Honduras, Guatemala, Belize: Mayan ruins and the danger of karaoke

Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico are the hearth of the Mayan civilization, so during our trip, I looked forward to visiting the famous ruins, pyramids, and sacred temples.

Honduras is known for its Caribbean beaches, diverse wildlife, and Mayan ruins.

A few years back we were on vacation in Roatan, an island that is a paradise for divers. In Roatan, I got my divers certificate and was able to see the unspoiled beauty of one of the most pristine coral reefs in the world. I was very proud of myself, because not only I cannot swim, but I am also terrified of water. Of course, I love beaches and the warm sea but when the water is deeper than 4 feet, I usually have a panic attack.

Unfortunately, Honduras is also one of the most violent and dangerous countries in the world. According to my research, homicide violence reached a peak in 2012 with an average of 20 homicides per day. Cities such as San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa have registered homicide rates among the highest in the world. It is not unheard of for a car with a foreign license plate to be stopped by armed gangs and forcefully robbed. And I didn’t know how to disguise our Fory to look more beaten up and more local. 

Before we entered the country, we decided to keep a low profile, to drive only during the daylight, to avoid small roads. We spent a night in Tegucigalpa and went to Copan.  Copan is probably one of the most spectacular sites of ancient Mayan civilization.

We arrived in the small city of Copan in the late afternoon, checked in a small hotel, explored the village and went to bed early, hoping to get a nice rest before the trip to the Mayan site the next day.

Soon our hopes for restful sleep soon proved fruitless. Next to the hotel, there was a restaurant with a karaoke bar and the party there was in full swing. And it went on, and on, and on. Sometime after midnight Ivan got angry, got out of bed, and went out. Five minutes later, the music stopped… A few more minutes later, my lovely husband came back and very calmly said:

“I went to the bar, and there was a man who did karaoke, singing awfully, torturing the audience. So, I went to him, took the microphone out of his hand and threw it in the corner of the room and then walked out slowly… Everyone was so surprised, no one stopped me on my way out”

I was furious. So much about our good intention to keep a low profile.  I went outside to the inner courtyard and asked the security guard of our hotel for a cigarette. At this moment some guys came running on the street. They stooped and asked him:

“¿Viste un turisto alto? ¿A dónde fue él?”

The security guard, looking me in the eye, calmly said that he hasn’t seen anyone passing on this street.

When I calmed down, I went back into the room and told Ivan that I have to disguise him, so I will make him shorter by cutting his legs or his head – his choice. Being 6’5” (196 cm), he looks like the pink elephant in the room in all Latin American countries, with no way to hide.


I just saved the whole neighbourhood from this guy’s awful out-of-tune singing. My guess is that the guys looking for me on the streets just wanted to express their gratitude and probably wanted to buy me a drink. And my bellowed wife wanted to chop my head…. I somehow negotiated to keep my 6’5” intact by agreeing to wear a hat and sunglasses the next day.

No good deed is going unpunished.


Fortunately, we didn’t meet the false singing man and his company. The next day we went straight to the Copan site.  The night singers probably were more interested in parties and bars than in some ancient stones.

Copan is tucked in the lush green jungle and together with Tikal in Guatemala is one of the most important artifacts of the powerful Mayan kingdom.

The city was built and rebuilt continuously over a period of 400 years and was one of the most densely populated ones in the Mayan world.

One of its famous monuments is the Temple of the Hieroglyphic Stairway. It’s a pyramid-like structure that has more than 2,000 glyphs embellished on a flight of 63 steps, the longest ancient Maya inscription known to exist.

In Copan, there are many amazingly detailed carvings on the temples and throughout the ruins.

Very close to the village of Copan ruins is Macaw Mountain – a bird rescue, rehabilitation, and release center. It is an exciting, inspiring and sad place. It is an exciting place to see so many different tropical birds, not only macaws but toucans, owls, hawks and many butterflies.

It is inspiring to learn about the hard work to rehabilitate those birds that were rescued from terrible conditions and captivity. And it is very sad to find out that these birds will never be truly free again. The macaws born into captivity or stolen from their nest as babies are never really wild again. They are released and they fly and stay around the Copan, but they will not be able to look after themselves. The birds born into captivity regularly return to the refuge to look for food. The positive thing is that their descendants are wild macaws and toucans again. They fly, nest, and live in the jungle around the Mayan ruins.

After exploring the Mayan ruins and playing with birds for hours we slept peacefully and the next day we entered Guatemala through a small border point. We decided to spend a day in Antiqua Guatemala and to alternate the sightseeing between ancient Maya and more recent Spanish colonial cathedrals.

Antiqua is a very colourful city with even more colourful residents. Just walking around its streets fills your soul with bright and positive energy.

I very much wanted to see El Mirador, the lost Mayan city. But the only option other than a helicopter flight was three-day walking for nine hours per day through the jungle. I wasn’t sure I could survive one more hike like that. If El Mirador is impossible, let’s at least go to see Tikal.

I had one more reason to visit Tikal. According to an old Mayan legend confirmed by modern DNA research, the Mayan city of Copan was rebuilt to great power when K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo (or Lord of the West) was expelled from Tikal and together with his close friends went to Copan and married local Mayan princess. An ancient text and recent DNA findings confirmed the legend. According to the same legend the ghost of his wife, the princess still shows herself to a chosen one on full moon nights. During the day she and the other rulers of the ancient city were hidden in the ruins of Copan and Tikal as snakes. If the enchanted snakes are baptized in a church the curse will be broken and the new Mayan city will rise in the jungle of Central America.  When we visited Tikal, I saw a snake, but I was too afraid to catch it and bring it to the church. And I am not good at the religious text, so I couldn’t perform the baptism right there between the broken stones and steps of the ancient pyramids. I tried to mumble some enchantments I vaguely remembered from Christian orthodox ceremonies but Ivan said that most likely these ancient Mayan souls will not understand Bulgarian. So much with my good intention to revive the Mayan civilization.

To finish our Mayan tour through Central America, we crossed the border to Belize and visited Xunantunich and Caracol. It was very strange to hear people talking in English again. After 10 months, it felt almost like I am on another planet. If your first glance at Mayan civilization is the ruins of Xunantunich and Caracol you would be impressed. After the glorious sites of Tikal and Copan, we only said: Urh, some stones.

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