Thursday, January 12, 2012

Luxury Hotels in San Pedro Sula, Honduras

San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras, serves as both the capital of the Cortés Department and the commercial hub for the region's coffee, banana, tobacco and sugar industries. It is located in the northwest corner of the country approximately 165 miles from the capital city of Tegucigalpa and 37 miles south of Puerto Cortés on the Caribbean Sea.

With many of the country's attractions conveniently located close to the city, many visitors tend to choose flying into San Pedro Sula's Aeropuerto Internacional Ramón Villeda Morales instead of Tegucigalpa, which is further south. Today, San Pedro Sula is an active city of the more than one million people and it is rapidly growing due to the focus on business and regional agriculture. The majority of its main roads in and out of the city are well maintained, which provides an easy drive to not only the western and northern regions but to the rest of Honduras as well.

For those wishing to make San Pedro Sula a base while traveling, the following hotels provide luxury accommodations, fine dining, and a variety of upscale amenities, all within easy access of the region's beautiful attractions.  

Real InterContinental San Pedro Sula - This luxury hotel has been certified by the Honduran Tourism Institute as the only five-star hotel in Honduras. It is conveniently located near one of the largest and most exclusive shopping centers in the city (Mall Multiplaza) and just seven miles from the Aeropuerto Internacional Ramón Villeda Morales. Each of its 149 luxury guestrooms and suites are individually designed with the "Best Rest" standard, which includes soundproof windows, a feather-bed mattress with 300 thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, and goose feather and down pillows. Additional amenities include 42-inch flat-screen televisions, high-speed Internet and access to a private swimming pool and fitness center. It also provides a 24-hour business center and the on-site Bambu restaurant, which offers Central American- and Caribbean-influenced cuisine. The attention to service, the luxury amenities and its convenient location makes this hotel one of the best in the area. It is located at Colonia Hernandez and Boulevard del Sur. More information can be found at their website: Real InterContinental San Pedro Sula.

Hilton Princess San Pedro Sula - Located near the most important corporate centers in the city, this hotel includes 124 luxury guestrooms and four suites with amenities such as Hilton Serenity Collection upscale bedding, Crabtree & Evelyn and La Source bath products, and wireless Internet. The executive rooms on two private floors offer larger rooms of up to 323-square-feet in size with access to the Executive Lounge, complimentary refreshments and breakfast, and marble bathrooms complete with bathrobes and slippers. All guests have access to the outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, the Garden Court Restaurant, and Clancy's Bar, which provides live entertainment on selected evenings. For added convenience, the hotel also includes a car rental desk and friendly staff who can provide a wealth of information about the city's nearby attractions. It is located at the Avenida Circunvalación, 10 Calle S.O. More information can be found at their website: Hilton Princess San Pedro Sula.

Crowne Plaza Hotel San Pedro SulaCatering to both business and leisure travelers, this 14-floor hotel is located minutes from the Expo Centro (the city's major convention center). It also offer easy access to the Lancetilla Gardens, Punta Sal National Park, and the Guamilito Market, which is one of the best places in the city to purchase souvenirs and artwork. Its 122 luxury guestrooms and three suites provide panoramic views of the city and includes amenities such as wireless Internet access, a full-service business center, a fitness center with a full-service spa, and even an on-site casino. The Rio de Piedras Restaurant specializes in sushi and  also provides one of the city's best breakfast buffets. The property also includes 1,200-square-feet of meeting space for business and private functions for up to 300 people and includes personalized service from the Crowne Meetings Director, who can tailor any aspect of the event to the client's needs. With all of its luxury aspects, it is easily one of the best hotels in the city. It is located at Boulevard Morazán, 11 Avenida 1 Calle. More information can be found at their website: Crowne Plaza Hotel San Pedro Sula.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Luxury Hotels in Managua, Nicaragua

Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, is home to more than a quarter of the entire country’s population. Due to its precarious position above 11 different fault lines, it seems that whenever the city had successfully rebuilt itself after one earthquake, it was only knocked right back down again by another. But on December 23, 1972, a massive 6.2-magnitude earthquake devastated Managua with more than 5,000 killed, 20,000 injured, and more than 250,000 left homeless. To this day, portions of its older districts still remain eerily abandoned. The overall result is an interesting combination of crumbling ruins inhabited by the poor, quickly built concrete structures for a wide variety of businesses, and some of the region’s best shopping malls and luxury hotels.

