For those who follow our travels, you know that we recently made our longest move of the trip so far. We moved from Heredia, Costa Rica to Merida, Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula. It was a drive of just over 1350 miles and took us through 5 countries. We traveled through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize before reaching Mexico. We estimated that it would take us about 12 days with a couple of rest stops in Copan Ruinas, Honduras and Belize. We wanted to see the Mayan Ruins at Copan and stop for a time to visit Belize, which was the only Central American country we hadn’t visited on this trip.
We thought our checkout day from our last apartment was the 10th
of August. We asked the landlady on the afternoon of the 8th
just to make sure we were correct and she told us we were supposed to be out on the 9th
. Major crisis as it really only gave us the rest of the afternoon to pack up the car and get ready to leave first thing in the morning. Luckily after moving so many times in the last 14 months (10 times), we have
the packing down to a science and can get everything ready in no time.
A major problem with this move was the number of times we had to change currencies on the trip. It is difficult to use money from one country in another and the only solution is to use the money changers at the border. Some are very honest and give a very good rate, but many aren’t. It’s hard enough to get the car across the border without feeling disappointed that you have been cheated. We found an ATM that dispensed US dollars which are accepted at most of the borders for fees and at nearly any tourist place (hotels and restaurants).
We left Heredia and drove on the Pan American Highway into Nicaragua. The border crossing went smoothly enough and we made excellent time on the good roads all the way to Granada, Nicaragua. We lived in Granada for a month and know the roads in town well so it was easy to find a hotel and go out to find dinner.
The next day we crossed our second border from Nicaragua into Honduras. We had crossed here in the past (at El
Espino) and were familiar with the process. Despite being on the Pan American Highway, this border crossing is very easy. The process seems to be rapid and the border crossing isn’t really crowded. The only thing was the customs (aduana) person went to lunch for an hour just as we got to the office and we got delayed while we waited for her return.
The Pan American in Honduras is in terrible condition and is really slow going (sometimes as slow as 10 miles per hour). We needed to head toward the capital of Tegucigalpa, which is not on the Pan American, and were hoping that the roads were better but had no way of knowing as we had not traveled in that part of Honduras. As it was getting late in the afternoon, we decided to be safe and stop for the night in Choluteca, Honduras. We found a decent motel that had a nice shopping center across the street with a Pizza Hut and KFC. We tried both before we left the next morning.
We headed toward Tegucigalpa the next morning and were pleasantly surprised that the roads were really good for the most part and
we could make excellent time. Driving here is extremely tiring because even when the roads are nice, they can always have things that come out of nowhere, so you need to always be vigilant. Many times we have rounded turns and come upon landslides, herds of cattle or overturned 18 wheelers. Several times tires or a pile of bushes has been the only marker to warn you that the road has caved in and you no longer have a lane to drive in. We passed through the outskirts of Tegucigalpa before noon and decided to drive on to the town of San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras. The countryside was beautiful and we passed over mountain ranges and through valleys and through jungles and beautiful farmlands. I hate to mention it but since I was talking about things you see on the road, while we were entering a small town we saw a man lying on the side of the road. We slowed down to go around assuming he was probably drunk but unfortunately I don’t think he was alive. It sounds terribly cold, but we didn’t stop. There were other people nearby and I couldn’t afford to have someone
think we had hit him or something. Foreigners are assumed to be guilty if they are involved in an accident here and I was just too afraid of the potential consequences to stop. Sad…
We arrived in San Pedro Sula by 4 o’clock and found a nice Holiday Inn Express to stay in for the night. It was much more expensive than we are used to staying in, but I have to admit the luxury was much appreciated. Quiet air conditioners, hot water, comfortable beds and a nice complimentary breakfast in the morning were such a welcome change that it made the price worth it. Small things.
The next morning we made the quick trip to the town of Copan Ruinas. Copan Ruinas are located just outside of the famous Mayan Ruins of Copan. We booked our room for 2 nights in a nice colonial style hotel a block from the town square. We headed out to explore and get some laundry done (clean clothes, another luxury!). Copan Ruinas is a nice small town with plenty of restaurants, bars and hotels. The streets are cobblestoned, which are nice to look at, but hard to drive on. We decided
to park the car for the time we visited and just walk or take mototaxis everywhere.
We had a torrential downpour and lost electricity twice while we were in town. It sounds strange, but it was actually kind of fun. Once we were in our hotel and so we went to the balcony to sit. Everyone came out of their houses and sat out talking to neighbors. Another time we were in a restaurant when the lights went out. They started the generator and the whole restaurant lit back up. It seemed like we were a lighthouse in a sea of dark. Car headlights were the only other source of light in the area that we could see.
