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Honduras – A Very Beautiful Country with a BIG Image Problem

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Pablo – one of the dangerous and unfriendly Hondurans we met in our travels

Mainland Honduras has an image problem.  Prior to our recent visit to the country we did what we always do before going away.  We researched any travel warnings about the country to make sure we were going to be adequately prepared.  During the course of this research we encountered this warning from the US government.  Reading it we were both shocked.  We decided to only carry as much camera gear that we could carry on hikes, that we wouldn’t be able to go owling after dark in the national parks and that we would try, wherever possible, to keep a low profile, well as much as you can for two people who are 6ft tall plus and who are obviously not from the country.

Expecting to find a country filled with vicious dogs and machete wielding maniacs, we prepared ourselves for the worst.  We had planned to hire a car and drive ourselves around the country but after so many warnings we had started to develop doubts about whether or not this would be a good idea.

Before I go any further, I should say that we are both quite widely travelled and I’d like to think we both have a good level of common sense.  Neither of us tend to do stupid things abroad, and by stupid I am talking about acts of wandering around the streets of cities drunk and alone at night, leaving our valuables in full view in the car.  Neither of us buy the well practiced sell lines offered to us by touts wishing to sell us anything from taxi rides, to drugs, or sex.  Generally we are quite sensible.  I always hesitate to write posts like these because no two travellers are the same and some people just do get plain unlucky when they are in foreign countries.  I’ve been mugged in Greece but would I paint the entire country dangerous because of what happened to me there?  No.  Would I return to Greece?  Yes.  I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time all those years ago.  I still think the region I was travelling in (Metsovo in northern Greece) when I got mugged is so very beautiful and well worth the visit, to the point where I have since suggested it to others as a ‘must see’ place in Greece.

Fast forward almost 22 years from that incident, I found myself arriving in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras on 25 January 2014.  I stepped into a well functioning, air conditioned airport at the same time a Honduran celebrity starlet arrived on a flight.  Instead of the grotty, fly ridden tin shed I was expecting, the airport was clean, cool, filled with food, flowers and the Honduran equivalent of a Mariachi band playing music.  I collected my bag and met Mark who was waiting for me in the crowded arrivals area.  At this point we were with a local ex-patriot guide who stayed with us for our first week in the country.  Robert has lived in Honduras from 20 years.  A native of California he originally went to Honduras to work with one of the many foreign NGOs in the country, fell in love with a local girl and just stayed.  He drove us through Tegus and while we saw a horrible accident first hand between two people on a moped and a taxi driver on our journey, not once did we feel that this was going to be a dangerous capital city.  It is, however, poor.  We stopped on a nearby hill en-route to La Tigra, a well established national park on the outskirts of the city.  The viewpoint afforded us a look over the rooftops of an outlying suburb of Tegucigalpa.  We saw a mishmash of colourful buildings, with corrugated iron roofs and dirt roads intersecting clusters of buildings.

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 The rooftops of an outlying suburb at Tegucigalpa

Robert stayed with us for a week while we visited Tegucigalpa, Lake Yojoa further north and finally left us to our own devices at the airport in San Pedro Sula, northern Honduras, where we collected our hire car.  The only inkling we had of trouble during our first week there were two armed guards who accompanied our passage to and from Panacam Lodge near Lake Yojoa.  There had apparently been some holdups involving tourists on that particular road so for safety we were escorted any time we travelled along it.

Collecting the hire car in San Pedro, Mark and I drove west out to the spectacular Mayan ruins at Copan.  While the drive through the Honduran countryside was beautiful, the road was typical of so many in the third world – filled with potholes, people overtaking on blind corners, dilapidated vehicles that had no number plates, children running across the street chasing chickens etc.  It was like any road in Africa, India, Peru or Indonesia.  You need to have fast reflexes and a healthy confidence before you drive in Honduras.  Apparently people can buy a driver’s licence, there is no formal training and police rarely control speed, registration of vehicles or drivers under the influence so you do need to keep your wits about you before you get behind the wheel of a vehicle there.  It is wise to take it easy and exercise a bit of caution.

