Honduras - It's safe for tourists

It was my last unvisited country in Central America. At 2 o'clock in the night, the bus departed from Nicaragua towards Honduras. As in Nicaragua, I wasn't able to plan an extended itinerary, as the risks of having the pandemic crashing all plans were too high.  

People say Honduras has nice islands on the Caribbean coast, for example, Roatan and Utila, both perfectly for scuba diving, but visiting there wasn't possible for me this time (and so I will keep for the future). 

Security issues in Honduras in combination with the Covid restrictions made it all complicated, but more on that later. Everyone who plans to travel to Honduras is facing rumors and news about security. For example under the hood civil wars or drug lord mafia chaos kind of things. 

Is Honduras safe for tourists?

Honduras is among the notorious places in Central America when it comes to illegal activities, with armed violence involved. The "top amount of murder" trophy almost goes to Honduras almost every year.

Did I feel in danger at any time during my visit? No. Based on that I will not say Honduras is not dangerous, but the risk of being assassinated as a tourist while traveling during this country is unbelievably small. Estimations about security issues in Honduras are difficult to make in advance at all. Usually, I have some preconceptions about what to expect in a new country and these preconceptions were often based on newspapers or stereotypes based on movies. But Honduras? Honduras is not a covered topic in TV news and it's not a movie star like Mexico or Colombia, and many people don't even know Honduras exists.

When getting around in the country, large US fast-food chains give a sense of modernity. And large imposing buildings in the capital trigger a feeling of "all under control". Beautiful landscapes with small houses tell me that everything is nice and peaceful.

But it is not like that. At least, that's what all the locals say with whom I could exchange words and thereby the opportunity arose to briefly address this issue. Violence seems to be the order of the day in Honduras and gangs are omnipresent. Some local tells me:

If you go further than 200 meters in this direction you will end up in the bandit district, they will shoot you down.

Civil security companies deploy their guards with pump guns and assault riffles around their necks, in front of every second store, and describe it like this:

Bandits put up barricades in normal residential areas and rob people out of their cars after shopping. It occurs daily. Happened here last week.

May 31 - Through Honduras with an expired visa

So it was at 2am in the night when the bus (Transport del Sol) departed from Managua, the capital of Nicaragua towards Honduras.

The staff checked all the documents and the covid tests several times and I was surprised how meticulously checks can be in this part of the world. However, I'm fine with that and even thankful, as I entered the wrong border post on the formula, a mistake that could easily escalate at the border. The staff even printed my form again, thankfully, as it's impossible to find a printer at this time of the day in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua to Honduras, a complicated border crossing

At around 6am in the morning we arrived at the border to go through exit formalities at the Nicaraguan border. The covid test results got checked 4 times (!) by different police officers. After this, all the passenger bags were opened on the floor, so that the police dogs could smell through each and every single item. None of the passengers seemed to be a smuggler though.

Hola Honduras...

Another hour later we were allowed to continue towards the Honduras Border. Covid tests were inspected another two times by different medical personal and the border guards followed with their visa stamps for the passports.

... my visa expires too soon! 

I didn't check my visa stamp but it will expire in two days! So I didn't notice that. Horrible mistake! My fresh passport stamp only had a validation of 2 days and therefore didn't notice that this will get me into serious trouble as my presence will be 5 days in Honduras. 

But more on this later.

Day 1 - Choluteca, 50 km after the border

It was 7am when I got dropped off (on my own will of course) in a small city in the hottest area of Honduras, in Choluteca. Choluteca is 2 hours from the Nicaraguan border and the bus normally doesn't drop off passengers in Honduras - it passes through until El Salvador.

But thankfully they let me get off, as the only passenger. 

Within Choluteca

It was a gas station in the outskirts of Choluteca, where I officially put a foot in Honduras ground. 

The first truck I really noticed was a heavily armored army jeep with this huge anti-tank rocket launcher on the top and a few heavily armed soldiers besides. It seemed the war against drugs is not too far from here.

But nearer to the city, it felt like being in a typical Central American town with its unique architecture.

Visiting San Lorenzo

After finding a cab and being dropped off in the hotel, I took a local bus towards San Lorenzo. 

The only city at the pacific coast

This city is about an hour from Choluteca and sits at the very small strip of the pacific coast which is owned by Honduras. San Lorenzo looks like being ready for some visitors, but I was among the very few there. 

