â€œSince the June 2009 coup dâ€™Ã©tat that led to the exile of then president Manuel Zelaya, visitors have been deterred from Honduras by reports of high crime and general insecurityâ€ – so reported the Telegraph recently. Although San Pedro Sula is often dubbed â€œmurder capital of the worldâ€, we were undeterred despite flying into the capital a few days after reading that a man from Southend had been fatally shot after resisting having his camera stolen.
We headed straight out to the Caribbean side and The Lodge at Pico Bonito, nestling at the foot of the National Park. We arrived late, tired and a little apprehensive only to be welcomed with cold flannels and a tray bearing fruit punches and a bottle of rum. The Lodge was full of serious American twitchers with a huge array of very expensive tripods, binoculars and cameras: the gangs of San Pedro would have had a field day. We kept out of their way, mainly because they were usually returning from their early morning excursions and having lunch, when we were getting up for breakfast. We hiked the Mermaid Loop, climbed down to Las Pilas waterfalls to swim in the cool water and climbed up Toucan Tower for bird watching.
Twenty minutes away on the Eastern coast were the Bay Islands with warm Caribbean waters. We snorkelled around the closest island, Cayos Cochinos, known locally but less attractively as Hog Island and virtually had the waters to ourselves.
Having pre-dinner drinks in the bar, we were asked if we liked our gin and tonic stiff. Bearing in mind my headache the following morning, our reply should have been â€˜noâ€™. A relaxing morning around the pool soon put me in the mood for trying the local beers.
On our way to the countryâ€™s Maya ruins, a 5 to 6 hour drive, we visited Lancetilla, the second largest botanical garden in the world. Here imported bamboo trees made a huge cooling arch on a hot day and our guide explained the labeling system for the plants: poisonous (black), medicinal (red) or green (where the wood could be used). Once again, we didnâ€™t encounter a single tourist. but there were lots of mosquitoes.
We drove through palm and pineapple plantations and eventually passed back through San Pedro Sulaâ€™s outskirts. where our taxi driver advised us we wouldnâ€™t be stopping.Â On the approach to Copan Ruinas, we were warned there were 300 curves and bends, so a nap seemed appropriate, but only to keep the car sickness at bay.Â Copan Ruinas, near the Guatemalan border, is a small town with lots of narrow cobbled streets, bars and restaurants. Twisted Tanya was great for happy hour cocktails whilst at another nameless bar, we sat on the only tiny pavement table for a pre-dinner glass of wine. At Pizza Copan, an American expat called Jim, cooked brilliant pizza whilst Carnitas Nia Lola provided $10 bottles of vino and a local dish of cheese and bean fondue served in an anafre, a clay pot. The two waitresses made a feature of carting everything from single beer bottles to plates and anafre on their heads to a large noisy group upstairs. In contrast, San Rapheal was a gentle spot where we shared three cheeses, home-made bread, crackers and olives. The Honduran equivalent of the Womenâ€™s Institute were meeting at the back and we must have said â€œbuenos tardesâ€ at least thirty times as they passed by. Copanâ€™s ruins are one of Central Americaâ€™s major sites and mark the southeastern limit of Maya dominance.
Our guide Neddy, regaled us with tales of Eighteen Rabbit (the 13th Maya Ruler) and let us wander the excellent museum, with its full-size reproduction of a temple, on our own.
Nearby Las Sepulturas was less developed: peaceful and quiet.
Neddy also escorted us on a â€˜neddy rideâ€™ up to Hacienda San Lucas, a small out of the way guest house.
Not being a natural horse woman, the ninety-minute ride took its toll on my rear, especially the final up-hill climb. But we were rewarded with spectacular views of the Copan river valley and a glass of home-made lemonade.
It was in Copan Ruinas that we had our most frightening encounter. We stopped in a small supermarket to buy water before heading back to our hotel after dinner. A group of loud teenage boys entered and on looking down, we saw one of them had a magnum in a holster. The leader looked at us menacingly but simply mentioned how much weâ€™d caught the sun.