Day 5: Ranthambore National Park 🇮🇳

Asia, India

Our pre-booked train from Agra Fort to Sawai Madhopur (#12948 / Azimabad Express 1225-1625) (click here to read about travelling by train in India) was running late, so it eventually arrived around 2pm. This meant it was going to run late and we eventually arrived into Sawai Madhopur around 7:30pm. Our hotel had a driver waiting at the train station to collect us (very good considering we were 3 hours late!) and we eventually made it to the where we were staying. We visited an off-license nearby to buy some beer for the night, and then ate at the hotels onsite restaurant for dinner.

We stayed at the Ankur Resorts, Ranthambore and sorted all of our safaris through them. In hindsight, we may have taking more time to book these ourselves to have more control over what zones and where we were heading. It certainly is easier to book through your hotel, and you do have to book months in advance to really get to pick your excursions, but booking online or in person is tricky!

The main takeaway from our stay here was that it was too quick a turnover. We stayed for just one night, and completed two safaris over one day, and then rushed to our train onto Jaipur after a very quick dinner. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any elusive tigers, and completing more safaris would certainly increase our chances of spotting one! You can read below some helpful hints and tips to make your Ranthambore trip extra special!


When is best to visit Ranthambore?

Of course, most people don’t have the flexibility to arrange their India trip around a trip to spot a tiger, however if you find yourself in Rajasthan during these months, an excursion is definitely worth it. The greatest number of tigers are spotted in Summer – March to June – as this is when it is hottest, and big cats and other mammals will be spotted at water holes and rivers, and less foliage on trees will make these animals easier to spot. Visiting in March and October is better as it can be quieter due to fewer crowds. The park has been traditionally shut from 1st July to 30th September due to monsoon season however for the last few years, zones 6-10 have been kept open during these months (the chances of seeing a tiger in these zones are however much slimmer).

Where should I stay when I visit Ranthambore?

The main town closest to Ranthambore National Park is Sawai Madhopur, and here you will find many hotels and hostels, as well as restaurants, bars and ATMs. The train line is linked nicely to major cities such as Jaipur, Jodhpur, Agra and Delhi, so getting here is very easy! The nearest airport is in Jaipur, where you can grab a train to Sawai Madhopur or a taxi for a 3 hour journey. We stayed at Hotel Ankur Resorts, but there are many other hotels in the area to choose from.

Which safari zone is best to spot a tiger?

Ranthambore National Park is divided into 10 zones: the original zones 1-5 and (newer) buffer zones 6-10. Most blogs suggest that the buffer zones 6-10 have limited sightings, however the expanding number of tigers in the area has proven that mostly wrong. Zones 1-5 are also shut during monsoon season, so if visiting during this time 6-10 might be your only option. It’s useful to also know when planning your trip that zones 1-5 share the same main park entry gate just outside of Sawai Madhopur, where you will likely stay. The entry points for zones 6-10 are all spread out further away and could take you up to 45 minutes to get there.

You can read more about Ranthambore’s zones here.

What type of safari should I go on?

Ranthambore offers three types of safaris: regular safari, half-day safari, and full-day safari. By far the most common (and most affordable) is the regular safari. These typically last 3.5 hours and you stay inside a single zone in the park. You can book either a 6-seater gypsy jeep or a 20-seater canter truck. All vehicles are open-topped, and the cost is on a per-seat bases (no canters are allowed in zone 2). The exact timings for the morning and afternoon regular safaris change based on the season but you can generally expect your morning safari to start 30 minutes after sunrise and your evening safari to end 30 minutes before sunset. If booked through a hotel, you will generally have pick-up and drop-off to and from your hotel arranged for you.

Prices for regular safaris have gone up in recent years. We paid ₹2500 (£30) per person per safari for a gypsy ride (canter safari was ₹2000) when arranged through our hotel, but our travel guide lists the price as ₹1470 and ₹1250 respectably. The park’s official website now lists the fee as ₹2900/₹2300.

