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Trip Report: Honduras (Central America)

Honduras: brief trip report

Perhaps few devotees of Europe travel are ready to consider the Central American country of Honduras for their vacations, but maybe for this reason a few words on this poorly-understood country would not be inappropriate. I’ve recently made two visits to Honduras (the mainland, not the resort island of Roatan), one in late Nov./early Dec. 2021, and the other just a few weeks ago, late Jan./early Feb. 2023. My overall assessment is that while Honduras may not be for everyone (perhaps no country is), it could well be a great destination for many poeple who don’t know it yet — in particular, independent, open-minded travellers who are serious about it when they talk of getting “off the beaten path.” On both trips I found Honduras to be far safer and more likable place than one might think from the “bad rap” it usually gets from our generally sensationalist media.

Honduras has a lot to offer. For those, like me, who are interested primarily in history and culture, Honduras offers quaint colonial towns like Gracias, Comayagua, and Valle de Angeles; and ancient ruins, most notably the grand, 1400-year-old Mayan city of Copán. But Honduras really goes all out for nature lovers. Collectively, several parks and reserves across the interior, and beaches along the coasts, offer everything a nature lover would want, other than deserts and glaciers. By itself, the area around lake Yojoa, located in the central mountains, offers hiking trails, bird-watching sites, kayaking waters, caverns, a grand waterfall, and more — even the remains of an ancient civilization, if not the country’s most spectacular ones.

And yet, one of the things I like best about Honduras is intangible, though nonetheless real — it is an “authentic” country where I can still feel more like a real visitor, as opposed to yet another tourism-consumer who needs to be “serviced.”

As this report is about to cease being as brief as I intended, I’ll stop here; but for those who want to read on, I’ll add a couple of additional comments below.

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Honduras Trip Report, Addendum 1: Authenticity

I realize there is something of a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” quality to Honduras, but I appreciate that — nothing is contrived, faked, or prettified for the tourism industry. (I might add that “what you get” will often be pretty good.) If you’re feeling rather jaded from Europe’s mega-tourist hordes, “tourist restaurants” with picture menus, tour guides in silly costumes pretending they’re medieval town criers (or whatever), and other such gimmicks, some Honduran authenticity may be required. I’ve found the people generally to be decent, welcoming, and in fact friendly; they themselves resent their country’s urban criminal elements, who are giving the place such a bad name. If you are a respectful, open-minded visitor just looking for a rewarding vacation, I honestly believe a great majority of Hondurans will be on your side. And in the course of it all, you will find many lodgings and restaurants to be much better than you may have expected.

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Honduras Trip Report, Addendum 2: Safety

I hope this will no longer be an issue someday soon; but for now I should point out that the scary Honduran crime statistics purveyed by our media tend to be generated in the bad neighborhoods of the two big cities, San Pedro Sula (SPS) and Tegucigalpa, the capital; just avoid those neighborhoods, and the drug gangs to be found there. And avoiding those neighborhoods has just become easier — fly into the new Palmerola International Airport (XPL), just outside colonial Comayagua, and you may not have to go into those two cities at all. But if you do, don’t worry — I had perfectly safe visits to both (SPS in late 2021, and Tegucigalpa on my most recent trip), and so can you. And though this brief report is not a place to go into detail, my quick advice would be to stay in the safer neighborhoods — the south-west quarter of SPS , and the pleasant Colonia Palmira district of Tegucigalpa — and you should be all right.

Elsewhere in Honduras I experienced no danger at all; and as some may argue that I was just lucky, I should add that I sensed no danger either. This is not a country hunkering down in fear: on the contrary, everywhere I went I mainly saw normal, decent people going about their ordinary daily activities, as they do in so many other countries.

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Thank you, Faedus, for this informative, comprehensive and positive trip report about a country I know absolutely nothing about. You have whetted my appetite for further exploration. I appreciate your taking the time to write this!

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Faedus, thank you for contributing this report. A few questions:

Which of the colonial towns did you visit? Were there other places you went, as well? Did you have one or more “base” locations, and where did you make daytrips from there?

What method(s) of transportation did you use to use to get around within Honduras?

I understand that many people arriving at the southern U.S. border last year, many of them seeking asylum, came from Honduras. Are their Honduran home locations now dangerous places to visit, or are they empty and devoid of people to meet and places to visit, stay, or eat? Or perhaps they’re not places that had a tourism draw, and are either now fresh opportunities to venture, or are even less of a draw now than a year or two before?

Did you encounter new and surprising foods that everyone should consider trying there?

Are there organized guides for visiting the natural wonders, are they necessary to enjoy those things, or is individual exploration worth considering?

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Andi: I'm glad you were able to get something out of my report, which actually was a lot shorter than Honduras merited. But as the "target audience" for this forum are mainly Europe tourists, I wasn't sure how much I should write on a country that is, of course, quite a different kind of experience.