The next day we got up early and were the first people to arrive at the Ruins. It was incredible to be all alone in the ruins for the 1st
hour we visited (except for the flock of Macaws). The ruins were beautiful and very different from the ruins at Palenque or Tikal. Copan had excellent carvers and the ornamentation of the stelae (monuments) and pyramids was much more intricate than other ruins. We also visited the great onsite museum
that even had a complete copy of one of the temples complete with colors inside.
We crossed the border from Honduras into Guatemala the next morning. This has got to be the best border crossing we have had on our trip so far. All the immigration and customs officers spoke English, the money changers were honest and there were absolutely no people to hassle you at all. Yeah!
We made our way to the river town of Rio Dulce, Guatemala stopping at a small Mayan site called Quirigua. Quirigua is surrounded by hundreds of acres of banana plantation. In Rio Dulce we found a place called Bruno’s to stay for the night. Rio Dulce is popular with sail boaters and yachties and our hotel seemed to be the center of the pirate universe. Quite a group of characters were at the bar in the open air restaurant every time we visited. We never left the grounds of the hotel and joined the group for beers and Caipirinhas.
We left early the next morning and headed on again to the jungles of El Peten. We stayed for the night on the island of Flores, Guatemala. Flores is very
close to Tikal ruins and we had visited several years ago on another trip. We knew our way around Flores well and visited a couple of places that we liked last time. It was hard to pass up but we decided not to visit Tikal again and headed on to Belize the next morning.
We drove over some familiar roads from our past trip and made our way to Orange Walk, Belize for the night. Orange Walk is a small town of 25,000 on the New River in Northern Belize. We arranged for a trip to Lamanai Mayan Ruins. The ruins themselves are very nice and are in the middle of a deep jungle. The best part of visiting them is taking the 1 ½ hour boat ride on the New River to get to them. On the river we saw many birds, crocodiles, monkeys, lizards and bats. The ruins were great and we enjoyed a nice picnic lunch with the others in the group. We met nice people on the trip who had traveled extensively and it was fun to share stories.
Belize has a very unique variety of food that is much different than most in
Central America. It is spiced much differently and is very Caribbean tasting. We enjoyed the change in diet and ate very well while in Belize. I have to say that last time we were in Belize, I did not like it very much but this time we thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to visiting again in the future.
The next morning we left bright and early for our final destination of Mexico. We were far ahead of schedule and would need to slow down for a few days before we could check in to our new house. We had a quick exit from Belize but unfortunately got delayed entering Mexico. For some reason they only had one person checking passports and it literally was a 3 hour wait in line to have our passport stamped. There was no shade and it was easily 95 degrees and was not pleasant. I felt so bad for the people with children and babies that were forced to wait. It was truly ridiculous. After we finally got across the border we had a 4 hour drive to our next stop at Campeche, Mexico where we planned to stay for 2 nights. We
were about an hour into our drive and badly needed gas and food. We asked in a small town where the nearest ATM was and they told us it was 3 hours ahead in Campeche! There was no way we would make it. We had to turn around and drive back to the border at Chetumal. We decided to stay the night and get a fresh start in the morning.
The next day we drove the 4 hours to Campeche. The drive was good and we arrived in Campeche Centro by a little after noon. What a beautiful city. Campeche’s walled Centro area has over 2000 restored buildings that are all colorfully painted. The roads are nicely paved and have the look of cobblestone without the bounce. We had a beautiful restored hotel with a great air conditionerand a nice pool. The central square is beautiful and has an incredible church with impressive bell towers that seem to rise 100’s of feet above the church façade.
We visited two old forts on the outskirts of town and a couple of old gates to the walled city all of which contained museums. We drove along the ocean with a
myriad of restaurants and casinos and a nicely reconstructed walkway (malecon). We look forward to returning to visit Campeche. This is truly one of the most beautiful cities we have visited on our trip so far.
We drove the final 2 hours and triumphantly reached Merida. We had to get a hotel for one more night before we could check in to our new house. The town is big (over one million people) with wide roads and an impressive main square with lots of restaurants and entertainment.
We have rented a small colonial house just off of the main square and very close to Parque Santiago. It is nicely restored and is brightly colored. It is not like anyplace we have rented before and will take some time to get used to (example: it rains in the kitchen, but that’s for another blog!).
We plan to stay in Merida for at least 2 months and hope we can make this house work for us. We so want to rest up for a while after a long 7 month tour of Central America. We look forward to visiting the Yucatan and Quintana Roo and will write
more as we get a chance to get out and visit.
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