Honduras

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Introduction to Honduras

Honduras is the original banana republic, but travel there is easy, enjoyable and inexpensive. The slow pace, natural beauty and low-profile tourism make it particularly appealing to travellers (well-armed with insect repellent) who enjoy getting off the beaten track.

Despite its turbulent political history, the poor cousin of the region has barely registered on the Western radar, apart from its short role in the 1980s as a breeding ground for US covert operations and its devastation in 1998 at the hands of Hurricane Mitch.

With a cool, mountainous interior and a long, warm Caribbean coastline, Honduras is the second-largest of the Central American countries. Travel is easy, enjoyable and inexpensive. Its attractions include spectacular Mayan ruins and idyllic Caribbean islands with a coral reef that makes for great diving and snorkelling. There are several beach towns boasting postcard-perfect beaches, a world heritage biosphere reserve and ruggedly beautiful landscapes in the interior.

Caution

Although there's no need to be overly paranoid, crime - particularly street crime - is on the increase in Honduras. Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula are the worst places for street crime; generally the smaller towns are much safer than the big cities.

Most problems can be avoided by a few simple precautions - carrying only as much money as you need, securing valuables and avoiding displays of wealth. Walking downtown in the cities in the daytime and early evening is fine, but locals will tell you it's dangerous to walk in the downtown streets past 9pm or so.

In Tegucigalpa, don't ever walk through the market area of Comayagüela after dark. Caution should also be exercised on the north coast beaches, including in the daytime, especially in isolated places.

Full country name: Republic of Honduras

Area: 112,090 sq km

Population: 6.7 million

Capital City: Tegucigalpa

People: 90% Mestizo, 7% indigenous, 2.5% Garífuna

Language: Spanish, Carib

Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic, plus other Christian sects and indigenous forms of worship

Government: democratic constitutional republic

GDP: US$16.3 billion

GDP per capita: US$2,500

Annual Growth: -3%

Inflation: 7.7%

Major Industries: Coffee, bananas, beef, sugar cane, tobacco, forestry

Major Trading Partners: EU, USA, Japan

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Citizens of most Western European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand normally receive 90-day tourist cards when entering the country; US citizens get 30 days. Upon arrival you will fill out a short immigration form, the yellow portion of which will be stapled into your passport. Do not lose it! This form will be collected when you depart, and it will be stamped if you seek an extension to you stay. Once inside Honduras, you can apply for an extension every 30 days, for a total stay of up to six months. After that you might have to leave the country for three days and re-enter.

Health risks: Chagas' disease, cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, malaria

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -6

Dialling Code: 504

Electricity: 110/220V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

There are festivities in just about every town to celebrate saint's days. The fair for the Virgen de Suyapa, patron saint of Honduras, is celebrated in Suyapa, 7km (4mi) southeast of Tegucigalpa, during the first two weeks of February. Services and festivities attract pilgrims from all over Central America. Carnaval at La Ceiba is celebrated during the third week of May with parades, costumes and street music. There are other popular fairs in Copán Ruinas (15 to 20 March), Tela (13 June), Trujillo (24 June), San Pedro Sula (last week in June) and Danlí (last weekend in August). The Feria Centroamericana de Turismo y Artesanía, a Central American international artisans' and tourism fair, is held annually from 6 to 16 December in Tegucigalpa. Another cultural fair is held in Copán Ruinas from 15 to 21 December.

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Best time to Visit

May through June are great times to catch several town fairs and celebrations, including a weeklong carnival held in La Ceiba during the third week of May. The coastal lowlands are warm year-round, while the mountainous interior can be cool and rainy, especially between May and October. On the Caribbean coast it rains practically all the time and floods can occur on the north coast, impeding travel.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Lempira

Meals

Budget: L40-70

Mid-range: L70-100

High: L100-150

Deluxe: L150+

Lodging

Budget: L100-280

Mid-range: L280-400

High: L400-550

Deluxe: L550+

Honduras is an extremely inexpensive destination. For USD25.00 a day or less, budget travelers will be able to eat three meals and sleep in a relatively clean room. High rollers in the big city can still squeak by on US$50 a day, and that includes a several-course meal or two.

