SidewalkMystic.com

The complete, self-planning vacation
guide to Honduras travel


 



Current Honduras News
Current Honduras Weather

Has This Site Helped You?
Print Entire Site - PDF file

Site Index
 


Things to Know Before You Go by Shirley Shepherd

While researching our trip from home, we read tips on the Mystic Sidewalk site and in guide books. After spending time in Honduras, we realized some tips were helpful and some seemed to be outdated. Iíve created a short list from our experiences while visiting San Pedro Sula (overnight only), Copan Ruinas (two weeks), and Roatan Island (one week).

TRANSPORTATION

Auto Rental: We didnít need to rent an automobile, and, in fact, the more we traveled, the more we realized it would have been more of a hassle than a help on the kind of trip we took. In San Pedro there are taxis and many hotels will pick you up at the airport. Still, if you are staying in the San Pedro or La Cieba areas for any length of time, perhaps auto rental would make sense, but I would still consider public transportation first. Many streets are narrow and the traffic is crazy.

On Roatan, if auto rentals are available (we weren't there long enough to check this out), it would make sense to consider it. Taxis are fairly expensive just to get from one town to another and this island is so beautiful with so many gorgeous vistas that sightseeing would be rewarding.

Bus: The Hedman Alas Bus Company leaves from the airport five times daily and will take you to their station where you can get a bus to other cities or a taxi to your San Pedro destination. If you need to get from one city to another as we did, this is a perfect way to travel. Hedman serves Honduras and also provides transportation to Guatemala. They have been in business since 1952, the prices are reasonable and you can buy tickets in advance on their website (www.hedmanalas.com). The schedule is posted online. We were unsuccessful in buying online, but I think I tried too near our time of arrival in Honduras. However, it's easy to buy tickets at the station.

The two bus stations we were in, San Pedro and Copan, were clean, comfortable, and safe. The buses are luxury coaches with bathrooms and movies and their security resembles airport security--carryons are thoroughly search--no guns, knives or drugs allowed. An attendant brings you a snack and drink and lets you know heís there if you need him for anything. The roads in Honduras are in excellent though very winding through the mountains.

Moto-taxi: In Copan, you can walk most places, but if you need a ride, transportation by moto-taxi is fun and efficient. These small, tough, open vehicles with convertible tops, powered by Renault engines, hold three people who donít mind being close and one passenger in front beside the driver. They are everywhere so you have only to hold up your hand to have one pull up beside you. It cost us ten lempiras per person to go anywhere in town. Translated to American dollars which they accept, a ride was approximately $2 total for all four of us. We also used these red moto-taxis to get to the Mayan ruins, the butterfly farm, and the macaw park. These attractions are outside of town and for one-way it cost only 80 lempiras total for four of us ($4.25), but I gave him 100 lempiras each way as he promised to come back and pick us up. He arrived back on time and cheerfully waited a few more minutes so we could finish our gift shopping.

The roads are narrow and the traffic is congested so letting the moto-taxi drivers do the job seemed a lot safer than having one's own vehicle especially considering there are very few places to park. Local people do have trucks and cars, but it appeared to me to be a free-for-all as far as right of way goes. Yet I never saw an accident, never saw a dented vehicle, and, frankly, not much damage would be done since the traffic moves at a slow speed. Pedestrians are at risk, however. Always look before stepping off a curb!

Ferry: We took the ferry from La Cieba (the only place of departure) to Roatan Island (from a dock nearby, another ferry goes to Utila). The ferry leaves twice a day, morning and afternoon, and the passage is over an hour long (maybe an hour and a half). I failed to make a note of the price, but my memory tells me we paid $40 a piece. While they take American dollars, they do not take credit cards at the ferry, at least not when we were there.

On the day we went to Roatan, the seas were calm, and we saw only one desperate passenger about to lose her cookies. We heard, however, from several good sources that the passage can be quite rough at times and being prepared with a motion sickness medication could be prudent. Once you arrive on Roatan, there are taxis ready to take you anywhere on the island and the hotels will pick you up if you prearrange.

Air: We flew from Roatan to San Pedro to make our connecting flight the same day. Our alternative would have been to take the morning ferry to LaCieba, then a taxi to the Hedman bus station, then the bus to San Pedro, change buses to get to the airport or take a taxi to the airport. We would have had to handle our luggage each step of the way, and this would have put us at the airport far too late to catch the flight out of Honduras so we would have had to stay over. The airfare of $110 a person was well worth the price: we would have spent more on land and water transportation, and we would have had to add in a hotel and meals for the extra night we spent in San Pedro. I would not hesitate to fly out of Roatan in the future.

