What travelling around Honduras and El Salvador is really like
Don’t travel to Honduras. Don’t travel to El Salvador. You will be ripped off. You will be mugged. You will have a bad experience. These are the words you’ll often hear from other people travelling around Central America, and do you know what I say to that? Bullshit.
Brian, Brianna and I first crossed the border into Honduras from Guatemala via Belize. Three countries, two border crossings and only a matter of hours.
With no Belizean dollars, Guatemalan quetzales, no Honduran lempira and only a handful of US dollars to our name, it was always going to be a tough ask to travel all the way into the heart of Honduras with the money we had, but that was our plan we when we set off from Belize early in the morning.
After catching the boat from Punta Gorda in Belize to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala, we were greeted by the usual street hawkers the moment we stepped foot on dry land.
Immediately there was a cacophony of sound – “You going to Honduras? Come with me. No, there is no direct bus. No, there is no local bus. No, the bus terminal is miles away. In fact, there is no bus terminal. Look, I will take you to Honduras. Trust me. Follow me.”
Purely on where we were and where we were going, purely on reputation of what other people had said, we were wary and we didn’t want to take our chances. And there was no one we could ask.
Worryingly, immigration didn’t really have a clue, and the only person who spoke any English was one taxi driver. Just the one. This left us with little choice but to listen to what he had to say and to trust him (well, trust him much like you’d trust any taxi driver).
So we went with Hector (that’s our taxi driver. Hector turned out to be a one man tourist board). He told us everything we needed to know in terms of immigration, infrastructure, how much it was going to cost us and all about the other travellers who had been in our situation (obviously we weren’t the only ones), but we still had one major problem; we still had no money, the last of our US dollars going to Hector.
But Hector being Hector, a guardian if somewhat swarthy angel, and Honduras being Honduras, he told the bus conductor about our situation.
We asked if we could pay when we got to San Pedro Sula (which coincidentally is the murder capital of the world – the worse thing we witnessed there was they overcooked my fried chicken), and suddenly being cashless was no problem at all. All it needed was the helpful bus conductor to show us where the ATM was once arrived at our destination (please note: there was no mugging at the cash point or anything like that).
On the way we didn’t get murdered, we certainly didn’t get ripped off, and it was the complete opposite of a bad experience. It was a good one.
Next up, El Salvador. If you make it through Honduras without anything bad happening to you, well, you’re lucky, but El Salvador is a different matter; it’s a completely different beast, and your luck is bound to run out. This time you will be ripped off. You will be mugged. You will have a bad experience. Again, bullshit.
The hardest thing about El Salvador was getting there, which involved seven buses, two taxis, a tuk tuk, a bit of walking and a lot of time (14 hours to be exact).
And what greeted us when we arrived? One of the most beautiful stretches of coastline I have ever seen with only a handful of tourists to share it with, presumably because the rest were scared away.
The only minor annoyance we witnessed in both countries was one guy, drunk, asking us to buy him some food, and you know where he was from? USA.
Negativity always breeds negativity, but the thing I hate about these scare stories is that they work; there are definitely fewer backpackers and travellers in Honduras and El Salvador, and I think that that is sad.
Both are amazing countries with so much to offer. Both are definitely worth visiting. Like anywhere, like life generally, you just need to use a degree of caution and always plain common sense.
While travelling through Central America the only times I’ve heard anything going wrong is when backpackers or travellers have fucked up themselves.
You’d be surprised at the number of times I’ve had this exact conversation:
Backpacker: “I was mugged in [insert country name here]”
Everyone: “Oh no! That’s shocking! Ohhhh, I was thinking of going there; I had better be careful. In fact, I’ll think about it.”
Me: “How did it happen?”
Backpacker: “Well, it was pretty late at night, around 2am, and I was wasted while walking along the beach. I did a bit of the naughty powder and I got kinda lost, so when some guy came over I tried to ask him for directions. The next thing I know is he mugged me.”
Me: “You’re an idiot.”
The thing is, if you’re going to put yourself in those situations then you’re always going to expose yourself to a certain amount of danger, regardless of where you are in the world. Minimise the risk, minimise the danger.
When it comes to deciding where to travel to next, my advice is this: Don’t let other people influence your judgement. Decide for yourself and form your own opinion. And as for Honduras and El Salvador, go and see it for yourself and see what it’s really like; it’ll surprise you, but in the best possible way.