Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras
Santa Rosa de Copán, One of the most Pleasant Places to Visit in 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 meters (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 the 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 to take you to the central plaza.
Taxis are plentiful and cheap. They have a fixed fare of US$0.80 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 8 am – 4 pm Monday – Friday, 8 – 11 am 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$0.80/person), as it’s a little hard to find. There is usually something to see year-round, although most activity takes place during the 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 includes the use of the toboggan and pools. Doricentro is open on weekends and holidays.
Las Tres Jotas
Further along the road to Gracias is Las Tres Jotas, 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 historic 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. The 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 payable in the center.
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.
A 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.
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.
Still another interesting day trip can be made from Santa Rosa de Copán 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.
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 the central market.
Hotel Elvir (US$71.00 double, Tel/fax: 504 2662-0103), 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$16.00 double), two blocks east of the central plaza, is becoming a favorite with budget travelers.
Santa Rosa de Copán’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 de Copán 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.
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
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 the 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.
.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 for 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.