10 reasons to visit Honduras

Gorgeous Honduras has a bit of a public image problem thanks to its oft-reported crime stats, but any visitor will tell you that the situation on the ground couldn’t be more different from what’s heard in the media, and most travelers come back raving about a corner of Central America that is frequently overlooked. These, then, are ten reasons why you shouldn’t simply rush through this fantastic destination.

The Church of the Virgen de los Dolores in Tegucigalpa © Robert Francis / Getty Images

Get off the beaten track

Sure, every overlander has spent time in the jungles of Costa Rica or seen the Maya ruins of Guatemala, but how many have been to Honduras? This is Central America’s least visited country, despite being its second largest, and you won't find yourself the target of touts, ripped off or otherwise hustled. Indeed, in most places you’ll be a pleasant curiosity for the friendly locals, and even when you get to a tourist hub such as the Bay Islands, things remain low key and laid back.

Great value for money

Since traveler numbers are low, competition between agencies and hotels is fierce and this works to your advantage. Moreover, Honduras is not an expensive country in the first place, so you can easily get by on US$25 per day for food and lodging. Buses are cheap and generally comfortable, and you can get particularly good prices for activities and tours, meaning that many people planning simply to pass through Honduras end up staying for weeks.

Pulhapanzak Waterfall in western Honduras © gionnixxx / Getty Images

Thriving hostel scene

Excellent hostels run by passionate people help travelers discover otherwise little known parts of the world, and Honduras is proof of this rule. The country’s largely overlooked capital, Tegucigalpa has two excellent hostels, Hostel Palmira and La Ronda, while the main transport hub San Pedro Sula has several, including the brand new La Madrugada hostel downtown, and the long-established party hostel La Hamaca, in its own hillside suburb. La Ceiba, the gateway to the Bay Islands, also has a sparkling new establishment, the 1877 Hostel, and the island of Roatán also offers some good, though somewhat pricier options.

Superb and affordable diving

For decades the Bay Islands, and Utila in particular, have been the cheapest place to learn to dive in the Americas. While recent taxes levied on the activity now make this status a little less clear cut, Utila remains a great place to qualify, with its dozen diving schools providing constant healthy competition. The diving is excellent to boot: blooming coral reefs, sea turtles and even whale sharks are all commonly spotted, and non-divers can have fun with outstanding snorkeling opportunities.

A diver swims over a coral reef off of Roatán © Joe Dovala / Getty Images

Party scene in Utila

The only thing divers seem to like more than diving is partying, and nowhere is this more evident than on the backpacker island of Utila. At the diving schools, the night’s activities often continue until the dawn light, with parties on beaches, nearby cays, dive bars and even in a tree house. Be warned: you may well miss your 8am dive.

Copán and Copán Ruinas

The country’s most famous historical site is undoubtedly the extraordinary Maya ruins at Copán. This extremely well-preserved ancient city includes some of the best Maya stelae in existence, and its greatest king was called 13 Rabbit, which is kind of cool. The Copán site is located in gorgeously thick forest that is home to the spectacular scarlet macaw (not to mention clouds of mosquitoes – bring plenty of repellent), and it’s a short walk from the charmingly preserved town of Copán Ruinas, a laid back and friendly oasis full of cobble stone streets and colonial-era houses.

A pair of scarlet macaws perched on a carving at Copán © Ralph Lee Hopkins / Getty Images

Ecotourism

With over a dozen national parks, several impressive mountain ranges, thick rainforest and the biodiverse Lago de Yojoa to choose from, ecotourism opportunities come thick and fast in Honduras. You can volunteer to work with endangered iguanas in Utila, do an impressive three waterfall hike through the foothills of the Parque Nacional Montaña de Santa Bárbara, see hundreds of different trees and plants at the Lancetilla Jardín Botánico near Tela and make your way by boat through the jungle wildernesses of La Moskitia.

Beaches

You have to make a bit of effort to find Honduras’ best beaches, as the ones near the bigger towns on the Caribbean coast tend to be rather dirty, but they’re worth the hassle. You’ll find idyllic white coral sands on the cays around Utila, some truly dazzling golden stretches of playa on Roatán, a number of totally empty beaches backed by soaring mountains around Trujillo and even dark volcanic sands on the Pacific island of El Tigre.

The white sands and turquoise waters of Tabyana Beach, on Roatán © Konrad Wothe / Getty Images

Extreme sports

You’ve got some real choice in Honduras when it comes to extreme sports. White water rafting down the sublime Río Cangrejal should not be missed, and the rapids are some of the most exciting and challenging you’ll find in Central America. You can also try free-diving in the Bay Islands, where this little-known discipline has taken off in recent years. There’s also two excellent zip-lining opportunities available, one in the mountainous landscapes of La Campa, a small town near Gracias, and another over the jungle canopy in the Garifuna village of Sambo Creek near La Ceiba.

Nature watching

With its incredible biodiversity, Honduras is an extremely rewarding destination for birdwatchers, and among the more than 700 recorded species you’ll find the magnificent quetzal (best seen on a climb of Montaña Santa Bárbara) and the scarlet macaw (easily seen at Copán, the site of their recent reintroduction to the wild). Other creatures you can usually spot with some ease include magnificent whale sharks and docile sea turtles that swim off Utila, monkeys in the various jungle reserves along the Caribbean coast and even manatees, iguanas and tapir elsewhere in this always surprising destination.