Tom: True in a way; Copan may not be the most massive of the ancient Mayan sites, but it is still one of the major "classic" ones. It does have two decent pyramids amidst its several other structures; and for some visitors, what it might lack in surface area or mass, it may make up for with its on-site macaw reserve, where several of the distinctive red tropical birds can usually be seen. And unlike many other Mayan sites, it provides some fine mountain vistas from certain vantage points -- this time, at least, the Mayas picked a rather nice spot for their city.

Cyn: I'll try to take each of your questions in order. First, on colonial towns:
Between my two recent trips I visited two great ones. Neither offers what I would call famous visual spectacles, but both towns are fine places to stroll through or just hang out in for a while.

First there is Comayagua, the colonial capital, and the larger of the two, located on the main highway between the two large cities, though comfortably far from both. Though the city sprawls a bit to the south, it has a charming, well-preserved historic center, perfect for strolling around, taking pictures, and generally getting absorbed into a sort of colonial-era mood. There is a fine City Museum, which may still be the best place, anywhere, to learn about the ancient Lenca civilization, which one rarely encounters in standard textbooks. It also has its own sort of “restaurant row,” a block of local, independent restaurants and cafes, many offering sidewalk seating.

Then there is Gracias, farther to the west, one of the earliest Spanish towns in Honduras, and capital of Spanish Central America for about four years before the administration packed up and moved to Guatemala. Many tourists talk about getting “off the beaten path”: this quaint colonial town is a great place to do just that. But you won’t be deprived; there are some good hotels, restaurants, and even coffee shops. Among the lodgings, I would recommend both the Posada de Don Juan, and the well-established, popular Guancascos. Note, too, that just a few miles outside Gracias is the Celaque National Park, which offers woodsy hikes at various levels of difficulty (including an easy one).

I will also add Copán, the delighful town just a short stroll from the ancient Mayan site, but with this note: while records show a village here since early Spanish times, what we see today may have developed mostly during the 19th century — though it’s hard to get hard information on this. But with its cobbled streets and tile roofs, the town has an old Spanish ambience that looks as if it could be two or three centuries older. As the base town for the Mayan site, it gets more visitors than the previous two, but it has adapted to them gracefully. Copán is still a charming, aesthetic little town, with several lodgings of various sorts, and a number of friendly, independent restaurants.

One of the things I loved about these the latter two towns is that everything -- lodgings, restaurants, cafes -- was local and independent, at least as far as I could tell. The same is true of the colonial center of Comayagua, though within its southward sprawl you may spot a Burger King or Pizza Hut here and there.

I’m afraid this has become a bit verbose; for convenience I’ll pause here, and continue in the next comment. But first, I'll put in a word for one more town; Valle de Angeles, about 12 miles east of Tegucigalpa. It was a fine colonial town, and also something of an arts-and-crafts center, when I saw it 30 years ago; and at least according to the research I've done, it still is.

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On transportation:
On the first of my recent trips (late 2021), I travelled solo, with buses and private drivers. I took three long-distance bus trips: one was from Copan to San Pedro Sula with the Hedman-Alas company, which runs big, proper buses, albeit on rather restricted routes. My other two bus trips were with smaller, ordinary sorts of buses, but they weren't bad; both were better than everyone's image of the "chicken bus," and at times the rides were rather pleasant.

On my most recent trip, I travelled with three friends and so we found it convenient to rent a car. One of my companions was from Brazil, where evidently the driving is a lot like the Honduran sort, and he handled it quite well. Otherwise, unless you're acquainted with the quirks of driving in Latin America, you may want to think carefully before driving, unless you're with friends who can share the responsibilities.

On food:
I’m afraid that in the area of travel skills, food is my weak point — I actually like little of it, anywhere. And yet in Honduras there is a notable exception, for I’m actually quite fond of what Hondurans call “comida tipica,” or “typical dish.” There are some variations, but this usually comprises a small slice of grilled beef; refried beans; a (usually less interesting) vegetable, like shredded cabbage; warm, authentic corn tortillas, sometimes a fried egg, fried palntain slices, and Honduran cheese. I find the latter two almost addictive; in my experience, no one, anywhere, does fried plantains as perfectly as Hondurans — neither too crisp and brittle, nor too limpid and oily (as in many NorthAmerican restaurants).

Other items I usually like are:
[] Honduran tacos, which are actually large versions of what in Los Angeles are known as “flautas”: corn tortillas rolled over a filling of beans, meat, or both, then crisply fried and served with shredded cabbage; [] Pupusas: corn tortillas with similar ingredients inside, then fried, but not crisply (the Salvadorans claim to have invented these, and though I wouldn’t say this in Honduras, they may be right); and [] Baleadas, simply flour totillas folded over the same ingredients that you will find in a Honduran taco or a pupusa, then heated. I also rather liked “anafre,” a somewhat fondue-style affair with tortilla chips and a heated bean-and-cheese dip. (And though it's not inherently Honduran, I can strongly recommend the thin-crust pizza at Kandil's, in Gracias.)

