GoNOMAD DESTINATION MINI GUIDE
Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras
By Warren Post
Santa Rosa de Copán is located in the heart of mountainous western Honduras, nearly equidistant between the cities of San Pedro Sula and Guatemala City. Honduras straddles the Central American isthmus between North and South America, sharing borders with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.
Santa Rosa de Copán offers an agreeable change from tourist traps and scorching cities. Its cool mountain climate, fine colonial architecture with narrow cobbled streets, and reputation for friendliness combine to make Santa Rosa de Copán one of the region’s most pleasant places to visit.
Off the gringo trail, Santa Rosa isn’t overrun with travelers. And its strategic location makes Santa Rosa a good base for day trips to the surrounding area.
WHEN TO GO
Year round. The 1,200 meter (3,900 feet) elevation gives Santa Rosa a pleasant climate all year.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
If arriving by air, the nearest international airport is at San Pedro Sula. Once in Santa Rosa, local travel agents can confirm your return or onward flight. Other international airports in Honduras are at Tegucigalpa and La Ceiba.
Traveling to Santa Rosa de Copán is easy. From San Pedro Sula, it’s a 2-1/2 hour drive on the Western Highway. Copanecos, Toritos, and Congolón bus lines all offer hourly service. From Tegucigalpa, you can travel with Sultana line via San Pedro or enjoy one of Central America’s most scenic roads through the beautiful Opalaca Range (unpaved between La Esperanza and Gracias; inquire locally in La Esperanza before continuing). There are also buses from El Salvador, and from the Guatemalan border. To reach the historic downtown district once at Santa Rosa, stay on the highway until cresting the ridge bisecting the town, then take the second right — or hire a taxi (US$0.55/person) to take you to the central plaza.
Taxis are plentiful and cheap. They have a fixed fare of US$0.55 per person within the town. It is customary for the driver to pick up other passengers on the way to your destination. There are two taxi stands in town: one in front of the central plaza, and one at the bus station. Most passengers simply flag a taxi down on the street. The city bus, marked “urbanos,” takes a circular route around the town. Its stately pace makes it a poor choice for getting anywhere fast, but it is a pleasant way to see the town.
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTIONS
- Flor de Copan Cigar Factory
Santa Rosa is noted for the excellent hand-rolled cigars produced by Flor de Copán, makers of the famous Zino line. The factory, located four blocks east of the bus station (open 8am – 4pm Monday – Friday, 8 – 11am Saturday) allows visitors to enter and view the process. Cigars are available for sale at the factory outlet, which is two blocks west of the central plaza.
- Beneficio Maya Coffee Factory
Coffee lovers will want to visit Beneficio Maya, where fine coffee is graded and roasted for export. Aside from being able to view the process, visitors can buy fresh export grade coffee. Take a taxi to the beneficio (US$0.55/person), as it’s a little hard to find. There is usually something to see year round, although most activity takes place during coffee harvest season (October – February).
Ten minutes outside of town on the road to Gracias is the village of La Montañita. There you will find Doricentro, a privately operated park with water toboggan, swimming and wading pools, light snacks and beverages, picnic areas, and music. An entrance fee of US$1.50 includes use of the toboggan and pools. Doricentro is open weekends and holidays.
- Las Tres Jotas
Further along the road to Gracias is Las Tres Jotas (US$0.75), another private park that is also a working tobacco farm and fishery. Have the bus driver point it out, as the sign on the highway is easy to miss. Aside from picnic areas and wading pools, Las Tres Jotas has the freshest fish you’ll eat. Las Tres Jotas is open daily.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTIONS
- Holy Week Processions
A very special time to visit Santa Rosa is during Easter Week. During the week before Easter, Santa Rosa presents some of the best processions in the nation. Six in all, the processions are full dress street theater reenactments of the different parts of the Easter story daily beginning Holy Thursday. There’s the Incarceration Procession, the Holy Cross Procession, the Funeral and Mourning Processions, the Resurrection Procession, and more.The most spectacular is undoubtedly the Holy Cross Procession, or Via Crucis, on Friday morning. Bearing cross and under guard, Jesus makes his way through the heart of Santa Rosa’s historical district along a two kilometer route beautifully decorated with carpets of flowers and colored sawdust in the streets. Because the carpets are ruined by the passage of the procession, you will want to arrive well before the nine a.m. starting time to admire the handiwork of the many Copanecos who have labored since dawn on the decorations.My personal favorite, however, is the candlelight Women’s Procession Friday night. Mary and her friends march silently through the dark streets in mourning for her son’s death, the only sound their footfalls on the cold cobblestones.
