Tuesday, April 17, 2012

At Least There Were Birdies (Copan Ruinas, Honduras)

I had a decision to make in Suchitoto: stay in El Salvador for a few extra days then go straight to Guatemala, or make a small detour north into Honduras before swinging west into Guatemala.  In the end, I decided to head into Honduras (again).  Suchitoto just wasn't as magical as Alegría, and I thought the ruins at Copán might be a neat diversion.

The town of Copán Ruinas was relaxed, for a tourist town.  Many people visit Copán on a grueling day trip from Antigua in Guatemala, leaving the town itself small and tranquil.  Honduras is as popular as El Salvador on the gringo trail (i.e. not nearly as popular as Guatemala or Costa Rica), with not quite enough "to do," so it doesn't get the two-weeks vacation crowd--everyone I encountered was traveling long-term.  Having said that, all of the restaurant menus were in English, and there are travel agencies everywhere... the Archetypal Generic Central American Tourist Village.  Meh.

The ruins were nice, but not awesome.  Compact:  I could walk from one end of the site to the other in 10-15 minutes.  Not crowded, for such a small site.  And holy hot-as-you-know-what under the mid-day sun!
view over half of the ruins
Copán is known for its excellent examples of Mayan sculpture, many in such high relief that they're almost three dimensional.
mayan stela
I enjoyed finding the animal imagery in the carvings, but I thought Nature's efforts to reclaim the site were even more impressive.
the buttress of this tree is probably 30 feet across
But the very best part was the scarlet macaws that live at the entrance!
hi, birdie!!!
The Scarlet Macaw is the national bird of Honduras and has sacred meanings for the Mayan peoples of this region.  The15-20 resident macaws were rescued from the illegal exotic pet trade and now reside in the Park.  A nearby bird sanctuary is working on educational programs for Hondurans and foreigners and hopes to increase the number of scarlet macaws to the wild through habitat protection.

I totally love birds, and I could write an entire blog post just on the Scarlet Macaw (maybe I will!).  So, for me, watching the birds was by far the best experience at Copán.  At least there were birdies!
scarlet macaw in flight
For anyone out there on the internets thinking of going from Suchitoto, El Salvador to Copán Ruinas, Honduras, here are the details.

Thanks to Stefan who made this trip recently and passed on a few words of advice!
  • From Suchitoto, take a bus (#163, I think also #107) bound for Las Aguilares on the main highway.  It will take about an hour and cost me $0.75.  Note:  this was the first time that I'd seen a chicken on a chicken bus.
  • When the bus gets to the main highway, it will turn left, then make a right to head into Las Aguilares.  Get off the bus as soon at it turns off the highway, otherwise you'll have to walk back to the highway.  Cross the highway to wait on the northbound side and catch a bus bound for El Poy (#119).  You can also take any bus labeled La Palma or San Ignacio, but you'll have to transfer in those cities to a #119 anyway. Up to the border cost $0.60 and was pretty quick, maybe an hour fifteen.
  • When everyone gets off the bus, get off, as well.  Everyone will walk up the road (keep going in the direction the bus was going), walk up the road, as well.  A nice El Salvadoran border official will look at your passport and wave you through.  Cross la frontera.  On the Honduran side, go into the little immigration building to fill out your form (make sure not to lose the yellow copy, keep it with your passport!) and pay L60 or USD$3.
  • Ignore the taxi touts and hop in a microbus bound for Nuevo Ocotepeque.  L14, maybe 30 minutes.
  • In Nuevo Ocotepeque, get on any bus bound for San Pedro Sula.  I would highly recommend getting on a Pullman style bus instead of a chicken bus.  Until this point, I had been making good time... but the road from Nuevo Ocotepeque up to La Entrada sucks, and this part of the trip took close to four excruciating hours.  I was charged L150 by a nasty young Honduran guy who made a pass at me.  Though it was a Pullman style bus, I had my own seat, and it was a long trip, I still think L150 was too much.  Anyway, ask someone to tell you when the bus arrives in La Entrada.
  • In La Entrada, you'll get dropped off on the main highway.  Walk to your left (west), through a gas station at a "T" intersection and onto the road that leads to Copán.  Lonely Planet mentions that microbuses leave here frequently, but I waited for a while and didn't see any.  Eventually I got on a Copán-bound bus for L60.
  • There were only four people left on the Copán bus, so the driver transferred us to a microbus in Santa Rita.  Unfortunately, the microbus was already full, it was pouring, and the van's door fell off when we tried to close it (hilarious!!).  No charge for the entertainment.
  • IMPORTANT NOTE:  This trip will take you the majority of a day.  I left the guesthouse at 6 a.m. and finally arrived in Copán at 4 p.m.  The road in Honduras was way worse than I'd expected, and the clown-car business with the van door falling off didn't help, either.  Early start is essential

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