Each of the following hotels in Managua offer luxury accommodations, fine dining and a variety of upscale amenities. With convenient locations that also offer its guests with top-quality personal service, it is easy to understand why these are considered by many as some of the best hotels in the city.

Real Metrocentro Managua - This award-winning, five-star accommodation is known as one of the most luxurious in the city. It is conveniently located in the entertainment district adjacent to the country’s largest shopping mall. Known for its high-quality, personal service for both leisure and business travelers, it offers 157 luxury guestrooms and suites with amenities such as soundproof windows, goose-down pillows, feather mattresses with Egyptian-cotton sheets, and 37- or 42-inch flat-screen televisions. It also includes an on-site fine-dining restaurant (Voltes) that provides a choice of an all-day buffet or an a la carte menu. In addition, the hotel includes a beautiful and private swimming pool as well as a state-of-the-art gym. More information can be found at their website: Real MetroCentro Managua.

Hilton Princess Managua - This luxury hotel is located within walking distance of both the entertainment district on the Carretera a Masaya, and the business district that includes the BAC/Credomatic complex, Invercasa and LAFISE. It offers 104 elegant guestrooms and three luxury suites with views of the city. There are two executive floors that provide a complimentary American breakfast along with appetizers and cocktails. Additional amenities include wireless Internet, 24-hour room service, a fitness center and a private outdoor swimming pool. In-room perks include Hilton Serenity luxury bedding and Crabtree & Evelyn bath products. More information can be found at their website: Hilton Princess Managua.

Barceló Managua - This luxury hotel is located in the exclusive Villa Fontana area of Managua and offers panoramic views of the city from its luxury suites. Amenities include king-size beds, in-room Jacuzzis, wireless Internet, and mini-bars. Guests also have access to two on-site restaurants: La Fontana (serving a wide variety of dishes buffet style) and Kyotto (serving delicious Japanese cuisine). It is also five minutes from the upscale Galerías Santo Domingo shopping center. In addition, the hotel provides rental car services as well as shuttles to both the shopping center and airport, which is 20 minutes away. More information can be found at their website: Barceló Managua.

Crowne Plaza Hotel Managua - This luxury hotel is known for its distinctive shape reminiscent of an ancient Mayan Pyramid. Originally the Hotel InterContinental, it offers views of the city from its hillside location. The 140 contemporary guestrooms and 43 luxury suites include amenities such as wireless Internet access, a full-service health and fitness center and three on-site restaurants. It also provides a beautiful private swimming pool and one of the largest convention facilities in Central America with a capacity of up to 3,000 guests. More information can be found at their website: Crowne Plaza Hotel Managua.

Hotel Los Robles - For those who prefer a personal hotel stay away from the larger hotel chains, this boutique hotel is located in a colonial Nicaraguan home within a quiet residential neighborhood. It offers 14 guestrooms complete with antique furniture and artwork situated around a quiet tropical garden and a soothing fountain. Amenities include a delicious breakfast, a private patio, 24-hour room service, wireless Internet and even a complimentary cell phone! It prides itself in personalized service and attention for each of their guests and the home is only a few minutes away from the Carretera a Masaya and the Metrocentro, one of Nicaragua’s largest shopping centers. More information can be found at their website:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Hotels Near the Copán Ruins in Honduras

The Copán Ruins, also known as the Ruinas de Copán, is located in western Honduras just seven miles from the border of Guatemala. Dating back to A.D. 400, the city was once a thriving metropolis that served as the center of southwestern Mayan territory. Today, the preserved portion actually covers a substantial area even though it is just a small fraction of its original size. But it still includes a variety of decorative stone temples and plazas with some of the finest detailed sculptures in the world. Archaeologists are still  making discoveries at a rate of approximately one per month.