On my “base”:
We actually didn’t have a base, but perhaps the closest thing to it was a great lodge in the woods near the north shore of Lake Yojoa called D&D Brewery. (It really is a bewery, as well as a lodge.) It was our starting point (as it was for me on my earlier solo trip), a place where we could get good, updated information on the country’s other destinations. It’s a bit remote, but it’s a friendly, welcoming place to spend some time, with all manner of nature and outdoors activities available in the area. (Two special highlights would be the Pulhapanzak waterfalls, and a bit further afield, the Taulabe Caverns.) Some of the trips and activities you can do on your own; for others, D&D can provide guides and transporation. Outdoors-lovers could easily spend an entire vacation in the Lake Yojoa area, with D&D as their base. You may want to consult their web-site; they’re entusiastic Honduras advocates, but honest ones. (I guess I should point out that I have no personal or financial ties to D&D; I’ve just found after two visits that it’s great place.)

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And on refugees in the US:
Our media do a dismal job reporting on Honduras and Central America, and even I am not acquainted with the full story; but we can dismiss outrageous tales of conspiracies luring “caravans” into the US, and that sort of thing. Parts of San Pedro Sula (mainly on the east side), and some near-by communities, have largely been taken over by drug-running gangs, which have gradually adopted more mafia-style operations, notably extortion rackets. (It doesn’t help that some prominent Hondurans, including one recent president, have been involved in this; usually, so I’ve heard, in the safer job of “money-laundering.”) These conditions, along with the severe poverty that still prevails in many other parts of the country, are sufficient to induce some Hondurans to take great risks in search of a more secure life.

None of this should be a disincentive to visit. Opinions may differ, but I believe that respectful, open-minded tourists, wherever possible patronizing locally-owned business, are a beneficial force; not just by spending money, which in any case will never be adequate to solve everyone’s problems, but also by providing a friendly connection with the world beyond. For poor or troubled countries, isolation can be a “last straw.”

Also, there is some hope that things will improve under the current president, who was sworn in just over a year ago. I actually was in Honduras for the elections of November, 2021, and avidly watched them on my hotel television when perhaps I should have been out seeing the sights. Anyway, it was a great day; turn-out was high, everything went properly, and peacefully; and unlike in some countries these days, the defeated candidates took their losses like men. And in fact the winner was a woman, Xiomara Castro (no relation to that other one), leader of one of the two liberal parties. As I said, some cause for hope.

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Last Update: Reissued with updates to health information.

Reconsider travel to Honduras due to crime. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.

Do not travel to:

Gracias a Dios Department due to crime.
Country Summary: Violent crime, such as homicide and armed robbery, is common. Violent gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, rape, and narcotics and human trafficking, is widespread. Local police and emergency services lack sufficient resources to respond effectively to serious crime.

Read the country information page for additional information on travel to Honduras.

If you decide to travel to Honduras:

Read the Department of State’s COVID-19 page before planning any international travel, and read the Embassy COVID-19 page for country-specific COVID-19 information.
Avoid demonstrations
Be aware of your surroundings.
Avoid walking or driving at night.
Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.
Be extra vigilant when visiting banks or ATMs.
Do not display signs of wealth, such as wearing expensive watches or jewelry.
Exercise caution using cell phones in public, including inside of cars while stopped in traffic.
Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas.
Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
Review the Country Security Report for Honduras.
Prepare a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.
Visit the CDC page for the latest Travel Health Information related to your travel.
Gracias a Dios Department – Level 4: Do Not Travel

Gracias a Dios is an isolated area with high levels of criminal activity and drug trafficking. Infrastructure is weak, government services are limited, and police and military presence is scarce.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Gracias a Dios as U.S. government employees are restricted from traveling to the area.

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I need to point out that in Honduras, the Gracias a Dios Department, referred to in the warning just above, is NOT the same as the colonial town of Gracias, which I described in my preceding comments. In fact, they're on opposite sides of the country.

Gracias a Dios Department (i.,e., "state") , the place discussed in the warning, is a remote and undeveloped province that attracts adventurers and explorers, if anyone -- the chances of normal tourists choosing to go there are extremely slim. If drug mobs are operating there, that's the reason -- nobody is going to bother them way out there.

One cannot object to tourists taking sensible precautions wherever in the world they go, but I've found that our US State Department warnings tend to lean towards the paranoiac -- they'll scare you out of visiting Denmark if you give them the chance. (Their current Denmark "Safety" page begins with a long discourse on terrorism!)

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Thank you for such substantive information, Faedus. There is certainly much to experience.

It would be nice to have well-prepared plantains. As you note, what I’ve found in North America are not too appetizing.