You should plan at least two regular safaris. Most people will recommend more as it takes on average three to get one tiger sighting (of course you might be lucky and see one straight away!). We did two regular safaris (a morning and a evening) in two different zones, and were unsuccessful in our sightings.

Half-Day and Full-Day Safaris

A higher cost, but a more flexible option is to take a half-day (6 hours) or full-day (12 hours) safari. These longer safaris can only be booked in-person at the booking office or through a local agent (hotel or travel agent). You will have the park nearly to yourself outside of the normal morning and afternoon safari times. Only 5 full-day safari jeeps and 5 half-day safari jeeps are allowed each day. A big advantage of these safaris is that you can go into ANY zone. The guide can use other sightings that day to choose the zone and you can switch zones part way, if you want. Half-day and full-day safaris are booked on a “per-vehicle” not “per-seat” basis. All half-day and full-day safaris are in a 6-seat gypsy (no canters). For a full-day safari, expect to pay at least ₹100,000 (over £1000!). For a half-day safari, plan to pay at least ₹60,000 (£650). These costs include the safari permit, entry fee, vehicle, and guide charges for 1-6 people.

How should I book a Ranthambore Tiger Safari?

The online booking process is quite complicated, and often wouldn’t work when we tried before our trip. We were happy to pay a minimal commission for our hotel to arrange the safari for us. It is certainly a lot easier, and they will also arrange transport to and from the gates. Make sure you do your research into zones though, and when you book in advance through you hotel, try and request the zones you want along with what type of safari. Of course there is no promise of a tiger sighting so any zone is fine for the experience – you will definitely see something! Bookings open a year in advance now (it used to be 90 days), so as soon as you know your travel plans, make your booking to ensure the best zones!

Blogger ‘Ivan the Intrepid’ has a very good in-depth post about booking your safari online & in person. You can read this here.

What should I bring to my safari?

  1. Warm jacket and hat for chilly winter mornings
  2. Hat and sun cream for the summer
  3. Lightweight scarf to cover your face (roads kick up lots of dust, and jeep fumes can be overpowering)
  4. Water and snacks. Lots of water
  5. Binoculars to view and search for wildlife
  6. Passport to check against your booking

One last thing…

I totally understand that you’re probably in Ranthambore to see a tiger, but try to enjoy the landscape and other wildlife too. You should see lots of other animals and birds. You would hate to come away disappointed that you didn’t see a tiger having forgotten about all of the other wonderful things you did see. Enjoy the experience, and a tiger is the jewel in the Ranthambore experience.

Travelling by train in India 🇮🇳

Asia, India

Rail travel in India is like no other country you will experience. Home to one of the world’s largest rail networks, the journeys you will complete and the stories you will have to tell will be the jewel on the crown to your India itinerary. No trip to India is complete without at least one train journey, but here’s a few things you should prepare yourself for.


Trains will get fully booked; book online in advance

If you are on a fixed itinerary, or short on time, you are best to book ahead to make sure you can get the service you want, as India trains (especially on popular tourist routes) get fully booked months in advance. You can also book train tickets in person at the station, but this will leave your travel plans up in the air if a train is full. We booked the majority of our trains using the official IRCTC website. A lot of people suggest booking through a third-party such as 12go.asia, but personally I found that not all trains were listed on these third-party sites. We ended up booking one train with 12go.asia, and everything else through IRCTC. Trains come online for ticket sales roughly 120 days before the date of travel – keep checking if it’s getting close to this date. IRCTC website may be a bit fiddly (it might take you a few attempts to successfully process the payment, but I found paying in rupees through the Payment Gateway service with our American Express or debit card worked the best. You also have to submit passport information as well as visa information – keep this handy! Often you need an IRCTC account number to be able to book through third-parties.

Seat61.com has a very useful page on how to buy tickets online using the IRCTC website.

