Tag Archives: 1001 Central American Nights

Sambo Creek, Honduras

Restaurants in the Garifuna town of Sambo Creek

Restaurants in the Garifuna town of Sambo Creek

 

Sambo Creek is an amazing destination in Honduras.  It is just about 10 miles from La Ceiba, where there is an international airport, so it is relatively easy to get there.  You could stay in La Ceiba at any one of the fine hotels there, and visit Sambo Creek as a day trip from there.

The atmosphere in Sambo Creek is laid back and beachy.  The Garifuna people live here, along with other ethnic groups, and they have their own language and musical traditions.  The views are amazing, with the Pico Bonito National Park as the backdrop, and small boats zipping back and forth to sea to fish or to go to the Cayos Cachinos islands.

There are a few restaurants with traditional fare in town.  There are also some very nice amenities nearby, if you are looking for more luxury.

There are two hotels in Sambo Creek that are run by foreign ex-pats, Hotel Helen and Hotel Canadien.  Helen’s has a lovely pool and restaurant and it is great to visit for a meal or there are charming economy rooms ($45 most nights), all right on the beach.  The Hotel Canadien has even more rooms.

Villa Helen's website

Villa Helen’s website

Also just down the road from Sambo Creek is the mega-development, Palma Real, which in all sincerity deserves its own post.

Semana Santa is big for Sambo Creek, like most beach areas in Honduras.  There will likely not be any hotel rooms available during Semana Santa unless you plan ahead (nearby La Ceiba can fill up too).  But the beach is very big and open here, so even when the big crowds start partying, it feels like a long way from the mainstream locations.

Here is a little map to show how close several hotels are in Sambo Creek.  You could stay here for a long time, either at Helen’s or in La Ceiba, and learn to live with the Garifuna people, or visit the many amazing local nature preserves.

 

Places to eat and stay in Sambo Creek

Places to eat and stay in Sambo Creek

 

Places to eat and stay in Sambo Creek

Places to eat and stay in Sambo Creek

 

 

 


Waspam, Rio Coco, Nicaragua

The Rio Coco is like a giant highway for the Miskitu people (miskitu uplika painkira, my beautiful Miskitu people).  Waspam is one of the busier small ports on the river, deep in the heart of the Miskito Coast.

How do you get to Waspam?  Good question, because it is seriously off the beaten track.  We were in Puerto Cabezas (or Bilwi), which has an airport with connections to Managua.  From Bilwi we went by private vehicle on a fair dirt road to Waspam.  It took about 3-4 hours in a 4wD pickup, and we stopped for snacks once.

Arriving by road to Waspam

Arriving by road to Waspam

Once you get to Waspam it is actually a nice town for tourists.  We stayed at the Hotel Rose, which is owned by the Cunningham family, who also own the Casa Museo hotel where we stayed in Bilwi.  We were just part of the family.

Porch at the Hotel Rose.  We enjoyed it greatly in the evenings.

Porch at the Hotel Rose. We enjoyed it greatly in the evenings.

There are several comedors in Waspam that serve a typical meal at lunch and dinner.  There are also many small shops that serve snack food and water and beer.  Waspam is pretty easy to navigate.  

We are on the Nica side of Rio Coco, across the river is Honduras.

We are on the Nica side of Rio Coco, across the river is Honduras.

This is one comedor where we had a great lunch.  The dining room is right over the river.  If you didn’t drive to Waspam, about the only other way to get there is by river, so this might be the way you came in.  You can travel by river to other communities up and down the border between Honduras and Nicaragua, and eventually you could get boat rides out to the coast, to arrive in one of the coastal towns of Honduras, like Puerto Lempira.

Waspam has internet cafes for your communication needs.  It is such a groovy place to hang out, in the middle of nowhere, but still with plenty of traffic and action and services like food and drink and entertainment.  It is deep in Miskitu country too, so you can drop your Spanish, and say “miskitu bila aisisna” (I speak Miskitu!), or at least “drapkum” (a little).

 

 

 

 


Omotepe, Nicaragua

Omotepe is an island, in the middle of a lake, in the middle of an isthmus, between two oceans.  Or maybe it just seems that way to me.  You have to take a ferry across Lake Nicaragua to get there, although construction is underway for an airport.

