How can there be so much violence in a country where people are so nice and friendly? I asked myself this question many times in both Honduras and El Salvador. Both countries have a very bad reputation because of their high crime and murder rates and therefore a huge image problem. Are these really the dangerous countries where you have to fear for your life, like newspaper headlines and some people want to make you believe? Countries that you, as a traveler, better avoid? There’s only one way to find out if this bad image matches reality or not: Go see for yourself.
Worth a journey
We didn’t spend a lot of time in Honduras and El Salvador but we can say for sure that there’s no reason not to travel to those two countries. They’re interesting and beautiful destinations with some of the nicest people we’ve met so far on our trip. Sure, there are dangerous places, but mostly some barrios in the cities where there’s nothing to see for travelers anyway. There is a lot of violence, or why else would there be so many arms shops everywhere? And there is poverty.
Tourism isn’t that well developed yet, so entrance fees and guided tours are cheap and places aren’t overcrowded. I can’t speak for Copán and the Bay Islands, however, since we haven’t been there. People are also genuinely happy that tourists come to visit their country, and they’re so nice and helpful! Honduras and El Salvador have a lot of natural and cultural attractions, but probably the best part of a trip to those countries are their people.
Lake Yojoa, Honduras
For various reasons (among others my disliking of chicken buses) we took a shuttle from Leon, Nicaragua to the D&D Brewery (a hotel/microbrewery/restaurant/tour operator) in the Lake Yojoa region of Honduras. The shuttle left at 2am (what an ugly time) and arrived at the border at 4am. The driver warned us of the muggers and dangerous people at the border – after all, we’re now in Honduras. The building was empty except for our group and the border official.
D&D is beautifully located in the hills surrounding Lake Yojoa. It’s a great place for outdoor activities or, if you’re lazy like us, to relax. You could easily spend a week or two there, there’s a lot to do (kayaking, hiking, bird watching, etc.), the food is good, and the rooms are cheap.
In order to do something outside the brewery however, where you can pay in US Dollars, you need Honduran Lempiras. Nobody really wants USD in Honduras so the exchange rates are terrible and if you want money for your money, you have to go to the bank. And wait in line. Once we managed to change money, we went to the “Paradise coffee plantation” expecting to have a cup of some real good mountain grown coffee there. But they don’t serve coffee. At the coffee plantation’s cafeteria. Weird world. But it’s a nice place for a stroll.
San Pedro Sula to El Salvador
If you buy a bus ticket and they tell you that the 360 km bus ride would take eight hours you think, well… there are mountains and there’s a border to cross… yeah, why not. But if the bus has a breakdown, drives at 20 km/h, and takes 10 hours to get to the destination… that’s not OK. But that’s King Quality, the fastest (though not the cheapest) way to get from San Pedro Sula in Honduras to San Salvador.
San Pedro Sula was actually really OK. Apart from the many arms shops and people assuring and reassuring you that their barrio is safe to walk around we didn’t notice any signs of it being the second most dangerous city in the world. And once again, people were incredibly friendly here, our hosts (we stayed at Dos Molinos Hotel – highly recommended) were super lovely and gave us free rides to and from the bus terminal.
Santa Ana, El Salvador
From San Salvador we went to the town of Santa Ana where, the next day, we hiked Santa Ana volcano. The bus there left too early and we overslept so we took a taxi to the national park, a non-official taxi, for the second time in El Salvador – we already survived San Pedro Sula, so what.
Hikes are guided, start only once a day at 11 am, and cost $1 per person. The hike is beautiful but apparently our guide only wanted to get back home as soon as possible so he rushed us up the mountain and down again at an incredible pace. The hike was worth it though; the landscape is fantastic and there’s a crater lagoon with turquoise water that bubbles and smoke rises above it. The views would be great too (I guess) if it wasn’t cloudy.
Some travel guides advice you to not hike solo because of armed thieves in the area. That is also the reason why every guided group is accompanied by two policemen and why the guide continuously insisted that the group stayed together. Probably it was also the reason why he walked at such a fast pace.
We didn’t really think it was a dangerous place but later, when already in Mexico, we met two travelers who had done the same hike, a few days after us. They got attacked on top of the volcano. To get a different view from the crater, they had moved away from the group and in the meantime, the group started to descend without them (nobody noticed because it was a huge group). Suddenly some guys armed with machetes appeared and threatened the two tourists until they handed them over their cameras and money. So it’s definitely a place to be extra cautious and to listen to the guide, even though you’d like to spend more time at the crater.
In Santa Ana we stayed at Casa Frolaz. Francisco, the friendly and helpful owner, has two rooms for rent which are great value and the place is close to a great (if not the best) Pupusería. Pupusas are El Salvador’s national dish; corn tortillas stuffed with anything from cheese to mashed beans to jalapeños or whatever you like – absolutely delicious and really cheap. In short, good for your taste buds and your wallet.