What looks like mangroves is the pacific ocean. The city itself is a place for transit with only one main road. At the shore is an area for leisure, but it's one of the few areas in Honduras with access to open water.

All restaurants are almost empty.

Day 2 - Stressing around to extend the visa

It was yesterday evening when I went through my passport to check the visa, simply out of curiosity,  and that's when I noticed the border police officer entered the wrong validity date for the visa. 

Among all the annoying administrative covid tasks and special covid procedures I now had another task: I somehow need to extend the visa by tomorrow.

It's ridiculous but I can't just overstay and then before departure pretend I didn't know. This definitely will get me in serious trouble in form of heavy fines and shortage of time. And I definitely don't want to miss my flight. 

Some pictures from the early morning bus ride over the mountains from San Lorenzo to the capital Tegucigalpa.

Arriving in Tegucigalpa

Thankfully it was a weekday when I arrived at the Tegucigalpa immigration office and it was in the mid of the morning. The visa expired after only a few days and I needed to extend it.

Arriving in the morning at governmental institutions is a good time as this usually means no bad luck with "sorry we're closed on the weekend" or "sorry we have now 5 hours lunch break" or other excuses like these. 

The process of visa extension seemed to be a daily business here, but nevertheless, I was asked to write a handwritten letter about why I want to extend my visa. "Dear Immigration Office. I arrived yesterday in your nice country and my visa will expire tomorrow. I think this must be some kind of mistake as I applied for the full 30 days. Can you please extend my visa?"

After paying the approximately 20 USD via bank transfer (whereas a bank counter is comfortably right next to the visa counter), I got my visa extended for 30 days.

Good area to stay in Tegucigalpa

My apartment was in a good area on the other side of the city, in the east of Tegucigalpa and in a secured area specifically for resident apartments. They even have their own shopping center solely for the residents, also in a secured perimeter. It was a good area to get around visiting the city and cities nearby, also to be quick back at the airport.

Day 3 - Picacho Lookout und City Center Tegucigalpa

The best view over the whole capital is probably from the lookout called "Picacho". It's like a park, located north of the city on a cliff and with a taxi, it's 20 minutes ride up the hill. 

There is an entrance gate and taxis can drive inside for dropping visitors inside the park. From there are walking paths with signs and a few small restaurants.

The lookout is a lark park on the hill and has several pathways to walk.

Old town of Tegucigalpa

After almost two hours up there, I ordered another Uber and it pick me up again inside the park. Next I went to the old town of the city center which is around the "cathedral of Tegucigalpa".

Many people around here and almost everybody is wearing masks.

The  church "Iglesia Santa María de los Dolores".

Modern Tegucgalpa and covid testing in 

In the afternoon I had an appointment for the Covid test. Unlike Nicaragua with only one test center in the whole country, there are many laboratories in Tegucigalpa. The test was done quickly without waiting and results were online available the next day already. 

But no matter how quick such a test is done, the administrative effort, timing and the mashed-up travel itineraries because of testing, are a big annoyance. However, complaining doesn't help and I already have accepted that traveling is changing for the next few years or in some countries for even decades. 

There are many testing locations all over the big city. I used the time before the appointment to see the uptown with its skyscrapers

Day 4 - Outskirts and the big basilica

Before coming here I hoped to see more of Honduras, for example, some outskirts. But the visa problem destroyed these plans and covid test appointments didn't help either. Traveling became a lot more difficult with covid. 

So I didn't have many more options other than having another glimpse around Tegucigalpa. However, just a few kilometers outside the city the small rural villages appear.

Not far from the accomodation was the huge Basilika "Basilica de Nuestra Señora De Suyapa".

Walk back to the city

Because of the covid test, I didn't travel any further and be ready to collect the result. So I had lot of time and no stress at all and walked from the Basilika towards the center. In the afternoon I went back to the safer area where the apartment was and had my Honduran Coffee while relaxing at the pool. 

The covid test result arrived and I'm good to fly out tomorrow.

Day 5 - Departure

From the furthest area in Tegucigalpa, it takes about 20 minutes to the airport. Not that bad for such a huge capital. 

I guess I will come back to Honduras sometime in the future and as mentioned in the beginning, next time I will go visiting the east coast with the nice islands. Hopefully all without Covid then. Maybe also flights connections will be easier and cheaper from Europe in the future, especially when comparing it with nearby countries!

Central America will be on hold for a while, there are no more unvisited countries. Next will be South America and the dozen countries in the Caribbean.

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