Santa Rosa de Copan is located in the heart of mountainous western Honduras, nearly equidistant between the cities of San Pedro Sula and Guatemala City. Its altitude of 1,200 meters (3,900 feet) give Santa Rosa an ideal spring like climate almost year round. This guide will tell you what you need to know about it!
The history of Santa Rosa de Copan begins in 1765, when the Spanish colonial authorities established the “Real Factorma de Tabaco” (royal tobacco trading post) at what is now Santa Rosa. By providing seed and implements for the cultivation of tobacco and a reliable market for its purchase, the Spanish crown stimulated the cultivation of tobacco and production of cigars in the area, and the settlement of the region.
Tobacco cultivation and cigar production continue to be important today, although in recent years coffee and commerce has become the region’s major economic activities.
The geographic and psychological heart of Santa Rosa is it’s historic downtown, a lovely place to stroll and admire the restored buildings and cobbled streets. Declared a national monument, the downtown area is restored and protected by the Santa Rosa Historical Preservation Commission.
True to its roots, Santa Rosa is noted for the excellent hand rolled cigars produced by Flor de Copan, makers of the famous Zino line. The factory, located four blocks east of the bus station, offers guided tours (in Spanish) 7:30 – 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday. There is a charge of US$2 per visitor. Cigars are available for sale at the factory outlet, which is two blocks west of the central plaza.
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, as it’s a little hard to find. There is usually something to see year round, although most activity takes place during coffee harvest season (October – February).
Ten minutes outside of town on the road to Gracias is the village of La Montaqita. 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 of US$1.50 includes use of the toboggan and pools. Doricentro is open weekends and holidays.
Further along the road to Gracias is Las Tres Jotas (US$0.75), 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 and welcomes overnight campers.
Gracias is one of Honduras’s most historic towns. Founded in 1539, many colonial era buildings remain standing today. 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.
CENTRAL PLAZA AND CATHEDRAL
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 of US$0.75 payable at 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 (9,347 foot) summit, Honduras’s highest. The 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 south to the mountain village of Belin Gualcho. Perched on the back side of the Celaque range, Belin 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 Corqumn, where little explored limestone caves tempt the adventuresome. Buses depart Santa Rosa thrice daily for Belin Gualcho, or you can drive (four wheel drive recommended) south, leaving the highway at Cucuyagua.
Luxury: Hotel Elvir (US$42 double, tel +504 662-0103), two blocks west of the central plaza, has been remodeled in colonial style. Aside from the usual services, the Hotel Elvir is home to Lenca Land Trails, which offers cultural and ethnic tours, hiking, birding, and horseback trips.
Midrange: The newly remodeled Hotel Continental (US$17 double, tel +504 662-0801), one block west of the scenic Puente Minerva, is an excellent value.
Budget: Travelers on a budget often choose the Hospedaje Calle Real ($3 double, shared cold water bath), 1/2 block east of Pizza Pizza on Calle Centenario.
Fine dining: For fine dining in a traditional atmosphere, try Restaurante Las Haciendas, 1/2 block east of Casa Bueso. The well stocked bar’s television is often tuned to American sporting events.
Midrange: The American owned Pizza Pizza, four blocks east of the central plaza in a restored colonial house and courtyard, features fresh homemade pizza and pasta and doubles as a traveler’s information center and book exchange.
Budget: La Casa Vieja, one block east of the hospital, is the place to go for authentic local food, atmosphere, and live marimba music. Owner Amilcar Lara is well versed in local lore.
The CopaNet Internet Cafe is located on the second floor of the Plaza Saavedra, 2 blocks east of the central plaza.
The hottest nightspot in town is the Jaguar Luna Discotheque, 1/2 block south of the main market. If you would rather sing than dance, grab the mike at Manzanita’s Karaoke Bar, in front of the main market.
If your interests are more highbrow, head for the city cultural center (Casa de la Cultura) 1/2 block south of the central plaza. Most evenings you will find an exhibition, performance, reading, or concert. Be sure to ask about upcoming events.
WHEN TO GO AND WHY
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.
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 historical 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.
Another good time to visit Santa Rosa 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.
HOW TO GET THERE
Traveling to Santa Rosa de Copan is easy. From San Pedro Sula it’s a 2-1/2 hour drive on the Western Highway. Copanecos, Toritos, and Congolon bus lines all offer hourly service. From Tegucigalpa, you can travel with 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.
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.
Warren Post first came to Honduras in 1986 as a diplomat assigned to the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa, and returned to stay in 1990. Since then Warren has occupied himself as a beach bum in Trujillo, a marketing director for a ecotour operator, an English teacher on a cattle ranch, a cybercafe owner, a jungle guide in the Mosquitia, and a web designer and IT consultant. In 1994 he and his Honduran wife Orlanda opened Pizza Pizza, a family restaurant in Santa Rosa de Copan, which they continue to operate with their three teenage sons.