For those who come to enjoy the wonder of these archaeological marvels, several hotel accommodations are conveniently located nearby. Each of these small to medium-sized hotels in the town of Copán Ruinas provide individually designed guest rooms, high-quality  and friendly service as well as access to additional tours of the region. 

Hotels Near the Copán Ruins
Photo by Tyler Orsburn
Hacienda San LucasSituated in the nearby hills above the Copán Ruins, this former century-old residence was converted into reputable eco-lodge in 2000. It is managed by Flavia Cueva, who continues to primarily focus on sustainable development and cultural preservation and it shows in even the smallest details of the property.  It offers eight individually designed guest rooms with private bath, hot water, solar lighting and hand-crafted furniture made from locally grown cedar. Guests have a wide variety of private sitting areas with hammocks for extra relaxatio. To add to the intimacy, each of the guest rooms are candlelit. The on-site restaurant specializes in five-course candlelight dinners made from fresh ingredients all grown locally. The traditional Honduran tamales are a real treat and make sure to pair your choices with the variety of South American wines. The Hacienda San Lucas has been praised by a number of travel publications including the New York Times and Travel and Leisure magazine. More information can be found at their website:

Hotel Marina Copán - Overlooking the Parque Central in the town of Copán Ruinas, this charming hotel is one of the most convenient when visiting the ruins. It offers 49 guest rooms ranging from single, double, and triple occupancy rooms to the luxury Presidential Suites complete with spacious marble bathrooms, dark wooden furniture and comfortable bedding. Each guest room also includes both hot and cold water, cable television, and air conditioning as well as Internet access. Guests can also enjoy the landscaped outdoor swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and gym. The on-site Glifo's Restaurant, is a fine-dining restaurant specializing in traditional Honduran meals as well as a variety of international cuisine. The Jaguar Venado Bar, located next to the swimming pool even includes a live marimba band on the weekends, which only adds to the overal tropical feel of the hotel. More information can be found at their website:

Clarion Copán Ruinas - Formerly known as the Hotel Posada Real de Copán, the Clarion Copán Ruinas is the one of the closest hotels to the ruins. This hotel includes more of a business atmosphere much like any Clarion hotel back home. It offers 78 guest rooms (double, triple and quadruple occupancy) with views of tropical gardens and amenities such as air conditioning, flat-screen plasma televisions, wireless Internet access, and an outdoor swimming pool with hot tub. There are also hot-tub suites to make your stay extra special. The on-site Las Ruinas Restaurant offers a wide variety of international cuisine with an outside dining area that includes either views of the mountains or the landscaped grounds. The hotel also provides a full-service, flexible space for both private and business functions for up to 150 people. More information can be found at their website: Clarion Hotel Copán Ruins.

Hotel Don Udo's - Located two blocks south of the Parque Central in the town of Copán Ruinas, Hotel Don Udo's is a convenient location for exploring both the town as well as the ruins. The ruins are just a five-minute walk away. This European-style hotel includes 16 cozy and individually designed guest rooms (single, double, junior suites and suites) complete with amenities such as hot and cold water, purified drinking water, air conditioning and wireless Internet access. Guests have access to Copán's only sauna, plenty of private sitting areas and hammocks as well as an on-site restaurant that specializes in top-quality steaks, seafood, regional dishes and homemade pastas. The third-floor sun deck is one of the highlights of the hotel, which provides spectacular views of the Copán Valley. More information can be found at their website:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Shopping in Masaya, Nicaragua

The Walls of the Mercado Viejo
Masaya, located approximately 18 miles southeast of Managua in Nicaragua, is a medium-sized city known as The Cradle of Nicaraguan Culture. This is mostly due to its artesanías (arts and crafts), which draws visitors from all over the country as well as tourists on their way south to either colonial Granada or the beaches of San Juan del Sur.