The airport seemed very well run and there were several Honduran airline companies (Islena, Atlantic, Sosa, Roatan Air and Continental Airlines) running multiple flights each day, many to San Pedro Sula, but also to La Cieba, Tegucigalpa, Guatemala and more.

SAFETY

In the Streets: This was a big issue for us since we were traveling with children. It did not take long, however, before we felt completely safe. We had read the warnings about staying out of the bad sections of San Pedro Sula at night, but this is true of any big city. The precaution we took was to arrange for rides ahead of time so we werenít wandering around the streets of San Pedro even during the day though I'm sure this is perfectly safe. If you're looking for the night life scene in San Pedro Sula, you could check with your hotel for recommendations on safe places to go and safe transportation to get there.

At all banks we observed there were always two competent-looking, uniformed, armed guards outside. This took us aback the first day, and then made us feel safe as we understood the Honduran commitment to security.

In Copan, the streets were completely and one-hundred-percent safe (not counting the congested, daytime traffic). My granddaughter and I walked at night by ourselves without concern. The stores close at night and a few families stroll around the park stopping to visit with others. We never sensed any aggression or tension from any Honduran people. Nada.

Water and food: We had read the usual warnings about donít drink the water, but Honduras has a working solution that makes this a non-issue. In Copan, for instance, five-gallon jugs are delivered weekly to homes and businesses and local people reassured us it is not expensive. Everywhere we went, bottled water was available in small bottles and the restaurants serve bottled water. At the hotel on Roatan they delivered an inexpensive five-gallon jug to our room at our request.

The only salads we ate were in our hostís home in Copan and in a restaurant on Roatan called Bite on the Beach that raises its own organic produce for salads. Us old guys, not the kids, had small intestinal disturbances a couple of times during the three weeks, but we couldn't figure out how they were related to anything we ate. The problems were easily and quickly stopped with a homeopathic product we had brought with us, so we didnít miss a beat in the activities.

We had also brought Immodium as well as emergency-only prescriptions for each of us just in case, but we didnít need them. Still, I'd do this again on future trips.

Insects: In Copan, the kids did get a lot of bug bites mostly on their legs, but, other than a lot of itching, they had no reaction. The bug spray I brought with me didnít seem to help, but in Copan I purchased a product that creates a physical barrier on the skin which worked quite well as long as we sprayed it on generously. Itís called Cactus Juice Skin and Insect Protectant Spray and the label says itís eco-safe and safe for kids. Many stores carried it. I brought some home and canít wait to see if it works on our black flies in May here in Maine.

On Roatan, insects were not a problem at the hotel or on the beach. We just didnít see any anywhere and didnít get any bites.

CLOTHING

I had read in a number of places that women should wear skirts, not pants, in Honduras. This turned out not to be true in 2007. In San Pedro Sula local women of all ages wore jeans and capris. Some women wore skirts, but they were usually older women, like me, and skirts appeared to be in the minority for daytime wear. Even in a more conservative Copan, Honduran women wore jeans, slacks and capris as well as skirts, especially young women and girls. As in San Pedro, the majority of older women wore skirts either knee or ankle length.

For the Copan part of the trip, my granddaughter and I had brought only skirts (long, for me), which were acceptable, and we did not feel out of place. The guys wore the usual casual clothing which was appropriate.

Another clothing suggestion if your are going to Copan: save some baggage on the way there and get into the local fashion; they have several shops that sell clothing, shirts, pants, skirts, and undergarments for adults as well as children which are cheaper than in the United States.

In February, we wore short sleeves and, even in Copan in the mountains, seldom needed a jacket. However, itís a good idea to bring something as a cover up in the higher altitudes. We had light-weight rain jackets which we used for a few hours on the couple of days it drizzled or was a little chilly.

MONEY

Our experience with credit cards and ATMs is limited to Copan and Roatan. It could be different in San Pedro Sula, La Cieba, or Tegucigalpa.

The national currency is lempiras. When we were there, the exchange rate varied from 18.8 to 19. Your money goes a long way at this rate plus many things are just plain cheap.

