:30am and into La Ceiba around 1pm with about an hour layover in San Pedro Sula. Ugh, seedy Ceiba. I could not find one redeeming quality about this town. The beaches aren’t nice, the taxi drivers are some of the worst I’ve dealt with, and the lodging is either expensive or gross. Apparently there are good river rapids to ride nearby, but if you are heading through Central America there is definitely better. Once we were dropped off in town, we took a taxi to the dock for 30 lemps/person, only to discover that the boat wasn’t running. Although the taxi driver told us it was, he obviously wouldn’t offer to correct his mistake by taking us to town instead. He wanted another 30 lemps/person. We decided not to deal with him anymore and find another taxi. We eventually found a nice guy with a pickup to take us to town, but the taxi drivers scared him off. We couldn’t figure out what was going on exactly, but people in this town seem to be afraid of the taxi drivers. If you need to come through La Ceiba, the Rotterdam hostel was cheap and clean. The next day the weather wasn’t any better so we decided to try the airport. None of us wanted to stay in seedy Ceiba another night and so we were willing to pay a little extra for a flight. By some divine intervention, there was a plane leaving within the hour for $25. That’s less than the ferry ticket would have been! Learning from experience, I would book a cheap flight to Roatan from La Ceiba. You won’t have to deal with the long ferry ride, the worry about whether it’s actually running due to rough seas, and it could be cheaper. You could also try to book a flight from San Pedro Sula to Roatan and it shouldn’t be much more expensive.
After arriving in Roatan you will want to head to West End. This is the main tourist area and really the only place to stay unless you’re booked at a massive resort somewhere else on the island. A collectivo from the airport to West End should be about 50 lemps/person and leave when filled. If you have a group, you can hail one down on the road outside the airport and save a little. In town you will find plenty of restaurants and hotels/hostels. Everyone seems to know someone who has a place to stay. Since we had a big group, we got lucky and rented a nice two bedroom house on the water with a big living room and nice kitchen. Having our own place and cooking our own meals with group was an amazing experience. I miss that group! If you’re not in a group and plan to dive, most of the dive school offer free or heavily discounted lodging while diving with them. As a backpacker, Roatan is probably only a place you will be if diving, so this is definitely the cheapest route to go for lodging.
Unfortunately, another hurricane was passing through the Caribbean and threatening to hit the island. Some of our group were on a time schedule so that meant they had to leave to continue their journey, while the rest of us sat around and hoped to start dive classes sooner than later. As mentioned earlier, Roatan has some of the cheapest diving in the world. Add in beautiful reefs that are within 10 minutes of shore, or even within swimming distance, and diving here is a no brainer. The open water course we did with Coconut Tree Divers was only $250 and included 4 dives plus 2 pool trainings. The crew at Coconut Tree were fantastic! They are a professional team with tons of dive-master students ready to help and join you in the water to make sure everything goes smoothly. If you make it to Roatan, go find Jose at the shop and do a dive. You won’t regret it. Afterwards, join them at Sundowners bar for a drink during sunset. If you in luck, someone will be completing their dive master training and you’ll get to see a snorkel test! Yea that’s a fantastic day!
After eight days in Roatan, and group members leaving for other adventures, the remaining group decided to head for Utila. If Roatan is the child every parent is proud of, Utila is the kid the parents are worried about. The reefs here aren’t as vibrant, they are farther away from shore, sand fleas are everywhere, and the island is full of dive centers, bars, and the backpackers that fill them all. The appeal for backpackers is simple. Lodging is free while taking courses, there are lots of cheap and good local food options, and the nightlife is pumping every night. From La Ceiba, it’s an hour long ferry to Utila for 448 Lemps ($22). From Roatan, there are two options. You can go back to La Ceiba and then over to Utila on two separate ferries, or to take a catamaran for 4.5 hours between Roatan and Utila for $55 with Captain Vern. We chose the latter. During good weather and calm seas, this is probably a fun journey of fishing and drinking. When we went, it was 4-5 foot seas and lots of puking over the side of the boat. Thankfully I didn’t get sick, but I certainly wasn’t drinking or fishing either. Just an fyi, the captain was a bit arrogant and rude, but he’s easy enough to ignore on the journey.
Once in Utila the group was on it and researching the different dive schools. Some wanted to get their Advanced Open Water, and another his Rescue Cert. The final choice was Underwater Vision. It was cheaper than other schools and has a nice bar and volleyball court. The trade off is that their equipment is a bit older than others and it feels a bit less professional than other places. Alton’s and UDC are probably the two most popular schools on the island and worth checking out. If you do your course with UDC, you stay inland at the Mango hotel which has a nice deck and pool/bar. I was having ear problems and couldn’t dive, but it still only cost me $5/day to stay with the crew at Underwater Vision. PS, if you have any health concerns on the island, the local doctor is one of the best characters you will meet on your travels. It’s common for him to show up to work in only a speedo and motorcycle goggles, if he shows up at all.