Most businesses deal exclusively in lempiras, and the US dollar is the only currency that's easily exchanged; away from the borders it's even difficult to change Guatemalan, Salvadoran or Nicaraguan notes. Lloyd's Bank in Tegucigalpa will change Canadian and British currency. Black-market exchange rates are usually comparable to bank rates.

Most Hondurans do not tip. In places where tourism has left its mark, tipping is more common, usually anything from a little loose change up to 10% of the bill. Bargaining is not as common in Honduras as in other Latin American countries, but at outdoor markets you might be able to save a lempira or two.

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Attractions

Tegucigalpa

The capital of Honduras is a bustling city nestled into a bowl-shaped valley nearly 1000m (3280ft) above sea level. It has a fresh and pleasant climate, and the surrounding ring of mountains is covered in pine trees. The name Tegucigalpa means 'silver hill', as the city was a mining center in 1578.

Fortunately, the locals call the city Tegus (teh-goos) for short, saving foreigners the embarrassment of mispronouncing the full name. Tegucigalpa became the capital in 1880 and, in 1938, the nearby settlement of Comayagüela was incorporated into the city.

Around Tegucigalpa

There are plenty of worthy attractions around Tegucigalpa, including the huge Gothic Basílica de Suyapa, 7km (4mi) southeast of the city center. The Virgen de Suyapa, patron saint of Honduras, is believed to have performed hundreds of miracles.

La Tigra National Park, 11km (7mi) northeast of the city, is one of the most beautiful places in Honduras. Located at an altitude of 2270m (7446ft), the pristine 7482ha (18,480ac) park preserves a lush cloud forest that is home to ocelots, pumas, monkeys and quetzal.

Bay Islands

Roatán, Guanaja and Utila - 50km (31mi) off the north coast of Honduras - are a continuation of the Belizean reefs and offer great snorkelling and diving. The islands' economy is based mostly on fishing, but tourism is becoming increasingly important.

Utila retains low-key tourist facilities, while Roatán is gradually joining Guanaja as a more upmarket retreat. Most travelers head to West End on Roatán, but Utila is the cheapest of the three islands to visit. Whichever island you visit, just make sure you bring plenty of insect repellent.

Comayagua

Comayagua, northwest of Teguciaglpa, was the capital of Honduras from 1537 to 1880, and retains much evidence of its colonial importance. The cathedral in the centre of the town is a gem. Built between 1685 and 1715, it contains much fine art and boasts one of the oldest clocks in the world.

The clock was made over 800 years ago by the Moors for the palace of Alhambra in Granada, and was donated to the town by King Philip II of Spain. The first university in Central America was founded in Comayagua in 1632 in the Casa Cural, which now houses the Museo Colonial.

Copán Ruinas

This beautiful village with cobbled streets passing among white adobe buildings with red-tiled roofs has nearby Mayan ruins of the same name. There are hot springs a one-hour drive from the village and nearby Santa Rosa de Copán is a picturesque mountain village with a beautiful plaza and church.

The archaeological site at the ruins is open daily and includes the Stelae of the Great Plaza, portraying the rulers of Copán, dating from AD613; the ball court and hieroglyphic stairway; and the Acropolis, which has superb carved reliefs of the 16 kings of Copán.

Tela

Tela is many travelers' favourite Honduran Caribbean beach town. It's a small, quiet place, with superb seafood, several good places to stay and some of the most beautiful beaches on the northern coast. It's basically a place for relaxing and enjoying the simple life.

There are plans to boost tourism in the area, so see the place while it's still unspoilt and quiet. The best beach is east of the town, in front of the Hotel Villas Telamar. It has pale, powdery sand and a beckoning shady grove of coconut trees.

Trujillo

The small town of Trujillo has played an important role in Central American history. Columbus first set foot on the American mainland near Trujillo on August 14, 1502. The town sits on the wide arc of the Bahía de Trujillo and is famed for its lovely beaches, coconut palms and gentle seas.

Though it has a reputation as one of the country's best Caribbean beach towns, it's not usually full of tourists, except during the annual festival in late June. Apart from the attractions of the beach, there is a 17th-century fortress, the grave of William Walker and a Museo Arqueológico.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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