You donít have to worry about figuring the exchange rate yourself or even about understanding a price in Spanish. Every store, no matter how tiny, has a calculator and a clerk who quickly puts in the numbers and then shows you the amount on the calculator in dollars. I took my own calculator and used it frequently and never found anyone who did not figure the exchange rate accurately.

Hotels, most restaurants, and some gift shops take credit cards. However, you will need to deal with the local currency for most other purchases and services including taxis. It's a good idea to tip in cash, lempiras or dollars, rather than put the tip on your credit card. Businesses have to wait for up to a month to get their money from credit card sales which can mean the staff also has to wait for their tips.

Having stayed in rural Costa Rica where the ATMs are frequently out of money or the machine just doesnít work, I decided to put my ďeggsď in several baskets in Honduras and this turned out to be a really good idea. To pay the school, I took travelers checks as prearranged, but we found almost no one else could take them--even $20 checks. As with credit card sales, we were told businesses have to wait for a month before they get their money back when they deposit travelers checks. We had to cash the rest of our travelers checks at a bank.

A trip to the bank can take a long time: a wait in line of an hour is not usual. On the other hand, one day we went in and walked right up to the teller.

Another problem with banks is they want to give you large denominations, 500 lempira bills (about $25), because if you are cashing checks in hundreds of American dollars, they would have to count out a bushel of money. But very few stores can accept 500 lempira bills because giving change would wipe out their cash reserves for the day. Unless you are going to buy something for 300 lempiras, perhaps a restaurant bill or a lot of souvenirs, you need to be prepared to pay in smaller bills.

One bank cautiously let me exchange one of my 500 lempira bills for five ones, but I had to walk away with the other seven 500 bills. In another small bank a few blocks away, I stood in line for only a few minutes and exchanged one of them for five 100s and then did this everyday for awhile. When I bought anything and got change, I tucked away the twenty lempira bills to use for the moto-taxis.

American dollars are accepted in most places, but, as you can imagine, they need to be small bills. I had put aside an envelope of fives and ones, American, for tips and wished I had brought many more. In fact, in a future visit, I think Iíll line my suitcase with ones and fives.

ATMs can work most of the time, but itís frustrating when youíre nearly (or all) out of money and they donít work. Also, the ATMs restrict the amount of money you can withdraw to 5000 lempiras, approximately $260ish. You always get your money in lempiras even if you choose the dollar option.

In Copan, the ATMs always worked which gave us a sense of security, but later in Roatan we had problems. The ATM at the four-star Mayan Princess hotel didnít work and hadnít for a long time we were told by other guests. In fact, one guest said heíd been there in November and it didnít work then. Itís too far to walk to an ATM so we took a taxi ($20!) to Coxen Hole and found two ATMs out of order before we finally found one that worked (then a $20 taxi ride back). We noticed at the time the lines inside the bank were very long.

Later that week, we were out of money again (there are many opportunity to spend small amounts of cash and the kids selling souvenirs on the beach don't take credit cards). We were with other members of our family during this part of our vacation and they were also nearly out of cash. We were told there were dependable ATMs in the town of West End so we got a water taxi to take the six of us there ($20). We wandered around for quite a while in the sun at noon time until we found an ATM that didnít work--both families tried multiple times. We realized, then, that we didnít have enough money to get back to the Mayan Princess, and it too far to walk or swim! We did have credit cards so we stopped to eat at a second-floor restaurant while we mulled over the situation. When we asked the waiter where we could find an ATM, he said there was one in the restaurant at street level. We both hit the ATM for the max.

My recommendation for Copan and Roatan is to take a lot of small American bills (ones and fives are the most helpful, but twenties are good for the taxis on Roatan), take a few travelers checks in small denominations to cash at banks just in case the ATMs are down, use your credit/debit cards wherever they will take them so as not to use up your cash resources, and use the ATMs well before you run out of money. You will find your wallet crammed with a wad of lempira bills, but itís better than running out.

ACCOMMODATIONS

The Moon guide book gives an excellent list of accommodations grouped by area as well as price. We also got a list of hotels in San Pedro Sula from the Ixbalanque Language School. I settled on the Tamarindo Hostel (www.tamarindohostel.com, 504-557-0123) partly because of the reasonable price and partly because they replied in English quickly letting us know someone would pick us up at the airport and take us to the bus station the next morning. We were very happy with our choice. There are several good hotels in Copan, and we had the opportunity to visit the Copan Marina Hotel as guests. It is lovely and affordable.

