What makes Honduras a unique country to travel to?
Honduras is a democracy with a developing economy bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The national language is Spanish, although English is often spoken in the Bay Islands. The climate is generally temperate, with dry and wet seasons. During the dry season from February into May, widespread forest fires and agricultural burning can severely degrade air quality throughout the country, possibly causing respiratory problems and airport closures. The terrain includes mountainous areas, coastal beaches, and jungle lowlands. Facilities that would normally be used by tourists, including hotels and restaurants, are generally adequate in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, in San Pedro Sula, Tela, La Ceiba, the Bay Islands, and near the Copan ruins. Large sections of the country, however, lack basic public services or a governmental presence. Currency exchange is readily available at banks and hotels in the major cities.
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 Honduras in order to review the safety and security of its volunteers.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2011 Global Study on Homicide, Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 86 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants. Although crime and violent crime occur 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 lower crime rates than other parts of the country.
Since 1995, 115 U.S. citizens were reported murdered in Honduras; of these, just 32 cases have been resolved. Three U.S. citizens were reported murdered in Honduras between January and September 2013.
Since 2010, nine U.S. citizens have been reported as victims of rape or sexual assault in Honduras, signaling an increasing trend in these types of crimes. Two U.S. citizens reported incidents of rape or sexual assault between January and September 2013. Perpetrators of sexual assaults are often armed.
Kidnappings have occurred in recent years, with large ransoms paid and infrequent capture of the kidnappers. One U.S. citizen was reported kidnapped between January and September 2013..
U.S. citizens are primarily the victims of opportunistic crime. There is no evidence suggesting criminals specifically target U.S. citizens, but foreigners have been targeted for crime due to their perceived wealth. Weapons abound in Honduras, and armed street robberies are especially common, with criminals taking advantage of relatively isolated victims to steal their valuables. Young males working in pairs, often riding motorcycles, are perpetrating many of the armed robberies in Honduras’ urban areas. Criminals and pickpockets target visitors as they enter and depart airports and hotels, so visitors should consider carrying their passports and valuables in a concealed pouch. We have also confirmed reports of armed robbers traveling in private cars targeting pedestrians on isolated streets.
Incidents of crime along roads, including carjacking and kidnapping, are common in Honduras. There have been frequent incidents of carjacking and highway robbery on a number of roads including the main highway (CA-5) between San Pedro Sula and Siguatepeque, with the greatest risk between Potrerillos and Pito Solo in the lake area. Travelers should always drive with their doors locked and windows rolled up to avoid potential robberies at traffic lights and other places, such as congested downtown streets. Avoid driving at night. All bus travel should be during daylight hours and on first-class conveyances, not economy buses. Choose taxis carefully, and note the driver’s name and license number. Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before you depart, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change. When possible, travel in groups.
Incidents of piracy off the coast of Honduras can occur. In 2012, a U.S. citizen reported that his boat was boarded and his passengers were the victims of an armed robbery while sailing in Honduran waters near Puerto Cortes, three miles north of Punta Sal. In 2011, a Canadian citizen was killed in a similar incident. U.S. citizens should exercise caution while sailing or mooring in Honduran waters.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to be vigilant of their surroundings at all times, especially when entering or exiting their homes, cars, garages, schools, and workplaces. It is also recommended that drivers vary their routes and schedules so as to not create a predictable routine. Individuals should also limit the sharing of personal information and closely screen personal employees. Should a U.S. citizen be kidnapped, local authorities and the U.S. Embassy should be contacted immediately.
The Honduran government conducts occasional joint police/military patrols in major cities in an effort to reduce crime. However, Honduran law enforcement authorities’ ability to prevent, respond to, and investigate criminal incidents and prosecute criminals is limited. Honduran police generally do not speak English. The government has established a special tourist police in the resort town of Tela and other tourist destinations including Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, and Roatan, but the number of tourist police deployed is small and coverage is limited.
The Basilica of Suyapa in Tegucigalpa, also known as Suyapa Church or Cathedral, is an important religious site and popular tourist destination. However, it is situated in a high crime area and has been the site of numerous armed robberies and thefts. U.S. citizens in Honduras on U.S. government orders are only allowed to visit the Basilica of Suyapa with an organized tour group that provides armed security for the group.
The San Pedro Sula area has seen armed robberies against tourist vans, minibuses, and cars traveling from the airport to area hotels, and there have also been armed robberies along the road to Copan. Armed men have forced vehicles transporting tourists off the road and robbed the victims, occasionally assaulting the driver or passengers. In past years, several U.S. citizens have been murdered in San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba shortly after arriving in the country. Assaults in these areas may be based on tips from sources at airport arrival areas, so visitors are strongly urged to exercise caution in discussing travel plans in public.
Although Copan, Roatan/Bay Islands, and other tourist destinations have a lower crime rate than other parts of the country, thefts, break-ins, assaults, and murders do occur. Exercise particular caution walking on isolated beaches, especially at night. Coxen Hole on the island of Roatan should be avoided after dark.
The Government of Honduras has a very limited law enforcement presence in some northern coastal areas, including parts of the departments of Olancho, Colon, and Gracias a Dios. These areas are well known for narcotics smuggling and violence. Travelers in those areas should use extra caution. See the description of highways/areas to be avoided in the “Traffic Safety and Road Conditions” section below for details.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law and be subject to local penalties.