A day before travel and then running up into your journey, you can check the details of your train journey in live time. Tracking the train number through the NTES (National Train Enquiry System) will show you of updated arrival times, and logging into the IRCTC website to track your train through your booking will show you any updates to your seat allocations. When purchasing, you will receive an e-ticket which you can print out to have on you but generally onboard we found that the conductor will have your name and will just ask you to confirm your details. This e-ticket sometimes won’t always show your seat allocation – use the IRCTC website to check this closer to your travel date.

Understand Classes

There are multiple classes on the majority of Indian trains, and not all trains have all classes. There are eight general classes of travel, and what class you choose depends on what level of comfort you wish to have, and how much you want to spend. In the grand scheme of things, a “first class” journey will not break the bank, but it is often the lower classes, where you are bundled up between two families, that provide the most fun.

Air-Conditioned First Class (AC1): The most expensive class of train travel; two-or four-berth compartments with locking doors, plug points, reading lights, linen and meals included (although we still had to pay for our meals, but I think that was the staff taking advantage of their seeming lack of English and getting a little tip from us). It’s the most expensive class, but is best for overnight journeys if you want somewhere to stretch. On most trains, some of these booths have 4 beds and some only have 2. If you are 2 travelling, the 2-bed cabins are great, but we generally found these classes were quite empty. If we were in a 4-bed cabin, and somebody had a bed within reserved, they often moved to another cabin that was empty. All bunks change into seating during the day by folding up, so you have space to sit up. Only trains completing long journeys will have this class. We generally booked this class for long journeys.

Air-Conditioned 2-Tier (AC2): Two-tier berths arranged in groups of four and two in an open-plan carriage. The bunks convert to seats by day and there are curtains for some semblance of privacy. The most luxurious on shorter train journeys. We generally booked this class for long journeys that didn’t have AC1.

Air-Conditioned 3-Tier (3AC): Three-tier berths arranged in groups of six in an open-plan carriage; there are no curtains so journeys can become slightly awkward if thrown into a large family.

AC Executive Chair – Our first train experience, from Delhi to Agra

AC Executive Chair: Comfortable, reclining chairs and plenty of space (think most western trains) usually found on Shatabdi express trains. No lay-flat bed, so this class is good for quick day journeys as you get a reservation and meals included in your fare.

Sleeper Class: Open plan carriages with three-tier bunks and no AC; open windows afford great views, but get tiring for a long journey. Sleeper will be much more crowded, so not great privacy.

Unreserved 2nd Class: Uncomfortable wooden or plastic seats, and no reservations plus a lot of people, means this class isn’t luxury at all, but it is very cheap! Buying a 2nd-class ticket and piling into the next available train is a flexible option if you are stuck on options – you may regret your decision after a long, delayed train journey having had to stand the entire way… (if this is the case, use your travellers backpack as a pop-up seat!

Etiquette

Travelling through India, you might experience a lot of people staring at you. This can be particularly noticeable in cabins without privacy. The majority of the time, it is just people who are interested (especially children) in seeing something different. Also be on the lookout for pickpockets and people in general who might be trying to scam you. It is very easy to feel uncomfortable when you are in a situation where you don’t speak the language, and not exactly sure of what’s happening. If there is an issue, there will always be a guard.

Indian Time

You’re in India now – be prepared that your train service will be running late. On our travels, we had many trains running extremely late, and once you are slightly delayed it will only get worse. Have things to hand to keep you entertained. Also be aware that if the service is running late, when it arrives at stations it will not wait its full time on the platform and instead leave as soon as it can. This means you need to be prepared to depart if your station is coming up.

Be prepared to wait a long time…

Stay alert

There are no announcements on the trains as to your location. Be prepared that if you are departing a station, especially at night, you will have to keep an eye on the map to know where you are. Too many times we had a heart attack when we thought we were at our destination and weren’t ready to get off.

Boarding

Many stations have signs marking the approximate spot where each carriage stops (again, ask station staff for assistance if not). Trains won’t stop at stations for long, especially if running delayed, and so the last thing you need is to be the wrong end of a 15 carriage train when it arrives onto the platform. Most of the time, you can’t then get through to the correct carriage as it is too crowded or blocked off by other non-passenger carriages. Be prepared for some running with your luggage if you aren’t in the right place!