The island feels like a different world, certainly compared to Granada or Managua.  There are fresh-water sharks in the lake, and monkeys and birds all over the island.  There are volcanos as well.  To make things even more unique there are fascinating petroglyphs around the island, including a collection in the yard near the church, and a hillside museum and hiking trails that every taxi driver offers as a tour destination.

There are great places to eat and stay in Omotepe.   There is the Charco Verde, a hotel, restaurant, and beach close to the port where the ferry comes in.  The Charco Verde is also a local feature, a green pool located nearby in the mangrove forest.  It makes a great place to visit and explore.  The Hotel Villa Paraiso is also cool, with its own restaurant and beach.  It is a little farther down the road.

omotepemap

 

 

omotepevolcanoThe beach at Villa Paraiso, with the Volcano in the backgroud.  An amazing place to spend a night or two.

 

 

 

 

omotepe

 

Ojo de Agua is a small spring that has been turned into a balneario or a swimming pool.  It has beautiful clear water in a lush jungle setting.  It usually has lively groups of tourists and locals.  There is food available, so this makes a great place to spend the whole day, or just to stop for dinner.  When you swim in the pool, you are in the Ojo de Agua, on an island, in a lake, in an isthmus, between two oceans.  It can get pretty heavy on the existentialism so it is good that they serve Toña at the little dinner shack.


Tapachula, Mexico

A great starting point for a trip through Central America, Tapachula is, to me, a bus and airport kind of city.  It is where Mexico ends and Guatemala starts, and there are lots of transportation hubs.  This is a great stop on a bus ride from Mexico City, and there are connections to Guatemala City, San Salvador and points south.  You can catch your first leg of a Tica bus here, which might take you all the way to Panama.

The town is a busy little place, and they have a Holiday Inn, which is my choice, since I can book it with my membership.  Hotel staff are very friendly, and if you don’t believe me, you can read what they say about Tapachula in general on TripAdvisor.  I was amazed that there were such positive reviews for many places to stay, considering the fact that this is not exactly Acapulco or some other tourist destination.

I can spend at least one night, banking for a border crossing, eating and drinking in a bustling metropolis before a long bus ride.  Sitting with other travelers in the hotels, and making plans for the next destination.

There is also an airport in Tapachula, which comes in handy if you decide that you are tired of roughing it out on the highway, and you would rather just fly this leg of the journey.  There are AeroMexico flights to Mexico City, Guatemala City, and connections to other places like Cancun and Roatan.  Never a dull moment in Tapachula.

 

ticabus

 

Tapachula_airport_parking_lot

 


The Lodge at Pico Bonito, Honduras

The Lodge at Pico Bonito is a luxury eco-resort just outside of La Ceiba, Honduras.  It is located at the foot of Pico Bonito, the highest point in Honduras, and it is surrounded by nature preserves.  On site they also have a butterfly facility and serpentarium.

This is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Definitely a great place to spend one night, or many more.  It is a little pricey, but luxury and eco-friendly don’t come cheap.  The unique setting and features make it well worth spending on, even if it is just for one night.  You can also visit and use their trails for a fee, or eat at the restaurant.  The grounds are stunning, and set right into the gorgeous Pico Bonito National Park.

Actually, after reviewing the website, I have to revise my statement about it being expensive, because I see that they have economy rooms for students and researchers for $60.  Their bigger packages are also pretty economical, because they include food (in the beautiful restaurant) and transfers and activities.  I could easily spend six or eight days just at the Lodge, and visiting their surrounding trails, or their learning environments.  Or the pool, or a good book in the shade of a tropical forest.

www.picobonito.com

www.picobonito.com

 

Family vacation at the Lodge at Pico Bonito

Family vacation at the Lodge at Pico Bonito

 


Granada, Nicaragua

Granada is one of my favorite destinations in Central America.  It is a medium sized colonial town, so there are plenty of services and activities, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a city.  There are great historical attractions throughout the town, including colonial architecture.  Granada is a town focused on tourism, since it is located on Lake Nicaragua, and is just about an hour from the capital city of Managua.  Lots of Nicaraguan tourists visit Granada.

There are volcanic isletas or small islands that are scattered around in Lake Nicaragua.  By taking a tourist boat from the dock on the East side of Managua, you can visit restaurants, hotels and uninhabited islands, or swim in the Lake.

