It’s been my habit on this trip to check the State Dept travel site for each country before I visit it, so that I have a better idea of what to expect safety-wise. I checked Honduras’ listing the night before I was to head there and this is what I read.
“CRIME: Crime is widespread in Honduras and requires a high degree of caution by U.S. visitors and residents alike. U.S. citizens have been the victims of a wide range of crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, assault, and property crimes. Widespread poverty and unemployment, along with significant street gang and drug trafficking activity, have contributed to the extremely high crime rate. In January 2012, the Peace Corps suspended its program in order to review the safety and security of its volunteers.
According to the United Nations, Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 86 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants. Although crime and violent crime occurs in all parts of Honduras, the north coast and central portions of the country have historically had the country’s highest crime rates. Copan, Roatan/Bay Islands, and other tourist destinations have a lower crime rate than other parts of the country.
Since 1995, 108 U.S. citizens have been reported murdered in Honduras; of these, just 29 cases have been resolved. Six U.S. citizens were reported murdered in Honduras in the first six months of 2012″ – http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1135.html
Needless to say I was having second thoughts, but I’d already spent $45 on a bus ticket from Manauga to San Pedro Sula, and that was a commitment I couldn’t walk away from. In reality though, I’d talked to a lot of tourists coming down from the north and they told me that if you avoid the big cities and hit the common backpacker spots you’ll be fine. As it turns out, I’m glad I listened to them and not the State Dept as I had a great time in Honduras. The Bay Islands were very fun and felt completely safe. There are three of them and like almost all people doing it on the cheap I stayed on Utila. It’s mainly an Island dive hotspot that offers cheap fun dives and even cheaper certifications, much like Koh Tao in Thailand, where I was certified. With an Australian couple I met in Nicaragua and a couple others we met on the ferry, I haggled a little bit with a dive shop and purchased 6 fun dives for $24 a dive. They also offered free accommodations on dive days. This is where I stayed, you can see people doing skills off the dock.
The diving was great, lots of coral and lots of fish. I had a 3ft long Great Barracuda swim very close, saw lots of parrotfish, angelfish, some Morays, lots of eagle and spotted rays and a couple spotted drum fish, which only live in that area of the Caribbean. There where come cool bars and restaurants on the island, including a treehouse one called Treetanic that was obviously inspired by Park Guell in Barcelona, had a view of the ocean and sold chocolate cake. Very cool. There was also sunset Yoga for $5 on a 15ft high pier out in the ocean, I went three times in one week, which is a yoga PR for me. One other interesting thing about Utila is that it was a huge Pirate hangout back in Pirate days and apparently some of them actually settled on the Island and apparently I actually met one. This guy was a white guy born on the Island, now in his 60’s who growled when he talked, was ridiculously muscular for an old guy, was constantly drunk and getting in fights, super tan and leathery. In short, he looked exactly like you’d expect a pirate too. I didn’t get a picture of him though I wish I did.
After Utila it was time to head towards Guatemala. Everyone I’d met who came throught there, had been talking up about how great it was so I was looking forward to getting there, but first I decided to hit the Copan Ruins which were basically on the way. At the time of writing this, I’ve now been to Tikal, which is arguable the most impressive Mayan ruins but supposedly some like Copan better because of the detail in the work. The detail was very impressive but I guess I’m one of those that prefers magnitude over detail as I enjoyed Tikal in Guatemala quite a bit more. If you’re passing through though it’s definitely worth visiting.
The town of Copan Ruinas itself was fun as well. They have a bird Sanctuary called Macaw Mountain with hundreds of tropical birds in large cages, some of which you can walk into and hang out with. It did have a little bit of a Hitchcock “Birds” vibe but in a colorful, skwaky way, which is less frightening I think.
After Copan Ruinas it was off to Guatemala city and then Antigua. More on that soon.
PS. Did you know Adios literally means “To God” and in Central America they sometimes say it as hello as well as goodbye. Kind of like Aloha I guess.
PPS. This is what I think of when I read that first travel advisory sentence.