BEST ACTIVITIES OR TOURS
- Celaque National Park
A lovely 40 minute bus ride will take you to Gracias, one of Honduras’s most historic towns. Founded in 1539, many colonial era buildings remain standing today. First stop is to get your bearings at the fort of San Cristobal overlooking the town with fine views of the valley and the surrounding Celaque range.A visit to Celaque National Park, one of the nation’s finest, is a must for anyone who enjoys nature. A nine kilometer dirt road leads from Gracias to the park’s entrance and visitor’s center. There is an entrance fee of US$0.75 payable in the center. A recommended guide to the park is Cándido (US$15/day), who lives on the road 1/2 hour’s walk back towards Gracias. There is no public transport to the park, but a car can be hired at Guancascos Restaurant in Gracias, where camping gear and box lunches for the trail are also available.Hikers will enjoy ascending the principal trail through one of the largest existing stands of cloud forest in Central America to Celaque’s 2,849 meter summit, Honduras’s highest. The cloud forest is a great place for wildlife observation, including the beautiful and elusive quetzal. Others, content to enjoy a walk in the forest, can return to Gracias and relax in the nearby hot springs southeast of town. Transportation to the hot springs can be arranged at Guancascos.
- La Campa
Another worthwhile side trip is to the Lenca village of La Campa, sixteen kilometers beyond Gracias. La Campa is where much Lenca pottery, both traditional and modern, is produced for sale in fashionable Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula shops. The artisans are happy to display their skills to visitors. Public transportation is available from Gracias.
- Belen Gualcho
Still another interesting day trip can be made from Santa Rosa south to the mountain village of Belén Gualcho. Perched on the backside of the Celaque range, Belén Gualcho is an enchanted place with steep, twisting little streets occasionally opening up to give lovely views. Be sure to check out the locally made fruit wines. On the way, you’ll pass through Corquín, where little explored limestone caves tempt the adventuresome. Buses depart Santa Rosa thrice daily for Belén Gualcho, or you can drive (four wheel drive recommended) south, leaving the highway at Cucuyagua.
Lenca Land Trails, run by Max Elvir. Max offers cultural and ethnic tours, hiking, birding, and horseback trips. Tel/fax: +504-662-0103
- Spanish Language School
Santa Rosa de Copán is an ideal place to learn or brush up on your Spanish. The Santa Rosa de Copán Language School offers one-to-one instruction in a classic colonial style building, 1-1/2 blocks south of central market.
- Hotel Elvir (US$39.00 double, Tel/fax: +504-662-0103), two blocks west of the central plaza, has been recently remodeled in colonial style. Also home to Lenca Land Trails.
- The relatively new Hotel Blanca Nieves (US$3.50 single), two blocks east of the central plaza, is becoming a favorite with budget travelers.
Santa Rosa’s restaurants have made the town an informal R&R center for Peace Corps volunteers. There are steak houses, international cuisine, Chinese food, and — of course — hearty Honduran fare. Pizza Pizza, four blocks east of the central plaza in a charming colonial house and courtyard, doubles as a traveler’s information center, book exchange, and Internet café.
The city cultural center, Casa de la Cultura, is 1/2 block south of the central plaza and offers a library, frequent exhibitions, performances, readings, and concerts. Be sure to ask about upcoming events.
- Santa Rosa De Lima Fair
Another good time to visit Santa Rosa is during the annual fair in the last two weeks of August. Dedicated to the local patron saint, Santa Rosa de Lima, there are religious observances, a beauty pageant and coronation, street carnivals, a rodeo, cultural performances, and more.
- Independence Day
Honduras’s Independence Day, September 15, is marked by three days of celebrations and parades with surprisingly intricate uniforms and costumes. Each year schools compete to see which can display the most striking or unique presentation. Kindergartens march on September 13, elementary schools on September 14, and high schools on September 15.
BEST LOCAL HAUNT
- Pizza Pizza
Located four blocks east of the central plaza on Calle Centenario, offers food, Internet access, information and good place to meet to Peace Corps folks taking a break.
Market days bring villagers from the surrounding areas.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
Immigration Service is located one block north of central plaza. Tourist visas may be renewed here with much less trouble than in larger cities.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
The town and surrounding areas are pretty safe. The usual precautions, however, apply. Drink bottled water and eat only cooked or peeled foods. In a medical emergency, there is an English speaking doctor: Dr. Sohel Rajabian, Clinica Médica Las Gemas, 1/2 block north of Hotel Elvir, Tel: +504 662-1428.
MONEY AND COMMUNICATION
Banco BGA, one block west of the central plaza on Calle Centenario, changes American Express travelers’ checks and provides cash advances on Visa cards. Banco Atlántida, facing the central plaza, has an automatic teller machine (ATM) that accepts Visa and Plus cards. Both banks will change U.S. currency to Honduran lempiras. Better businesses in town will accept Visa cards. Some will accept U.S. currency or American Express travelers’ checks, but usually at less favorable rates than the bank. Credit cards other than Visa, travelers’ checks other than American Express, and foreign currency other than U.S. dollars are rarely accepted. The Cybercafé at Pizza Pizza is a full service Internet café offering email and Internet access. Located four blocks east of the central plaza on Calle Centenario, it is open daily except Wednesday; Visa cards accepted. The post office, Honducor, faces the central plaza. It is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A letter or postcard bound for the U.S. typically requires two weeks for delivery.
The telephone company, Hondutel, is next door to the post office. Long distance calls can be placed daily; a three minute call to the U.S. costs US$4. Faxes can be sent Monday through Friday.
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