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Wonders of the Mayan Coast
Bordered by the brilliant Caribbean Sea to the east and verdant jungle interior to the west, the Mayan Coast holds within its close reaches many natural and historical wonders. An L-shaped coastline encompassing parts of Honduras, Belize and Mexico's Yucatan, it provides a perfect window through which to observe wildlife-rich tropical forests, spectacular seascapes, and ancient sites steeped in Mayan culture.
I recently scouted the "L" - from the Yucatan at the top, to Honduras at the base - and came away completely inspired. All the elements are here for an outstanding expeditionary experience by sea.
The Yucatan's lovely capital of Merida offers a portal to two flourishing eras of Mexican history - the great Mayan period of 500 B.C. to A.D. 1540, and the subsequent 400-year Hacienda culture. Numerous preserved monuments surround the city, including the famous sprawling Mayan ceremonial center of Chichen Itza. But that's just the beginning of this treasure trove of Mayan ruins; Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, and Labna are some of the many impressive sites that dominate the nearby landscape.
Located between these Mayan centers are ornate plantations that once thrived as the world's leading producers of henequen, used for making rope. These haciendas - the largest ones being Temozon and Katanchel - have been restored into wonderful boutique resorts with beautifully manicured grounds, pools, elegant suites and regal plantation houses.
Located south of Merida, Hacienda Temozon is a grand complex, complete with 17th-century chapel, restored machine house, and lovely gardens. Hacienda Katanchel sprawls across 741 acres of an ancient Mayan site, with numerous pavilions, reflecting ponds, and a huge factory house that has been converted into a superb restaurant and lounge. With stately accommodations and exceptional dining, each hacienda serves as a convenient base for exploring the sites.
After crisscrossing the Yucatan to further explore limestone caves, colonial towns and more newly-excavated Mayan sites, I turned due south to Honduras. With a mountainous terrain of lush tropical forest and pristine nature reserves similar to that of Costa Rica, Honduras boasts additional treasures - the white sand beaches of the Bay Islands and the dramatic Mayan ruins of Copan.
On the north coast of mainland Honduras are two protected wildlife havens: Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge and Punta Sal National Park. While cruising the mangrove lagoons at Cuero y Salado, I spotted white-front parrots, keel-billed toucans, boat-billed herons, anhingas, woodpeckers and several other bird species. The refuge is best known for the manatees that feed in the canals and for the crocodiles and turtles commonly seen along its shore.
Punta Sal was a special treat for me, and undoubtedly will be for Zegrahm passengers. The peninsula here is breathtaking, with volcanic rock headlands and dense forests of banana palms, gamba, ceiba, and almond trees giving way to sandy beaches. A trail connects either side of the peninsula. Offshore rocks are filled with colonies of brown pelicans, frigatebirds, and brown boobies.
As for the Bay Islands of Honduras, Roatan is one of the best dive and snorkel destinations on the planet. The sheer number and diversity of underwater sites -coral gardens, reefs, pinnacles, caves, walls, and shipwrecks - is staggering. Efforts to study and conserve Roatan's coral reefs are being made by the Institute for Marine Sciences, which operates a laboratory and museum on the island's west end.
The lesser-known and delightfully remote Cayos Cochinos Archipelago lies 20 miles south of Roatan. A day in this paradise of two main islands and 13 small cayes offers a variety of activities. Visit the thatched huts of the Chachauate Garifuna fishing village, hike to the lighthouse for a panoramic view, and snorkel and dive amongst colorful reefs.
A forty-five minute flight from Roatan, deep into the mountain valleys of interior Honduras, is Copan - the magical Mayan kingdom. The site has a huge open-air sculpture museum displaying many original stelae, statues, facades and carvings. The ruins are striking, with courtyards, temples, pyramids, and stairways set amid towering ceiba trees.
Naturally beautiful and historically intriguing, Honduras may be one of the best-kept travel secrets in the world. In addition to an action-packed itinerary, we have chartered the perfect vessel to undertake the voyage - Le Ponant - her comfort and elegance wonders in themselves. I can hardly wait for December 2001 when all of the enchanting Wonders of the Mayan Coast will be revealed to you.
We will offer two Mayan Coast adventures in 2001, the first departing 12 December from Cancun to Belize and the second on 19 December sailing from Belize to Cancun. An exclusive group of 55 passengers will travel aboard Le Ponant for these voyages. Each expedition will have an optional Heavenly Haciendas & Magnificent Maya extension to the Yucatan Peninsula. For more information or to reserve your place on board, please contact our office.