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The Treasure on the Hill Behind Copan – Hacienda San Lucas

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When we arrived at the Hacienda San Lucas the sun was getting low and we were tired after a long day.  We had started before sunrise that morning and hiked a hill behind the beautiful and heavily forested lodge at Panacam on the side of Lake Yojoa.  Descending from that hike we were expertly chauffered to the airport at San Pedro Sula by Robert and his lovely girlfriend, Olivia, who we reluctantly said goodbye to as we collected our hire car for our second half of our journey in Honduras.

We found our way out of the airport, successfully bypassed the main city of San Pedro Sula and drove west towards the town that neighbours the great Mayan ruins of Copan.

The city gave way to a scenic stretch of rolling countryside as ventured slowly west, trying to avoid the ubiquitous and dangerous potholes that pepper Honduran roads.

Prior to our arrival at Hacienda San Lucas we were given a mud map so we could find its location.  The map was perfect.  We left Copan’s tiny town, crossed a bridge that bypassed the route into nearby Guatemala and carefully traversed a rough dirt road that meandered up the nearby hillside.  When we arrived, we parked and our luggage was mysteriously whisked away as we were greeted by the wonderful lodge owner, Flavia Cueva.  Dusty, tired and thirsty, I was desperate for a shower but I managed to ask Flavia if there was a time we should meet for dinner?  She assured us with “No time at all but please relax, freshen up and come down for a drink.  We eat just after sunset”.  I fell in love.

We were shown along a hand smoothed stone pathway to our room, complete with spring fed hot water showers and a bed adorned by a handwoven Honduran blanket.  Attention to detail was everywhere.  Flavia’s indomitable spirit showed in everything we enjoyed.  From the antique lanterns lighting our path to the beautifully arranged heliconias from the garden and the line up of old horseback saddles outside the reception entry, charisma oozed out of this place.

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Gracious staff greeted us in the bar and kitchen area near the restaurant.  We were handed wonderful margheritas and we sat sipping them as the sun went down over the ruins of Copan, clearly visible from the gardens of the Hacienda.

Up until that moment, I had lamented something about Honduras.  There is so much western intervention via NGO and church work in the country that the Hondurans appear lost.  They seem somewhat ashamed of their culture and their Spanish heritage.  We searched everywhere for evidence of both and simply couldn’t find anything.  Granted, we might have needed more time but their culture did not seem evident at every turn like other countries.  It was hidden, secretive and appeared to be dwindling.

Hacienda San Lucas was a total exception.  The hacienda was just how I’d imagined it to be with its tiled roof, cedar furniture, stone floors, wood fired stoves, woven Honduran rugs and earthy beauty.

The bar was filled with personal touches from Flavia’s family, whose connection to San Lucas spans more than 100 years.  As an expatriate Honduran who lived in the United States for many years, she returned to the hacienda when she retired in what she called a “Fit of Menopausal Madness”.  In turn she created a magical haven on a hillside that is both secluded and charismatic.

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Over a candle lit dinner under a canopy of vines we both recalled some of the experiences we’d experienced in Honduras so far and updated our bird lists.

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I also gathered some thoughts and carefully extracted my ‘treasures’ collected on our trip so far.  A skeletal leaf found in the Honduran jungle, my much treasured tail feather from a Mot Mot, the giant dandelion flower I collected on the hillside.  Mark takes great pleasure in my bowerbird tendencies.  He is the first partner I’ve had who cherishes and looks after my treasures that I find in the field.  Just when I think my curiosity in everything drives him crazy, he offers to store something I’ve found in the leafs of his field notebook so it doesn’t get damaged on our trek.  Realising, and perhaps cherishing, this weird tendency in me, he recently bought me a stunning leather bound journal to store these items in and a feather quilled fountain pen to write my notes alongside it.  We found them in our subsequent trip to Venice the weekend after we returned from Honduras.

But I digress…..

Life in the kitchen where we were served early breakfasts, centred around a wood fire and old wooden table.  Fresh vegetables were stored in roughly hewn timber bowls.  Our tortillas were cooked fresh on an open flame.

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Starting your day with a pot of freshly brewed Honduran coffee and fruit picked out of the garden was hard to beat.  Even the smells of fruit, food and good coffee anchor you to this room.  I found myself wishing we could linger but we decided to head out at sunrise for a spot of birding, prior to our visit to Copan.