Although there are other smaller artisan markets within the city, the majority of tourists tend to flock toward the Mercado Artesanías or also known as the Mercado Viejo. Located one block east of the Parque 17 de Octubre, it was built in 1888 as a gigantic Gothic structure reminiscent of a Spanish fortress. It covers an entire city block complete with turrets, towers, and enormous gates. It was formerly used as a regular market, but in 1978, the National Guard during Somoza's dictatorship practically destroyed it. Left abandoned for almost two decades, it was fortunately renovated in 1994. Today, it is packed with stall after stall of Nicaragua's finest arts and crafts. The large, open-air walkways are visitor friendly and somewhat commercialized so be prepared to pay higher prices compared to other markets around town. The merchants are fully aware that busloads of tourist stop by with plenty of money to spend. So be aware because the prices can be somewhat on the high side.

For those who desire a more authentic market experience, with crowded stalls, sometimes stifling heat, and more standard goods, the Mercado Municipal Ernest Fernández is located less than a quarter-mile east of the Mercado Artesanías. There you will find stalls of artesanías with the owners ready to bargain to some of the cheapest prices around. In addition, it is the best place to enjoy the comedores (cheap eateries) that sell everything from carne asada, rice and beans, and every type of snack available. The setting is far less flashy and well worth the visit, but just be aware of your valuables since the crowds can be a haven for pickpockets.

What to Shop For in Masaya, Nicaragua
As with Central American outdoor markets, always be prepared to negotiate and never accept the first offer unless you are about to miss your bus. Negotiation is always part of the cultural experience and it is expected by all of the vendors. With a seemingly endless supply of crafts ranging from leather sandals and wood carvings to beautiful pottery and paintings, here is a general list of the most popular items for sale:

Hammocks: The hammocks are offered in colors ranging from plain to festive, and consist of two overall designs: the one-person version that hangs like a swing, and the large one that can comfortably accommodate two people. The hammocks have become one of Nicaragua's trademark crafts and even though traveling back home with them can be a slight hassle, the effort is rewarded once you take your first nap in one.

Black Ceramics: This heavy ceramic pottery is specific to the cities of Jinotega and Matagalpa in the north. Although these crafts are not originally from Masaya, there are plenty of stalls selling these black ceramics for a negotiated price. Crafted from volcanic clay, these crafts are formed into a variety of designs ranging from small figurines to large decorative pots, and then buffed and polished into their typical dark shine.

Soapstone Sculptures: These beautiful, smooth sculptures are specific to the San Juan de Limay region. But as beautiful as they are, keep in mind that they can be very heavy. This can cause problems especially when shipping them back or carrying them around for the rest of your vacation. So make sure to plan ahead when traveling with them.

Jícara Shells: These shells come from the first plants domesticated to the country of Nicaragua, and they are usually carved into interesting varieties of cups and bowls.

Woodcarvings: These intricately designed carvings range in an almost endless variety of styles including everything from toys for children to elaborate religious artwork. A good share of the carvings comes in a tropical theme, which is not surprising since they primarily come from the indigenous Caribbean tribes.

Paintings: Some of these paintings are produced by some of the finest Nicaraguan artists. Most focus on natural landscapes and everyday village life. The prices (also negotiable) can range dramatically depending on the level of the artist and the negotiating skills of the buyer.

Natural Weavings: There are literally thousands of choices ranging from the pita hats of Camoapa to the reed mats of Masatepe. Again, they can be plain to highly decorative.

Memorabilia: Every possible item that a Nicaraguan logo could be placed on, it is sold. T-shirts are especially popular and can be negotiated down to almost nothing. For those in the revolutionary spirit, the Che Guevara items are offered on jewelry, t-shirts, leather items and carvings. Some vendors claim that there are more Guevara items sold there than in Cuba.

Organic Coffee: Unless a trip is planned to the Northern Highlands and Estelí, make sure to purchase some high-quality Nicaraguan coffee. It is some of the best in region.
Finally, if the timing is right, and all of the shopping is done, try to view the Noches Verbenas. Held on Thursday evenings, this free folk-dance exhibition includes excellent Nicaraguan marimba performances and freshly made traditional foods. In addition to the country's high-quality crafts, this festival can be the perfect end for a visit to this colorful city.