While you are traveling in Honduras, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places, you may be taken in for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Honduras are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. There are also some activities that might be legal in the country you visit but illegal in the United States; for example, you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Honduras, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not in Honduras.
If you are arrested in Honduras, you have the right to request the authorities to alert the U.S. Embassy. Doing so ensures that consular officers are aware of your condition and can provide you with appropriate consular assistance.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical care in Honduras varies greatly in quality and availability. Outside of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, medical care is inadequate to address complex situations. Support staff facilities and necessary equipment and supplies are not up to U.S. standards anywhere in Honduras. Facilities for advanced surgical procedures are not available. Wide areas of the country, including the popular tourist areas of the Bay Islands, do not have a general surgery hospital. Ambulance services are limited in major cities and almost non-existent elsewhere. Emergency services may be contacted directly through their local numbers, including 199 for the national emergency line and 195 for the local Red Cross.
The U.S. Embassy encourages visitors who are considering medical care in Honduras to obtain as much information about the facility and the medical personnel as possible. Medical tourists should confirm that the facilities they are considering are accredited, purchase medical evacuation insurance before traveling, and confirm that the cost and payment for their treatment is clearly understood by both parties. In addition to other publicly available information, U.S. citizens may consult the U.S. Embassy’s website for a list of hospitals and air ambulance services..
Scuba diving is popular in the Bay Islands, but limited medical facilities there pose a special risk in the event of an emergency. There is a decompression chamber on Roatan and Utila for divers, but no advanced medical care on either island for diving related accidents.
Mosquito-borne illnesses are a problem in Honduras. Malaria is present throughout the country at altitudes
Safety and Security
All travelers to Honduras should review the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Honduras,which provides detailed information about security issues affecting many parts of the country, including the major cities.
Political demonstrations occur frequently in the major cities of Honduras. During demonstrations, protestors frequently block public roads. Police may use tear gas, water cannons, or rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators. Travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place and never try to pass roadblocks. U.S. citizens may stay informed by visiting the U.S. Embassy website, following the local news, and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides.
While the Honduran side of the Honduras-Nicaragua border has been largely cleared of land mines, travelers should exercise caution there.
Honduras is vulnerable to hurricanes, heavy rains, and flooding. The rainy season extends between June and November. Honduras’ National Emergency Management Commission (COPECO) issues national alerts. Visit the COPECO website for current alerts.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Honduras, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Honduras is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Because of crime, poor road conditions, and heavy commercial truck traffic, driving can be very dangerous, and travelers should carry a cellular phone in case of an emergency. Travelers should exercise extreme caution while driving on isolated stretches of road and passing on mountainous curves. Rockslides are common, especially in the rainy season (May through December). Traffic signs, even on major highways, are often inadequate, and streets in the major cities are often unmarked. Travelers should always drive with their doors locked and windows rolled up to avoid potential robberies at traffic lights and other places such as congested downtown streets. Honduran roads are poorly lit and poorly marked. Vehicles are often driven at night without adequate illumination, and animals and people wander onto the roads at all hours. For these reasons, and because of the high incidence of crime, the U.S. Embassy discourages car and bus travel after dark.
Major cities are connected by an inconsistently maintained system of paved roads. While the main road network is being upgraded and widened in key positions, most of it consists of only two lanes.
Significant construction on the highway between Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula will likely continue through 2013, so drivers can expect delays. Many secondary roads in Honduras are unpaved. During the rainy season, even major highways are often closed due to rockslides and flooding from heavy rains.
In the event of an accident, contact the Honduran Transit Authority (“Transito”) immediately. It may be contacted either directly through local numbers, or through the national emergency number, 199. Honduran law requires that no vehicles involved in an accident be moved until Transit Authority agents arrive, not even to clear a traffic obstruction, unless you are in serious physical danger. Besides informing the Transit Authority, car insurance companies should be notified as soon as possible. Personal identification documents, including driver’s licenses, copies of passports, and vehicle registration cards should be carried while driving.
In addition to incidents of carjacking and robbery on the main highway, CA-5, between San Pedro Sula and Siguatepeque in the lake area, similar incidents have occurred on the highway between San Pedro Sula and Tela, with the greatest risk near the palm tree plantations near El Progreso. These carjackings and robberies have targeted SUVs and usually occur at night; therefore, driving at night is highly discouraged. In Olancho, on the road from Juticalpa to Telica, and from the turn off to Gualaco on Route 39 to San Esteban and Bonito Oriental, rival criminal elements have engaged in violent acts against one another. Travelers should avoid this road. In addition, delivery trucks throughout Honduras are common targets of highway robberies.
Some of the most dangerous stretches for road travel include: Tegucigalpa to Choluteca, because of dangerous mountain curves, and El Progreso to La Ceiba, because of animal crossings and the poor condition of bridges from flooding. On July 11, 2011, a bus overturned nine miles after Santa Rosa de Copan en route to San Pedro Sula, killing ten people and injuring 20.
The only recommended route to the north coast from the south is CA-5 to route 21 to CA-13 via Tela to La Ceiba and Trujillo. Hijackings of private and commercial vehicles from the United States to Honduras have occurred. While Honduras and the United States have signed and ratified a Stolen Vehicle Treaty, existing Honduran laws protect good faith buyers (even of stolen vehicles), so the recovery and return of these vehicles to their original owners is not guaranteed. Vehicle insurance may mitigate loss; please check with the National Insurance Crime Bureau or with private insurance carriers about coverage details.