Day 3-4: Agra and the Taj Mahal 🇮🇳

Asia, India

We had pre-booked our train (#12002 / Bhopal Shatabdi Exp 0600-0805) from Delhi to Agra (click here to read our post about train travel in India) so we were up early and at the station in enough time for our 6am train. It was only a couple of hours long, and so we had booked in the standard seating area. We spent the majority of the journey asleep to make up for the 4:30am wake up!

We had also managed to be sneaky and arranged for our hotel to pickup our luggage from the train station to store it at the hotel so that we didn’t have to travel all the way to the hotel to then go to the bus station for our half day trip to Fatehpur Sikri. The bus to Fatehpur runs from Idgah Bus Stand, which is only a 15 minute walk from Agra Cantt train station, so once our luggage was safely collected, we walked to the bus stand and was directed onto a bus to Fatehpur that was the next to leave. We waited only 10 minutes and it cost us ₹40 (about 40p) per person for the hour trip.

Fatehpur Sikri

Once the capital of the Mughal empire in the 16th century, this magnificent fortified city is easy to visit on a day trip from Agra. Once we had arrived at around 10am, we made the most of our time and were only really here for a few hours, but mostly because we were excited to get back to Agra to get a glimpse of the Taj! Depending on how long you are visiting though, you may wish to stay to experience the red-sandstone palace during sunset and stay in one of the decent hotels in the village.

We got off the bus just before the last stop, as the entrance to the site began. The beautiful mosque, Jama Masjid, sits at the top of a huge flight of stone steps and the main entrance is a spectacularly high gate which you will see as you start to ascend the hill up from the main road. Once you make it up the steps and through the daunting gate, you will find courtyards and palaces inside, as well as the tomb of the Mughal saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, where women hoping to have children come to tie strings for fertile luck. This entire area is charming, and usually very quiet, so it’s perfect for contemplation and your first experience of ancient India outside of Delhi.

We ate at Ajay Palace for lunch atop the rootop, which served great homemade curries and chapati (note that it’s not ‘Ajay Restaurant By Near Palace’ – it’s 50m further down the road and also a hotel – walk through and up the stairs.

By spending a little too much time enjoying the views at lunch, we had just missed a bus Agra-bound. Our travel guide advised buses ran every half hour, but it seemed to be more like an hour than half hour. The bus station is on the main road and once we saw the bus arrive from our lunch perch, we rushed down to make sure we got on – they don’t see to wait long! Again, ₹40 (about 40p) per person for the hour trip back to Agra.

Agra Fort

Rather than heading all the way back to Agra’s bus stand, we got off the bus on the main road towards Agra fort and flagged down a tuktuk to take us to the entrance of Agra Fort. The Amar Singh Gate to the south of the fort is the only entry point and you can buy your entrance ticket here ₹550 (about £6) per person (foreign tourist charge).

Agra Fort is easily forgotten about, considering the countries most famous landmark is just downstream, but travellers that visit here will witness one of the finish forts in India within these walls. Courtyard after courtyard, and the many fairytale palaces and audience halls, it will take some time for the sheer scale of this fort to really sink in. You can also grab your first glimpse of the Taj from here.

The hotel we stayed at in Agra was the Hotel Taj Resort. We have already mentioned the pickup of our luggage which was very helpful, but the main attraction to this hotel was that it was only 500 metres to the entrance of the Taj Mahal. This would really help us out in the morning for our early morning visit to the sight. In fact we were so close, the road the hotel sits on is cycle tuk-tuk only – you aren’t allowed to ride a loud engine through this area!

The hotel also offered free breakfast, and a lovely pool. We ate in the hotel restaurant for dinner that evening, with silhouette views of the palace.

Taj Mahal

The magnificence of the Taj when you first see it is quite overwhelming. There is something magical about seeing one of the most famous buildings in the world, something that most have only seen in TV shows or films, right in front of you in the hazy morning glow.

