Report from Honduras in the wake of '98 hurricane

COPAN RUINAS, Honduras -- "Ruins" is a term the Mayan archaeological site at Copan wears proudly as part of its name, but it is a description the rest of Honduras has been trying desperately to shake in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch last fall.

"Our major tourism attractions are all back up and running," said Gilberto Arita, president of Mayan Caribbean Tours (MCT), which is based in the country's principal international gateway, San Pedro Sula.

"Ruins is once again part of our past," he added, "and a unique, exciting travel experience is what you will find in our present."

A frequent visitor to Honduras, I was both hopeful and anxious about what I'd find as I returned this spring, and while destruction was real, a great assist from the U.S. military and the help of Mother Nature have fashioned a remarkable rehabilitation in a very short period of time.

Most of the highway to Copan survived in excellent shape, and while there were pieces missing, detours were only a minor inconvenience; permanent repairs should be almost finished now.

The ruins themselves were virtually unscathed and enhanced by a fascinating new attraction: Tunnels beneath one of the great pyramids take you into a world that predates even the one that lies exposed to the public.

Almost perfectly preserved in its subterranean tomb is a pyramid christened "Rosalia," for the rose-colored stucco that covers its surface. Separated from visitors by just a few feet and viewable via strategically placed windows, Rosalia's star attractions are its collection of masks and hieroglyphics dating to the sixth century.

A reconstruction of the pyramid forms the dramatic centerpiece of a museum near the ruins. Amidst dozens of structures above ground is the astonishing hieroglyphic staircase, climbing the full height of one of the pyramids and containing some 1,250 blocks of glyph symbols and beautifully preserved sculptures.

In the late afternoon, visitors may be treated to the return of flocks of green parrots that roost nearby or groups of whitetail deer that wander back as the tourists leave.

There are at least two fine hotels available to travelers to the Copan ruins. Outside town is Best Western's Posada Real de Copan, a lovely property in Spanish stucco and red roof tiles. In the heart of the village is the Marina Copan, an inn with even more colonial style structure and atmosphere.

While birding is good at Copan, it is even better at the Lancetilla Botanical Gardens, near the coast town of Tela. Lancetilla was created by the large fruit company whose endless fields of pineapple and orchards of bananas and citrus fruit dominate the area.

The abundance of such flora attracts such species as those I saw during one short morning walk: keel-billed toucans, great kiskadees, chestnut oropendolas, yellow-bellied sapsuckers and the bright red hepatic tanager.

About an hour's drive east of Tela is the Cuero y Salada Wildlife Refuge, a wetland area on the coast reached by riding a tiny train that backs passengers in from the village of La Union and drives forward to get them out.

Once in the park, guides escort passengers across a lagoon and up creeks where blue morpho butterflies dart about, howler monkeys swing through the tall mahogany trees and turtles and the occasional crocodile sun on logs near the water's edge. Birding here is also excellent.

Many concerned citizens have sought ways to help the people of Honduras in the aftermath of the hurricane. My suggestion is to book travel into that country, a move that will bring foreign revenue and provide a life-affirming experience for the visitor.

American, Continental and Taca serve Honduras from various U.S. gateways, and MCT provides some of the best land packages and the most attentive service in-country. MCT prefers to sell a net rate but will work out commissionable packages if agents prefer.

Phone: (011) 504-557-7638
Fax: (011) 504-557-6344
E-mail: [email protected]

The Honduras Institute of Tourism maintains an office in Coral Gables, Fla.
Phone: (800) 410-9608

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