2005.01.07 - 13
Four months ago, after coming back from the first trip to Guatemala, I was writing a web page about my experiences. It was my first travel to Central America and second to Latin America, as I spent Christmas and New Year 1994/95 in Mexico. I had mixed feelings before departure. On the one hand, I was looking forward to seeing unique monuments of ancient Maya civilizations and experiencing a different culture. On the other hand, after reading a travel warning from U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy, I doubted, if it would be possible to enjoy vacation in such a country. My decision was firm - such an opportunity must not be thrown away - but I was not sure, until I saw everything myself.
Many things have changed since. Guatemala was not "once in a lifetime", but I went there two more times in the following months. It has become my favorite destination. Guatemala has everything, what an adventurous tourist seeks: many monuments, friendly inhabitants, strong original culture, a dense network of public transport and hotels, as well as reasonable prices. I took a bus across Guatemala City several times, which would have been unthinkable in the beginning. When my third trip came closer, I was seriously thinking about leaving my job, staying in Guatemala once the work was done and studying Spanish in one of the many language schools of Quetzaltenango or Antigua. Luckily, my boss discouraged me from such plans. Instead of two months, I took just two weeks of vacations. The purpose has also changed - to tour two other Central American countries, Honduras and El Salvador, plus some places in Guatemala, which I did not manage before. You can read about the trip on the following pages. Some people may be interested only in Honduras and others only in El Salvador, therefore I split the travelogue into two separate reports.
If you decide to come to Honduras, you can prepare the trip as if you went to Guatemala. You cannot however download a map from the internet. Personally, I used a folding map of Guatemala, whose margins show a big portion of both Honduras and El Salvador. Instead of downloaded internet guides, I bought Let's Go Central America (approx. $22) during transfer in Houston and I was happy to have done it, because you cannot get such detailed information from the internet. There is also an internet version of this book - Let's Go Honduras. As for health risks, I can only emphasize malaria, because mosqutoes bite much more than in Guatemala, including the dangerous evening and night hours in rooms with a dense net on windows. Everybody has told me - malaria is not here, but can you trust them? I would not rely too much. The best repellant was on sale at Roli's Place in Omoa - Repel-12 from Laboratorios Farsimán at L22 ($1.30). Compared to a more expensive Guatemalan spray (I forgot the name), I never got a bite after using Repel-12.
Honduran currency is called Lempira (after the last indian chief, who fought against the Spanish), abbreviated as L (in Honduras) or HNL (internationally). The exchange rate is approx. L18 - 19 for $1 in January 2005.
Every traveler will be interested in safety. I would not underestimate the risks, but they should not discourage you. Make sure you read travel warning of U.S. State Department (together with more practical advices from U.S. Embassy), which is the strongest compared to all others. The most risky areas are San Pedro Sula and the eastern parts (Olanchito, Trujillo and villages around them). On the other hand, the situation is under control, the police is very active and while traveling by bus, you will be stopped several times for checks. Guidebooks also mention a fact, that organized tours are generally more at risk than individual tourists, who travel together with locals on public buses. I reduced the risk by not walking around after dark, when there are many drunkards and other elements. My day lasted from 6 am till 6 pm, I planned the following day until 8 pm and went to bed, in order to wake up between 5 and 6:30 and be on the road before 7:15. Of course, I was also conscious of what was going on around me and did not display any wealth, which is not difficult if you do not have anything of value. Whatever I did not need, I left with my friends in Guatemala - for comfort and a smaller backpack.
Adding all together, is Honduras worth the trip? My answer is - not by itself (unless you are a diver and want to see coral reefs outside Utila and Roatan islands without the crowd of other tourists), but rather as an enhancement of your trip to Guatemala. Famous Copán ruins are less than 15 miles from the border and are easier to reach than (a more interesting) Tikal. Then there are national parks in the North (normally, you have to arrange the trip in advance - getting there and around is difficult and the easiest way is to buy a tour from a local travel agency) and the islands, already mentioned. I have not been in the last two, so you will have to ask others about their experiences. I am happy to have seen the Fort of Omoa and garifuna villages, even though you may find similar ones elsewhere. On the other hand, everybody considers the capital city of Tegucigalpa very ordinary and not worth visiting.
© Jan Pešula, 2005