Work took me to Honduras. The little say that I had in where I would go in the world, was based in part on these two things: ability to speak the language and proximity to hot springs. I was so excited to find out that the town of Gracias (where I would be placed) was a mere 3.5 km from some great hot springs.
My partner and I discussed at length what would draw people to Gracias, Lempira. I insisted that if I came from home for the hot springs, that others would too. But the owner of Hotel Guancascos felt that many people come to climb Celaque, Honduras’ highest peak. There is a park around the mountain and trails are moderately kept up. The hikes can be really easy or really difficult. I suggest taking a guide.
First off some other logistical information: Santa Rosa de Copan is the largest city in the region. When staying in Gracias, Lempira I do recommend Hotel Guancascos . If you don’t end up staying there make sure you at least have a meal there during the day – the view is great.
Now to the hot springs… to get there you can walk, hitch hike, or take a mototaxi. Having visited las aguas termales Presidente, at least 10 times during my three months in Gracias, I have done all three. So that you know, from town to the hot springs it is uphill. But if you spend too much time at the hot springs it will get dark and you may not want to walk back in the dark. Mototaxis are good when taken from town, but they are difficult to arrange for a pick up from the hot springs. What I recommend for your first time is to walk the 3.5km to get there taking in the beautiful views if it’s not too foggy. Then hitch a ride back with either a driver or a mototaxi. Sometimes the front desk person will call you a mototaxi if she has a cell phone. If you like there is also a little posada at the gate of Presidente where you can stay for the night.
Las aguas termales Presidente (38-40 degrees) is very rustic for some, but I really enjoyed it. There are at least 5 large pools that have different temperatures to choose from. The sheer amount of water that it takes to fill up these pools and keep them warm is amazing. The first time I went into the pool what surprised me was that there was a deep end in the pool. I spent hours just floating in this pool looking at the huge jungle trees above, in both rain and shine. The water is lovely.
HOWEVER, the conditions of this place will be for many travelers too rustic and dirty. The county runs the pool and all the revenues go to the county. So it must not make that much money considering that so much of it is so run down and often just really dirty. Local people will come to use it to bathe and even use soap though it explicitly says that you should not. But then again, there were never too many foreigners that used these hot springs. And so the locals use and run it how they liked. Though I always enjoyed my time there and the casual nature of it, I often found myself fantasizing the big and small ways that these natural wonders could be improved on.
I did meet some good people there, learned some tricks about using the hot spring mud for your face. Even though you pay double than local students get in in free, you still can’t beat the price – $3. I felt lucky to have access to this bath every day. There are snacks and beer there. The hot springs are open until 10pm or 11pm. Locals told me that the best time to go was in the morning. I liked going in the afternoon. I believe that most people go there at night.
Presidente is most popular, but there is another option that was also very good. Las Marias Termas (33 – 36 degrees) is the hot spring just before you get to Presidente. Its pools are smaller and shallower and I feel like they were not as hot. This would make sense because Las Marias is downstream from Presidente. I actually really enjoyed exploring the different pools there and the ambience is really quite nice. There seem to be fewer locals there and I believe that they are privately owned. I don’t know why I didn’t go back there. I think ultimately I enjoyed the warmer springs better. There are also cabin that can be rented right within the pool area.
Going the other way out of town (towards Santa Rosa) there is another hot spring that is sort of an up and comer called Termas del Rio. Apparently some politician owns it. Following the hill down you arrive in the valley. There are about 5 pools, all nice sizes. Again you can choose your heat level depending on the pool, its size and it’s proximity to the source. Different from the other two, this hot spring is not in the jungle, but opens up to a view, has a green space and a nice restaurant. It is definitely trying hard to be the more upscale place. The surroundings are a bit more landscaped. They were actually doing some renovations as I was there. But I found that the water was not as hot as Presidente.
However again in terms of cleanliness there still is something left to be desired. The waterfowl were hanging about in the water and it seems like the pools could have been a bit cleaner. But for the pickiest spa tourists, this location is probably your best bet. I believe that they do frequently drain their pools and the higher price suggests that it is trying to reach a wealthier clientele.
Not too far away from Santa Rosa is the town of Copan Ruinas, the location of the ancient Mayan ruins. It goes without saying that the ruins are a must see in Honduras. But what not enough people discover, are the hidden hot springs of Luna Jaguar. These are about a 45-minute, mud-road drive away from the town, but it is really worth the trip.
This place is a playground for spa enthusiasts. It has at least 12 different pools to choose from ranging from individual pools to hot pools for 15 + people. There are self-administered mud baths, foot massages, hot and cold waterfalls, and even a steam bath built just above the hot spring source itself!
Each bath seems to be carved out of the rock just for you in this deep green jungle.
It is rustic, but in a good way – a very good, natural way. The facilities are well maintained. Make sure to check out every little pool and expect to spend the day there. We did. We actually splurged for a tour guide who provided us with transportation, spent the day there with us, made all the arrangements to get us in, showed us around the place, and brought a picnic lunch and home-made facial treatments. Not having to deal with the transportation and to be able to properly enjoy the spa was worth the money in my opinion.
You can also get massages just above the steamy waterfall if you make arrangements in advance. I cannot say enough about how great this jungle escape was. I think that these photos are not doing is justice. Make sure that you don’t miss the actual private spa. That is to say if you do go by yourself please note that the locals swim in the river where the hot spring enters. But you have not actually reached the spa with all the private pools until you’ve crossed the bridge over the river.
Finally I will just say a few words about Roatan as it bares some mentioning. It would seem that many of the high-end resorts have traditional spas where one can get their nails done or have a massage. In terms of bathing spas, to be honest, I didn’t look too hard for them. But we did indulge in a few nights at a luxury hotel and the pool was quite amazing.
On the other hand if you do stay at a luxury resort with a spa and would like body treatments there are more than reasonably priced. Even the Mayan Princess where we stayed offered treatments. But to my knowledge there are no hot springs or proper bathing spas on the island.
#1 – Luna Jaguar – spend a day there and spend the extra money for the tour guide and transportation. Make sure to allow for two days for the Copan Ruins and on site museum.
#2 – Hang out in the general Gracias, Lempira area for at least 5 days to explore three different hot springs, some culture and good hiking. Keep in mind that these are more casual and rustic and enjoy your time!