There is a lot of history and culture in Granada (birthplace of Ruben Dario).  One activity I recommend is Spanish School at Casa Xalteva.  They can also arrange homestays with families.  Granada is a great place to spend a night (or many nights) because it has a great combination of outdoor activities (boating, lakes, volcanos to hike), and indoor activities (viewing historical architecture, or watching cigars being made).  There is also a great night life on Calle La Calzada in the evening, to finish off a perfect night in Central America.

 

Granada_Nicaragua_9

 

Granada_Tourist_Map_Nicaragua_2


Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Copan is an incredible place.  The Mayan Ruins at Copan, Honduras are unique, even for Mesoamerica.  They are very detailed and contain many hieroglyphs, including a famous part of the city, the historical Stairway, embellished with the history of the Mayan dynasties carved in the stone steps.

The Stairway and Ballcourt at Copan both appear on the one Lempira bill of Honduran currency.

(photos belong to The Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles
Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, Tegucigalpa, from a 2006 Conservation study).

 

So, from the very start, if you are going to Copan it impresses everyone, because it is a journey of illumination and wonder, an educational trip. You must see the ruins, and it is best to take a guide along with you.  Many of the writings have been decoded over years of study, and the guides can point to important details or give background information on the major components of Copan.  You can cover the territory of the park in half a day easily, but if you spend time with a guide or with a good guidebook, you could easily visit the site of the ruins 2 or 3 times, and not see it all.  There is a large museum at the site of the ruins.

The actual town of Copan Ruinas is about 2 miles further down the road.  On a nice day, the walk is great, there are stellae or stone carvings at several places along the way.  In town there are also 2 museums about the ruins.

Copan Ruinas, the actual town, has traditional cobblestones and a plaza in front of the park.  It is a small town, just big enough to support the thriving tourist industry that has grown around the ruins.  The locals are often Chorti maya descendants, or other Latinos, and they have a “country” feel.  You will see plenty of mules and horses, and cowboy boots and hats.  In fact, horse back riding is one of the many activities that are available in Copan.

The city and the tourism industry in Copan work well together too.  You may or may not notice the strict zoning and color restrictions in the historic zones, that give the town a sense of timelessness.  There is a lot of collaboration among tourism operators as well, and generally you can book tours from your hotel, or from a small tour provider, and get the same tour from different providers.  There are so many fun trips around Copan, it is hard to choose.  There is a hot springs, and a river that runs hot and cold, which requires a ride in a van or pickup to visit.  There are several smaller sites of ruins around, and many operators take horseback tours of outlying stellae, including a daybreak tour to an important Mayan monument to the sunrise.

 

 

 

Copan has a wide variety of hotels, hostels, and other places to stay.  If you are looking for a cheap stay, the Manzana Verde hostel is a good standby.  I would profess to having higher standards than to stay in a hostel, but sometimes when you get into town late at night and its raining, and you are just ready for bed without the whole hotel scene.

If you want a hotel there are several choices.  I love Don Udo’s, have loved his places since he was in San Pedro.  Nice $50 rooms, international standards.  There is also the historic Hotel Marina Plaza.  This place is really old school charming, around a beautiful courtyard and pool.  It is the Honduras version of the 1970’s Holiday Inn.  It is right on the plaza as well, and next door is the fancy coffee bar.  Around the plaza there are about ten other hotels ranging from $20-$80.  The better rooms are going to have internet and water and power, and amenities designed for American and Eurpoean luxury tourists.  A cheaper room might lack any of those things at different points in your trip.

If you walk through Copan and get a map, you will find multiple other options.  Many homeowners in Copan take in boarders for Spanish school, and the schools might help you find a homestay.  There are countless tiny family run boarding houses or posadas.  Always check the room carefully first and make sure you feel safe and comfortable.

The food in Copan is also very unique and easy to enjoy.  There are tiny Pupuserias, which serve pupusas, a hot fried tortilla with cheese and beans or sausage inside.  This is a typical food of Honduras, and some of the more traditional establishments might also have atol corn drink or other traditional foods.  Some Mayan specialties are served in the traditional restaurants of Copan.  There are also larger places to get tipical food of beef, pork, beans and rice, or chicken.  The big tourist industry in Copan has attracted many foreign residents who own hotels and restaurants, so you can also get some fabulous niche Honduran Italian food or French cuisine.

There is no reason not to go to Copan.  You will be busy day and night, walking and seeing new things on the cobblestone plaza, and learning about our ancestors in the cool jungle.  You could actually spend several nights here.