History & Culture
Situated in western Honduras in a small valley surrounded by mountains and tropical vegetation, the Maya archaeological site of Copán has some of the best preserved stelae, altars, and ceremonial areas in Honduras. Though Copán has none of the towering pyramids and temples that are characteristic of other Mayan cities, it is distinguished by its intricate carvings, inscriptions, and paintings, as well as a magnificently carved Hieroglyphic Stairway, which records the history of 17 rulers. Within Copán’s 74,000-acre archaeological park, observe the Great Plaza, the ball court, several lesser courts, and amphitheater that are symbolic of the boundaries between the actual and supernatural worlds. Less than two miles from the main Copán complex is the small archaeological site of Las Sepulturas, where the Copán aristocracy lived. Learn about the work of numerous archaeologists who are working to enhance the restoration of the ruins and learn more about the Maya through the many inscriptions they left behind.
In present-day Honduras, seven recognized indigenous groups still reside, including the Miskito Indians, the Pech and the Garifuna. The Garifuna are descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak people, and in 2001, UNESCO proclaimed the language, dance and music of the Garifuna as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Visit an authentic Garifuna village to experience Garifuna culture firsthand.
Honduras’ Bay Islands, once favored by pirates and later controlled by the British, are now a top destination for divers and beachgoers. The islands, which include Roatán and Útila, offer unparalleled opportunities for both serious marine study and more leisurely beach relaxation.
Forty miles long and two miles wide, Roatán is the largest of the Bay Islands. It has a mountainous backbone and is surrounded by coral reef. Beaches and cliffs surround the north shore of the island, with deep water off the coast that is protected by reefs. Along the south shore, coral formations are often just steps off the beach. Together with its neighbor, the smaller Útila, it boasts some of the best snorkeling and diving in the hemisphere. Go snorkeling to explore over 100 species of coral teeming with everything from morays, octopus, and turtles, to drums, wrasse, gobies, ocean triggers, schools of blue tangs, and perhaps even wild dolphins and whale sharks. The water is warm, visibility is high, and you can expect calm seas when you embark on your snorkeling excursion. To learn more about whale sharks, visit the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center (W.S.O.R.C.) and attend a session on whale shark biology, methods of tagging, tracking, genetic sampling theory, and how the samples are processed. Learn about their current operations, activities, and the role of furthering education, information, and research in the worldwide arena, and then head out for a non-invasive whale shark snorkel encounter.
Flora & Fauna
This beautiful country contains vast biological resources in its many reserves, gardens, national parks, and private lands. The country is home to coral reef, rainforest, and lowland forest; about 65 percent of Honduras still maintains forest cover. Humid tropical forest, deciduous tropical forest, highland pine forests, cloud forest, grassland savannah, limestone mountains, and mangrove wetland habitats can all be found here, and protected areas like Parque Nacional Cerro Azul/Meámbar (PANACAM), Lake Yojoa, and Pico Bonito National Park provide much-needed habitat to a host of species. Throughout recent history much of the Honduran mammals, from jaguars to deer to wild boar, have been hunted out. However, because of the country’s rugged topography, a number of isolated regions remain, providing refuge for species that have become extinct elsewhere. In the cloud and rainforests, primates like howler monkeys and capuchins are easy to spot. Several species of wild cats, including jaguars, mountain lions, ocelots, margays and jaguarundis, can also be seen. Other forest mammals include the two- and three-toed sloths, anteaters, white-nosed coatis, kinkajous, peccaries, agoutis, and vampire bats.
For a country its size, Honduras has a wild profusion of bird life with more than 710 species identified. A prime birding location is at Lago de Yojoa, the country’s largest inland lake, as well as at many cloud forest reserves like La Muralla, Cusuco, Celaque and others. La Muralla is particularly well-known for sightings of the beautiful Resplendent Quetzal. The coastal regions have unique sets of water birds including pelicans, frigatebirds, sandpipers, ibis, ducks, storks, fishing eagles, and herons. Copán is also an important migration bird pathway, and there are a large number of resident birds as well, such as Blue-crowned Motmots, Turquoise-browed Motmots, and Barred Antshrike.