Waiting at the end of our first drive was the wonderful hostess of Hacienda San Lucas, Flavia Cueva (more on her incredible slice of paradise later) who met us with a welcome drink and sent us out in to her garden to watch the sun set over Copan from the edge of her stunning property.  All of a sudden, the challenges of the drive disappeared.

At first light the next morning we were met by a very dangerous Honduran (tongue in cheek) who escorted us to the top of a nearby hillside looking for Elegant Euphonias, one of Honduras’ more lovely birds.  Reaching the top of the hill we all stood and looked out over the mist to some mountains on the other side of the valley that separate Honduras from Guatemala.  “I normally bring people up here for breakfast” he said.  Honduras is a scary place!

Further into our journey our experiences in Honduras were the same.  We meet friendly dogs…

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and we nearly always had shy smiles or friendly children waving at us from their pushbikes as they plied through villages and fields or walked home from school.

We were blessed to encounter four ethnicities of Honduran people.  Prior to my arrival Mark had seen the Lenca people while he was travelling with Robert.  While travelling together we met many lovely, regular Honduran people plus descendants of the Mayan Indian people near Copan.  One afternoon we both enjoyed meeting some of the local Garifuna fishermen and their families at Sambo Beach, not far from the fabulous Lodge at Pico Bonito where we stayed.

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 A pretty Garifuna girl loved showing off her new hair to me.

At one place we stopped for lunch I was surprised to overhear an American tourist telling his friends that he really wasn’t enjoying Honduras “Because you walk down the street and no one speaks English”.  Ah, hello?  This is Honduras!  Here they speak Spanish, Garifuna and most likely a raft of other dialects not understood by many foreigners.

Mark and I don’t speak Spanish.  I used to know it quite well years ago when I spent nearly five months hitch hiking overland in South America but I have since lost most of my ability to speak as I have learned German.  For some reason I can only retain two languages in my head and I’ve long admired the skills of the few polyglots I’ve met in my travels.  Our combined inability to speak Spanish fluently didn’t mar our enjoyment of Honduras, however.  We knew enough to fill our car up with fuel, understand road signs, the police at checkpoints and ask for directions.  Even when neither of us understood the cascade of Spanish offered in answer to our questions, we managed to nut it out and we got there in the end.

Sharing a conversation with a Honduran during our stay, I asked why there were armed men escorting tourists and his response was “Well tourists carry a lot of expensive stuff so they expect it”.  I probed further and asked when he last heard about a tourist getting in to trouble “Oh that was about six years ago” he replied.  I queried what that tourist had been up to?  “Oh he was drunk and was trying to buy drugs in town late at night”.  His responses were very telling.  Unless you are unlucky we felt that you would mainly find trouble in Honduras if you looked for it.  Thankfully Lonely Planet puts a far more realistic slant on their advice saying that most tourists travel through Honduras without incident.

Mark and I do share a very high level of equanimity when it comes to people though.  Travelling together has been wonderful as we both tend to enjoy meeting local people and trying local food.  Neither of us really feel like tourists in a foreign land when we travel.  In this way we are truly blessed as a couple.  We both believe that what you give out, you get back.  Perhaps we got through our Honduran travels with relatively few issues simply because of the way we are.

So my personal advice?  Visit Honduras!  Providing you don’t do anything silly, you will be rewarded with a country with mostly friendly people.  Go and sample some of Honduras’ great seafood, explore the magnificent ruins of Copan or take a hike in one of its many incredible mist forest reserves.  It actually has more protected jungle than its touristy neighbour of Costa Rica and we’d certainly recommend it!

 

14 thoughts on “Honduras – A Very Beautiful Country with a BIG Image Problem

  1. Katy Noone says:

    As always an amazing education about your adventures! Love reading about all your exciting travels
    Katy

  2. It is so good to see some common sense reporting on this beautiful country. I hope to get back to this amazing place soon!