I knew to be in with the best chance of seeing the Taj at it’s quietest we would have to leave pretty early. Matt was adamant we would would be fine getting there at 7:30am but as sunrise was around 6:30am, I knew we would have to there by then! We left our hotel at 5:30am, and as we were close it was around a 10 minute walk to the entrance. We entered at the East Gate, and the ticket booths were quite obvious once we reached the gate. You walk through the gate and towards the ‘Great Gate’ and the Taj will be right in front of you.

Entrance into the Taj Mahal is ₹1000 for foreign tourist (note the Taj is closed on Friday’s for prayer, so plan your trip accordingly). Tour groups tend to enter through the east and west gate, and therefore the south gate (where we entered) usually has less queues. This works well for you, as it is closer to the more budget hotels for the budget conscious traveller. Again, the gates have separate entrances for male and female, and then foreign tourists (a perk of your expensive entry price!).

Spend some proper time exploring the site – it really is beautiful. Pace through the ornamental gardens and then make sure you get a picture in front of the reflective pond, and on the Princess Diana bench – everybody that knows the Taj will ask to see this! You can climb up the steps and go inside the Taj (no photos allowed in here), and this is fascinating – look out for the “Pietra Dura” – 35 different precious stones used to create the marble inlay on the building, as well as the calligraphy that surrounds each side of the building (the calligraphy gets larger as it gets higher, giving the impression of uniform size when viewed from the ground!). The Taj Museum opens at 9am, but we were there at 6am so we were unable to go. Free entry so worth a look!

Tips for the Taj
  1. Leave your bag in your hotel – backpacks are not permitted, and the only storage facility is at the West Gate. Use a bumbag to keep money, phone and passport.
  2. Small cameras or phones only – use a small camera or camera phone (instead of bag with multiple lenses that you won’t get in). Video is only allowed in certain places, and you can’t take any pictures inside the mausoleum. Tripods and drones are banned.
  3. No food or drink in the site – but a bottle of water is included in your entry fee.
  4. Closed on Fridays – important in your itinerary planning! You wouldn’t want to get here and not be able to visit the site!

We then went back to our hotel for breakfast (it was too early when we left to see the Taj!) and then spent some more time around the pool as we were getting a lunchtime train, but if you have more time, it is worth visiting the following places:

  • Mehtab Bagh – relaxing gardens that have the perfect view of the Taj – go for sunset for the most awe-inspiring sunset view of the Taj
  • Akbar’s Tomb – further out of the city, but worth seeing this huge tomb of the greatest Mughal emporer
  • Kinari Bazaar – one of India’s most hectic, but mesmerising markets is worth a visit if you are the shopping mood

Our pre-booked train from Agra Fort to Sawai Madhopur (#12948 / Azimabad Express 1225-1625) (click here to read about travelling by train in India) was running late, so it eventually arrived around 2pm. This meant it was going to run late and we eventually arrived into Sawai Madhopur around 7:30pm.

Mayans, Macaws, and more: a day in Copan, Honduras

Central America, Honduras

Tucked away roughly 45 minutes from the Guatemalan border lies the often forgotten town of Copan Ruinas. Having falling off of the main tourist track, due to the country itself being in somewhat political turmoil, this charming town seems to be surviving, despite the lack of visitors. What it lacks in numbers, it makes up in warmth and friendliness; in fact, the hotel we stayed in was our favourite of the entire trip for host friendliness and helpfulness. We stayed at Hotel Cuna Maya, a family run hotel, and every morning included a freshly cooked breakfast consisting of eggs, plantain, guacamole, beams and ham. The family were always on hand to help, regardless of a somewhat complicated language barrier!


Arriving in Copan in time for dinner was just what we needed, and we headed straight for Café ViaVia, a great restaurant and bar with a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. This is also a well priced hostel, and they offer some well priced tours, excursions and travel options.