On Roatan, luxury hotels are springing up like mushrooms in the spring. A web search will give you lots of options in various price ranges.

LANGUAGE

Spanish is the language of Honduras. We had read, though, that English is spoken by everyone on the Bay Islands, but we found this not to be the case on Roatan. Yes, people in the service industries, hotels, taxi drivers, and restaurants speak either limited or decent English and communication is usually not a problem in tourist areas on Roatan. However, in banks, regular stores, such as shoe stores, clothing stores, and grocery stores, most Hondurans did not speak English and appeared nervous that we might try.

There is a delightful exception, though. Every black-skinned person we talked to was fluently bi-lingual and spoke excellent English with what sounded to my ear like a faintly lilting Jamaican accent. When I asked the woman who beaded my granddaughterís hair if she was from Jamaica she laughed and said all tourists ask her that. ďI am from here, and everyone who looks like me, speaks as I do,Ē she said. This, we were told, was a result of emigration generations earlier.

Iím a believer in not letting the inability to speak a language keep you from traveling. There always seems to be someone around who can interpret or you can use sign language, point on a menu, etc. This being said, I strongly recommend you take a travel language book and even practice a few phrases to smooth the way.

We have found in our travels to Spanish-speaking countries that local residents really appreciate any attempt you make to use their language even if you fracture it into many pieces. And a few local people panic if they think you are going to try to speak English. When I tried to buy our bus tickets, I was about to use my limited Spanish. I stood in line practicing, ďYo quiero comprar cuatro billetesĒ (I want to buy four tickets.) The clerk took a look at me and, before I got a word out, frantically signaled an interpreter across the room to come to her rescue.

Most people, however, are patient and will try to help you, especially if you keep it light and have the attitude that itís your problem you donít speak their language rather than their problem they donít speak yours. We found that if we donít get frustrated, the situation often turns into a fun exchange as you and they work out communication.

If you are going to learn a few phrases, helpful ones are ďHello,Ē ďwhere isÖ.,Ē ďI needÖ,Ē ďhow much (does it cost)?Ē and ďthank you.Ē There are many Spanish language phrase books specifically for travel available in the states in most books stores. Even if you donít have the courage to attempt to speak, you can point at the appropriate phrase in your book. Donít let lack of language skills keep you from enjoying the beautiful country and the wonderful people of Honduras.

FOOD

Typical food includes variations of rice and beans, called frijoles (free hole ayes), as well as vegetables and meat. Chicken, pork and beef (and seafood on Roatan) is available as well as the old staple of diets everywhere: french fries known as papas fritas in Spanish. The food is nicely seasoned but not spicy or hot, though you can ask for hot sauce if you want it. We enjoyed every meal in Honduras.

Over All Impressions of Hondurans

Though Honduras is a large country, the population is relatively small. We found the people we interacted with a little shy but very polite, often friendly, and always helpful. There were indications that Hondurans receive an excellent education. Many people who spoke fluent English learned it in their local schools though a few people had spent months or a few years in the states (the interpreter at Hedman Alas had spent four years in Wisconsin). The Hondurans that we conversed with at the Ixbalanque School and Juan and Angela owners of the Tamarindo Hostel all had a sophisticated and thorough knowledge of the world outside of their country. They were also well educated regarding their own country.

The Hondurans we came across were comfortingly honest. Several helpful, trustworthy people rescued me from my air-head mistakes. We also developed complete confidence that bank tellers and store clerks could be completely trusted.

Many of the Hondurans we interacted with had great senses of humor. They were ready to joke, laugh and play and could even communicate with humor when language was a problem.


Bio: Shirley Shepherd has traveled by sailboat to many Caribbean countries enjoying the culture and straining to learn the language. In recent years, she's traveled around Costa Rica with her husband and grandchildren. They plan to explore other Central American countries but especially look forward to spending more time in Honduras.

Return to the top



 


 

 

 

Many thanks to Laura Radford for her articles and photos on Roatan diving and Honduras.

Laura would be glad to answer any of your Roatan diving and Honduras diving questions.  She may be reached

Home
All You Need to Know
Places to See
Roatan Diving
Indigenous
My Tales
Travel w/Kids
Volunteers & NGOs
Honduras Food/Coffee
FAQs
Odds 'n Ends
New Page 1