Honduras: The Most Dangerous Place in the World?

“Since the June 2009 coup d’état that led to the exile of then president Manuel Zelaya, visitors have been deterred from Honduras by reports of high crime and general insecurity” – so reported the Telegraph recently. Although San Pedro Sula is often dubbed “murder capital of the world”, we were undeterred despite flying into the capital a few days after reading that a man from Southend had been fatally shot after resisting having his camera stolen.

We headed straight out to the Caribbean side and The Lodge at Pico Bonito, nestling at the foot of the National Park. We arrived late, tired and a little apprehensive only to be welcomed with cold flannels and a tray bearing fruit punches and a bottle of rum. The Lodge was full of serious American twitchers with a huge array of very expensive tripods, binoculars and cameras: the gangs of San Pedro would have had a field day. We kept out of their way, mainly because they were usually returning from their early morning excursions and having lunch, when we were getting up for breakfast. We hiked the Mermaid Loop, climbed down to Las Pilas waterfalls to swim in the cool water and climbed up Toucan Tower for bird watching.

Pico Bonito Waterfalls

Twenty minutes away on the Eastern coast were the Bay Islands with warm Caribbean waters. We snorkelled around the closest island, Cayos Cochinos, known locally but less attractively as Hog Island and virtually had the waters to ourselves.

Setting off for snorkelling

Having pre-dinner drinks in the bar, we were asked if we liked our gin and tonic stiff. Bearing in mind my headache the following morning, our reply should have been ‘no’. A relaxing morning around the pool soon put me in the mood for trying the local beers.

Beer Tasting

On our way to the country’s Maya ruins, a 5 to 6 hour drive, we visited Lancetilla, the second largest botanical garden in the world. Here imported bamboo trees made a huge cooling arch on a hot day and our guide explained the labeling system for the plants: poisonous (black), medicinal (red) or green (where the wood could be used). Once again, we didn’t encounter a single tourist. but there were lots of mosquitoes.

Lancetilla

We drove through palm and pineapple plantations and eventually passed back through San Pedro Sula’s outskirts. where our taxi driver advised us we wouldn’t be stopping.  On the approach to Copan Ruinas, we were warned there were 300 curves and bends, so a nap seemed appropriate, but only to keep the car sickness at bay.  Copan Ruinas, near the Guatemalan border, is a small town with lots of narrow cobbled streets, bars and restaurants. Twisted Tanya was great for happy hour cocktails whilst at another nameless bar, we sat on the only tiny pavement table for a pre-dinner glass of wine. At Pizza Copan, an American expat called Jim, cooked brilliant pizza whilst Carnitas Nia Lola provided $10 bottles of vino and a local dish of cheese and bean fondue served in an anafre, a clay pot. The two waitresses made a feature of carting everything from single beer bottles to plates and anafre on their heads to a large noisy group upstairs. In contrast, San Rapheal was a gentle spot where we shared three cheeses, home-made bread, crackers and olives. The Honduran equivalent of the Women’s Institute were meeting at the back and we must have said “buenos tardes” at least thirty times as they passed by. Copan’s ruins are one of Central America’s major sites and mark the southeastern limit of Maya dominance.

Copan’s Ruins

Our guide Neddy, regaled us with tales of Eighteen Rabbit (the 13th Maya Ruler) and let us wander the excellent museum, with its full-size reproduction of a temple, on our own.

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Nearby Las Sepulturas was less developed: peaceful and quiet.
Neddy also escorted us on a ‘neddy ride’ up to Hacienda San Lucas, a small out of the way guest house.

Riding up to San Lucas

Not being a natural horse woman, the ninety-minute ride took its toll on my rear, especially the final up-hill climb. But we were rewarded with spectacular views of the Copan river valley and a glass of home-made lemonade.

The view from San Lucas

It was in Copan Ruinas that we had our most frightening encounter. We stopped in a small supermarket to buy water before heading back to our hotel after dinner. A group of loud teenage boys entered and on looking down, we saw one of them had a magnum in a holster. The leader looked at us menacingly but simply mentioned how much we’d caught the sun.

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About Helen Jackson

Helen Jackson works for HMRC and moved from her native Yorkshire to London 24 years ago. She lives in Walthamstow with her partner and is passionate about using local shops and services in an attempt to protect its multi-cultural flavour. Travelling is her passion. Helen recently spent 6 months in South and Central America. She has also travelled extensively around the world visiting the Far East, Middle East, Africa, India and Europe. Helen’s love of food combines well with travelling and after taking a course in food writing at Leith’s, she is writing a Central American cookery book. Helen writes a weekly online food column for the West Essex and East London Guardian series of newspapers. Helen is a keen cook and a mystery diner. She also enjoys genealogy, entering food and travel related competitions and is learning to play the piano.
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