When the idea of visiting Copan cropped up, Mark jumped at it as he thought that I would enjoy it.  At the time he found it difficult to believe that Copan would even remotely compare to the treeless and gargantuan sized ruins of Chichen Itza that he’d visited years ago.  I didn’t have the luxury of comparison.  Although I have toured the ruins of the Inca and Pre-Inca in Peru and Bolivia, Copan was the first Mayan ruin that I visited and I wasn’t disappointed.  We arrived at the time the complex opened so we could explore it in relative peace and in the cool of the day.

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Wandering around the ruins, both of us were astonished at the well preserved relief carvings and stone estelas that we encountered.

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From the ruins we could see the Hacienda up on the hill and our spot where, on our previous night we’d enjoyed our welcome drink on the lawn.

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Exploring Copan was both fascinating and mesmerising.  The ruins are home to many wonderful creatures including very tame Variegated Squirrels.

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and wonderful Scarlet Macaws

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When more tourists began to flood the ruins of Copan, it was becoming almost impossible to photograph them without someone wondering through our shots.  The animals were also retreating higher up the trees so we decided to drive back up the hill to San Lucas for a late brunch that included sensational refried black beans. fresh omelette, hot coffee, freshly squeezed juice and tortillas.

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and I circled the hacienda last time absorbing some of the beautiful touches that make it such a special place.

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Core to Flavia’s beliefs and vision for San Lucas is an ideal that incorporates conservation, sustainable tourism and a passion for Mayan architecture and culture.

The food served to us during our stay was all Mayan influenced and was heavily focussed around the use of fresh local ingredients.

Flavia has developed this heavenly slice of Honduras against many odds.  She has done so with very little external help and what she has created is a sanctum of space and tranquility that is unrivalled.  It is a credit to her belief in restoring the Hacienda to its former glory and her enduring love of Honduran culture.  We found it infectious.

 

6 thoughts on “The Treasure on the Hill Behind Copan – Hacienda San Lucas

  1. Dear Inger:

    Greetings from sunny Copan Ruinas. First of all, thank you so much for your recent visit to our town. After reading your post, we are certain you have had an enjoyable time.

    Furthermore, we want to thank you for such a wonderful review of our very own Flavia and of her little haven Hacienda San Lucas. You have captured the essence of her work (and of her indomitable spirit) in this short post.

    We hope that this has been a first of many future trips to Copan Ruins, and hope to be able to greet you personally next time.

    Kind regards,

    Paola
    Chamber of Tourism
    Copan Ruins

  2. Guillermo E. Valle M. says:

    Been to Hacienda San Lucas and LOVE IT! It is a wonderful place and Flavia (Cueva) and the staff are wonderful. The food is fantastic and the setting, overlooking the magnificent Mayan ruins of Copán, is amazing!

  3. As a permanent resident of Copan for 23 years and a friend of Flavias for the majority of that I am always thrilled when I see articles such as this one. San Lucas is unique and a wonderful and special place, I have had an opportunity to celebrate two birthdays (one for breakfast, another for a wine tasting) at San Lucas but it is really Flavia who provides the essence and the magic. I was with her years ago when the climbed up the hill and said, I’m going to put an eco Bed and Breakfast here…she was ahead of her time.

  4. Inger says:

    Thank you Paola and Guillermo. Due to Flavia the Hacienda San Lucas just oozes with character. I really hope she is successful in this venture as it was truly a highlight of our visit to Honduras!

  5. inger says:

    Hi Liz,

    What a momentous occasion you both must have shared on that hillside 20 years ago. I’m sure the Hacienda looks very different now, to what it did then. I can’t really put into words why San Lucas crept into my soul. It just feels like a secret haven on the hill where you can see the world from a beautiful place filled with all of the creature comforts you need. I really hope Flavia succeeds at it. I have already spoken to a few of my clients in the UK and they are very interested in going there so fingers crossed I will be able to send her some guests soon!

  6. Rachel says:

    Thanks for the beautiful photos and description of a place dear to my heart. It has been many years since I’ve been to the Hacienda, too many. Thanks for bringing me back there if only for a little while. Flavia and the Hacienda are an escape, an adventure that everyone should experience.

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