While in town, you definitely want to try the BBQ at RJ’s and the italian at La Piccola. Treetanic is probably one of the most psychedelic bars you will ever see, and Tranquila is a must for nightlife. If you can schedule your trip for the end of October, you will catch the annual Lion Fish Derby! Lion fish are an invasive species in the Caribbean that are destroying other marine life. The get rid of them, the island hosts a derby every year and offers prized to the teams that catch the most, the biggest, the heaviest, etc. Afterward, everyone’s catch is thrown together and cooked for everyone on the island to enjoy free of charge. They are delicious!
After a week on Utila and many nights on the town including a crazy Halloween, it was time to get to the mainland before my liver failed. Most of the group had split up by now, but I met two great Kiwi’s headed for Nicaragua to tag along with. Since there was no way to make it to Nica in one day, we needed to make a stop in Tegucigalpa. You’ll need to leave Utila early in the morning on the Utila Princess headed for La Ceiba. The boat is 448 lemps and takes about an hour. From the jetty you’ll need a cab to the bus station, and then a 7 hour bus that should cost about 240 lemps. Tegucigalpa is another town you don’t need to spend any time in unless absolutely necessary. There isn’t much to see there, and it can be pretty dodgy. If you are stuck in town, check out Hotel Granada 2. It works out to about 200 lemps/person there, which seemed to be a good deal compared to what else we saw. Also, be sure to book your bus in advance!
The buses that cross the border fill up quickly and for good reason.The next morning we thought we would simply catch the 9:30am TICA bus from Tegucigalpa to Leon in Nicaragua. It would head directly to the border, wait for us to check out/in, and then drop us in Leon on its way further south. It was not to be. There was only one seat left on the bus and we had three people. Figuring out the logistics of making this border crossing in spanish is something you don’t want to do if you don’t speak the language. If I had known what it would entail, I probably would have booked the TICA bus for the next day and spent another night in Tegucigalpa. In any case, if you want to try the hard way, this is what you’ll have to do.
Walk from TICA station south to a random corner where the public buses wait. Ask the TICA people or a taxi driver and they can tell you where to go in case the corner has changed. On that corner ask one of the many guys running around for the bus to Choluteca. One of them will know what’s going on and tell you where to wait. The buses run pretty often so you shouldn’t have to wait long, and they are AC! The cost should be 90 lemps without much negotiation. In 2-3 hours you’ll arrive in Choluteca and need to walk south from where you get dropped off for a few blocks to catch a local combi van (minivan taxi) to Guasale. This should cost about 30 lemps, although the driver tried to get 50 out of us. Once in Guasale, the van will stop well short of the actual border. This is not because of the road conditions, but because the local bike taxi drivers stop all traffic in an attempt to earn business. Be prepared for an onslaught when you get out of the van here. You can either walk 3 km to cross the border, or take a “donation based” pedicab.
A pedicab is a bike with a 2 person seat attached to the front of it. They will bring you the 1km to the actual border, wait for you to check in and out, exchange your Cordobas to Lempiras, and then take you the other side for ongoing minivans. Be forewarned, after going through the actual border, the pedicab driver will change his tune from “donation based” to a set fee of 100 lemps. If you want to pay that you can agree, but 100 lemps in these parts is mucho dinero. If you want to negotiate, don’t agree on a price until you get to the minivan you need on the other side. If you start negotiating mid ride, they may make you get out or take you to the wrong van if you don’t pay their exorbitant price. I paid my driver 50 lemps which is reasonable for their time and effort. The guy wasn’t happy, but locals said 50 lemps was fair.
If you’re heading for Leon, the combi van you need is the one heading for Chinadega. Once at the van, you’ll probably have to negotiate again. This should be about 40 Cordobas. They might start at 60 or 100 depending on how much you negotiated your bike taxi, but it should be around 40. Are you having fun negotiating yet? 😉 By now you are going to be a bit stressed out, but sit back and relax because the ride into Nicaragua from the border is beautiful. For most of the ride to Chinadega you will have wonderful views of a range of volcanoes shooting out of vibrant green farm land. In about 2 hours you’ll arrive in Chinadega and need to switch to another combi van. All the local will point the way when you say Leon. From here the trip to Leon should only be an hour and cost 20 Cordobas. I don’t remember how much more the TICA bus was, but it was definitely less than $10 extra. Even on a backpacker budget, it’ll be the best extra $10 you’ve ever spent! Welcome to Nicaragua!