Our first morning in Copan was dedicated to the ruins that lay on the outskirts of town. An easy 20 minute walk from the main square, these ruins are the towns main attraction and on a good day, are very serene and peaceful. We hardly saw any other visitors (whether that’s due to Honduras being advised against travel whilst we were there, or just because bigger parks of more impressive ruins are to be found in neighbouring Guatemala, I’m not sure), and this allowed us to really take our time to explore, and enjoy our stay in Copan Ruinas.

Having made the ruins their home, a huge amount of red macaws live within the area encompassed by the grounds. It is very entertaining spending some time with these birds and watching them feed, fly, and communicate with each other. Having not spent enough time with these birds, we spent the rest of the afternoon at Macaw Mountain, a small holding dedicated to tropical birds and their rehabilitation.

Consider getting a taxi here if you will visit straight after the ruins. It is a long walk uphill, and at our time of visiting, the main bridge for vehicles connecting the road the park is located to the main town was broken. We walked the long taxi route, when we should have got a taxi ourselves. Tuktuks wait at the ruins to take you anywhere and are inexpensive.

That evening we ate at Carnitas Nia Lola and had fantastic barbecue and cocktails!

I have a fairly laid back mind set when it comes to …. and public transport, but be aware that Central American transport is not the same. We had arranged (and paid for!) a transfer with ….. (US$ ) and it was due to pick us up at 11am from our hotel in Copan. After half an hour of waiting, our friendly hotel landlady phoned the company who told us they would be with us shortly. In actual fact, the bus had forgotten to pick us up and, having already crossed through to Guatemala, had to illegally pass back through to Honduras, and back to Copan to collect us! If your gut is telling you to check, do it! We would have missed this transfer completely, and running only once a day, we couldn’t afford to not reach Antigua that evening.

Our Hotel: Cuna Maya

The hotel that we stayed at in Copan Ruinas was one of the best hotels of our stay. A fantastic family ran hotel (the three young boys are very helpful!) with great wifi, air conditioning, and an extremely tasty breakfast. Good cost, and super friendly. Would 100% recommend!

Scribblings from an Indian sleeper train 🇮🇳

Asia, India

Our two tiered sleeper train is quiet as I start to pen this blog. Of course, I’m using my iPad to type rather than pen and paper, and the irony of the complete contrast between rich and poor, Western & Indian, is not lost on me. Matt is in the upper bunk having a nap – we have had a week of 5am starts, which has made adjusting to the time difference even worse, and again another early start tomorrow. But more about that later… we are on a short train (only 2 hours for us but the entire journey is 36 hours,) to Jaipur, where we have a very busy weekend planned, having already visited Delhi, Agra, and a national park!

We have been waiting for this trip for a very long time. It’s our honeymoon, and we asked for contributions for our wedding gift list. We have a whole itinerary made up from activities gifted for us by our closest family and friends, and day five into our schedule, we have already witnessed so many different experiences.

So for now, a thank you to everybody reading this who contributed in some way towards this trip. I am sure you will see your personal thanks soon as we tick off the India bucket list! Having celebrated Kris’s birthday with our nearest and dearest in London, we flew with British Airways from London Heathrow direct to Delhi, with our trusty rucksacks from our last big trip to Central America, and arrived into Delhi at 7am Monday morning.

A dangerous journey through a dangerous country: Roatan to Copan, Honduras

Central America, Honduras

After a wonderful few days of laying by the beach, drinking $1 beers, and discovering underwater treasures, we were due to the catch the morning ferry across to mainline Honduras when suddenly, we realised that we didn’t have enough cash to pay for our taxi to the ferry port in the morning as well as our ferry tickets if they didn’t take card payment. The ATM’s in the West End were empty when we tried to get some, and we struggled the next morning (we were travelling early Sunday morning and ATMs hadn’t been refilled yet!) to find another that was working. Eventually, we managed to get some cash at the airport (cash machine in the terminal building), and when we arrived at the ferry terminal, realised they did have card machines and just paid with that!

We paid US$25 to get to from the West End to the ferry terminal, which is in Dixon Cove.

