WESTERN CARIBBEAN – GULF OF HONDURAS COASTAL BACKPACKER TRAVEL GUIDE
2007 – 2008
by Ray Auxillou
From Southern Belize you can connect to both coastal Guatemala and Honduras by using small airplanes, water taxis, coastal road buses, ferries and pangas run by outboard motors.
For USA Backpackers - SPIRIT AIRLINES out of Ft. Lauderdale in Florida is now flying into San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Which is a major industrial city with a cheap bus ride to the North coast of Honduras. The airplanes are NEW Airbus 319’s. Fare was quoted in 2007 Fall months at $60 USA one way. Taxes and fees, mostly in the USA, run that up to US $90 for a one way ticket. Spirit was flying at this writing, three times a week, Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. The flight was usually a night trip, just before midnight. You would have to overnight in San Pedro Sula. I once made some good money, buying Honduran Opals in a local gift shop here and selling them in Iowa, to a jeweler. There are Spirit connections to Atlanta, Boston, Detroit and Chicago out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
You can get to Belize, via local Maya Airways out of San Pedro Sula, from Big Creek, across the lagoon from the tourist coastal village of Placentia in Belize. This is a 9 passenger plane flying Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the afternoon, at 3:15 p.m. It is a 45 minute flight across the Gulf of Honduras waters. They hit you hard on the fare at US $125 one-way. There is also a local Honduran Airline, called Atlantic Air, which flies into Belize City up in the middle of the country, from San Pedro Sula in Honduras, for US $145.
Water Taxi connections to Honduras are from Placentia, in Belize, at US $50 to Puerto Cortez. This is 45 miles of open ocean. A local bus between Puerto Cortez and San Pedro Sula costs about $2 and takes 45 minutes doing local stops.
Water Taxi connections between Punta Gorda, the southernmost remote town in Belize across the Gulf of Honduras to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala are US $18. It is 30 miles of Gulf open water to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala. Takes a little over an hour. There is also some sort of panga service to Livingston, in Guatemala on the Rio Dulce, where you can hook into the local bus traffic. Livingston is a yachtie favorite, as they anchor and leave their sailboats up the Rio Dulce Fiord under caretakers, while going back to the USA to work and earn more money, to keep sailing around the Belize Barrier Reef 200 islands and three offshore Atolls.
The HONDURAS to GUATEMALA coastal road is now open to bus traffic. You can connect using local buses, from San Pedro Sula, to Omoa, a suburb on the Honduran mainland of Puerto Cortez and from OMOA, go coastal road buses to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala. They dug a tunnel through the mountain range that divides Honduras and Guatemala a few years ago and put in a highway. Belize is supposed to finish the asphalt paved Southern Highway joining this Guatamalan road system from Jalacte, Belize, to Poptun in Guatemala, but currently lacks the money. The Belize road goes to Big Falls and San Antonio and also branches down to the Belize coastal little town of Punta Gorda. About 5000 people here in Punta Gorda serving the interior Mayan Indian villages. There are roughly 30 such jungle villages scattered through the foothill country at around 400 feet elevation.
This Western Central American coastal road traveling is scenic and an adventure. The local chicken buses from San Pedro Sula to Omoa, about US $2 and then change to the Omoa chicken bus, to Guatemala border immigration was US $3. Lovely views from the mountainous coastal road. The border crossing is smooth. You walk across the border and catch a mini-van type bus into Puerto Barrios. The water taxi ferry runs at 10 a.m. over to Punta Gorda. The Guatemalan passport control and water taxi are the same place and the mini-van will drop you right there. There is an EXIT fee out of Guatemala of US $12. The water taxi to Punta Gorda carries a typical load of five Guatemalans going shopping in Punta Gorda, maybe ten Belizeans who have been shopping in Guatemala returning to Punta Gorda, and maybe six backpacker type foreign tourists. Dutch, UK, and such, are the usual mix of Europeans exploring the Western Caribbean coast and looking to save money at the same time. Southern Belizeans from Placentia to Punta Gorda, either shop in Puerto Cortez in Honduras, or Puerto Barrios in Guatemala. They use the water taxi to cross the Gulf of Honduras. Roughly speaking you will blow around US $150 connecting from San Pedro Sula in Honduras to Belize, counting in low budget hotels for overnighting. That is a one way fare from Ft. Lauderdale through Honduras to Belize about US $240 and takes two days thereabouts. Miami to Belize costs about US $350 to $500 one way, depending on season. There are flights into Belize direct from California, Atlanta, Houston and Miami.
In Belize, there are local buses from Punta Gorda to the capital in Belmopan, where you can connect to other parts of Belize. They run about every two hours. Belmopan is about 7,000 people.
SPIRIT AIRLINES from Ft. Lauderdale in Florida also flies into Cancun. There are beautiful buses with toilets and movies in Mexico from Playa del Carment to Chetumal on the border with Belize. The Mexican taxes on airlines though, make the San Pedro Sula connection through Honduras slightly cheaper than going to Belize through Cancun. The Mexican connection is faster though and you would lose about two days travel time out of your planned vacation in Belize on a round trip.