    • inger says:

      Honduras is probably the most under-rated country in the world. I am pleased to hear recent news that a new section of their government is working with the Americans to try and change the government warnings associated with travel in Honduras. The people there are poor – they are most not criminals. We never felt unsafe there.

  3. Inger says:

    Thanks Katy! Honduras was pleasantly surprising! John, thank you too. I think you can tell that I don’t buy the politics of fear mongering well. When we ever catch up for a beer we’ll exchange stories about Honduras. It was surprisingly OK and we really enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would!

  4. Gary Ledbetter says:

    Having lived here for 25 years I agree with almost everything you have written. I would tell anyone who is going to rent are borrow a car to check out the laws here. If you have an accident you are can be held in detention criminally until restitution has been made. People really need to understand that most private hospitals will not take you until travel insurance gives proof of coverage. I have helped more than one North American get into a hospital that were having problems. In one case getting medivated back to the States. This not only common in Honduras but all of Central America.

    • inger says:

      Exactly. The driving in Honduras is probably the most dangerous aspect of travel there though. We never felt unsafe in Honduras. To us it was wonderful and perhaps how Costa Rica might have been before tourism struck it? I wish for a sustainable level of tourism in Honduras and an end to the cancerous palm oil plantations in the north. I would hope well thought out tourism will alleviate poverty to a small degree in Honduras, over smashing down native forests to plant palms. Really, Honduras has so much to offer and the people are wonderful. I’m not surprised you have lived happily there for so long.

  5. Nataly says:

    Thank you for speaking so beautiful of my country, what you wrote made me feel happy and proud of being honduran, our country has a lot of problems and I know the internatiomal media doesn’t help either but we have at the same time a lot of good things that they don’t speak about, so thank you again!

  6. Annette says:

    Hi there, Inger! Just wanted to say thank you for dedicating this lovely post to my lovely country. We do have image issues as a country and we certainly have warnings about walking throught the streets of Honduras. But what makes it worth it is the people. We are known for the love, hugs and kind treatment we give to all whom we know. It’s amazing to compare it to European countries’ treatment. We love to serve and leave people, happy. Sorry to hear about the tourist who was complaining about Hondurans not speaking English. Here in the capital, you can easily find bilingual people. Not perfect in English, but fluent. Hope many more tourists experience our beautiful nature as a whole. Once again, thanks for writing about my nation. 🙂

    • inger says:

      It’s a pleasure! I have very fond memories of my time there. It saddens me to hear people and particularly the media speaking badly about Honduras. I hope that in some small way, my blog post might change people’s perception towards your beautiful country.

  7. Eduardo Panayotti says:

    Thank you Katy and John for your favorable comments on Honduras, we do appreciate them. By the way, in a few years Honduras have developed plenty of call centers, that hire more than 20,000 people

    • inger says:

      Isn’t that fantastic!!! Honduras needs work projects to help lift it out of the grinding poverty a lot of people live in. The people deserve more opportunities for work because work is never just a source of income – it is a sense of purpose and hope. That really is wonderful.

  8. Jacqueline Lopez-Euceda says:

    Mrs. kathy and Mr. John thank you very much from the bottom of my heart for this beautiful story of my country
    It is so hard to read bad news on newspapers or TV about Honduras that that break my heart but reading your post make me very happy I have live hire in USA for 36 years but every time I go back to my country every where I go I always find good people ,people that maybe don’t have nothing to eat them selfs but they ask you if you would like some coffe or something to eat , those are the people of my Honduras also we have so many beautiful places to visit but not enough publicity and if there is more people like the two of you who can talk about their experience I know maybe people would thing that if they go to Honduras they are going to get kill. Again thank you for talking so nice of my country. God Bless you Both

  9. Annette Marie says:

    Wonderful words about a great beautiful country! Next time you’re in town, please feel free to contact me if you are in need of a translator/guide. I’d be happy to assist you.
    Regards.

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