Galaxy Wave offers two departures daily, leaving Roatán at 7:00am and 2:00pm. These then return to the island, leaving La Ceiba at 9:30am and 4:30pm. They recommend that passengers check-in around an hour before departure, but we rocked up about half an hour before and were fine. The only point to stress is that these tickets cannot be purchased online for international passengers, and so if the ferry happens to be full (there is a lot of local footfall), you will have to wait until afternoon which could ruin your onward travel plans – maybe we were lucky!

The crossing takes around 75 minutes and currently, a one-way ticket Roatán to La Ceiba costs US$32 (~£23). You can also travel in first class, which is in a separate area upstairs, but this really isn’t necessary. Check out their website for updated prices and schedules.

On arrival at La Ceiba, there is a long line of tables greeting you as you disembark. Passengers queue up and wait for luggage to be unloaded and placed on the tables for you to grab an attendants attention and swap your luggage tags for your bags. Be prepared for slaughterhouse type fighting – I’ve never seen a collection of folk scramble before like it! Hold your ground, split up if there’s more than just you, and you’ll be fine!

Unfortunately, the only direct bus from La Ceiba to Copán Ruinas is operated by Hedman Alas and departs at 05:15am. This takes around 8 hours, but at least you arrive in Copan by around 1pm. As we were still on Roatán at this time, this wouldn’t be possible. In fact, when we were almost going to miss the ferry because of the ATM debacle, our next plan was to get the later ferry to the mainland and stay the night in La Ceiba to take this direct bus the next morning! This could potentially be preferential, as the party scene in La Ceiba is meant to be quite good, so it’s worth considering an extra evening here to then travel in comfort!

On exiting the ferry terminal, we flagged down a taxi (not hard – there’s lots of them) to take us to the bus station (most non-luxury buses use the main terminal which is at Mercado San José). We were planning on getting a 09:30am bus which is ran by Catisa or Contraibal. This is not what happened though. We got taken straight to another bus terminal which was ran by the company Trans-Mirna, who we had heard of, but not what we wanted! It was 09:15am by now, and they informed us that the next was at 11am. Knowing that we had probably missed the bus we were aiming for, and knowing we were quite a way from the main terminal, we decided to wait. We paid 121 HNL (£3.50/US$5) each for our tickets.

The fun really began at San Pedro Sula bus station. We were arriving into the bus terminal at 1:45pm, and we knew that there was a 2pm bus leaving to Copán Ruinas that we wanted to be on. We jumped off of the bus, and tried to find out way around the terminal, soon realising it was vast. There are lots of shops and a huge food area, but eventually we found the window for Casasola. We had just missed the 2pm as it was full, but the next (and last) was at 3pm. We had an hour to chill with some food and drink, which actually was a blessing having been travelling since 6am! We paid 140 HNL (£4.25/US$6) each for our tickets.

Be aware that if you don’t think you are going to make this 3pm bus from San Pedro Sula, you will not make it to Copán Ruinas on this day! Budget hotels in San Pedro Sula are mostly in the downtown area south of Parque Central and this area is very dodgy after dark. Hostels tend to be in the more suburban areas, and you may struggle to find any on just walking around. If you know that you are leaving La Ceiba too late to make it, I’d suggest staying put and making your journey the next day as early as possible. Honduras can be a dangerous place.

Casasola Express window
The Casasola Express window in San Pedro Sula bus terminal (code NC-57-2 will help you locate!)
Casasola Times
Casasola Express schedule

This bus was long! We sat at the front of the bus so we could see the road ahead – bad decision. After a few hours, having been stuck in traffic too, it started to get dark, and the roads started to get worse. There were no street lights, and the headlights on the bus weren’t working particularly well. It was a miracle we arrived in Copan Ruinas in one piece!

Granada: a must-see city! 🇳🇮

Central America, Nicaragua

Enveloping visitors with the unmistakable sense of stepping into tropical Spain, arriving in the beautifully humid city of Granada in Nicaragua was truly a breathtaking experience. After being fairly secluded on Ometepe (and before that spending time in the cloud forest in Costa Rica), it was welcome change to see beautiful colonial architecture and to finally have some scorching sun. It’s clear to see why so many travellers use the city as a base, with such beautiful cobblestone roads full to the brim of magnificent photogenic elegance, to stunning attractions a short journey into the countryside, this city has it all. Here’s our top pick of things to see!