EUROPEAN BACKPACKERS are mostly flying into Guatemala City and San Pedro Sula, Honduras and coming to Belize exploring as they go. You can come via Cancun and Cozumel, the bus ride to the Belize border takes about six hours. There are various border fees, which I don’t understand and just pay though.
GUATEMALA has three must see tourist sights. These are the colonial city of ANTIGUA which was built a hundred years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in the USA. Antigua is famous for volcanoes and colorful Mayan Indian weaving. There are 22 Mayan different Mayan tribes in Guatemala, each with their own distinct language and weaving styles. Antigua has the best patterns and colors. Lake Atitlan and the tourist town of Panachjel is a photogenic must see place. A high mountain lake surrounded by Volcanoes. US $15 by express mini-van to Panachjel from Guatemala City. Takes about 3 hours, traffic is horrendous. Backpacker Hospedajes and Pensions are cheap. About US $5 a night, back from the Lake, against the hill. Usually nice rooms my wife and I found for US $5. The local Mayan Indians don’t have as picturesque colors in their weaving though, as over in Antigua. The third site is TIKAL a big city in the jungles of Peten. Most BACKPACKERS fly into Flores and see the island on the lake, where Cortez passed through and left a horse which was stuffed and worshipped by the Indians. Then take a mini-bus into TIKAL for a day at the ruins and then mini-bus to the border with Belize. An express mini-van ride costing about $15 and three hours from Flores to the Belize border. You pass mostly ranches as the Guatemalans have cut down the Peten jungles. From Melchor de Menchos on the Guatemalan border, you can get a taxi ride on the Belize side after walking out of Customs, about 12 miles to “Falconview Tourist Backpackers Adventure Hostel”, in Santa Elena Town, Hillview, Western Belize, for $10 for the vehicle. Share the ride and it gets very cheap.
In HONDURAS, the major tourist sites, are the ruins of Copan. It is a worthwhile trip out of San Pedro Sula. You can also connect into Guatemala here over the mountains and the main road into Guatemala. The three BAY ISLANDS off the Northern coast of Honduras are favorites for scuba divers. The reef is close to the island shore. The islands are Utila, Roatan and Guanaja. Roatan is the one you want to go to. My daughter Tina Auxillou has a BACKPACKER HOSTEL in West End in Roatan. She also has another beachfront Hostel on Caye Caulker in Belize and flies back and forth. You can get to Roatan island via FERRY out of La Ceiba on the coast and just take the bus from San Pedro Sula down to the coast town of La Ceiba. Alternatively you can fly direct from San Pedro Sula to the Bay islands by local airline. I don’t remember the fares and prices, for ferry, or plane; but when I get them updated, will post them here.
In BELIZE, people mostly are interested in the Barrier Reef islands of Caye Caulker and San Pedro. Inland traveling BACKPACKERS usually stay at my FALCONVIEW ADVENTURE HOSTEL, for a few nights while taking outside excursions each day. We were rated VERY EXCELLENT for 2008, in the European Backpackers Guidebooks published in different languages of Europe. Falconview Adventure Hostel is most famous for seeing CARACOL ruins, an all day trip and a Mayan city larger they say, than TIKAL. Though much of it is yet unexcavated and still ongoing. CARACOL once ruled the Mayan Empire. The local day trip ruins of XUNUNTANICH and CAHEL PECH are a day trip, as also the ACTUN TUNICHIL MUCKNAL, or ATM cave trip. This is a Mayan underground ceremonial cave system, where sacrifices were made and still has skeletons and pottery a mile back underground, as the entrance to XIBALBA, the Mayan spiritual underworld of nine planes of lower existence. There are many other local attractions for tourists if you are going to stay awhile. We just sell beds, free bathrooms and showers and a kitchen to cook, with a hammock and television room. What we do is arrange your Western Adventure tours using local Tour Operators, for you. We keep our finger on the pulse of who is reputable and has working equipment. There are a lot of street hustler tourist guides over in San Ignacio our neighbor small town center, taxi drivers giving out bad expensive information and such. The Tourist business is seasonal here. We get six weeks over the Christmas, to end of January break, another three weeks at Easter and six weeks during the July- August summer break. The rest of the year is sort of sporadic casual drop ins, by Central American explorers traveling on longer time frames. The short packed intermittent tourist seasons play havoc with local Tour Guide Operations and most of them can’t keep an operation going and are constantly changing. The usual male tour guide, usually has a wife working for the government, to keep paying the family bills from a steady salary. We try to hook guests up with trips that work and the hostel here does not charge for it. We just want you to have a good adventurous time in our neck of the world, as we realize both your money and time are valuable to you. To us, you are family and guests of our home and hostel. We can’t live off the Hostel earnings. Fortunately, my wife and I are retired and financially independent and just like having new visitors drop in periodically. Kinda second hand excitement, hearing young people chatting about their day’s adventures. Most are in their 20's and seeing the world, while still in school and sometimes working. Reminds me of my youthful days. My four daughters over on Caye Caulker are also in the tourist business. As a family, we have been doing this since 1964. Opening up the Western Coast of Central America to travelers. Believe me, there have been turbulent times over fifty years, with civil wars, pirates and all kinds of wild things happening.