Honduras - New Years 2004
Honduras: Roatan and Copan

December 26, 2003 - January 6, 2004

Getting SCUBA certified

Before you can go scuba diving, you have to go get trained and buy some equipment. If you live in the Bay Area, I highly recommend the Pinnacles Dive Center in Novato, where you'll find a full training and certification facility. Dan and Mikka -- along with friends Sam and Michael -- did all their PADI class and pool work in December just before we left for Roatan. Manager Jon Edens put together a special class for the four kids that worked perfectly with their exam schedule.

Pinnacles also holds terrific sales of rental equipment once or twice a year where you can pick up wetsuits and other stuff at bargain prices.

Trying on new stuff


We flew to Roatan via San Salvador on Taca Airlines. I had never flown Taca before, but I was reasonably impressed. TACA was on time, the plane was clean and we didn't lose our luggage. TACA is evidently the major carrier in Central America.

In Roatan, we stayed at the Coco View Resort. This place was great, and it's the best place to stay on Roatan. It's designed for diving enthusiasts. The dive center staff are professional, efficient and friendly. When you check in to Coco View, you're assigned to a dive boat and meet your dive master for the week. You put all your equipment in a locker in a breezeway next to your dive boat. You can rent anything that you didn't bring, such as a BCV and a weight belt. Filled tanks are always available so that you can go diving anytime you like. Though your dive boat goes out to different sections of the reef every morning and afternoon, shore diving is easy, too. On calm nights, many folks do night dives right off the beach in front of the bar.

If you need to complete your dive certification in Roatan, Coco View has two terrific instructors, Jim Connolly and Ellen Debboli at Coco View's Dockside Dive Center.

To make your arrangements for Coco View, you'll get the best package deal by booking your airfare, accommodations and meals through Roatan Charter Inc. If you're a group of 4 or more, look into the Playa Miguel beach houses which are adjacent to Coco View. We were a party of six and found beach house #10 to be just ideal.

One other nice thing about Coco View is that it's located on an island just offshore from Roatan. Consequently, it's very safe, private and quiet.

Coco View main entrance

Dive center and docks

A quiet place to relax

Biking to our house

Resting between dives

Newly certified divers


Coco View is an ideal dive location because it's on the protected, south shore of Roatan. A quarter mile offshore is a 2000 foot high reef wall that extends about 10 miles both east and west from Coco View. The top of the reef is 10 to 40 feet down. The reef wall is honeycombed with canyons and tunnels full of wildlife. Hello Nemo!

At Coco View, the dive boats motor out to different spots at the top of the reef in the morning and again in the afternoon. Typical outings involve two dives, so it's easy to do four dives per day. Since every dive was in a different environment, we never stopped seeing new and wondrous creatures. Click any of the pictures below to start a slide show of what we saw.

Ready to go

Mikka checks her equipment


Large conch

Coral combo platter

Fluorescent coral

Fuzzy barrel coral

Stubby coral

Arrow crab

Green moray eel

Spotted moray eel

Fire worm

Adult drum fish

Angel fish

Damsel fish

File fish

Parrot fish

Another parrot fish

Puffer fish

Red squirrel fish

Scorpion fish

Squirrel fish

Tiger grouper

Toad fish

Yellow file fish

King crab

Lobster family

Sea anemone

Black sea horse

Orange sea horse

Surrounded by fish

End of a successful dive

West End and other attractions

Scuba diving isn't the only thing to do in Roatan. It's a rustic tropical island with friendly people and good food. The folks at Coco View will organize a tour or call a taxi for you so that you can get out and see the sights.

Roatan's population center is called West End. It's not much more than a collection of souvenir shops and budget accommodations at the west end of the island. You can buy your T-shirts and native handicrafts there. There is one particularly good restaurant called The Argentinean Grill. It's excellent local cuisine.

Not far from Coco View is an iguana farm. 11 acres. 2700 iguanas. Unique. Interesting.

The town of West End

Successful shoppers

Can you find the iguana?

Greeting a young critter

San Pedro Sula

To get from Roatan to Copan, we passed briefly through San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras. This city and its surrounding area has a population of about 700,000. It's one of the fastest growing cities in Central America.

The reason for San Pedro Sula's rapid growth is the recent establishment of about 60 huge foreign factories, called maquilas, which produce clothing to be sold abroad. The Honduran government invited this foreign investment by offering generous tax breaks and other incentives since the early 1990s. Korea is the largest foreign builder of these clothing factories. Apparel and textiles have become the primary exports of Honduras, at the expense of the banana and coffee industries.

While 20% of its working population is now employed in these maquilas, Honduras is still the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. This new Honduran Maquila Republic is a form of servitude that's eroding the traditional Honduran family-oriented and agrarian society. Thus, sociologically, San Pedro Sula is fascinating to see and study, but it is otherwise flat, uninspiring and a bit depressing. Also, for most of the year, this part of Honduras is uncomfortably hot and humid. San Pedro Sula is a city for getting business done and for changing planes, rather than for sightseeing. We were glad to be moving on.


Copan is in the mountains of western Honduras. It was a cooling relief from the heat and humidity of the lowlands. We took a taxi from the San Pedro Sula airport directly to our hotel in Copan. On our return, we discovered the inexpensive luxury buses run by Hedman Alas that serve Copan. Take the buses. They're comfortable, clean, air-conditioned, punctual ... and less expensive than taxis.

The main reason for visiting this charming town in the mountains is to visit the ruins of Copan. Like the other ruins in Central America, they are fascinating, beautiful and mysterious. We liked the scarlet macaws that greeted us at the park entrance and the Archaeology Museum.

For a place to stay, we recommend the Hotel Madrugada. It's cozy and authentic. You'll enjoy breakfast on the tiled veranda, overlooking a river and a garden full of butterflies and flowers. The ruins are a 10-minute walk away. Celestina, the proprietress, is a wonderful hostess and cook. Get her to tell you her life story. To make your reservations, phone the hotel directly at 504-651-4092. Avoid the overpriced Honduran travel agencies.

Click on any picture to start the slide show.

A stella at Copan

The central court

Entrance to the museum

The old man of Copan

Hotel Madrugada

Breakfast at the hotel

Relaxing at the hotel

Nelson, our guide
When you're in Copan, there's more to do than to visit the ruins. Rent a horse and a guide and ride up into the hills. Our guide took us to an inn overlooking the valley called Hacienda San Lucas for an excellent lunch. The staff is mostly Mayan, and very gracious. This would be a wonderful place to relax for a few days and feel as though you were very, very far from the rest of the world. In fact, if I ever disappear from the known world, I'll probably be hiding out at this hacienda.

On the trail to the hacienda

Mayan children

Preparing a snack

Overlooking the valley
Copan is geothermally active. Our guide drove us up into the hills in his pickup truck to visit some hot springs. Check out this Copan tourist guide for information about other fun things to do in the area.

A hot spring

Tree of life

Aguas termales

Scarlet Macaw
One final note about Copan: The food is great! Ask Celestina at the Hotel Madrugada which are the best places to eat.

A street in Copan

Typical transportation

Sunset from the hotel

Our internet cafe

If you have any questions about our trip, feel free to contact me at nick@zoa.com.
If this trip looks like fun, you might want to read about our other adventures.