Top things to do in Granada

1. Climb the staircase at the Iglesia La Merced at sunset

Sunset at Iglesia La MercedMake sure you visit half an hour before sunset (sunset was at 5:30pm so we arrived at 4:45pm in January as the tower officially closes at 5pm). The view from the top is incredible and you can stay until they kick you out! It only costs 30NIO (about 70p/US$1) to climb the stairs up to the top of the clock tower, so you have no excuse not to go!

2. See the Masaya Volcano at night

It’s an hour drive from Granada, but visiting the active Volcano has to be high on your to-do list. Make sure you do the night tour – during the day you won’t get the full experience of the bright lava or feel the heat of it! I have never before seen an active volcano, and it did not disappoint! We paid US$35 each for our night tour with Erik’s tours. Once you arrive at the park entrance, you will sit in traffic for a long time. We arrived at about 5pm, but didn’t get into the viewing point until 7:15pm! They let a certain amount of vehicles in for 15 minute slots, and so if it’s busy you could be waiting a while! It will help if your driver gets fed up easily – ours did and so was overtaking people on the way up! Once your 15 minutes at the top are up, there is a small, informative museum to walk through (and bathrooms to visit) before you are whisked back into the van and driven back to Granada

As part of our volcano trip, we decided to visit the Masaya hand craft market. If you are set on visiting, a quick twenty minutes here would suffice – every item for sale is available in every other shop, and it almost seems as though everything has just been bought in bulk and imported in. I’d possibly say don’t bother; not quite the hand craft market we had hoped!

The pickup from the market to the volcano was also very late – we were worried that they had forgotten us, but we had learnt that Nicaraguan time is something of fluidity – times are rarely stuck to, but nobody seems bothered by this at all. Something will happen, just not when locals tell you it will!

When we arrived at Erik’s office to pay, the saleswoman tried to charge us far more than we were quoted. Luckily we had our email conversations handy and we paid US$35 per person for the Masaya Market and Volcano trip (instead of the US$55 she wanted from us originally!). We had heard similar stories about the same woman from other people on the trip, and the prices seemed to vary between people we spoke to on the trip!

3. Visit the Laguna de Apoya for a day of relaxing by the lake.

There are a few ‘resorts’ in the area that you pay for a day entry to use their area. We paid US$14 each for entry into the Laguna Beach Club (which was lovely and relaxing, and has free kayaks/body boards to use) and a return shuttle from the main office in Granada with Eric’s tours (for some reason, this isn’t listed on their website). We even managed to work out a trip to the Laguna, travel to the market, and then the evening volcano tour as one package. You can also get a taxi, or find similar shuttles from other tour operators.

4. Book a boat trip touring the Isletas

We paid US$27 per person for a morning boat trip, again with Erik’s Tours, around the 365 small islands found off of Granada in Lake Nicaragua. We had a beautiful couple of hours with just one other passenger exploring the different islands, and seeing the famous monkey islands.

5. Get a free cocoa tour at the Museo de Chocolate

The free tour at the Chocolate Museum (they also have museums in Guatemala, Peru, Columbia, Mexico) is worth a visit. The staff will explain to you how cocoa is grown and harvested, and transformed into the chocolate we know and love, with a bit of history along with it. There is no expectation that you have to buy something after, but why wouldn’t you?! The chocolate tastes great, and you can buy other treats like chocolate tea, chocolate liquors, fudge, brownies, and even chocolate beer!

6. Lounge by the exclusive pool hidden behind the Chocolate Museum 

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Tucked away at the rear of the Museum (you have to walk through the courtyard) you will find the most beautiful spot for sunbathing and swimming. There is a bar and changing rooms, so you don’t need anything else! We spent a couple of hours in the scorching afternoon sun.