Paved in cobblestone and lined with red-tiled roofed buildings, the beautiful little village of Copan Ruinas possesses an aura of timeless harmony. Nestled in the foothills of western Honduras, just 7 miles from the Guatemala border, the town is renowned for its magnificent Maya ruins. Situated along the Copan River, these ruins are set amidst a tranquil forest. Discovered in 1570, the ruins were not excavated until the 19th century. The archaeological site was once the capital city of a major Classic period kingdom from the 5th to 9th century AD. The site demonstrates that major cultural developments took place with significant achievements in mathematics, astronomy, architecture and hieroglyphic writing. As it stands today, the site of Copan is composed of a main complex of ruins with several secondary complexes encircling it. Highlights of the site include the Ceremonial Plaza, an impressive stadium and the monumental Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza. The site also contains the longest known Mayan inscription with 1,800 individual glyphs.
Located 30 miles off the north coast of Honduras, the island of Roatan is the largest of the bay islands in Honduras. The island is home to the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean Sea, and the second largest in the world. Unsurprisingly, Roatan Island offers first class scuba diving and excellent snorkelling. Its stunning waters also offer the possibility to swim with dolphins, kayak on the ocean and fly fish. For those who prefer terra firma, the island offers lush tropical scenery to explore as well as butterfly and flora gardens. Populated by pre-Columbian indigenous peoples for many centuries, the island was visited by Christopher Columbus between 1502 and 1504 during his fourth voyage. Soon after this visit, the Spanish began raiding the island for slave labour. Throughout European colonial times, the island attracted a diverse assortment of individual settlers, pirates, traders and military forces. Today, the island is happy to serve as the picture perfect example of paradise.
Located along the Chiquito River, Leon is the second largest city in Nicaragua. With a university founded in 1813, the city is considered the intellectual centre of the nation. It is home to some fine examples of Spanish colonial architecture, most importantly, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Cathedral of Assumption. The cathedral was built between 1706 and 1740 and is one of the city’s best known sites. And the cathedral is not alone as there are more churches and cathedrals in Leon than anywhere else in Nicaragua. The original city of Leon was established in 1524, east of where present day Leon now stands. An eruption of the Momotombo volcano left the city with extensive damage and its inhabitants abandoned the city in 1610. They moved to Leon’s present location, next to the indigenous town of Subtiava. The ruins of the old city, known as Leon Viejo, contain a cellar where the remains of Leon’s founder can be found. This archaeological site was also declared a World Heritage site. Besides the historical interest and value, the site also affords stunning views of Lake Managua and Momotombo volcano.
Historically, the city of Granada is one of Nicaragua’s most important, both economically and politically. Its rich colonial heritage is displayed in the Moorish and Andalusian appearance of its layout and architecture. Throughout its history, Granada has been invaded by English, Dutch and French pirates attempting to take control of the country. Built around the main square, the city was originally constructed as a showcase city but soon gained importance as a trading centre. Granada is located along the coast of Lake Nicaragua and during the colonial period, the city maintained a flourishing level of commerce with ports on the Atlantic Ocean as the lake connects with the Caribbean Sea. Lake Nicaragua is also notable for the fact that it is the only freshwater lake in the world that is home to species of shark. In the lake are also a number of beautiful little islands. The beauty of the lake combined with the regal splendor of the city itself makes Granada a great place to explore by foot and enjoy a few leisurely days.
The Masaya National Park is home to the Masaya volcano, considered to be the most fascinating natural phenomena in Nicaragua. The National Park was one of the first in the country, established in 1979. 20km worth of scenic roads and trails enable visitors to get up close and personal with the two impressive volcanoes and five formidable craters, continuously emitting smoke and sulphur gases. The Masaya volcano is known to the indigenous Chorotega tribe as Popogatepe – “mountain that burns”. During the pre-Columbian age, the indigenous people of the region believed that the volcano’s eruptions were a sign of anger from the Gods. In order to appease the Gods and stop the eruptions, human sacrifices were offered to the volcano. Later in history, the volcano was also feared by the Spanish conquerors who baptised it ‘La Boca del Infierno’ – the mouth of hell. In order to exorcise the devil from the volcano, they planted a cross on the crater of the lip during the 16th century. Today, the national park is home to different types of vegetation and animals, including coyotes, skunks, racoons, possums, iguanas and monkeys. The Tzinaconostoc Cave is where hundreds of bats live and underground tunnels, formed by lava streams, offer visitors a unique look at rock formations.
Ometepe Island is an island formed by two volcanoes – Concepcion and Maderas. Rising from Lake Nicaragua, it is the largest island in the lake. The island forms an hourglass shape with a strip of land joining the two volcanoes. The perfectly formed volcano cone of Concepcion, the northwest half of the island, reaches 1,610m in altitude and is considered active. The southeast half of the island, Volcan Maderas, has a crater lake supporting a diverse rainforest environment. Much of this half of the island is a nature reserve with fertile land a welcomed by-product of the volcanic ash. The island once served as an Indian burial ground, and the volcanoes play an important part in the myths and legends of the island’s people. It is thought that the island has been inhabited since 300 BC. Rock engravings, known as petroglyphs, have been found in archaeological sites all over the island on over 1,400 boulders. The petroglyphs contain spirals and stylised turtles, a common motif on the island. During the 16th century, the time of the Spanish conquerors, the island was ravished by pirates stealing the island’s women, animals, possessions and harvest.