All too often, Honduras receives short shrift on travellers’ Central American itineraries: most visitors either race to see the Maya ruins at Copán or the palm-fringed beaches of the Bay Islands, and skip the rest of the country. And while these are two beautiful, worthy sights, there’s much more to Honduras – from the wetlands of La Mosquitia to the subtropical shore of the Golfo de Fonseca, this is a land of inspiring, often untouched natural beauty – and a longer visit will pay ample rewards.
The country’s development, however, has been held up by political instability and the (largely unchecked) violent activities of international drug cartels, which use the country as a staging post. Security in Honduras is a serious issue.
Where to go in Honduras
The capital, Tegucigalpa, is somewhat underwhelming, but home to the best facilities and services in the country, while 100km south of the city lies the volcanic Isla El Tigre, a little-visited but worthwhile getaway. An essential detour on the way north to the city of San Pedro Sula is the Lago de Yojoa region, which offers birdwatching, caves and a 43m waterfall. To the west, colonial towns like Santa Rosa de Copán and Gracias offer fantastic restaurants, hot springs and access to indigenous villages, while the sparsely populated region of Olancho – Honduras’s “Wild East” – and the Sierra de Agalta national park has the most extensive stretch of virgin cloudforest in Central America. On the Caribbean coast, Tela and Trujillo are good-sized towns with great beaches, while La Ceiba, larger and with thriving nightlife, is the departure point for the Bay Islands, home to world-class diving and a rich cultural mix.
Gradually, Honduras is waking up to its potential as an ecotourism destination – its network of national parks and preserves is extensive – as well as the likely benefits of an increased tourist infrastructure for the country’s struggling economy (it’s the second-poorest country in Central America, with more than half the population living below the poverty line). The pick of Honduras’s natural attractions is the biosphere reserve of the Río Plátano in La Mosquitia. Encompassing one of the finest remaining stretches of virgin tropical rainforest in Central America, the region is largely uninhabited and a trip here really does get you off the beaten track.
Top image © Diego Grandi/Shutterstock
Crime and personal safety
The security situation in Honduras has deteriorated dramatically in recent years, largely thanks to the activities of violent drug gangs (“maras”). San Pedro Sula has been dubbed the most violent city in the world, thanks to a horrifically high murder rate, and Tegucigalpa is not far behind. Street crime is a real concern throughout the country; as well as numerous cases of pickpocketing and robberies, some tourists have been killed (sometimes as a result of resisting a mugging). That said, the vast majority of travellers who visit Honduras do so safely, and you can reduce the likelihood of being a victim of crime by using common sense and caution. Leave your valuables at home (or in the safe of your hotel). Don’t walk around cities or bigger towns unless you’re very sure of your surroundings; see also our warning about bus travel. After dark take a taxi, even for short distances. Steer well clear of rough neighbourhoods (local advice on where not to go is invaluable): for example, the Comayagüela district in Tegucigalpa, particularly around the market, and the streets south of the old railway line in San Pedro Sula are both considered very dangerous. Going around in groups is safer than exploring on your own.
The Bay Islands are considered safer than the mainland, and rural areas are generally safer than urban areas, though far from crime-free; taking the usual precautions and seeking advice from locals are vital. Hiking alone or walking on isolated stretches of beach (or indeed any stretch of beach at night) is inadvisable.
If you are the victim of a crime the police are unlikely to be of much help, but any incidents of theft should be reported for insurance purposes (ask for a denuncia).
The websites of the British Foreign Office (fco.gov.uk) and the US Department of State (state.gov) have up-to-date security information and advice on Honduras; check both before travelling.
Population 7.7 million
Languages Spanish, English in the Bay Islands
Currency Honduras lempira (L)
Capital Tegucigalpa (population: 1.8 million)
International phone code 504
Time zone GMT –6hr
The football war
In one of the more bizarre conflicts in modern Latin American history, on July 14, 1969, war broke out on the Honduras–El Salvador border. Ostensibly caused by a disputed result in a soccer match between the two countries, the conflict also stemmed from tensions generated by a steady rise in illegal migration of campesinos from El Salvador into Honduras in search of land.
In April 1969 the Honduran government had given settlers 30 days to return to El Salvador, and then begun forced expulsions – the result was the break-out of sporadic violence. In June, the two countries began a series of qualifying matches for the 1970 World Cup. The first game, held in Tegucigalpa, was won by Honduras, with a score of 1–0. At the second game (won 3–0 by El Salvador), held in San Salvador, spectators booed the Honduran national anthem and attacked visiting Honduran fans. The third, deciding, match was then pre-empted by the El Salvadoran army bombing targets in Honduras, and advancing up to 40km into Honduran territory.
After three days, around 2000 deaths and a complete breakdown of diplomatic relations, the Organization of American States (OAS) negotiated a ceasefire, establishing a 3km-wide demilitarized zone along the border. Tensions and minor skirmishes continued, however, until 1980, when a US-brokered peace treaty was signed. Only in 1992 did both sides finally accept an International Court of Justice ruling demarcating the border in its current location.